How to make a simple vegetarian maqluba (upside-down layered rice) with soy mince and onions. This Arabic rice dish is simple to prepare and perfect for impressing guests: with layers of vegetables, soy mince, and rice baked and then flipped over for a healthy, wholesome, and surprisingly beautiful side or main!
Slice the eggplant into ¼-½ inch pieces (about 1 cm), brush lightly with oil, and then place in a single layer of a parchment-lined baking tray and bake at 350ºF/180ºC for 35 minutes.Traditionally, the eggplant would be fried in a bit of oil - but baking is healthier.
Meanwhile, slice the onion and tomatoes, prepare the vegetable stock (combine the cube with hot water), and rinse your rice until the water runs almost clear.To do this, I place the rice in a large bowl and cover it with water. Then, swish the rice to remove the starch, drain, and repeat 2-3 times until the water is almost clear.
Step 2: Cook the ingredients
Chef's Tip: you can proceed with these steps while the eggplants are still baking in the oven.In a large pot, heat up the oil over medium heat, then add the onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
Add the mince, salt, pepper, and cinnamon, and stir. Cook for 4-6 minutes until the mince is almost cooked through.
Add the rice and about 1/2 of the vegetable stock. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10-12 minutes. The rice should be only par-cooked at this point.Alternatively, you can cook the minced soy and onion mixture separately from the rice and layer it up when baking in the next step.Chef's Tip: at this point, the eggplants should also be done baking. Place the baked eggplants, the sliced tomatoes, the rice and soy mince mix, and the rest of the veggie stock next to each other on your working surface. You are now ready to layer the maqluba.
Step 3: Layer and bake the maqluba
In a tall, lightly greased oven-safe dish (like a cake pan; 8-9 inches/20-23 cm across works well), layer the tomato slices, baked eggplant (tightly arranged and slightly overlapping), and the rice mince mixture.Then top it all with another eggplant layer and tomato layer. Finally, pour over the rest of the vegetable stock.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 350ºF/180ºC.During this time, lightly toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet until golden and fragrant.
Step 4: Invert and serve the maqluba
Once baked, flip the baking dish over onto another serving dish and top with the toasted pine nuts and optionally some fresh herbs.
How to Make Ahead and Store
Make ahead: there are several ways that you can cut down on the prep of this dish by making elements in advance. For example, you can bake the eggplant in advance and store, covered in the refrigerator for up to two days. Likewise, the onion and mince mixture can be cooked 2-3 days in advance and stored, covered in the fridge.You can also prepare the entire dish a day in advance. Add 2-3 tablespoon of water or stock back to the dish before reheating in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until heated through.Fridge: store any leftover vegetable maqluba in the refrigerator, covered for 2-3 days.Freeze: allow to cool, then transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to a month. Allow to thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.Reheat: reheat the vegetable maqluba in the microwave or on the stovetop with a splash of water to help soften the rice again. The vegetables will be softer after freezing, but the taste is still amazing!
Use a non-stick baking dish: this makes it easier to flip out and maintain a beautiful presentation. You should also make sure the dish isn't too narrow, or else the rice may not be cooked through evenly.
If the rice is undercooked: I recommend using a teaspoon to test a little of the rice before serving it. If it's underbaked, add extra ¼-1/2 cup water or stock and return to the oven for a further 15-20 minutes.
Don't under-season: it's crucial to season every layer of the vegetable maqluba so that it doesn't taste bland. Depending on how salty your stock is, adjust the seasoning accordingly.
Pack it tightly: if you want the maqluba to turn out well, then make sure to pack it tightly into the baking dish, pressing it down with a spatula.
Experiment with grains: once you have the method sorted with rice, you can experiment with other grains like freekeh, farro, or bulgur (adjusting the cooking time and stock amount).
Optional Add-insThere are several ways you can adapt this vegetable fritters recipe, including:
Other vegetables: there are several popular vegetables used for maqluba, including cauliflower and potato. Zucchini, carrots, peppers, spinach, and chickpeas could also be used. If you use cauliflower, bake it with the eggplant. For peppers, cook them with the onion.
For heat: you could add in some chili powder, chili paste, or finely sliced chilies.
Aromatics: you can optionally add in some garlic (or garlic paste), use a bay leaf when doing the initial cook of the rice, or even add 1-2 tablespoon of tomato paste for extra flavor. You can also experiment with other spices like green cardamom or allspice.
Cheese: for a vegan version, use dairy-free cheese. Or use dairy cheese.
You could also add lentils and dried fruits like raisins to the dish.