Al Kabsa


Al Kabsa

I first had Al Kabsa in Japan of all places. A Saudi Arabian friend was studying in Japan and was homesick for a home cooked meal, so a group of us decided to try to cook his favorite dish as a surprise. We got the recipe from his mother and had to order some of the ingredients from the Internet, as it was hard to find certain things in the small international markets where we lived. Needless to say my friend was touched and we had a great dinner party that night! I have made this dish a few times since and have loved it every time.


A Little Background

Al Kabsa is a traditional dish from the Middle East, usually eaten in Saudi Arabia. It is a rice and meat dish, usually chicken or lamb but there are many other variants that I mention further down. The uniqueness of the dish comes from the spice mixture like cinnamon, cloves, black lime, cardamom, saffron and others that you can see in the recipe below. It is a dish that is usually served at family gatherings or parties, as the amount usually cooked is large to gigantic and is usually served on a large platter. The three major influences on Saudi cuisine – the nomadic Bedouin, the ancient Arabian control of the spice routes, and the food restrictions mentioned in the Quran, have had their influence on Kabsa as well as other dishes. There are numerous variants of Kabsa for instance, Mandi but the traditional recipe of this dish is known and appreciated by most lovers of Saudi Cuisine (Mandi is another traditional dish and I have had it in Dubai. It is a rice dish much like Kabsa but the meat is usually young and cooked in a tandoor, a hole dug in the ground and coated in clay. I had it once in Dubai at a small local restaurant and it was very delicious- I will write about that experience sometime, a unique experience!)

Each variant of Kabsa has its own distinctiveness in taste due to varied use of spices and other ingredients. The spices give Kabsa its characteristic flavor yet meat is considered the main ingredient and could range from goat, lamb, and camel to even beef, chicken and fish. Kabsa, garnished with almonds and pine nuts, is usually served with homemade hot tomato sauce called ‘Dakkous’ or another sauce called ‘Shattah’. Mandi is served with those sauces accompanied with yogurt and a chicken broth. I like my Kabsa with yogurt, try it all!



1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces or 4 pounds lamb medium dice

2 cup basmati rice, washed and rinsed

4 tablespoons olive oil

3 bay leaves

2 organic chicken bouillon cubes

2 onions, diced

4 garlic cloves, diced

12 green cardamom pods, whole

9 cloves

4 cinnamon sticks

4 black limes

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp coriander

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

2 tsp ginger

2 tsp cardamom, ground

2 (15 ounce) cans of tomato sauce

8 hard-boiled eggs, optional

Pine nuts and raisins for garnish, optional


Place basmati rice in bowl with water over it to expand, it will not cook and will stay hard unless you do this. Leave for 15 minutes at the least.

In an 8-quart stockpot on medium-high heat add onions, garlic and. Allow onions to turn golden. Add bay leaves, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon sticks, black limes, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, ginger and ground cardamom. Blend well and allow to sauté for 30 seconds.

Add tomato sauce and chicken bouillon. Mix well until sauce thickens, reduce heat to low-medium. Add meat and allow to sauté for 1 minute. Rotate meat so that it gets all of the flavors. Add water until meat is completely covered. Bring to a full boil then reduce to low. Cook for 35 minutes covered.

After the meat has cooked reserve broth for rice. In a 2-quart saucepan, add rice and enough sauce from the meat just so that the rice is covered. Bring to a boil then immediately turn heat to low and cook covered for eight to ten minutes. Meanwhile, why the rice is cooking turn oven on high broil. Add meat to a roasting pan and broil for five minutes or until golden.

Add cooked rice to a serving platter with the meat arranged on top. Garnish plate with hard-boiled eggs, pine nuts, and raisins.



1 garlic clove, mashed

3 tomatoes, blanched, peeled, rough puree

1 green chili pepper, mashed

1 tsp tomato paste

1 tsp olive oil

Combine everything in a dish and mix well



8 cloves of garlic

3 red jalapeno peppers, stem removed

15 Thai bird chilies, stems removed

1 cup of fresh flat leaf parsley

1 cup of fresh cilantro

1/2 tbsp white vinegar

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp cumin powder

6 oz of tomato paste

1 cup of water

Plain Greek yogurt to taste for garnish

Throw everything into a blender or food processor, and pulse it down into you have a nice, smooth mixture. Add the mixture to a sauce pan, cover, and place on medium heat for about five minutes or until it has fully came to a boil. Stir, remove from the heat and let cool.


Photos by Getty images


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