Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Novel Food: Magloubeh

To all those who played along in the guessing game- thank you!

Veggie Belly, full marks to you; you are absolutely right- this is makloubeh/magloubeh. Kedar and Meera guessed correctly that this rice dish comes from the Middle East, Rainee and Manasi guessed correctly that it is upside down (the word magloubeh translates as "upside down"), and Mika guessed correctly that it involves soy "meat". Y'all are a bunch of smart people!

The recipe comes from a memoir by Diana Abu-Jaber, The Language of Baklava. I read the book last week, and with over 40 recipes sprinkled through it, each more tantalizing than the other, this memoir drove me right into the kitchen. Which is why this post goes to the Novel Food: Summer 2009 edition, co-hosted by Lisa over at Champaign Taste. This is THE event for cooks who love reading, or is it bookworms who love cooking?

For someone who loves both books and cooking, food memoirs are a pretty logical choice for a delicious summer read. Everyday mundane moments, events and experiences, sensations and smells and tastes crystallize over time into intricate, vivid memories that can be brought to life by the deft words of a talented writer. To dive into a good memoir is to be invited into a home and a life that can be very different from one's own, and to experience cultures and flavors and perspectives that can be completely new and enlightening. And like they say, "you can't make this stuff up"- I often find myself more interested in events that actually occurred in someone's life rather than in works of fiction. Although descriptions of food and meals may dominate these memoirs, it is never really just about the food. As Diana Abu-Jaber says in the foreword of this book, "...the food always turned out to be about something much larger: grace, difference, faith, love." Even as I read blog posts (and I dozens of blog posts every day), the ones that stick with me the most are the ones where memories gush forth and reveal the events, foods and people that mean the most to us.

Last summer, I read two good memoirs. One was Madhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees. I find much of her writing both familiar (raw mangoes with salt and chilli powder, discovering new foods in the lunch boxes of school friends) and enchantingly different (life in a huge joint family, the historical events unfurling around her) from my own childhood experiences. If you want to read an extract from this book, go to the NPR website. The other engaging memoir was by Elizabeth Ehrlich, called Miriam's Kitchen. As the author describes her journey to understanding and embracing orthodox Jewish customs, I gained an understanding of these rituals as never before. One food memoir that I absolutely enjoyed is Julia Child's My Life in France. It is incredible how this woman grabbed life with both hands; her charm and candor are very appealing to me (Psst: Lisa is hosting a Julia Child event next month). For all Anglophiles, a must-read food memoir is Nigel Slater's Toast. His candid childhood memories are sprinkled with mentions of British treats. Another memoir that I found to be entertaining and an easy read was Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires. It contains many of her adventures as a restaurant critic for the New York Times- I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes footage that this book contains. This summer, I am hungry for more food memoirs, and found a blog post which suggests many books that might be interesting. If you have any food memoir recommendations for me, please leave a comment- thank you!

Coming back to the book on hand, The Language of Baklava was a delectable read. Every chapter talks about a certain episode or phase in Diana Abu-Jaber's life. She is a lyrical writer and I felt weak in the knees when she described the Big Market in Jordan, with the scents of "sesame, olive, incense, rosewater, orange blossom water, dust, jasmine, thyme". The lush descriptions of food are intermingled with the search for identity and home.

Out of all the dozens of recipes in this book, I was eager to make the one called "diplomatic magloubeh"- an upside down rice dish with eggplant, cauliflower and meat (that I am replacing here with a vegan meat substitute). Ironically, the author did not care for this dish as a child, and says that eating it made her feel like she was "at the mercy of the terrible sulfur-smoky cauliflower, the bitter, unrewarding eggplant". Mmm...sounds good to me! I always fall for these elaborate rice casseroles, especially the ones that involve dramatic upside down maneuvers at the end.



Adapted from the book The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber

1 ½ cups rice
1 package "fake meat" (I used Beef-less strips from Trader Joe's)
2 onions, sliced
1 medium eggplant, sliced
½ cauliflower, cut into slices/florets
Plenty of olive oil
3½ cups vegetable stock (I used mushroom broth)
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
Salt to taste
Handful of toasted pine nuts, for garnish

1. Fry the eggplant and cauliflower in olive oil until browned, and set them aside.
2. In a wide and deep saucepan, saute the sliced onions in olive oil until golden brown.
3. Add the fake meat and all the spices and stir fry for a minute.
4. Pat down the onion-fake meat layer. Layer the fried cauliflower on top of it.
5. Layer the raw rice on the cauliflower, add the eggplant slices as the last layer.
6. Pour the stock all over. This is the tricky part- adding the correct amount of stock so as to cook the rice properly but not leave it too soggy. I added enough so that the contents of the pot were barely immersed, and it worked out OK this time.
7. Cover the pot tightly and let the rice cook. It took me about 35-40 minutes.
8. Once you turn the heat off, let the rice rest for 10 minutes, then invert it very carefully onto a platter. Garnish with pine nuts.

