Makloubeh is a Middle Eastern upside down rice dish, with spiced rice cooked in meat broth, meat pieces, eggplant and cauliflower. It’s a delicious hearty meal, that’s visually stunning. Makloubeh is a classic and so delicious!
What is makloubeh?
Makloubeh is also known as maqlooba, maqluba, maklouba, maqlooba, makloubeh, maqlouba. It has many spellings that basically mean the same thing. Makloubeh literally translates to “upside down”. The rice is arranged in a deep pot with layers of vegetables and meat, and when the cooking is over, it’s flipped onto a serving plate. Ideally, it remains standing tall like an upside down rice cake. Even when the rice tower breaks though, it doesn’t matter because this is delicious in any form!
A very common dish in Middle Eastern cuisine, Makloubeh is a little more labor intensive than some dishes, so is always a happy event when it’s made. It’s often served on special occasions and everyone has their own twist.
The base of makloubeh is always rice, some vegetables, and chicken or meat (lamb or beef), arranged in layers.
Maqluba is commonly made in Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Everyone has their preference but I’m personally convinced my Grandma made the best maqluba ever! She was known for her authentic Palestinian makloubeh made with so much love.
Why should I make this makloubeh?
It is a visually stunning dish that’s full of layers of textures and flavors.
It’s utterly comforting! Nothing like the spiced rice cooked in meat broth until full of flavor with roasted vegetables coming up with every few bites.
The vegetables are completely flexible according to your preference and what you have on hand. I love my makloubeh recipe because it has both eggplant and cauliflower (you’d usually use one or the other), as well as potatoes and tomatoes. The perfect combination! I like to include a lot of the roasted veggies so you don’t have to dig around to find a good piece.
What ingredients do I need to make maqluba?
Rice: I use basmati rice, but you can also do a mix of short grain and basmati. Short grain or Egyptian rice tends to be a little mushier, so you have to be careful not too add to much broth to it.
Veggies: I like using cauliflower, eggplants, and potatoes. Most recipes use either eggplants OR cauliflower, but using both is majorly delicious. We also use tomato slices and chickpeas when assembling the actual maklouba in the pan.
Meat: I used boneless lamb chunks, you can also use bone in lamb pieces or beef pieces.
Aromatics for the broth: An onion and a whole head of garlic, cut into half for the broth as well as whole spices like cloves, cardamom, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks.
Spices: After the broth is strained, we mix in salt, pepper, turmeric, seven spice or all spice, and cumin powder.
Steps in making makloubeh:
- Roast the vegetables. Arrange the potato slices, eggplant slices, and cauliflower florets onto parchment paper lined baking sheets in a single layer, and roast for around 30 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Set aside.
- Prepare the meat broth by browning the meat, adding the aromatics and enough water to cover and simmering until meat is cooked through and tender. You can also cook the meat in a pressure cooker. Once the meat is cooked, strain the stock to get rid of the whole spices, place the meat pieces aside, and add spices to the strained stock. Set aside.
How to assemble makloubeh:
There are a few different ways to do this, but I’ll take you through my preferred way.
- Coat the bottom of the pan with oil, and layer with tomatoes. The tomatoes will help prevent sticking, and also they sweeten and almost caramelize while cooking- absolutely delicious!
- Add the eggplant on top of the tomatoes. You can either arrange them in the center in a concentric shape, or arrange them so that the eggplant comes up the side of the pan a little. When you flip the pan, this means the eggplant will sort of wrap the top of the rice cake. You can see the video below the recipe card to really demonstrate this!
- I like to season every layer of vegetables with a little salt to really bring out the flavor. Just sprinkle some salt as you assemble.
- Add the meat cubes on top of the eggplant, evenly spread out.
- Sprinkle some chickpeas on top. They are such yummy little nuggets to bite into.
- Add half the strained rice and spread it out in an even layer. The reason I like to add the rice in two different batches, is that you have a good proportion of rice to vegetables while scooping into the maklouba, instead of a big layer of rice and layer of vegetables. I think this distributes everything a little better.
- Add all the potato slices and cauliflower. Sprinkle with salt.
- Add the second half of rice on top of these vegetables, spread evenly, and pat firmly with the back of a wooden spoon. Pressing it firmly down helps it maintain it’s cake like shape when you flip the pan after cooking.
- Pour all the prepared stock on top of the rice until it comes up to 1/2 inch above the rice. If you need to, add a little more water to accomplish this. Now it’s all assembled and ready to cook!
Cooking the maklouba:
Bring the large assembled pot to a boil over medium high heat, then lower the heat to low, and cover with a tightly fitting lid. If you have a gap between the lid and the pot you can add a kitchen towel before closing to seal off any air.
Once the pot is covered and the maklouba is simmering, cook for 50-55 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the water when you lift the lid. Remove from the heat and set aside for about 10 minutes to rest.
Flipping the maqluba:
The goal is to flip the pot over, and have a standing rice cake, at least for a few minutes for everyone to ooh and ahh over. It’ll drop down pretty fast, or get destroyed by hungry humans but it is a fun moment where everyone waits with bated breath to see if the makloubeh will hold it’s shape.
