A perfect way to describe how I’ve been feeling lately. As it turns out, moving to a new city isn’t all that easy. I mean, I didn’t expect it to be a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination, but I suppose a small part of me naively assumed that my life in the UAE wouldn’t be all that different from my life in Bahrain. After all, they were both fairly progressive and relatively cosmopolitan GCC countries, only an hour away from one another – how hard could it be?
In my short time living in Abu Dhabi, I’ve discovered of course, that life here is undoubtedly different. Sometimes its a good different, sometimes it’s a frustratingly want-to-pull-my-hair-out-throw-a-fit different, and other times its neither here nor there – just different. As a self-proclaimed positive person, I try my hardest to always look on the brighter side of things – but I would be lying if I said my patience and “cup-half-full” mindset hadn’t been tested and challenged more than just a couple of times over the course of the past few months. In between adjusting to apartment life, learning the streets, sights and sounds of a new city (not to mention the bureaucracy that comes with it) I’ve also been trying to maneuver the awkwardness of making friends as an adult, all the while trying to maintain a balanced routine and supposedly excel at a new job. Add to that the rollercoaster of emotions brought on by all of the aforementioned and well… The bottom line is, it’s tough.
But when the going gets tough, the tough make vegan comfort food, reminiscent of simpler and happier times. Makloubeh (pronounced, Ma’loubeh in the Levant where it originates from and literally meaning “upside-down”) is one of the first Middle Eastern dishes I attempted to veganise back in the early years of writing this blog. The original recipe has since been lamentably deleted, but I am proud to say that its successor is the heartiest, healthiest and most vibrant Makloubeh I have ever made.
- 1 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 0.5 cm slices and tossed in ½-1 tsp salt
- 1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into florets
- 2 carrots, cut lengthwise into medium slices
- 2 medium potatoes, sliced into medium slices
- 2 large tomatoes, sliced into thick slices
- 4-5 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 1 small red onion, sliced
- 1 cup of brown rice, soaked overnight or for at least 4 hours
- 4 tbsp olive oil (or vegetable oil of choice)
- 2 cups of vegetable stock
- 1.5 tsp of smoked paprika
- 1 tsp each of turmeric powder, cumin powder, and cinnamon
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Start by preparing your vegetables for layering and pre-heat your oven to 170 C/ 340 F.
- Toss the carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes and onion in 2 tbsp of olive oil, sea salt and black pepper then transfer to an oven-safe dish and cover with foil. Bake for no more15 minutes so that the veggies are part-cooked and still crunchy.
- Next you want to grill your eggplant slices. Pour the remaining olive oil into a small dish and using a pastry brush, grease the eggplant slices before placing on a hot grill or frying pan. Grill each side for 2-3 minutes before greasing the upper facing side and flipping.
- Cut a circle of greaseproof or baking paper that is large enough to cover the base of your pot, then line the pot with it. Begin to layer your vegetables starting with the eggplant, then carrots, tomatoes, sliced red onions, potatoes, cauliflower and finally garlic cloves before finishing with the pre-soaked brown rice.
- Add the spices to the vegetable stock and mix until well-combined, then gently pour over the rice until the mixture is fully covered - add more water if needed.
- Transfer to the stove and gently bring to a boil - you do NOT want a vigorous boil because that will disturb the layers. Once the mixture starts to simmer, reduce to very low heat then cover and cook for 30 minutes.
- Once done, remove from the heat and allow to rest for 15 minutes. When ready to serve, use a plate that is larger than the base of the pan to cover and carefully turn over so that the plate is on the bottom. Lift the pan off of the mixture and pray that it keeps its shape!
Even though it sounds like a lot of work, I promise that it comes together pretty easily once all the moving parts have been assembled.
I just love how all the colours, flavours and textures come together in this dish. From the slow-cooked vegetables that practically melt in your mouth to the fragrantly spiced yellow rice, I can confidently say that this one is a delight for all the senses.
Some cooking notes!
- You will need a heavy based, 5-litre capacity pot to make this recipe, anything smaller and you run the risk of the mixture overflowing.
- The original recipe consists of meat, fried vegetables and white rice so you could definitely sub in some faux meat (chick’n strips or crumbled up vegan mince), or chickpeas for an extra protein boost. If you wish to use white rice, make sure it’s round Egyptian or Italian rice and don’t bother with the pre-soaking.
- Don’t worry if your Makloubeh falls apart once turned over – you can always re-assemble in smaller bowls when serving, as pictured.
Until next time, dear readers!