Upside-down Chicken Casserole

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As you know, I’ve recently been thumbing my way through, Jerusalem, a cookbook by Yotam Ottalenghi and Sami Tamimi.  Today I am sharing a slightly tweaked version of a traditional Arabic casserole. Maqluba means “Upside-down” and that’s exactly how this savoury chicken and veggie casserole is presented. Once cooked, the pot, layered with tasty food is flipped over and if luck is with you, the casserole drops out in one piece onto the awaiting platter. Last night luck was with us and, posted here you see the results.

Traditionally the veggies are fried before being layered into the casserole dish but I roasted mine instead. This way, less oil was used and the vegetable flavours were deepened and intensified during the roasting process.

Now, the list of ingredients might seem long and daunting but really, most of what you see below is various spices. They add distinctive flavours to this upside-down casserole making it hard to resist.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium sized eggplant, cut into 1/2 ” slices
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1 large onion, cut into quarters lengthwise
  • ½ medium sized cauliflower, cut into florets
  • ¼ C olive oil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt & grinding of pepper
  • 1 C basmati rice
  • 8 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
  • ¼ C cooking oil
  • 1 ½ C chicken broth (or water)
  • 1 small onion, cut into quarter sections
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ½ tsp black pepper

Preparation

  1. Lay the eggplant pieces out flat on a piece of paper towel. Lightly sprinkle both sides with salt. Leave for 15 – 20 minutes. Beads of moisture will appear on the eggplant surface during this time. Pat the slices dry.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
  3. Coat the eggplant, cherry tomatoes, onion quarters, and cauliflower with the olive oil and sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper. Spread the veggies out on one or two baking pans lined with parchment paper and place on the middle rack of the pre-heated oven. Roast the vegetables for about 40 minutes removing individual veggie slices/pieces as they are done.
  4. Cover the rice with water and leave it to soak for at least ½ hr.
  5. While the rice is soaking and vegetables are roasting, heat the 2 T of cooking oil in a large heavy pan with a tight fitting lid. Brown the chicken thighs on both sides. Add the broth or water to the pan, along with the onion halves, bay leaf and peppercorns.  Bring to a boil then lower the heat so the broth is just simmering. Cover with lid and braise for 20 minutes. Remove chicken using a slotted spoon and strain the chicken broth. Set both chicken pieces and broth aside for later use.
  6. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the casserole pot you will use to assemble the Maqluba. Select a pot that has a tight fitting lid and doesn’t slope inward from bottom to top. The sides should be straight up and down with the top opening of the pot being the same size as the bottom of the pot (see what I used pictured below). Spray the sides of the pot with cooking oil.
  7. Now it’s time to layer the casserole. First place the roasted cherry tomatoes on the bottom followed by the roasted slices of eggplant. The chicken thighs come next followed by the roast onion sections and cauliflower florets. Strain the soaked rice and distribute it evenly across the top layer of the casserole. Press everything down firmly.
  8. Add the remaining spices (turmeric, cumin, smoked paprika, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and black pepper) to the reserved chicken broth and stir. Slowly pour enough of the chicken broth mixture over the last casserole layer to completely cover the rice. Cover the pot with its lid.
  9. Place the covered pot on the middle rack of the 350 F oven. Bake for one hour. Leave it for a bit longer if there is liquid that still needs to absorb and reduce. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before flipping onto platter. Good luck but don’t worry; the Maqluba tastes great even if it’s not in one piece when served.

 

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Garnish with lightly browned pine nuts if desired.

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