Maqlooba (Upside – down Rice)

Servings : Serves 4-5

The word Maqlooba (or Maqloobeh) is Arabic for ‘upside down’. That does not mean the meal is eaten standing on your head, but rather the dish is prepared in a pot with the chicken at the bottom and the rice on top, then the whole thing is turned over on a plate to make for a beautiful and dramatic cake-like presentation. This is one of those dishes that would be the centerpiece for any occasion and will have people wowing at how pretty it looks. It tastes really amazing too!

Ingredients for Chicken Marinade

  • 1 chicken, skin off, cut into 8 pieces (marinated for 2 hours or up to overnight in the following ingredients below)
  • 2 tbsp. yoghurt
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic paste
  • 1 tsp. cumin powder
  • 1 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. chilli powder (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp. cardamom powder

Other Ingredients

  • 3 cups basmati rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tbsp. oil plus 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 eggplant or half a cauliflower cut into florets
  • 3 potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • salt to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. whole cumin
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 5 whole black pepper
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper powder


First, prepeare the eggplant and potatoes. Peel the potatoes, slice them up and fry until golden. Slice the eggplants and sprinkle some salt on them to draw out any bitterness from them, then rinse well and dry them. Fry them too until tender and set them aside. (If you are using cauliflower, fry the florets and drain them well).

Wash and soak the rice for about 30 minutes. While the rice is soaking you can start preparing the chicken.

Heat the butter and oil in a pan, then add the onions and fry until they begin to colour. Next add the chicken with its marinade. Stir fry on high heat to seal the meat and brown it slightly. Add in the bay leaf, cumin, cloves, cardamom pods, black pepper and cinnamon stick and stir them in. Add the 4 cups of water and a tsp. of salt and bring to a boil.  As soon as it begins to simmer, turn the heat down, cover the pot and allow the chicken to simmer gently for about 15 minutes. Do not cook for longer than this as the chicken will cook some more later on.

When ready, remove the chicken pieces into a bowl and keep them covered. Drain the broth and discard the whole spices. Measure out the broth, I would NORMALLY use 1 1/4 cup of broth for every cup of rice. But for this dish, you need a little bit more broth than you normally would use for regular pilau. So after I’ve measured out my 4 cups of broth, I add an extra 1 cup. If you run out of broth, just add water to reach the desired amount. Bring this broth to a gently boil on a separate burner so that it is hot for when we will need it. Make sure to taste it for salt, it should be a bit saltier than you would want because the rice is unsalted so this will make up for it.

Now take a deep heavy pot. Grease the bottom and sides well. Lay out the chicken pieces (bone sides up) in the bottom, the eggplant and potato slices over the chicken and around the sides. Sprinkly a bit of salt and pepper over these veggies.  Drain the soaked rice and add the turmeric, garam masala and black pepper powder into it and mix gently. Then scatter handfuls of this spiced uncooked rice over the chicken/potato/eggplant layers and spread it out to cover the bottom layers. Invert any heatproof plate over the rice then gently and carefully pour in your hot broth. The plate is just there to hold everything down in its place otherwise without it the layers you prepared will float up and ruin the effect of the presentation. The liquid should cover the rice completely and should reach about half an inch above the rice level.

Cover the pot (with the plate still in there). And bring to a boil on high heat for 5 minutes. Then open and carefully remove the plate (you can use tongs to lift it out). Do not stir or mix the rice. Just pat it down smoothly, over with a tight lid and cook on low heat for 45 minutes more. Midway through you can place a tawa (flat griddle pan) under the rice pot to prevent the bottom from burning.

Once done, turn off the heat but do not open the pot. Let it stand for 30 minutes. This helps the rice hold together in one shape. Then take a large plate, open the pot and place the plate over the top and flip it.  Again let it sit for 10 minutes upside down. Give the pan a few gently taps to make sure it has released from the sides and the bottom. Then hold your breath and slowly, slowly, carefully and gently lift the pot off and away. If you are very lucky it will not collapse and you can breathe normally again.

Garnish with almond flakes or pine nuts or chopped coriander. Serve with kachumbar and lemon slices or salad or raita.


10 thoughts on “Maqlooba (Upside – down Rice)
10 Replies
  • Salaam Fauzia 🙂
    Salaam Fauzia 🙂

    I just made this dish for the first time tonight; in fact, it’s the first time I’ve ever made maqlooba! It was very tasty and my family and I savored the many spices and flavors in this casserole. Thank you for sharing this recipe!

    A couple of notes about details in the recipe I noticed while cooking:

    1. The ingredients listed under Other Ingredients include 3 whole cloves, but the directions didn’t mention at which point in the cooking to add these, so I omitted them from the casserole. The dish was so flavorful that we didn’t miss the cloves, but you might want to edit the above to mention where (broth? chicken?) to add these so the person cooking doesn’t miss a step. 🙂
    2. When it’s time to cook the onions, the directions say to heat the butter and the oil, but I can’t see the oil listed as an ingredient. I took an educated guess and added a bit of extra-virgin olive oil to the butter when cooking the onions, and that worked fine.

    These details didn’t negatively affect the outcome of the dish; like I said, we enjoyed this casserole tremendously and I’d cook it again. 🙂 I look forward to exploring your site some more and cooking more tasty dishes!


    • W/Salaam, thanks for the
      W/Salaam, thanks for the awesome feedback! Thanks for alerting me on the oil and cloves. The cloves are to be added along with the other whole spices (I have edited the recipe). The oil was mistakenly left out when the recipe was added to the website, it should say 3 tbsp oil. Thanks again and looking forward to hearing from you again when you try out more recipes. 🙂

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