Machboos: How To Master This Classic Emirati Recipe

09 March 2020
Foods, Emirati Cuisine, Traditional Food, Arabic, Kitchen, Recipe, Machboos, Chicken Machboos
Images: Supplied
The key to this Emirati staple? The life that comes from the kitchen, says Hanan Sayed Worrell from Hay Festival Abu Dhabi

Machboos is a cross between biryani and risotto, where the rice is cooked in the spiced broth of the meat or chicken, melding the spices and ingredients.

Appearing at Hay Festival Abu Dhabi this week, Hanan Sayed Worrell created Table Tales: Exploring Culinary Diversity in Abu Dhabi to capture the region as it is today. This recipe for the Emirati staple is a dish as iconic now as it ever has been. 

Rice is a key food in the Gulf countries. Its name in Arabic is ruz but in the Khaleeji dialect it is aish, which means life. In Egyptian Arabic, aish refers to bread, signifying its centrality to the diet. It is unimaginable to have an Emirati meal without rice, and usually there are a few different types to choose from.

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“Machboos is a fixture at our Friday family lunch, made with chicken, lamb, fish, or shrimp,” says Shaikha Al Kaabi, the woman behind Emirati culinary institution, Meylas. “The secret to this dish and most of our food is the spice mix, bzar, the exact composition of which is a closely guarded secret in many families. You can serve machboos with achaar (mango or lime pickle), daqoos (a spicy tomato sauce), or yoghurt with chopped cucumber and mint.

How to cook Machboos

The Ingredients

Serves 4 to 6

  • 6 tbsp plain yogurt, divided
  • 2 tbsp Emirati bzar spice mix, divided
  • 1.5 kg chicken, cut into pieces
  • 500 g basmati rice
  • 80 ml vegetable oil
  • 5 cardamom pods, crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 whole lumi, cracked
  • 450 g onions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp ginger, crushed
  • 1 tbsp garlic, crushed
  • 4 small green  chilies, halved
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 285 g canned tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Cooking oil
  • 450 g potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • Handful of fresh coriander, chopped


  • 3 tbsp cooking oil
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 85 g raw cashews
  • 55 g raisins
  • Fresh coriander, chopped


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Step 1

Combine 4 tablespoons of yoghurt with 1 tablespoon of the bzar in a large bowl. Coat the chicken and then marinade for 1 hour or longer. Rinse the rice and soak in enough water to cover for 1 hour; drain.

Step 2

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, peppercorns and lumi and stir for 2 minutes. Add the onions and sauté until golden. Add ginger, garlic, and green chilies and stir for 2 minutes.

Step 3

Add the chicken and marinade and then cook for a few minutes on each side. Sprinkle in the turmeric, the remaining bzar, cumin, and the coriander powder.

Step 4

Add the tomatoes, salt, and 2 cups of water; bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until the chicken is done. Transfer the chicken to a roasting pan.

Step 5

Remove the cinnamon stick and lumi from the stock and discard. Add the potatoes and fresh coriander and boil until the potatoes are just tender. Adjust the stock to get a one-to-one ratio with the rice. Stir in the remaining yoghurt until dissolved and then add the rice. Seal the Dutch oven with aluminium foil, cover, and cook over low heat for 30 minutes until the rice is done.

Step 6

Turn on the oven broiler. Brush the chicken with some oil and broil until golden. Serve the rice on a platter with the chicken pieces on top. Garnish with sautéed onions, cashews, raisins, and fresh coriander.

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For the Garnish

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil and onions; sauté until they are dark brown, but not burnt. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Sauté the cashews in the same oil until golden brown. Finally, add the raisins during the last few minutes to complete.

This recipe is extracted from Table Tales: Exploring Culinary Diversity in Abu Dhabi (Rizzoli)