I served this festive rice with cucumber tahini salad, as the author suggests. I made the salad by mixing together 1 large cucumber (shredded) with 1 cup low-fat yogurt, 1 tablespoon tahini, cumin and salt to taste. Now, I have never tasted actual magbouleh and probably never will, since restaurants will make this with meat, but all I can say is this was a very special and tasty meal. The cinnamon and nutmeg and fried onions all combine to flavor the rice in a most extravagant way. The one thing is that the eggplant and cauliflower do get cooked twice (once while being fried and browned and the other with the rice) so they are mushy and overcooked- probably why the author complained about this dish as a child.

At the very end of this post, there is a traditional recipe for makloubeh. I was gratified that my version looked quite similar to the one shown in that post. I also found a recipe for vegetable makloubeh on the Guardian website (scroll down to the middle of the rather long page to find this recipe).

*** *** ***

Let me make a long post even longer by sharing a photo of Dale. I took this one last evening, when our resident pooch was back from a long walk in the sunshine, tired and happy, smiling and resting his feet on his much-loved blankie.

This morning, we have thunderstorms so he's not that happy any more. Dale only has to hear the faintest rumble of thunder to dive into a corner of the nearest closet. If there are storms as far away as Arkansas, you can bet that this brave dog will be quaking with fear. We have lined all the closets with small rugs for his comfort because thunderstorms are a very regular feature of summer weather in the Mid-West. Once the storm passes, he emerges from his hide-out, looks around him carefully, and settles back down on his blankie with a deep sigh.


  1. First i gotta say Dale looks totally relaxed and that he needs a nap! Also...i really loved your write up. I do have to check out the book of Julia child (incidentaly, there is going to be a movie that sorta talks a bit about it...Julia and Julia i think), also have to look into Miriam's kitchen. Jewish customs and culture have always intrigued me....i am also fascinated about the rules they have with relation to food and the way they are combined or not allowed to be combined!

  2. HeY Nupur!!!
    Those are all lovely food memoir suggestions!!!Can't wait to read!!!I like mystery and romancee novels !!! Today I have started reading Nora Robert's "The gift".
    After reading your "Book Love" list I have planned to create my own with all the novels I read and add on as I go...Thanks for the wonderful idea!!!

  3. Thank you, thank you for taking part in our event, Nupur! Where do I start? First of all, thanks for mentioning those memoirs (not just the one you used for NF); though I've read and enjoyed many of them, I hadn't heard of a couple and I will now investigate! I love a good memoir, too.

    Second, your dish looks delish, and what a fabulous photo. That kind of dish is right up my alley. And of course the drama of the upside-down maneuver is irresistable.

    Third: Dale is a cutie and you two are so sweet to put rugs in the closets. I completely understand such behavior; when we had the three cats (now only one), I pretty much had every available flat space covered with some sort of blanket or towel to ensure their comfort. :)

    Cheers, and here's to good books and good food.

  4. Nupur, you have a lot of lovely book recommendations. Last summer, I went through your book list and borrowed quite a few that you'd mentioned there from the library.
    I am glad to hear that Julia Child's "My Life in France" is a good read- I have it checked out from the library and hope to get to it soon.:)

    Also, thank you for the link to the Serious Eats blog post. There are a lot of good reads mentioned in the comments there- that will definitely keep me busy for a while.

  5. I loved this post for it is to do with treasured memories and the rice I just knew it had to be middle eastern :). Dale looks cool and what a pose! How old is he?

  6. What a fabulous post, as always! Of course, the best part was the news on Dale, and it was great to see him looking so handsome and bright and sprightly! One dog that I had growing up was big and muscular and scary-looking (to strangers) and was the biggest coward around. The poor baby was terrified of Diwali. The sound of the first fireworks would send him rushing under our bed, whimpering and with his tail tucked firmly under his legs.
    I have a question about soy meat: does it taste "meaty"? I dislike the taste of meat, so I was wondering.
    I too have been taking a longish break from blogging and reading my favorite blogs - I see I have some yummy catching up to do here!

