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Chicken, Rice & Vegetable Casserole: Ma'aluba - meat

Posted by : Karen Selwyn

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts had a month-long festival
honoring Israel on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.  One of the
activities was a lecture, demonstration, and dinner focusing on the
cuisine of Israel, specifically the foods which would have been eaten in
Biblical times.  The presenter of this lecture/demonstration was Moshe
Basson, executive chef of Eucalyptus Restaurant in Jerusalem. 

Basson made the interesting point that to learn about food from the
Bible, it is necessary to observe the oldest generation of women living
in the Druze and Palestinian villages since contemporary cuisine in
Israel has been too influenced by the Diaspora.

The menu for Basson's lecture/demonstration/dinner was as follows:

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
Tomato Soup with Mint
Subeiza (Mallow)
Stuffed Cyclamen Leaves
Ma'aluba
Stuffed Figs
Ice of Paradise (Bluza)
Land of Milk and Honey

The only recipe Basson shared was the recipe for Ma'aluba.  He intended
to share the recipe for everything he cooked, but he didn't prepare any
hand-outs and the evening ended with a vague promise to make the
remaining recipes public.  That has not happened so far.  The one recipe
I'd most like to get hold of is the recipe for stuffed figs.  

In this dish the cavity of figs was filled with an extremely tasty
mixture of minced chicken in a tamarind-flavored sauce.  Basson
described a vegetarian version of the stuffing.  This dish was by far
the tastiest of the lot and I would happily incorporate this dish into
my repertoire.

If you prepare the Ma'aluba, you'll discover it's a perfectly acceptable
stewed chicken preparation which is somewhat on the bland side.  It may
not be historically accurate, buy I'd serve a bowl of zehug (Yemenite
hot pepper-garlic chutney) to flavor the chicken if I made this dish for
a my family.  If you're comfortable with fusion cuisine, just place a
bottle of your favorite hot sauce on the table for the same effect.

The dessert, Land of Milk and Honey, was the one dish that was not well
received by all the diners sitting near me.  It was visually
attractive.  A lovely design created by a dark sauce was drizzled over a
white substance of pudding-like consistency.  We never did identify the
white substance, although I kept insisting it was agar-agar.  We did pin
down the dark sauce; it was unflavored ground sesame seeds.  If you can
think of liquid unflavored halvah, you'll get a close approximation of
the taste.

Karen Selwyn

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Casserole of Chicken, Rice & Vegetables (Ma'aluba)

6 whole chicken legs
3 medium onions, sliced
1 medium-sized eggplant, quartered and sliced with skin on
3 medium potatoes, sliced
1 small head cauliflower, separated into medium-sized flowers
6-10 threads saffron
1 tablespoon basmati turmeric (See note below)
salt and pepper
3 1/2 cups rice, washed twice, left in cold water for 1/2 hour (See
note)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
additional oil for sauteeing

Saute the sliced onions in olive oil over a medium flame until they are
brown and soft.  Add the chicken pieces and brown on all sides.

Add the saffron and black pepper to the pan.  Cover the contents with
cold water.  Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil.  Reduce the
heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add salt to make a salty broth.

While the chicken is simmering, saute the potatoes until they are
slightly colored on the outside but not fully cooked.  Set aside.

Saute the cauliflower until honey-colored.  Set aside.

Remove the chicken from the saute pan.  Arrange the meat, skin side
down, in a large, straight-sided casserole.  Fill in the spaces between
the chicken with eggplant.  On top of that layer, spread the cauliflower
and potatoes.

Remove the rice from the water, drain.  Place rice on top of the chicken
and vegetables.  Add enough broth from the pan with the simmered chicken
to cover the rice and 1/3 of an inch more.

Place the pot, uncovered, over a medium flame, and let it boil.  After
about 15 minutes, cover the pot and adjust the flame to the lowest
possible setting.  Continue cooking for 20-25 minutes.  Check
occasionally by removing the cover and smelling; when it smells a ittle
burned, it is ready.

Take a round metal tray and place it on top of the pot.  Turn the pot
over onto the try, patting the top to release the chicken.  Slide the
pot upward to reveal the upside-down chicken dish.

Note: I've typed the recipe up exactly as written in the hand-out but I
think there's a mistake.  I know the type of rice used in this dish was
basmati rice.  Furthermore, I've never heard of basmati turmeric.  I
suspect the word basmati is simply misplaced in the list of ingredients.

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