Al Kabsa or Majboos or Chicken Kabsa is a fragrant and lightly spiced dish from the bedouin tribes of Arabia. It has all the rustic charm and heartiness of the nomadic food. Those nomadic tribes carried with them only the food items that were not easily perishable, such as grains and dried fruits. Also they depended heavily on their live stock, mainly sheep and camels, for food.

As their caravans travelled from one place to another throughout the Middle East, new spices and ingredients got incorporated into recipes. That is why there are so many different versions of the Kabsa Spice mix or Baharat. Baharat means a mixture of spices in Arabic. This mixture is used to season meat and breads, and even used as a condiment at times.

Some recipes add saffron to the Kabsa spice mix, others use dried mint or rosebuds and in Arab States of Persian Gulf even black lime or dried pomegranate seeds are used to add a touch of sour.

Kabsa rice are quite similar to the South Asian pulao and might actually be the dish that evolved into pulao later on when Muslim conquerors reached Indian subcontinent.

Tomatoes are a prominent and essential ingredient in chicken Kabsa. The meat is cooked in many different ways before its added to the rice; either it is grilled or cooked under hot ashes or stewed. The rice are cooked in a meat, onion, tomato and spice broth. The two (meat and rice) are mixed in the serving platter and topped with dried fruits and nuts.

I cook Kabsa rice as a one pot convenient family meal. Rather than cooking chicken separately, I cook it in the onion and tomato stew, then scoop it out and grill or broil it, while using the same stew to cook the rice. These rice are not spicy as in “hot” but spicy as in “fragrant” and “flavourful” . That’s why it makes this dish a perfect and wholesome meal even for kids. And they look gorgeous enough to become the centrepiece for any festive table.

You don’t even have to cook a side dish to serve with these rice as there is a lot going on, flavour wise,for this simple dish. May be just some yogurt or a fresh salad is all what you need.


For Kabsa Rice:

1 kg boneless chicken
6 tomatoes
4 cups long grain basmati rice
1 large onion, chopped
1 inch piece ginger, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup olive or sunflower oil
Salt to taste
1 cup mixed nuts and raisins

For Baharat(Spice Mix):

2 sticks cinnamon
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon green cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 dried red chilli peppers or 1 teaspoon paprika

This Is What You Do:

Grind all the dry spices in a dry mill/electric grinder to fine powder.

Blend tomatoes in an electric blender to make a chunky puree.

Rinse and soak the rice.

Heat oil in a deep pan on medium heat. Fry onions till golden brown.

Add chicken and fry till golden on the outside. Add ginger, garlic and all the spice blend. Sauté for 2-3 minutes.

Add tomato puree, add 1 teaspoon salt, reduce heat and cover the pan. Let chicken cook for 10-12 minutes or till done.

Remove chicken pieces from the tomato broth and set aside.

Add 3-4 teaspoons more salt and rice. Add enough water to come up an inch over the surface of rice. Cook covered on medium low heat till all the liquid is absorbed and the rice are done and fluffy.

Meanwhile, place the chicken pieces in an oven proof plate or bowl. Put it under the broiler for 3-4 minutes or till its charred or if your oven doesn’t have a broiler then bake uncovered for 8-10 minutes or till the chicken looks grilled on the outside.

Fry the nuts and raisins in very little oil.

To serve, dish out the rice in a big platter. Top them with chicken pieces , fried nuts and raisins.

Serve hot with yogurt.

Serves 6

4 Replies to “Chicken Kabsa, Arabian Rice and Chicken”

  1. Salaam. So, I made this a couple of days ago. All in all it turned out pretty well. I used only one dry red Chili and it still turned out pretty spicy. I always worry about the rice not cooking properly (it can ruin the dish). I ended up adding the water and letting it boil down until it came to the level of the rice. Then I transferred everything to a large tray, covered it , and stuck it in the oven for 30 minutes. The top layer of rice was nice and fluffy. The bottom layer a little mushy. I’m wondering if I would have better results if I didn’t presoak the rice.

    1. Waalakum Salam Anjum,
      Rice not getting done is a big worry for many home cooks, you are not alone in that. Some long grain rice do not have to be soaked. But long grain basmati rice always show better taste and texture when soaked. It separates the grains and allows for a more fluffy, less sticky rice.
      I think what happened is that you panicked and added more water then required. I’m glad you still succeeded in saving the rice somewhat. If you had mixed the rice once halfway while in the oven to bring the bottom layer up, all of them would have been perfect.
      Always remember that when cooking rice by absorption method on stove top, the cooking liquid (water or broth) should only be 1 inch above the surface of rice in the pot. Then cook covered on medium heat. When all liquid is absorbed, then either you can place the covered pan in the oven for 10-15 minutes for “dum” or you can wrap the lid in a cotton kitchen towel and leave on lowest possible heat on stove top for 12-15 minutes for “dum”. Finishing cooking with dum method, helps absorb any extra liquid and makes rice fluffier.
      Fixing under done rice
      If at the end of absorbing all liquid, rice seem still slightly under done, you can wrap the lid in a damp cotton kitchen towel and use that for dum. It will make extra steam in the pot and finish cooking the rice perfectly.
      The most important thing – next time cook more fearlessly. You are a champion, you can do it! 😊👍👏

    1. Waalakum assalam, Anjum!
      How have you been, dear? Good to hear from you 😊 The quantity of tomatoes by weight would be around 700 g, more than 1/2 and less than 1 kg. Sounds like a lot but that’s what makes the particular taste of this dish. I’m sure you will love it. 😊

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