When I was young and we had guests coming over, one of the dishes my mum always made was kabsa. Serving platters loaded with spicy golden rice and chicken topped with almonds and raisins would take center stage on the table. My part in it was to chop the tomatoes, slice the peppers, and grate the carrots. You can say I was mum’s sous chef.
Kabsa or kabseh is one of the traditional dishes served in the Arabian Gulf area. It is a unique mixture of rice (has to be long grain and you can use basmati), meat (chicken, beef, goat, lamb, or even camel), spices, and vegetables topped with nuts and raisins. The secret to kabsa’s identity and taste is the blend of spices used in it: black pepper, allspice, cloves, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, black lime, bay leaves, and nutmeg are some of the spices that lend their magic to make kabsa a special and memorable dish.
I am sharing my own kabsa recipe which is mildly adjusted from my mum’s, and she makes awesome kabsa. I urge you to give it a try as is and from there you can adjust the spices, change the vegetables, and make the recipe your own.
*Note: Loomi, also known as dried limes or black limes, are a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine. They have a tangy edge and a slightly fermented aroma. You can find them in Middle Eastern grocery stores or spice shops, as well as online.
**Note: If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can cook the chicken by simmering it. Fill a pot about 2/3 full with water and place the chicken in the pot over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken pieces (thighs will take about 35 minutes and breasts closer to 45 minutes).
The chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees or the juice runs clear. If the liquids are red or pink, boil for another 10 minutes.
Place the chicken in a pressure cooker and add enough water until the level is about 1-inch above the chicken. Add the bay leaves, allspice berries, cinnamon, cardamom, and onion. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat, cover, and seal. Cook for 10 minutes and remove from heat. Drain and reserve 4 cups of the cooking liquid.**
Wash the rice 4-5 times, discarding the water every time. Drain and set aside. In a pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion until almost translucent, about 5-10 minutes.
Add the carrot and bell pepper and stir for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir until the tomatoes are soft and begin to break down, about 5-10 minutes. Add the ground allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, dried lime, bay leaves, salt, and rice. Stir for 2 more minutes.
Add 4 cups of the reserved liquid from the chicken. Nestle the chicken pieces in the rice. Cover and cook over low heat until the rice absorbs all of the liquid, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, uncover, and fluff the rice with a fork.
Heat about 1-inch oil in a pot or frying pan over medium heat until an almond dropped into the oil sizzles immediately. Fry the almonds and raisins separately for about 3-4 minutes. Drain and set aside, reserving the oil.
Serve garnished with the fried almonds and raisins. Drizzle the reserved oil over the kabsa to add a dose of extra almond-raisin flavor.