Makloubeh (or maqluba) is a traditional Palestinian dish that’s all about the presentation. “It’s quite an art to get it right,” says Sarah Shaweesh, owner of Khamsa, a vegan Palestinian cafe in Sydney’s inner west. “The trick to turning it upside down and having everything stay together is getting the right ratio of stock to rice to veggies, and not burning the rice.

“When it’s flipped, everyone at the table checks to see what’s stuck to the pot. It can be quite emotional for the person who cooked.”

A successful makloubeh has fluffy, savoury rice and tender, sweet vegetables. It’s also served with a tangy salad and usually on a syder – a silver serving platter found in many Palestinian homes.

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Shaweesh says the dish originated in Palestine, but versions of makloubeh can be found around the Middle East – and they can contain a range of vegetables. There’s makloubeh with green broad beans; cauliflower; or eggplant, tomato and potato. Some cooks add chickpeas, carrots or red meat. Purists insist these variations shouldn’t be called makloubeh, but the dish lends itself to experimentation.

Although there are many written recipes for makloubeh, Shaweesh says cooking it involves some instinct. Makloubeh novices should regularly check the rice as it’s cooking.

“A lot of Middle Eastern cooking is done by sight; it comes from years of cooking and knowing the dish. My trick is to check on it just before it’s finished to make sure it’s cooking evenly. Try a bit of the rice on top and maybe add a little more water [if it needs it].”

For Shaweesh, makloubeh holds the memories of family lunches and dinners in Jordan, where much of her extended family lived in the same apartment block. It also serves as a symbol of new beginnings; the cafe owner recently married and makloubeh was the first dish she and her husband made together at home.

Sarah Shaweesh’s Palestinian eggplant makloubeh
Serves 6
Preparation time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 1.5 hours

3 cups rice
2 eggplants
1 large potato
Sea salt
Olive oil
25g pine nuts
25g raw cashew nuts
25g blanched almonds
1 capsicum, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 brown onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped

6 cups water
1 cube vegetable stock
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped
2 cucumbers, chopped
3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 Spanish onion, chopped

1 tbsp sumac
Pinch of sea salt
1 lemon, juice only
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

200g coconut yoghurt
1 tbsp tahini

Wash and drain rice and put to the side.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Slice eggplants and potato lengthwise to 1cm thickness. Place onto a lined baking tray. Lightly coat with olive oil and sea salt. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden. Set aside.

For the stock, mix ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Add vegetable oil to a frying pan. Fry pine nuts, raw cashews and blanched almonds. Remove from heat and place on a kitchen towel to absorb excess oil.

Brush a large saucepan with olive oil. Layer eggplant strips flat on the bottom and curving up the sides of the pot. Layer potatoes, capsicum, garlic cloves, onion and carrots. Top with rice.

Slowly add the stock mixture, ensuring the components in the saucepan don’t move around.

Cover the saucepan and bring to the boil on medium heat. Lower the heat to simmer and allow the liquid to fully absorb. It should take between 25 and 35 minutes.

Once liquid is absorbed, remove pot from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

For the salad, combine chopped parsley, cucumber, tomato and onion. Combine remaining ingredients for the dressing and mix.

For the yoghurt, whisk all ingredients together until thick and creamy.

At the table, remove the saucepan lid, place syder or other dish over the top of the pot and flip. The goal is to transfer the dish in one piece, like a cake. If anything sticks to the pot, arrange it on top of the rice.

Garnish makloubeh with nuts, remaining parsley leaves and serve with salad and yoghurt.

Looking for cooking inspiration? See Broadsheet’s recipe hub.