Google+ Spices in the Cookie Jar: Al Kabsa - from the heart of Saudi Arabia....


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Al Kabsa - from the heart of Saudi Arabia....

Good memories are truly a gift, sometimes they inspire you to be more creative and try your hand at something new. I still remember from when I was a kid, my mom and grandmom making Kabsa for the very first time at home on a warm summer afternoon in Saudi Arabia. The exquisite aroma of spices wafting from the kitchen, all the excitement and eagerness to try the homemade dish, the delighted look on mom's face when everyone liked the dish...with all these memories floating around I finally decided to make Kabsa one evening....and what a great decision it was! :)
Al Kabsa is a traditional Middle Eastern dish very famous in Saudi Arabia, sort of like their national dish. There are many variations of this dish depending on the different regions they come from and each variant acquires its unique flavours from the spice mixture used. The characteristic flavour of Kabsa comes from a combination of spices and the choice of meat used. Usually this dish is served at large family gatherings and parties in a very large platter with the meat in the middle of the rice. Traditionally everyone sits around the platter and the food is eaten from the same platter :) Kabsa is usually served with a homemade tomato sauce called salata hara.

Chicken - 1 kg (cut into 8 pieces)
Onion - 2 medium, finely chopped
Tomato - 1 medium, finely chopped        
Tomato paste - 2 tbsp
Garlic - 4 medium cloves (bruised)
Green Chilly - 4 bruised                      
Basmati rice - 2 cups
Water - 3 3/4 to 4 cups
Oil - 2 tbsp
Butter - 2 tbsp
Salt as required

Powdered spices
Pepper pdr - 1 tsp
Dry ginger pdr - 1/4 tsp
Nutmeg - 1/4 tsp
Allspice pdr - 1/4 tsp
Cumin pdr - 1/2 tsp
Coriander pdr - 1/2 tsp
Paprika - 1/2 tsp
Cayenne pepper - 1/2 tsp

Whole spices:
Cloves - about 10
Cardamom - 6 (bruised)
Cinnamon - 1" stick
Bay leaves - 2
Black pepper - 1/2 tsp
Black cardamom - 1
Black lemon (dried lemon-loomi) - 1 or 2
Saffron - a small pinch

For garnish:
Raisins - 1/4 cup
Cashew nuts - 1/4 cup (you can use almonds or pine nuts as well)
Fried onion - 1/4 cup (1 medium sized onion sliced extra thin)

  • Clean and cut the chicken into 8 big pieces, wash well and set aside to drain.
  • In another bowl, rinse the rice 3 or 4 times and let it soak for about half an hour. Then drain the water and set aside. 
  • Heat oil+butter in a deep bottom pan on medium heat, fry the onions for garnish till golden brown and crisp. This will take about 10 mins on medium heat, once done remove and drain on paper towel.
  • Stir fry the cashew nuts till golden, remove and drain. Next fry the raisins till golden and plump, remove and drain as well.
  • Add a bit more oil or butter to the same pan and fry the whole spices except saffron and black lemon till fragrant.
  • Stir in the chopped onion and cook till it starts to brown. Tip the crushed garlic and green chilly, toss till raw smell disappears.
  • Add the chicken pieces and brown them over medium-high heat, until lightly browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.
  • Mix the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Once the tomato starts to sweat and gets mushy, mix the powdered spices and cook for a minute.
  • Add the salt, saffron and black lemon, pour in the water and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat and cover the pot. Simmer over low heat until the chicken is cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Remove the chicken pieces and keep warm. Add rice to the broth reserved from cooking meat, cover and cook on low heat until the water is absorbed completely.
  • Once the rice is cooked, serve it with the chicken pieces arranged on top.
  • Garnish with fried onions, cashew nuts and raisins.

  • The Kabsa spice mix is called Baharat which is available in stores. 
  • Pierce the black lime before adding it to the broth. 
  • Measure 4 cups of the broth once the chicken is removed to cook the rice.
  • Always use less water when cooking rice and add more water if required to ensure light and fluffy rice.
  • The chicken can be pierced with a fork and marinated in the spice powders overnight.
  • You can use chicken with skin on and brown the skin in the oven when removed from the sauce.


  1. Beautiful pics & great recipe.
    Came across you blog few days back.You have got a nice space.

    1. hi Humi,
      thanks for visiting my space and the lovely comment.
      cheers :)

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