One of the (few) good things about being in the military is the ability to travel and try new things – to include food.
Sometimes these experiences occur in place where we would rather not be but sometimes you have to make lemonade from lemons.
Being from the desert Southwest, I’m surrounded by a very Hispanic culture, which thrives on powerful chiles, onions and tomatoes.
As I have delved into ethnic cooking, I’ve discovered some similarities between my native Mexican-American cooking style and the style of Middle-Easterners half a world away.
One thing that appeals to me most about Arabic cooking is the simplicity of it, and I’m going to share one of those simple recipes with you in this article.
The dish is called “kabsa”, which, according to one of my friends is almost a literal translation of what it is. Kabsa consists of meat (either poultry, lamb, or goat), rice, and a vegetable component.
There are a lot of different variations of kabsa, one of which being “meglouba”, which means “upside-down”, where all of the ingredients are timed so that they’re all in the pot simultaneously and cooking together.
Though the presentation is wonderful, it’s a little too advanced for me. I prefer to start easy.
First, when going to the grocery for ingredients, one has to keep in mind what the desired aesthetic of the dish is to be like. If you’re trying to make a light kabsa with a more lemon-centered spice pattern, I would recommend sticking with poultry.
I use a lot of cucumbers, tomatoes and onions in mine, so I like to use either lamb or chicken most of the time. Goat meat should be saved for savory dishes, because the meat is usually lean and holds spices in a more concentrated way than other meats that I’ve worked with.
What sets kabsa apart from all other meat and rice dishes that you’ve had in the past? Spices. I recommend going to a local specialty market in order to get the freshest ingredients.
Some of the spices that I’ve come into contact with by Arabic food are very alien to me. I suggest whoever is preparing the dish develop a palate for the unique aftertaste of these magnificent old-world spices.
One of the staples I’ve found is tumeric, which I had never used before. I suggest using very mild amounts before experimenting with taste, as it does have a slightly bitter hint to it.
Other key spices include cumin, cinnamon, bay leaves, and cloves. Be generous with the cinnamon, as it accentuates tomatoes very well. If you’d like to leave the spicing to the professionals, then some Arabic specialty markets offer “sebah baharat”, or seven spices, premixed to taste.
Every region has its own special blend, so I recommend trying by smell for something heavy in cinnamon and cumin with a medium accent of bay.
Pressure cookers are the best to use to prepare this dish as they are low maintenance and tend to cook the fastest. Chop up an onion into diced-sized pieces and throw them into the pressure cooker with some olive oil.
I like to have my onions tender, but not carmelized, so watch them closely. Add a small can of tomato paste and some diced tomatoes. As that starts to heat, add about 2 1/2 cups of water, along with your spices.
Stir it for a few minutes and then add your meat to the pot. Once your meat is in the pressure cooker, seal it off and time it for about thirty minutes to check on it.
As this is cooking, take the opportunity to make the accompanying salad/topping. This is diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions mixed with plain yogurt and lemon juice. Just cover it with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge until it’s time to serve.
The meat should be about done at this point so check it, then remove the cooked chicken into a baking pan and place it into the oven on a low setting to keep it warm but to not overcook it.
Taste your leftover brothy mix in the pressure cooker, because that will be the taste of your rice. Season it to taste. When satisfied, throw in your rice and lock the lid down.
The rice could take anywhere from 35-60 minutes depending on your altitude and such. Your pressure cooker will make adequate noise to let you know that it’s done.
To serve, fill the plate heftily with rice, lay a piece of chicken on top, then garnish with the cucumber mix, a slice of lemon, and some Louisiana Hot Sauce. (Arabic Hot Sauce tends to be a little to hot for me, as it lingers more than chipolte pepper juice!) Enjoy!