Archive | September 2010

Kabsa: Unbelievable.

I have been waiting for a looong time to post a recipe for kabsa, because I absolutely LOVE it. Kabsa combines fragrant, spiced hot rice with tender meat/chicken, and a very exciting (and spicy!) tomato chili sauce on the side. I can’t get enough kabsa! It’s also incredibly easy to make, and is a great dish to serve if you have a lot of people to feed. Serve it piled high on a huge platter, decorated with raisins and toasted almonds, and you’ve got a serious feast for your guests. We serve fresh yogurt, a simple salad, and a hot tomato-chili sauce on the side to complete the meal.

Kabsa is known as being a traditional Saudi Arabian dish, although some say it originated in Yemen. Other Gulf countries, like Kuwait and the UAE, make a variation of kabsa but they call it machboos. In Jordan, Palestinian families have started making it, and it has become very popular, especially for people who like their food with some heat in it! It is most commonly made with meat (usually lamb), but I like it a lot with chicken. My aunt Hanan makes absolutely amazing chicken kabsa, and I’m very happy to share her recipe with you now :) I know a lot – most? – Saudi recipes don’t add tomato to the stock that the rice is cooked in, but my aunt does, and it tastes very flavorful this way. I’ve made this recipe many times and it’s perfect! Make. This. Dish.

A couple notes:

Kabsa is usually made with basmati rice. I have found that for my aunt’s recipe, American long grain seems to work better. Basmati just ends up being a bit dry for my taste, but you can use basmati if you prefer it.

Kabsa requires a special mix of spices. If you live in an Arab country, just ask for “kabsa spice mix” at the spice market/spice section of store. In the US, most Arabic/Middle Eastern grocery stores sell prepared kabsa spices, but I think making your own mix is just as easy and is definitely more fresh.

Here is how to make a kabsa spice mix (the spices will differ from household to household):

Process equal parts of the following spices in a spice grinder/food processor:

ground turmeric

coriander seeds

whole cloves

black peppercorns

ground red pepper or red pepper flakes

cardamom pods

fennel seeds

ground ginger

also,  2-3 small dried black lemons

also, a lesser amount of ground cinnamon

Alternatively, you can just combine all of the above ingredients if you buy them each ground and ready to go. Also, lessen the amount of peppers used if you like it less hot.

And now, for Unbelievable Chicken Kabsa:


1 chicken, washed properly and cut up into 4-6 pieces (or you can use a package of thighs or whatever cut you like best)

1 large onion, finely chopped

4-5 tablespoons of vegetable oil for browning the onions in

5-6 large tomatoes, roughly chopped

3 tablespoons of tomato paste

Kabsa spice mix

extra teaspoon of turmeric

extra cardamom pods for extra flavor (crack each pod open slightly with your teeth so the flavorful seeds can get into the food)

4 bay leaves

salt to taste

approx 2 pounds of American long grain rice (wash it, soak for about 15 mins, then drain off the water)


Sautee the onions in the vegetable oil until soft and transparent.

Add the pieces of chicken, and let them brown. Add the chopped tomatoes, the spices, the tomato paste, the cardamom pods, the extra teaspoon of turmeric, the bay leaves and salt to taste to the pot.

Pour in warm water until the chicken is just covered, and give it a stir. Turn the flame up to high. Let the contents of the pot come to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low and cover the pot.

Let the chicken cook – about half an hour.

When thoroughly cooked, scoop the pieces of chicken out of the pot and put off to the side. Pour the rice into the pot of spiced tomato-chicken stock. Turn up the flame, let it come to a boil, then cover the pot and turn the heat way down to very low. Add some more salt here if you want. Let the rice cook for about 15 minutes, then check it, picking at it with a fork. If it’s dry but is still not cooked, add some more water and re-cover. If it’s cooked, you’re done!

To serve: (reheat the chicken pieces in the oven upon serving)

We pile the rice high on a large serving platter, then arrange the pieces of chicken on top. Sprinkle fat yellow raisins and golden toasted almonds on top for garnish (I don’t like raisins so I always leave them out).

Sides you must serve with kabsa:

Fresh yogurt

Simple green salad: diced tomato and cucumber mixed with chopped lettuce and parsley, dressed with lemon juice, salt, and a bit of olive oil.