  7. Nupur,
    You always come up with one surprise after another. I had never heard about this dish, although I thought it was a distant relative of our pulao, I honestly had no clue. Thanks for the book reccomendations, I have a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook and every section has a mini memoir to it. I will certainly try to read her book. And, Dale's stories always bring a smile, he looks so alert and rested on his blankets.
    Ps. Where I work, one client always comes in with her dog. It took me a while to remember her name, but remembered her pup's name from day one :P he looks just like Dale, maybe that's why!

  8. What a beautiful dish you made! I actually recently read the same book and made a dish from it, muhammara, many times. Thanks for participating!

  9. I'd love to lay my hands on the different kinds of vegan meat substitutes you get in the US :)

    I have to make do with Nutrela and some fake chicken legs at best!

    The read, the recipe and the pictures are beautiful...

  10. Lovely post - but what got to me was this: "We have lined all the closets with small rugs for his comfort.."

    Awww... that made me laugh but also reminded me of my late dog Penny, who was equally terrified of fireworks! Amazing how a medium sized dog could squeeze into a space 1/4th her size! :)

  11. Rajitha- The upcoming movie is based on the book "Julie and Julia" which is written by a woman named Julie who cooked her way through Julia Child's classic cookbook, trying every single recipe. I've read this book and thought it was strictly OK, frankly. But I might go see the movie :)

    BDSN- I love mystery, romance not at all :)

    Lisa- Thank you, thank you for hosting the lovely event! I really enjoyed thinking of what to make and writing this post.
    Dale says thank you but wants to confess that he is not a cat person :D

    TBC- I think you will enjoy "My Life in France", you'll have to share with us what you think about it :)
    I am so thrilled with all the books mentioned in the Serious Eats post too, it will be fun looking for them and reading them in the coming months.

    Anjali- Yes, the layered rice has a distinct Middle Eastern look to it :)
    Dale is about 10 years old- a senior citizen! How is our little Chimi doing?

    Kamini- I remember that Diwali used to be a miserable time for me and the dog I had growing up. I hated loud fireworks just as much as the neighborhood pets!
    This fake meat thing does taste quite "meaty". I shared some of this rice with a colleague and she commented on how her meat-loving kids would never be able to tell the difference, which goes to show you. You could skip the soy meat altogether in this recipe and simply serve the rice with a nice chickpea or lentil salad.

    Namita- Oh yes, this is certainly a cousin of our biryanis and pulaos, and the book was the first time I ever heard of it too.
    I laughed when I read your story about the client and her dog. I know so many of my neighbors based solely on their dogs. No idea what their own names are- to me they are Duffy's Dad and Mo's Mom and so on :)

    Simona- Oh, you know, I almost made the muhammara but this rice dish called out to me :)
    Thank you for hosting this event!

    Raaga- I frankly don't think you are missing out on that much...I barely use these substitutes myself. Nutrela would be fine here, or you can skip the mock meat altogether!

    Shyam- I know- our tubby Dale also squeezes himself into all kinds of unlikely spaces!

  12. Wow. Now that there is a name to the dish, the tortured mind can rest :) But it was definitely worth the wait. Keep them coming girl. It is things like this which makes life meaningful. Otherwise what else is there but 'routine'??
    This Magloubeh seems like a beautiful mid-eastern take on our Indian vaangi-bhaat or flower-bhaat. The ingredients are more-or-less the same. But the end result is oh-so-different...

  13. Hello Nupur and Dale!- Some good food memoirs: Monsoon Diary by Shoba Narayan and The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten (probably doesn't count as a memoir because it's a compilation of articles but it reads very smoothly). ----Mira

  14. Hi Nupur,
    I am glad to see that you are back to blogging. Your enthusiasm for food is so contagious that I am inspired to go home and cook something new.
    Keep blogging!

    p.s: Dale looks soo adorable!

