Jamila's maqluba:
chicken, rice & cauliflower pot

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On a hot July afternoon, Jamila cooked a beautiful chicken and cauliflower maqluba for us. Maqluba (or maqlouba, makluba) is Palestine’s national dish. Most families will gather over a maqluba about once a week. While there are different versions of it, the basic principle is in its name - ‘maqluba’ means upside down. The dish is cooked in one pot, with layers of rice, vegetables and chicken or meat (or without), and then flipped over once ready. It can be made with cauliflower, aubergines or other vegetables like tomatoes or mushrooms. It might look like a long process but it's easy to make, and well worth the time.

Jamila and her husband Shaban are two of the six million Palestinian refugees from 1948. They fled their village of Zakkariyya during the war that followed the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. They have since been living as refugees in the West Bank. Jamila is a proud mother of 7 children and a grand-mother to many grandchildren. Over the years she has taught most of her daughters and step-daughters to cook. She says many of them have now become better cooks than her. "The students become the masters", she told me laughing. But if her maqluba is anything to go by, she certainly still has the touch.

Jamila and Shaban live in a small house in Dheisheh, Bethlehem’s largest refugee camp. Unlike most people in Dheisheh, they have a spacious outdoor space where flowers, trees, fruits and vegetables all blossom under the Palestinian sun. The courtyard outside their front door is shaded by beautiful grape vines. Their home feels like a peaceful haven in an otherwise messy place. Like most refugee camps in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Dheisheh is crowded, with around 15,000 people living on 1 to 1.5 square kilometer of land. Shaban also spends a lot of time on a small piece of land they own about 10 minutes’ drive from the camp. There, he tends to his vegetable plot and watches the sun rise and set over the Bethlehem valleys. "I feel more free here, not like Dheisheh. It reminds me of Zakariyya", Shaban told me.

"To this day we still hope to go back to Zakariyya but the hope is very small. For us the old ones, we cannot forget."

Palestinian refugees feel terribly nostalgic of the land and homes they lost in the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic, referring to the expulsion and fleeing of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes when the State of Israel was created). Their forced displacement didn’t just turn their lives upside down but had a lasting impact on people’s food habits. Many families went from living in rural villages to surviving in crowded refugee camps where they couldn't grow vegetables or pick fruits and green leaves like they used to. Even though she was only 11 years old when she fled to the West Bank, Jamila remembers well how they lived back then. "We were self-sufficient, the only thing we had to buy was rice," she told me. "Life was more natural back then, less industrialised."

Jamila is happy she stayed in Palestine and didn't go to Jordan or further away, like so many Palestinians did (today there are between 6 to 7 million Palestinians in the diaspora). She is attached to the land, and she still has some hope. "I am always praying for my children, for bad people to be far away from us, for my children and grandchildren to be successful and live happy lives. To this day we still hope to go back to Zakariyya but the hope is very small. For us the old ones, we cannot forget."

Useful links: find out more about Palestine's refugees on the UNRWA website or with this useful FAQ by the Badil Resource Center.

The first image is of Jamila and Shaban's courtyard. The others show Dheisheh refugee camp

MAQLUBA Layered chicken, rice and cauliflower one-pot dish
Difficulty Medium
Cooking time about 2 hours
Serves 6 to 8 people



Jamila served her maqluba with yogurt, a cucumber and tomato salad and pickled olives and gherkins.