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Maqluba is a Palestinian casserole that is served in many countries throughout the Middle East. The ingredients can vary from one recipe to the next, but it generally consists of layers of meat, eggplant and vegetables such as cauliflower and tomatoes, all cooked under a layer of rice. The actual word "maqluba" means "upside down", which is exactly how the final casserole is served, by flipping the baking pot upside down and unmolding the meal onto a serving platter. Traditional accompaniments include yogurt and cucumber salad. The recipe is very versatile and can be made either as a single, large main dish for many people or in small ramekins for individual servings.
Making maqluba begins with the meat. Cubed lamb is often used, although beef, veal or chicken also are found in the dish. Vegetarian varieties of maqluba substitute potatoes for the meat. In a hot pan with oil, the meat is quickly browned to create a crust and seal in the juices; onions are added at this point and cooked with the meat until they also have browned. The pan is filled with water, and the meat finishes cooking in the liquid.
Eggplant is an important ingredient in maqluba. Depending on the type of eggplant used, it can be salted before being cooked. Allowing slices of eggplant to sit with salt on their surface draws out the moisture from the flesh, which also may reduce the bitter taste associated with the vegetable. Once dried and cleaned of any salt that was used, the slices are fried in a layer of oil until they have browned. They ten are drained and dried again.
Another traditional ingredient is cauliflower. Florets are usually broken into bite-size pieces, drizzled with olive oil and arranged in a single layer on a baking sheet. The cauliflower is roasted in an oven until it develops some color, indicating its sugars have started to caramelize.
To create the casserole, a large pan is greased with butter, oil or ghee and slices of tomato are placed on the very bottom; this will eventually become the top during presentation. A thin layer of rice goes on top of the tomatoes, followed by the braised meat. The eggplant slices are arranged on top of the meat. Finally, the remaining uncooked rice is piled on top of the eggplant. Boiling water, usually reserved from braising the meat, is poured into the pan and the entire dish is allowed to cook over a very low flame for an hour or more, until the rice has finished.
When done cooking, the pot is inverted with a serving dish on top. The maqluba should slide out of the greased pan onto the plate. Depending on a number of factors, the sides of the casserole might have browned during the final cooking. The dish can be served with tahini sauce, cucumber salad or yogurt.
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