Upside Down with Al

A few weeks ago, my youngest sister, Molly, returned from a trip to Palestine and Israel. Molly was the last of the four children in my family to undertake this adventure. And like the rest of us, her experience was mighty transformative.

Despite incredible hardship, the people that we met on our trips were so generous. They invited us into our homes, fed us delicious food, and gave freely of their time and energy.

For my other sister, Alicia, this trip was so transformative that she decided to study International Studies and Arabic in college so that she might be able to do work that assists in these kind of tough situations.

The man that made this all possible is our wonderful friend, Al. Al is a terrific cook and in the spirit of his homeland, he invited us all over last Friday to cook and eat and share stories.

We made a Palestinian dish called Makloubeh or Upside Down. It’s a great dish for a party because it’s beautiful, quite affordable, and very delicious. We made a vegetarian version of makloubeh, but you can also make it with chicken or lamb. Here’s how you do it.

Makloubeh or Upside Down

1 head of cauliflower or 2 medium eggplant or 10 carrots (Or a combination of each)

1 1/2 lbs stewed lamb meat or roasted chicken (optional)

1 large onion

2 cups rice

1/2 tsp allspice (optional)

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tsp salt

2 tbs butter

Olive oil

3 1/2 cups water or meat stock

1/8 tsp saffron (optional)

4 tbs almonds

Begin by cutting your chosen vegetables into 1-2 inch pieces. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the vegetables in 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast until soft and brown. It will take different amounts of time for each vegetables. Somewhere between 20 and 50 minutes. Another way to prepare the vegetables is to fry them in olive oil. Then, pat them dry.

After the vegetables are roasted, put them on a platter and set aside.

In a large pot, saute onion in a tablespoon of butter and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add a sprinkling of salt. ┬áSaute until onion is yellow and beginning to carmelize. Add cooked meat if you choose. Then, cover cooked meat with a layer of the roasted vegetables. Then, cover with rice. Shake the pot a few times to make sure that the rice is evenly dispersed. Add broth or water and then bring it up to a boil. If using already salted broth, you probably don’t need to salt a lot. But if using water, add more salt now (a teaspoon or less).

Reduce heat, and simmer rice with the pot covered for 40 minutes or until the rice is tender and the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat. Let cool for 1/2 an hour. Place a plate on top of the pot, and  turn the pot upside down onto the large plate on the counter. Leave the pot on the rice for another 10 or so minutes. While the pot is cooling, roast some sliced almonds on the stove. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a small pan. Cast iron is a good choice. Then, add almonds and sprinkle on a little salt and stir often to brown and caramelize.

When the time is up, take the pot off the rice, sprinkle with almonds and dig in.

We ate our upside down with yogurt and cucumber salad. It can also be eaten with just plain yogurt.

This can be whipped up easily by

Combining 2 cups of plain yogurt with 2 cloves of minced garlic. Squeeze in some lemon juice, add a bit of salt and pepper, and fresh mint. Cut up a few cucumbers into thin half moons. Whether you want to peel them or not is up to you. Mix the yogurt with the cucumbers, and sprinkle on some dried mint for garnish.


I hope you make makloubeh. It’s more than a delicious dish. While we were eating it, I realized it also imparts a sense of warmth and connection which reflects the spirit of its people.

Bil hana wa ash shifa. May you have your meal with gladness and health.






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