Culture through Food

August 11, 2023

Jordanian makluba recipe

     After two blogs about food and travel, this time I’m combining those topics and including a recipe. And though I don’t describe myself as a “foodie,” I do love trying local dishes on our trips and bringing back ideas to use in my own kitchen. As James Beard, the well-known chef said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

     Furthermore, having visited multiple countries and living in community in the Shelter Hostel for thirty-eight years where we’ve had guests from over 110 countries and volunteers from 30, the idea of culture fascinates me. Deborah Cater, the travel-writer wrote, “You have to taste a culture to understand it.”

     We recently returned from a trip to our eastern neighbor, Jordan, where we toured Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world, Wadi Rum, an amazing nature reserve famous for its sandstone rock formations, canyons, natural arches, and sand dunes, and hiked through desert canyons flowing with hot and cold water.

     In terms of the food, much is similar to Israel – hummus, felafel, shawarma, salads, and more, but a meal we ate in our guest house stands out. We first tasted makluba, meaning “upside down,” when prepared by a Jordanian guest staying at the Shelter for six months and working here soon after the peace treaty was signed. (I describe this in the chapter called “Lebanese Fugitive and Jordanian Aristocrat” in Come, Stay, Celebrate – The Story of the Shelter Hostel.) A. amazed us all as he expertly flipped over the cooking pot onto a large platter.

     I’ve since learned to prepare makluba myself, and I include a scene of Tamar cooking it for her family in To Belong – A Novel. She made the vegetarian version so that’s the recipe I’ve used here, though it’s traditionally made with chicken or lamb. Makluba takes some time to prepare and assemble, and requires fiddling to release it from the pan, but if you enjoy food from around the world and want to impress your family or guests, give it a try.  

     If you want some tips, I’ll be glad to help, and if you do make makluba, I’d love to see a picture.


     Makluba Ottolenghi

¾ c. vegetable oil, for frying
1 large eggplant, cut lengthways into 0.5cm thick slices
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 0.5cm slices
1 small cauliflower, cut into large florets
2 medium carrots, cut lengthways into 0.5cm thick slices
2 large tomatoes, cut into 1cm thick slices 
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced 
1 c. short-grain rice (risotto or paella rice), washed and drained

For the liquid:
1 2/3  to 2 c. vegetable stock or water 
½ tsp ground turmeric 
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground nutmeg 
1 tsp ground cardamon 
1 tsp black pepper

  1. Pour the oil into a wide frying pan - it should come about 0.5cm up the sides - and place over a high heat. When hot, fry the eggplant in batches for a minute each side, until nicely tanned. Transfer to paper towel. Repeat with the potato and then the cauliflower and carrot, but for only about 30 seconds a side - these vegetables need to take on some color but stay crunchy.
  2. Cut out a circle of greaseproof paper large enough to cover the base and some of the pan's edge, and line the pan with it. Cover the paper with eggplant slices, then layer up, in order, with the carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and cauliflower. Sprinkle the garlic on top and cover with rice.
  3. Mix the boiling water or stock with the spices and seasoning. Gently pour the mix over the rice, making sure all the rice is immersed. Put the pot on the stove top and bring gently to a boil (you don't want a vigorous simmer because that will ruin the layers). Once simmering, reduce the heat to a bare minimum, cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, lift off the lid, place a clean tea towel over the pan, pop the lid back on and leave to rest for 10-15 minutes.
  4. When ready to serve, remove the lid and towel, and place your large serving plate over the pan. Carefully turn over, so the plate is now on the bottom and the pan on top, place on a stable surface and gently lift off the upturned pan. Carefully lift off the greaseproof paper - ideally, you want the rice to keep the pan's shape, though it's not the end of the world if it falls apart. 
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