  15. I love one dish meals!

    This dish reminds me-I recently read a novel about three Iranian sisters who start a cafe in Ireland- It is called Pomegranate Soup. It is a novel with recipes sort of like the Hindi Bindi club and is a nice read.The next book is called Rosewater and Soda bread (The name is what caught my attention). I thought you might be interested since it contains recipes and food talk..:)

    As I'd mentioned in my previous comments, I've been looking for a summer substitute for the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency and found it! A trilogy set in Tahiti- they are light heartwarming books and a very lazy summer read! (The books are Fragipani, Breadfruit, Tiare in Bloom)

    Now- I need to get on to some 'not so summer' books that have been waiting for me to pick them

  16. And Dale looks lovely! Tired and Happy is the perfect description of how he looks..

  17. Nupur, the memoir sounds great... I'll have to check our library for a copy. The pics look amazing! Hope Dale is better now :)

  18. You mentioned that restaurants might server this with meat but I'm surprised that it is not on the menus of most Middle Eastern restaurants. I wonder why. It sounds/looks very similar to the biryani, what with the layering of vegetables and rice and garnishing with nuts.

  19. How gorgeous! I absolutely adored that book (and Madhur Jaffrey's too!) and am always on the lookout for more food related auto-biographies... I think she had a recipe for mjeddrah in that book (the rice and lentils?) that I made that turned out very well!

  20. I just finished language of baklava and about to start climbing mango trees!

  21. You might want to check out "Paris Over the Moon" by Adam Gopnick, an excellent cultural and foodie find.

  22. Hi Dale!

    Hi Nupur! If you haven't read Ruth Reichl's other books, I'm sure you'll enjoy them. Tender at the Bone is amazing. I also enjoyed Comfort me with Apples, though not nearly as much.

  23. I just can't bring myself to try these fake meats. Pardon my silly question. But, are they too meaty for vegetarians?

  24. Arati- Yes, a lot of these flavored rice dishes are based on the same theme, yet each is unique.

    Mira- Hello :) I did read Monsoon Diary and liked it in parts, and I really must get my hands on the Steingarten book- it has been on my to-read list for a long time.
    By the way, thank you so much for recommending the Splendid Table podcasts- I have been enjoying them :)

    Sangeetha- Dale and I both thank you :)

    Lavanya- Ooh, I must look for Pomegranate sounds very interesting. And thank you so much for mentioning the trilogy, I am definitely going to look for it! I really appreciate you taking the time to give me your book recommendations.

    Mandira- Dale still has his medical condition but he's responding to the medication so all is well (fingers crossed) :)

    the conflicted cook- True, I haven't noticed it on many restaurant menus either.

    Su-Lin- I did notice the recipe for mjeddrah as well! Actually, so many recipes in that memoir sounded fantastic- I really wanted to try one of those rich, syrupy desserts :)

    veggie belly- Aha! That's how you knew the answer right away :)

    amerikanerin on the go- Thanks, I will check it out!

    Cathy- I did read her other books a while ago, but should re-read them sometime. She's coming out with another book soon, and I heard that she will be in my neighborhood bookstore for a book signing :)

    Suganya- Meat-eaters do remark at how amazingly similar they taste to actual meat. I guess you'd have to taste and see :)

  25. Have to look up those books at my library and also the ones Lavanya mentions. I am reading Hidden Kitchen -- from NPR kitchen Sisters, the recipes are not the kind I would like to try but absolutely love the memoirs and traditions

  26. Bong Mom- I did read Hidden Kitchens and enjoyed it very much!

  27. Nupur -- all I can say is, I want to eat this deliciousness with you during a thunderstorm, while Pinks and Daisy hide out with Dale ;)

  28. I had loved ur photo of the books and use that list now to find good summer reading. Was wondering if u have read "A Matter of Taste: The Penguin Book of Indian Writing on Food ". It's a collection of excerpts on food from different fiction books .Really interesting read.

  29. I love food memoirs too - Nigel Slaters Toast is one of my favourites - I have quite enjoyed some food histories lately too - will have to take note of a few of yours I think - and love the sound of this dish although I think I would prefer chickpeas to soy meat as I am not into soy meat!

  30. Linda- And all I can say is, come on over!!

    Mallugirl- I did read that collection many years ago, and would love to read it again, I remember enjoying the diversity of the writing in there.

    Johanna- Food history is something I don't read enough of, I should seek some of those books out.
    Chickpeas would be delicious in this dish. I would not eat this soy meat every day but I don't mind it once in a while.

  31. First things first, that is such an adorable picture of Dale's - what a handsome pooch! I'm a big fan of your other upside-down rice dish Lubyeh Polo and often make it when entertaining friends. Looking at the ingredients, I know I'm going to like this one too.



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