Our version of Daqous: a spicy tomato chili sauce. To make our version of Daqous: in a blender, puree 2 large tomatoes, 4 large cloves of garlic, one hot green chili pepper, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Serve immediately.

An individual serving of Kabsa, with Daqous, yogurt, and salad...

Yeah. Chicken Kabsa. Must eat now.


A Long Break With A Sweet Ending

It has been a long time since I last posted on this blog! I feel bad, but I had a lot going on in the past several weeks (months?) and was just not able to get around to updating. Also, some completely unpredicted events changed my plans that I had so carefully laid out for the next year or so, and I am now back in the US. SubhanAllah. But I do have a lot of recipes saved up and want to continue adding to this blog insha’Allah, and I think I am finally in a position to do that again :)

So to end my long break sweetly, I am going to share a recipe for a lovely dessert that is SO unbelievably easy to make and SO satisfying. To my Arab readers: you can make this with ingredients readily available in your kitchen. For those of you who do not have semolina, kaymak/clotted cream/gaimar, pistachios, and sugar syrup on hand: the ingredients are very easily acquired!

Two important notes: I tried making this a few days ago here in MN, and I was terribly wrong to make a few substitutions that made this dessert turn out just terribly. I was in a rush and thought that a few tweaks here and there would benefit me greatly in terms of money and time. Wrong. Do not substitute Cream of Wheat for the semolina. Do not buy a random UAE brand of gaimar from your local Middle Eastern grocer that is on sale. Stick to the well-known and trusted kinds. Do not use corn syrup instead of making a proper sugar syrup on the stove – I knew I shouldn’t have done this, but I was so short on time and decided to give it a try and hope for the best; yeah, no.

So here is my tried and true recipe for Layali Libnan! Literally “Nights of Lebanon,” “Lebanese Nights,” or however you want to put it, it consists of a creamy semolina-pudding base, covered with a smooth layer of thick, whole cream, topped with crushed pistachios. Since none of the ingredients used are sweet themselves, you sweeten this dessert by drizzling sugar syrup on top of each portion when you’re ready to serve it.

(The ingredients listed are very approximate – sorry).


1 liter of fresh milk

1.5-2 cups of coarse semolina

2 small cans of gaimar (use a good brand like Puk or Al-Marai)  OR a container of clotted cream OR a small tub of kaymak – basically, any sort of spreadable full-fat cream (you can even boil whole liquid cream, let it cool, then scrape off the layer of fat that will form on the top and use that!)

a couple tablespoons of crushed pistachios for garnish

thinly-sliced strawberries (optional)

For the sugar syrup: 1 cup of water, 2 cups of sugar, half a lemon, rose water or orange blossom water (optional)


Start by heating the milk in a pot on low heat. Stir to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn.

When it almost reaches a boil, pour in the semolina, stirring constantly, letting it boil for a minute. You want the mixture to really thicken – thick enough that it’s hard to stir. If  it isn’t thick enough, just keep adding more semolina until it thickens. This is always how I make it, hence my lack of an exact recipe :( – sorry !!


When it thickens up, take it off the stove. In a large glass baking dish or a deep serving tray, put a few drops of water to just barely coat the bottom. This is so that the pudding base doesn’t stick when you come to serve it. Next, pour the milk+semolina mixture into the dish. Let it cool a bit, then cover it and chill for a few hours.

Ready to chill!

While it’s chilling, make the sugar syrup:

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan on medium heat. Stir until it reaches a boil. When it starts boiling, squeeze a few drops of lemon juice into the syrup and keep stirring until it thickens. If you want, you can add a couple drops of rose water or orange blossom water to flavor it at this point. When it has thickened, take it off the fire and let it cool. It will finish thickening up as it cools! You need the sugar syrup to have cooled completely before you can use it on your dessert.

When the milk+semolina layer is finished chilling, open the cans of gaimar/kaymak/clotted cream and spread a nice, thick layer all over the top of the semolina base. You can make it as thick as you like; it’s all up to your own personal taste.

Smooth layer of cream - the best part!

Finally, sprinkle the crushed pistachios all over the top to make it look pretty. You can even add thinly-sliced strawberries for extra color and texture if you want!

We dug in before I could even photograph it properly..

To serve, cut into large squares and drizzle with sugar syrup to taste :)

So good!!

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