Maqloubeh Behind the Wall in Bethlehem

14 May, 2021
A segment of the separation wall at the edge of Bethlehem.
A seg­ment of the sep­a­ra­tion wall at the edge of Bethlehem.

Fadi Kattan

Wak­ing up on our mag­nif­i­cent Beth­le­hem morn­ings, one lives a few hours for­get­ting the harsh polit­i­cal real­i­ties. As the sun forces its way above the Jor­dan Val­ley, I choose to look defi­ant­ly beyond the set­tle­ment encroach­ing on the oppo­site hill and the Wall, towards the dis­tant land­marks of Jerusalem or focus instead on the creamy-coloured walls of the old city around me. 

The stir­ring of the new day brings with it an appetite for a deli­cious maqloubeh — our upside-down dish. It is aubergine sea­son, mawsim beit­in­jan Bat­tir! As I hear the hub­bub of farm­ers and shop­pers mak­ing their way to the mar­ket on the nar­row streets around my home, I am already fan­ta­siz­ing about the pur­ple trea­sures that Um Nabil will be sell­ing this morning.

A fun­ny feel­ing, in the heart of Beth­le­hem’s old city, there are reminders of so many dif­fer­ent towns from the Lev­ant and yet it has a unique charm, deriv­ing from thou­sands of years of his­to­ry, the min­gling of local peo­ple and those from sur­round­ing vil­lages all dis­cussing prices, exchang­ing recipes and excit­ed­ly chal­leng­ing each oth­er with a few words of culi­nary wisdom. 

Fadi's aubergine maqloubeh.
Fadi’s aubergine maqloubeh.

Nowa­days, you will also hear the laments, the nos­tal­gia, the com­plaints induced by the Wall… Al-Jidar!  That hor­ri­ble ille­gal con­struc­tion tore through Pales­tin­ian land but also our souls and minds. It blocks our move­ment and with it most social and cul­tur­al inter­ac­tion. There were the times before the Wall and after the Wall… and not even the per­fect maqloubeh can make you for­get it!

But let us pick up those small, plump aubergines from Um Nabil — just imag­ine them carameliz­ing in your pot. Then we will col­lect some fresh local awas­si lamb meat from those expert broth­ers at Nat­sheh Butch­ers and final­ly select some mouth-water­ing spices from the fra­grant shelves of Ori­ent Mills store. Then, back to the kitchen….

Aubergine/Eggplant Maqloubeh

Yogurt sauce

For the broth:

  • 2 cin­na­mon sticks
  • 4 medi­um onions
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 bunch parsley
  • 3 dry laurel/bay leaves
  • 2.5 pounds lamb meat with­out bone, cut into 9–10 pieces (or 3.5 pounds with bone, cut into 8 pieces) You can sub­sti­tute with the fol­low­ing meats:
  • 2 whole chick­ens (pounds cut into 8 of pieces)
  • 2.5 pounds beef (pounds cut into 8 of pieces)

For the rice:

  • 700g bas­mati rice
  • 4 Aubergine/ Pur­ple egg­plant (medi­um sized)
  • 500ml veg­etable oil
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp cloves
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 1 cup chick­peas (prefer­ably dry that you soak overnight and cook beforehand)

For the yogurt sauce:

  • 250 grams Greek yogurt
  • 3 gar­lic cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  1. Peel the egg­plants and slice into long slices.

  2. Sprin­kle with a bit of salt and leave for 15 minutes.

  3. Wash rice and soak in luke­warm water.

  4. In a pot, heat the olive oil and brown the meat, add the spices, onion, pars­ley, cov­er with cold water and bring to a boil. Once the water is boil­ing, reduce to medi­um heat and cov­er the pot. Cook for 45 minutes.

  5. In a fry­ing pan, heat some oil and fry the egg­plant slices. Place on some kitchen paper to absorb excess oil.

  6. Once the meat is cooked, remove the meat from the broth and pass the broth through a sieve. Dis­card the gar­nish that was in the broth.

  7. Drain the rice and sea­son with the spices and olive oil.

  8. In a deep pot, place slices of toma­toes in the bot­tom then add the chick­peas and the aubergines and final­ly the meat in layers.

  9. Spread the rice on top and lev­el the surface.

  10. Add the boil­ing broth on the rice, cov­er­ing 1 cm above the rice. If the broth is not enough, you can add some boil­ing water.

  11. Cook on high heat for a few min­utes and then reduce to low heat, cov­er and cook for 35 to 30 minutes.

  12. Check the maqloubeh by tast­ing the rice and tilt­ing the po slight­ly to make sure there is liquid.

  13. Turn off the heat and keep the pot cov­ered for ten minutes.

  14. Drain the gar­lic in a fine sieve, crush the gar­lic and stir togeth­er, the gar­lic, salt and yogurt. Sprin­kle the dried mint on top.

  15. Your maqloubeh is ready for flip­ping. Flip over a large serv­ing plate and keep the pot on for a few min­utes until the maqloubeh is set on the plate.

Sah­tain صحتين !

BethlehemmaqloubehPalestinian cuisineseparation wall

Franco-Palestinian chef and hotelier Fadi Kattan has become the voice of modern Palestinian cuisine. Hailing from a Bethlehemite family that has on the maternal side cultivated a francophone culture and on the paternal side, a British culture with passages in India, Japan and the Sudan, Fadi’s cuisine and savoir-faire combine worldly influences, a desire for perfection and a passion for the local terroir.

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