Sunday, March 25, 2012

Maqluba (Upside Down)

Maqluba is a traditional Palestinian rice and chicken meal. It is called Maqluba, which literally translates to upside down, because after it is cooked, the pot is flipped upside down onto a large platter. While a little time consuming, Maqluba is a fairly simple meal to prepare and only uses ingredients found at your local supermarket.


  • 1 large cauliflower
  • 5 medium potatoes
  • 1 chicken (3 to 3 ½ lbs., cut)
  • 3 cups basmati rice (rinse and soak in hot water)
  • 1 chicken bullion cube
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 4 teaspoons salt (or more)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 dash garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • oil (for frying)
  • 3 ½ cups water, and or 3 ½ cups meat broth


  1. In large pan (or pressure cooker) sauté onion until soft, then add chicken pieces. Brown chicken slightly, and then add pepper, salt, garlic powder and chicken bullion. Add water to cover.
  2. If using a pressure cooker, cook on high pressure for approximately 10 minutes.
  3.  If not, boil the chicken in water, skimming froth as it appears. Then add spices and let meat simmer over moderate heat until tender.
  4. While the chicken is cooking, break the cauliflower into medium-sized flowerets. Sprinkle with salt, then fry in deep hot oil until golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper.
  5. Do the same with the potatoes (cut in slices).
  6. In a 5-quart dutch oven, assemble the ingredients in layers. Start by sprinkling a handful of rice in the bottom of the pan. Remove the chicken from the broth and place it in a layer in the pan. Sprinkle another handful of rice and add some salt. Then put a layer of the fried cauliflower and potatoes. Sprinkle the cinnamon over this layer. Cover with the rest of the rice and add salt.
  7. Add a pinch of turmeric to the broth and pour the broth over the layers. Then add hot water until the rice is completely covered.
  8. Let it all come to a fast boil. Then cover and reduce heat to low.
  9. Cook covered until the rice is tender and the water is absorbed (about 20 to 30 minutes). Remove from fire.
  10. Let cool for ¼ of an hour, then turn pot upside down in a large platter or a large plate.
  11. If desired, garnish with sautéed pine nuts.

Serving Suggestions:

Maqluba is commonly served with plain Greek yogurt or a simple Arabic salad that consists of diced tomato, cucumber, and lemon juice. I usually add some bell pepper and green onion to my salad.

Variations of the recipe:

It is common for people to substitute lamb instead of chicken. A common addition is to peel and fry slices of eggplant and add it to the layer of vegetables.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shorbat Adas (Lentil Soup)

 The first recipe that I want to share is for Shorbat Adas, or lentil soup. Lentils, which probably originated in the Mediterranean area, are nutritious and delicious. There is a wide variety of lentils, but for this soup we will be using small red lentils. This is a good recipe to begin with because you won’t need to go to any special stores to track down ingredients.

Shorbat Adas is popular during Ramadan and usually eaten as a first course, but it is also delicious as a meal on its own. Many cooks have preferences for how they cook the soup but one can start with the basic recipe and experiment to find a method that works best for you.


  •  8 cups water
  • 1 ½ - 2 cups red lentils (these can be found at any store that sells organic products like Sprouts or Whole Foods Mart)
  • 3 chicken bullion cubes
  • 1 small onion finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  •  ¾ teaspoon cumin
  • ½-1 teaspoon turmeric


  1.  Wash and dry the lentils.
  2.  Sautee the onion and garlic in a large pot with a small amount of cooking oil.
  3. Add drained lentils and stir a few times.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients.
  5. Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring occasionally, on medium heat 35-40 minutes or until lentils are easily mushed.
  6. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
  7. To make the soup smoother, use a whisk or other beater. 

Serving Suggestions:

Many people, such as myself, add lemon juice to the soup to change the taste a little. Also in our household, we fry bits of pita bread which we toss in when we eat it, similar to adding crackers to other soups.

Variations of the recipe:

There are plenty of different ways to cook shorbat adas with very similar results. For example some people cook the lentils in a pressure cooker, and some like to cook it on low heat for 2-3 hours. Some people might add meat, usually lamb, to their soup, or use some different spices.

History of Middle Eastern Food

Like foods from all over the World, Middle Eastern food has many influences. These influences range from geographical influences to religious influences. For example, olives and olive oil have long been prominent in the area and therefore are a big part of the cuisine ("Explore crete," 2011). Olive trees were native to the area and are among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world ("Explore crete," 2011). Other common ingredients, however, made their way to the region throughout history from various places. For example, rice and tea were brought from China, tomatoes came during the Columbian Exchange and coffee arrived from Ethiopia through Yemen (Yee, 1996). All of these influences together make Middle Eastern food what it is today.

Rice is probably the most common part of Middle Eastern food (Rost, 1997). Pita bread is eaten with most meals. It has a practical purpose as well as being delicious in that it is often used as a utensil for eating. Common spices used in Middle Eastern foods include cumin, garlic, sumac, and turmeric, all of which originally came from India (Nunn, Qian, 2010). Tomatoes are used in different ways—they can be the base for a sauce which vegetables and meat are frequently added to, but they also are used in more than one traditional salad. For their meats, lamb and chicken would be more commonly used than beef or fish, and pork is forbidden to the Muslims and Jews in the area.

Hot tea and coffee are consumed daily. Tea can be served plain or other flavors might be added. Popular add-ins are mint, sage, and licorice. Most people like their tea sweet! Once coffee arrived in the region it became very popular and from there it spread across the world (Winkler, 1999). The method used to brew the coffee, discovered during the Ottoman Empire, includes beans roasted over a fire, ground, and then boiled in water (Winkler, 1999). This is why it is frequently called Turkish Coffee.

In my coming posts I hope to provide more detailed recipes and information about how these and other ingredients can be prepared to create a delicious authentic Middle Eastern meal.


Explore crete. (2011). Retrieved from

Nunn, N., & Qian N. (2010). Journal of economic perspectives. Retrieved from

Rost, T. L. (1997). Retrieved from

Winkler, P. (1999). National geographic. Retrieved from

Yee, L. (2011). The chinese historical and cultural project. Retrieved from

Saturday, March 3, 2012

About This Blog

Anyone who has tried to cook an authentic Middle Eastern meal knows that many obstacles, such as finding ingredients or an authentic recipe often come up. Many restaurants that claim they serve Middle Eastern food, actually serve Americanized versions of these foods, using ingredients more common to the area. The biggest obstacle seems to be finding recipes that stick to tradition. Many of the recipes substitute exotic ingredients with more everyday ingredients that may make the meal more accessible but may also make it less unique.

With this blog, I plan to create a useful resource for people who may enjoy cooking and also for those who may just enjoy trying new things. I will not only provide recipes, but also general information about Middle Eastern cuisine, such as where to get the best ingredients, solutions to common problems faced, and helpful tips learned from hands on experience.

There has been a lot of hype in recent years about the Mediterranean diet, which generally includes foods from Italy, Greece, Spain and parts of the Middle East. This blog, however, will be focused solely on Middle Eastern food. As an Arab, I have been eating Middle Eastern food my entire life. As an Arab American, who has lived in America my entire life, I know the problems we face when it comes to making authentic and delicious Middle Eastern food.

I plan to combine my knowledge of Middle Eastern food with any knowledge gained from other Arabs in the community who know even more than I, to create a reputable source of information to help people have a truly satisfying and traditional Middle Eastern meal.