Maqluba is an amazing dish, deep in flavours and textures. Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s book Jerusalem has a great recipe in it that is easily vegetarian-ised. It was a great success flavour-wise. It was less successful in presentation. The dish should turn out like an upside down cake but my aged super-long grained basmati is a rice that “lifts and separates” rather than clings together to build a superstructure to support an upside-down cake look. Next time I will find a rice with a little more glugginess to build the required infrastructure.
Most recipes for Muqluba do specify basmati rice, but I suspect that the aged basmati isn’t suitable. I have since learned that fresh or young basmati rice is very starchy and will cling together, whereas aged and long grain basmati is not at all sticky, cooking to beautiful separate grains. So look for a short grained rice, a rice classified in India as a raw rice, so you get that starchiness which will make it hold together better.
Similar recipes include Kosheri – Rice with Vermicelli and Lentils.
This dish is also one of the recipes from the Ottolenghi stable that requires quite a bit of work to prepare. The cauliflower is deep fried, the aubergine slices too. While these make for gorgeously textured and flavoured vegetable components, I have seen recipes that bake the eggplant and cauliflower, thus cutting down on fiddliness, time and amount of oil used.
Nevertheless, the flavours in this dish are exquisite, and I recommend it for a special day when you have time and patience on your hands. This dish is both warming and comforting.
Vegetarian Maqluba | Adapted from Ottolenghi
source: adapted from Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi
prep time: 1.75 hours including soaking rice and frying vegetables
cook time: 45 mins including resting times
serve 6 – 8 or more depending on how you use it.
2medium aubergines (650g in total), cut into 0.5cm slices
320g basmati rice
1 large onion, peeled and quartered lengthways
3 or 4 brown cardamon pods
1 star anise floret
2 bay leaves
sunflower oil, for frying
1 medium cauliflower (500g), divided into large florets
melted butter, for greasing the pan
3–4 medium ripe tomatoes (350g in total), cut into 0.5-cm thick slices
4 large garlic cloves, halved
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp baharat spice mix (shop-bought or see recipe, page 299)
30g pine nuts, fried in 15g of ghee or unsalted butter until golden
Place the eggplant slices on a piece of kitchen paper and salt each side. Leave for 20 mins to lose some of the water.
Soak the rice for 30 mins in plenty of cold water and 1 tspn salt.
Saute the onion in a little oil until quite browned but not burnt. Put aside.
Heat up a saucepan or casserole dish that has a tight fitting lid over a medium high heat. You will need a non-stick pan about 24cm wide and 12cm high. Add enough sunflower oil to read 2cm depth. When hot, place some of the cauliflower floret in the oil and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove carefully, draining as much oil as you can, and place onto kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt. Repeat with the remaining cauliflower.
Pat the aubergine slices dry and fry the similarly in batches. They won’t take as long to cook.
Remove the oil from your pan, wipe it dry and allow the pan to cool. Start by placing the bay leaves at the bottom of the pan and then arranging the slices of tomato in one layer, overlapping. Follow with the aubergine slices, then the cauliflower florets. Tuck the star anise and cardamom pods on the side of the pan. Then layer the onions on top of the cauliflower.
Drain the rice well and spread it over the final layer, pressing it down as you go, and scatter the garlic over the top. Measure out 700ml of water and mix in the spices. Add salt if you think it needs it, but remember that the aubergine and cauliflower already have salt on them. Pour over the rice and gently press it down again with our hands to make sure all of the rice is covered with water. Add more water if needed.
Bring to a steady slow boil, put the lid on, and reduce heat to low. Allow to cook for 30 minutes. Do not be tempted to open the pan, the rice has to steam properly. Remove the pot from the heat, take off the lid and quickly place a clean tea towel over the pot, then seal with the lid again. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Once ready, remove the lid and place a large round serving plate or platter over the open pan and carefully but quickly invert the pan holding both sides firmly. Leave the pot on the plate for 2 – 3 minutes then slowly lift it off. Garnish with pine nuts and serve with a yoghurt and cucumber raita.