To help the chances of that happening, follow these steps:
After the rice has stood for 10 minutes after cooking, remove the lid and place a large serving platter or tray as the lid. Go to the table you’ll serve the dish on, and using the pot handles, flip the pot upside down, and place the serving dish on the table with the upside down pot still on it.
Leave the pot to stand for a few minutes to get the rice to drop down, then slowly, using the handles of the pot, lift it up off the maqluba. Hopefully, you’ll reveal a large stack of layered rice. And even if you don’t? It’ll still be absolutely delicious!
How to garnish:
The garnish is so important. You have to have lots of toasted pine nuts and/or almonds as well as chopped parsley. The toasted nuts really complete the dish.
To toast the nuts, just heat a little olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. If using both almonds and pine nuts, add the almonds first because they took longer to cook. When they start to turn a light beige, add the pine nuts. Stir constantly until golden brown, then immediately remove from the heat to another paper towel lined plate so they don’t burn. Set aside until ready to use.
What to serve this with:
Maqluba is very commonly served with yogurt. The creaminess of the yogurt works so well with the warm spiced meat and rice.
It’s also usually eaten with a zingy green salad, the acidity of which cuts through the heaviness of the rice.
I prefer serving with both! One scoop of yogurt, and a big scoop of salad- just a simple salad made with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots, with a lemon olive oil dressing.
You can also serve this with a cucumber yogurt salad, like the one in this recipe.
If you liked this recipe, you might enjoy these other traditional Middle Eastern main dishes:
Or these Middle Eastern rice dishes:
For the roasted vegetables:
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil for drizzling on the vegetables
- 1 tsp salt for seasoning the vegetables
- 2-3 potatoes, peeled and sliced,
- 2 medium sized eggplants, peeled into strips and sliced lengthwise into strips
- 1 medium head cauliflower, cut into large florets
For the meat broth:
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil or olive oil
- 1.5 lb lamb pieces, boneless or bone in 700g
- 1 onion, cut into half
- 1 head garlic, cut into half
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 whole cardamom pods
- 4 cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 cups water
- 1 tsp seven spices or allspice powder
- 2 tsps salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
- 2 tomatoes, sliced
- 1/2 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained 7 oz total (200g)
- 2.5 cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained well
- salt for sprinkling
Prepare the vegetables:
- Preheat the oven to 425 C (220C). Add the cauliflower florets and potato slices to one baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spread out. Add the eggplant slices to another baking sheet lined with parchment paper, in a single layer. Drizzle both trays of vegetables with oil and sprinkle with salt. Place both trays in the oven at the same time.
- Roast for around 30 minutes or until vegetables are golden brown and cooked through. they'll probably need around 30 minutes. You can flip the potato slices around halfway through, but it's not necessary. Once vegetables have roasted, remove from the oven and set aside until it's time for assembling.
For the meat:
- Add the oil to a large saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add the meat pieces and cook, stirring until browned on each side. Add the onion and garlic, the bay leaves, cardamom pods, cloves, and cinnamon sticks.
- Add enough water to the pot to cover the meat completely. I used 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then skim off any foam that accumulates on the surface and discard it.
- Cover the pot, reduce heat to a medium low simmer, and cook for 40-45 minutes or until lamb pieces are cooked through and tender. Alternately, you could cook the meat in an pressure cooker or instant pot according to your preference.
- Once the meat is cooked, pour the stock over a strainer, catching the stock in a bowl. Discard the whole spices, and keep the meat pieces aside.
- To the strained stock, stir in the seven spices or all spice, salt, black pepper, cumin powder and turmeric powder. Taste it, it should taste pretty salty. Set stock aside.
- In a large clean saucepan (you can clean the one you used to make the stock), drizzle the oil to coat the bottom. Layer the tomato slices on the bottom, this will help keep the rice from sticking.
- Arrange the eggplant slices evenly around the pan, coming up the sides of the pan if you can so that they'll sort of end up wrapping the rice mixture (see video below for clarification).
- Sprinkle the eggplants with salt, and add all the meat cubes to the pan. Add the chickpeas on top of the meat. Add half the rice and spread it out evenly. Add the cooked potato slices and half the cauliflower florets. Season these vegetables with a sprinkle of salt.
- Add the second half of the rice on top of the vegetables, and pat with the pack of a wooden spoon to firmly press it into the pan.
- Pour the meat stock over the rice. It should cover the top of the rice by about 1/2 inch. If you need to, add a little water in order to submerge the rice, maybe 1/2 cup or so. Place the pot of rice on medium high heat until the water in it comes to a boil, about 5 minutes or so, then tightly cover (if your lid doesn't fit tightly, you can place a kitchen towel under the lid before covering).
- Reduce heat to low, and cook for 50-55 minutes, until all the broth has been absorbed and the rice is fluffy. Remove from heat and let the pot stand for 5-10 minutes.
- After the rice has rested, remove the lid and place a serving platter or tray on top of the pot. Flip the pot upside down, but don't lift the pot up for a few minutes to give the rice time to drop. After a few minutes pass, slowly use the pot handles to lift and remove the pot.
- Garnish your makloubeh with plenty of toasted nuts and parsley. Enjoy immediately! We like this with yogurt and/or a simple green salad.