First my disclaimer: it seems there are as many ways to prepare machbous as there are people who cook it. I created this recipe after reading a dozen different recipes, then picking and choosing the methods and ingredients I felt would go well together. If you run into a cook from the Gulf States and he or she has a different way of preparing it, I encourage you to take notes, maybe spy on him or her in the kitchen and let me know what you learn!
This Arabic mixture of spices is called bezar, and every cook has a unique formula. This mixture is a little tame, but adding peppercorns, cayenne pepper, and chilli powder would give it a kick.
- 2 tbsp ground cumin
- 2 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 ½ tbsp ginger
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp turmeric
- ½ tbsp cardamom
- salt and pepper to taste (I added about 1 tsp of each)
Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container. The spices before they are mixed. Photo credit: Angela Ford
I would normally prepare stock using roasted lamb bones, but apparently machbous is prepared by simmering the entire leg of lamb in spiced water to create a rich stock. This stock smelled divine, filling the house with its aroma.
A note about dried lemons: brittle, black, and marble-sized, dried lemons pack a big punch of citrusy, sour flavour. They are in the spice aisle in large bags, and you should crush them or cut them in half before adding them to the water to maximize the flavour.
- 1 leg of lamb, bone-in (about 5 kg)
- 2 onions, quartered
- 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 2 dried lemons, halved
- 1 tbsp whole cloves
- 3 tbsp bezar (see above for recipe)
- 1 tbsp coarse salt or fleur de sel
Place the onion, garlic, and spices into a large stockpot. Add the leg of lamb and cover with cold water. Uncovered, bring the stockpot to a simmer (this took a long time on my little stovetop—be patient!). The liquid should be gently bubbling, not a rolling boil. After 30 minutes, add the salt, then simmer for another hour or so.
Remove the leg from the stock, and cut the meat from the bone into serving-sized pieces. Strain a portion of the stock into a separate bowl and set aside—this will be used for braising the lamb meat. I had a huge amount of stock, so I only strained a portion, then added the bone back into the stock and left it to simmer while I completed the meal. Stock freezes very well in freezer bags, and will speed up your next machbous preparation.
Braising the meat
In batches, sear the pieces of meat in an oven-safe pot or Dutch oven. I used quite a high heat with liberal amounts of olive oil. Place the meat back in the pot, fill 2/3 with reserved stock, and put in a 150°C oven (300°F) for at least an hour and a half. Baste every thirty minutes to keep the meat at the top moist.
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tbsp bezar
- ½ cup chopped dates or currants
- ½ cup chopped pistachios
- 2 cups basmati rice
- hot lamb stock
- Strain the remaining stock and keep hot.
- In a large pot on medium heat, sautée the onions until they are soft with a little colour. Add the garlic and stir the mixture for another minute or two as the flavours combine. Add the chopped tomatoes, bezar, dates or currants, and pistachios and stir for another few minutes until the mixture is heated through.
- Add the rice to the mixture and stir to combine, then ladle in the appropriate amount of liquid, using the package directions as your guide. Cover with a tight fitting lid, reduce heat slightly, and let cook for the recommended time.
Putting it all together
When the rice is done, salt and pepper to taste. Spread rice on a large platter, and place the braised lamb pieces on top. Drizzle the braising liquid over the meat, and sprinkle the platter with finely minced parsley for a little colour. Serve family style.