What is al kabsa?
Al kabsa (or kabsa) is a traditional delicious chicken and rice dish from Saudi Arabia that is prepared with raisins, almonds, pistachios and pine nuts. It is considered the king of Saudi and Middle Eastern cuisines for its delicious flavor.
The main ingredients of al kabsa are long grain rice and meat, preferably chicken. Al kabsa was born in Saudi Arabia, where it is considered a national dish, because no wedding, party, or celebration is complete without this dish.
The cuisine of Saudi Arabia is the reflection of traditions, the Muslim religion and the habits of the country.
For centuries, the inhabitants of the largest country in the Middle East and throughout the Arabian Peninsula traded with India, Africa, Central Asia and the Far East; which brought prosperity to the country, but also influenced their culture and eating habits.
Saudi cuisine ranges from the simple Bedouin diet, consisting mainly of dates and milk, to elaborate and spicy dishes.
It is probably in the province of Hejaz, whose most important cities are Mecca and Medina, that you will find the most varied, richest and cosmopolitan cuisine of the entire Kingdom. It is there that caravans were filled with incense, myrrh, spices and other goods, in the ancient world.
In this cuisine, and just to name a few, you will find the famous harisah (harees), a sweet dish of meat and cereals, aish abu laham, a round pizza with meat, leeks and tahina similar to the lahm bi ajin, jubniyyah, a goat cheese dessert, masub, chopped bananas with homemade bread, lahuh, a pancake with meat and yoghurt similar to Somali lahoh, and falafels with pita bread of course, and sambusak, similar to Indian samosas.
Another famous dish is Egyptian mulukhiyyah or mlokhia, a fresh Jews’s mallow soup prepared with chicken or meat and flavored with various spices and herbs.
Saudi eating etiquette
As for the Saudi table etiquette, while the Saudis in the cities consume meals on a table in the Western style, in the small towns, villages and tents in the desert, the meals are traditionally eaten on a tablecloth placed on the ground.
If guests are sitting on the floor, they should sit on their calves and should not stretch their legs or show the soles of their feet to other guests, which is considered offensive.
In Saudi Arabia, people eat only with their right hand, as the left hand is considered impure. It is offensive to use your left hand even to pass or receive things during the meal. If a person is unable to use their right hand, they will have their own plate and will not take any food from the communal dishes.
Traditionally, when Saudis eat with their hands, they have to use their fingers to gather food in small balls, for example, rice with pieces of meat.
At parties, banquets or events outside family reunions, men and women are separated.
A good guest must agree to taste as many things as possible and the host’s insistence must be understood. Not eating or drinking all that is offered can be interpreted by the hosts as a lack of appreciation for their hospitality, so also offensive.
Guests should leave a small amount of food on their plate as a sign of eating until satiety. The guests can leave the table as soon as they feel full and there is no need to wait for everyone to leave the table.
Each guest begins the meal by pronouncing a text, a Bismillah (in the name of God) and must finish it by saying Alhamdo Lellah (God be praised).
Once the meal is over, it is a duty to compliment and bless your hostess or host with specific phrases such as Allah Yeghneek (may God give you wealth) or Na’amulla A’layk (that God fills you with more).
In contrast to western habits, guests must leave their host house shortly after the meal is over.
Al kabsa around the region
If you like chicken and rice, you must quickly prepare this king of Middle Eastern cuisine.
- 2½ cups long grain rice
- 4 onions , chopped
- 5 tomatoes , peeled, seeded, and diced
- 8 chicken thighs , with skin
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup almonds , thinly sliced
- ⅔ cup pine nuts
- ⅔ cup pistachios
- 12 whole cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons ground coriander
- 2 tablespoons ground cardamom
- 3 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Cook the chicken in a large volume of salted water with 1 chopped onion, the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves for 1 hour.
- Filter the broth and set aside.
Place the chicken pieces in a baking dish and brown for 20 minutes in an oven preheated at 350 F (180˚C).
- Remove the skin of the chicken, shred it as soon as it comes out of the oven and set aside.
- In a bowl, take one to two ladles of chicken stock and add the raisins to rehydrate.
- Rinse the rice several times under cold water until the water is clear.
- Place the drained rice in a salad bowl, add the spices (cloves, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, paprika and salt) and mix well.
In a Dutch oven or a large pot, heat the olive oil and sweat the remaining onions, then add the tomatoes, and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes.
- Then add the rice and cook, stirring constantly for 3 minutes.
Pour 8 cups (2 liters) of chicken broth (add water if necessary) and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat, cover and cook covered for about 30 minutes.
- In a pan, melt the butter and toast the dried fruits (almonds, pine nuts, pistachios) for a few minutes until they turn light brown. Add the drained raisins and stir well for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Dress the dish on a large platter. Start with the rice, then top with shredded chicken. Sprinkle the dried fruits on the rice and around the dish.