1001 Arabian Spices: Kabsa

This week we had the pleasure of sharing our culinary journey with Ash’s sister and her boyfriend. In fact, thinking about it, they had a pretty varied weekend of food up in the big smoke. Ash made a very British cottage pie on Friday, we had Italian (ish) paninis for lunch on Saturday, we went to a French-Mauritian fusion restaurant on Saturday night, Cheryl and Miranda visited the Turkish Food Centre on Sunday morning and then we had a go at Saudi Arabian kabsa for Sunday lunch. That’s multicultural London for you!

Kabsa cheats a bit, because apparently it is indigenous to Yemen, yet is considered the national dish of Saudi Arabia. It’s very similar to curry house staple, biryani, only with Middle Eastern spices rather than Indian ones. And there are certainly plenty of spices! The recipe we used contained a dozen. Fortunately we seem to have a collection of all the spices of the world somewhere in our kitchen (having them is one thing; finding them is another), so we were pretty much set – apart from the dried limes, which is where the Turkish Food Centre came into it. We have no clue whether we should have bought the black or brown dried limes, but given that the black ones looked like they’d gone off, we opted for the brown…


1/2 tsp saffron (though we just used a pinch)
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp dried lime powder (created by introducing a whole dried lime to a pestle and mortar)
2 whole cloves
1 pinch ground nutmeg (use your best guess as to what a ‘pinch’ is)
1 pinch ground cumin
1 pinch ground coriander
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tin chopped tomatoes
3 carrots, peeled and grated
1/4 cup butter
1 onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 cup tomato puree
3 1/4 cups hot water
1 chicken stock cube
2 1/4 cups basmati rice
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds

1. Melt the butter in a very large pot over medium heat (non-stick if you have it). Stir in the garlic and onion; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the chicken pieces and brown them over medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Mix in the tomato puree.
2. Stir in the tinned tomatoes, carrots and spices. Cook for 3 minutes, then pour in the water and add the stock cube.
3. Bring the sauce to the boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and cover the pot. Simmer until the chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear (about 30 minutes).
4. Gently stir in the rice. Cover the pot and simmer until the rice is tender and almost dry (about 25 minutes). Add the raisins and a little more hot water, if necessary. Cover and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes or until the rice grains are separate. Sprinkle the almonds on the top and serve with a simple salad of lettuce, tomato, carrot and cucumber, and some flatbread if desired.
Serves about 6

Kabsa cooking


Kabsa and salad

All four of us (we think!) really enjoyed this meal. It was spicy without being too hot, and pretty simple really, aside from the fiddly task of portioning the chicken, but a butcher can do this for you. Once again, this was something of a variation on a Sunday roast, but we noted that one key difference was that you could put together a pot of kabsa on a week night if you wanted to, whereas you just wouldn’t bother with a full roast. Another successful Middle Eastern experiment!

Our next recipe will be from the United Arab Emirates. We went to Dubai in 2011 and had the most incredible brunch imaginable, so we apologise in advance for a blog post which will undoubtedly include nostalgic yearnings to experience it again. Hopefully it will also include a dish that isn’t underwhelming in comparison!

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