We have already established that Iraqis like to stuff their foods (vineleaves, cabbage, chicken, lamb), but did you know that layering food is also quite favored?
This fish turn-over mutabbag (سمك مطبق) or maqlooba (مقلوبة) is the perfect example.
Rice, fish fillets, and a sultana-spice mix are layered in a pot, cooked a little longer, then inverted onto the serving dish.It was my brother-in-law who first brought this dish to my attention, and Nawal Nasrallah’s cookbook caught me up on the details.
The fried disc of bread at the bottom of the pot is optional, but a supremely delicious addition.
For the rice:
2 cups rice
1 Tbsp oil or ghee
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
For the fish:
1 kg fish fillets
1 tsp curry
1 tsp cumin
1 Tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
For the sultana-spice mix:
1 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp curry
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup almonds, toasted
1 noomi basra, crushed
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp ghee
1 whole Iraqi flatbread
The fish, and the rice, and the sultana (golden raisin) mix need each be cooked separately then assembled.
To cook the rice:
In a pot heat the oil or ghee.
Add the rinsed and drained rice, the cinnamon, and the salt.
Gently toss for a minute or two, then add enough boiled water to just cover the rice by a finger’s width.
Bring the pot to boil, then immediately cover the pot and reduce heat to low.
Simmer 20 minutes until all water is absorbed and rice is fluffy.
Meanwhile, cook the sultana mix:
Saute the chopped onion, turmeric, and curry in a tablespoon of oil or ghee.
Add the golden raisins, toasted almonds, and crushed noomi basra when the onion had withered, and stir until fragrant.
Add a quarter cup of water, and allow to evaporate and thicken the mixture.
Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly before stirring in the chopped parsley.
To cook the fish:
Mix the curry, cumin, flour, salt, and pepper and place in a shallow dish.
Cut the fish fillets cross-wise in half, then coat with the flour mixture.
At this point, you can either fry the fish until golden or bake them in a 450F oven.
Spread a tablespoon of ghee at the bottom of a pot (I used the same pot I cooked the rice in).
Snugly place a whole uncut disc of traditional Iraqi or Arab flatbread.
Proceed with the following order: third of the rice, half the fish, half the sultana mix;
the second third of rice, the remaining half of the fish, the remaining half of the sultana, finishing off with the last half o the rice.
Optionally, you can place another disc of bread over the last of the rice.
Cover the pot, put over medium-low heat for 20 to 30 minutes until the bread at the bottom becomes crunchy, then flip over the pot (be careful!) in a large serving dish.