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Maqluba (Palestinian Upside-down Chicken and Rice)

Time3 hours 20 minutes
YieldsServes 8 to 12
Chicken, rice and vegetables in a serving dish with small bowls of condiments nearby.
Warming spices flavor chicken, rice and vegetables in this elaborate layered celebration dish from Palestine.
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)
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Spiced chicken, fried vegetables and rice are layered into an elaborate full-pot meal in this classic Palestinian celebration dish. Making the dish takes some time; prepare all the parts ahead so you can assemble and finish cooking the dish just before serving. The size of the pot used to layer and cook the maqluba is essential to its success. Use a pot that is no fewer than 7 quarts in volume, 11 inches in diameter and 5 inches tall, or else all the ingredients won’t fit. Use organic vegetables here for the best flavor, as Kiswani suggests. And if you have a large kitchen towel, wrap the pot in the towel to help keep it warm as it rests, as Kiswani does, following culinary folklore to ensure it comes out well.

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For the chicken and rice:
For the vegetables and garnishes:
1

Place the chicken pieces in a large saucepan — preferably a 7-quart pot that’s 11 inches in diameter and 5 inches tall — and cover with 8 cups water. Place the pot over high heat and bring the water to a boil. While the water heats, skim off any scum that rises to the surface; don’t skip this step.

2

Once the water is completely clear and is boiling, add 1 teaspoon each of the chile flakes, ground allspice, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground cumin and ground turmeric. Then, add the whole cloves, cardamom pods, bay leaves and cinnamon stick, half the onions, and the Sazón seasoning too. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover the pot partially and cook the chicken until it’s just cooked through, about 30 minutes.

3

While the chicken is simmering, prepare the rice: Place the rice in a large heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Stir the rice and water, then let stand for about 8 minutes (this helps the rice cook evenly later). Drain the rice then transfer to a bowl. To the rice, add the remaining ½ teaspoon each of ground allspice, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground cumin and ground turmeric and stir to combine. Measure out 2 tablespoons of the rice and reserve it in a bowl. Add the chickpeas and/or fava beans to the large bowl of rice and stir to combine. Reserve until ready to use.

4

Remove the pot from the heat and use tongs to retrieve the chicken pieces and transfer them to a baking sheet. While they’re hot, season the chicken pieces liberally with salt and pepper all over; reserve until ready to use. Pour the cooking liquid through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Pick out and discard the whole spices, but reserve the onions. Reserve the pot too. Measure out 6 cups of the cooking liquid, adding water to get to that amount, if needed; reserve until ready to use.

5

Next, deep-fry vegetables: Pour the vegetable oil in a large saucepan and attach a deep-fry/candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Place over medium-high heat and heat the oil to 350 degrees. Add the carrots to the oil and cook, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a temperature between 300 and 350 degrees, until the carrots are golden brown and caramelized on the outside and the centers of the biggest pieces are tender and a paring knife inserted through them slides in and out easily, 6 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the carrots from the oil and transfer to a bowl. Repeat, frying the celery (2 to 3 minutes), cauliflower (4 to 6 minutes) and potatoes (10 to 12 minutes) in the same manner in separate batches, transferring each to the bowl with the carrots as they cook. Season the bowl of fried vegetables liberally with salt and pepper.

6

Once the vegetables are deep-fried, add the pine nuts to the oil and fry until golden brown and crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pine nuts from the oil and transfer to paper towels to drain; reserve until ready to use. Remove the pot from the heat and reserve the oil.

7

Sauté aromatics: In a large skillet, heat ¼ cup of the reserved deep-fry oil over medium-high heat. Add the remaining raw yellow onion and ½ teaspoon chile flakes, the shallot rings and green bell pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown at the edges and soft, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved onions from boiling the chicken and the garlic and season liberally with salt and pepper, and cook for 1 minute more. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the vegetables cool.

8

Finally, assemble the maqluba: Retrieve the reserved pot from boiling the chicken and wipe the inside dry with paper towels. Wipe the inside of the entire pot with some butter — Kiswani takes a stick and rubs it over the entire surface of the pot — then pour 1 cup of the reserved deep-fry oil on the bottom of the pot. Sprinkle the reserved 2 tablespoons spiced rice evenly in the oil.

9

First, arrange the chicken pieces, skin side down in the bottom of the pot. Next, cover the chicken with the deep-fried vegetables, spreading them out in a single layer, followed by the sautéed vegetables, spreading them out in an even layer as well. Place a large flat plate over the vegetables and use it to gently press the vegetables and chicken to compact them; this helps to keep the meat and vegetables in an even layer.

10

Then, spoon the spiced rice and bean mixture over the vegetables and spread it out evenly. Use the plate in the same way to gently press the rice and make a compact, even layer. Take the handle of a wooden spoon or the blade of a paring knife and poke the rice layer straight down 4 or 5 times, evenly spaced; this allows the broth to get down to the meat and vegetables through the rice. Finally, use a ladle or small bowl to slowly and gently spoon the reserved chicken-cooking liquid over the rice; you should drizzle it so slowly that it takes 25 seconds to empty a ½-cup ladle. The broth should cover the rice by about an inch.

11

Cover the pot with its lid slightly ajar, then place the pot over medium-high heat. Once you see bubbles breaking the surface at the edge, reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a bare simmer and cover the pot completely. Continue cooking, undisturbed, until the rice fully absorbs the broth and the tines of a fork come out clean when you pierce the rice with them, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it rest for 15 minutes.

12

When ready to serve, uncover the pot and place a large serving platter — one at least 20 inches in diameter, large enough to cover the pot with at least 3 to 4 inches of extra room around the side — upside down over the pot. Using oven mitts or kitchen towels to protect your hands, hold onto the pot and platter together and flip in one confident movement. Gently lift the pot to reveal the maqluba. If some of the chicken or vegetables fall apart, it’s OK; simply place them back on top of the rice.

13

Sprinkle the fried pine nuts and cilantro over the top and serve the maqluba with the Arabic Salad and Dill Yogurt Sauce on the side.

Arabic Salad

1

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. Let stand for 5 minutes to draw out the juices from the tomatoes. Add the cucumbers, onions, parsley and lemon juice and mix with a spoon. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Dill Yogurt Sauce

1

Place the chopped cucumber in a piece of cheesecloth or kitchen towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Transfer the squeezed cucumber to a bowl, add the garlic, salt and pepper. Let stand for about 5 minutes, then stir in the yogurt and dill until evenly combined. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if needed, before serving.