I am planning to make my mother’s signature dish Mevlubi again this weekend for our family’s Eid, end of Ramadan celebrations. The recipe comes from Antakya, the Southern part of Turkey, where my roots are from. This special dish makes an appearance in every special occasion on my parent’s table and I have been lucky enough to enjoy it with some of you over the years. As you can cook ahead of time, this wonderful all in one dish makes an impressive main course and you get to spend more time with your company. For maximum results, please cook on low heat, at least 2 hours before serving and let the Mevlubi rest. We may not be all together physically, but through our food, we will capture and remember special memories.
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Serves 4 people (generously)
About 500 gr/1 1/4 lb chicken thighs or breasts or pieces of steak or lamb, flattened
2-3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced as half moon shape
2 small/medium eggplants (aubergines), sliced crossways
1 small onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
350 gr/12 oz/ 1 3/4 cups medium grain rice
900 ml/ 3 3/4 cups hot water
Bowl of warm salted water to wash the rice
1 tablespoon of butter
Sunflower oil for shallow frying
Salt and pepper to taste
For marinating the meat:
15 ml/ 1 tablespoon plain yoghurt
15 ml / 1 tablespoon olive oil
5 ml /1 teaspoon cumin
5 ml / 1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 tablespoon of red pepper paste or
10 ml/ 2 teaspoon tomato paste + 5 ml/ 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Marinate the meat pieces mixing all the marination ingredients above a day in advance, making sure that all meat pieces are well coated. Chicken thighs work better than the chicken breast, bring out more flavor. Cover and keep in the fridge until cooking.
Slice the eggplants (aubergines) in half moon or circle shape, about 2 cm thick. If possible cut the eggplants a day in advance, lay on a tray and sprinkle salt over. Let them dry. Squeeze any water remained on them with paper towel. If you don’t have time, you can slice the eggplants and put them in a bowl of salted cold water for 15 minutes. Then squeeze and dry them with paper towel.
Sauté the eggplants (aubergines), potatoes, onions and the meat (all separately) in the casserole pan you will be cooking with the rice. We shall be using this very same pan to cook our dish. Do shallow frying not deep frying (make sure you have enough oil for eggplants though, since they soak oil a lot). Drain the excess oil by placing them on paper towel. You can do this phase a day in advance and keep all these in the fridge if you’d like.
On the casserole pan, layer the meat pieces to cover the whole surface. Then layer the eggplant slices over the top and then the potatoes slices and the onions evenly.
Soak the rice in warm salted water for 15 minutes, then drain this water and rinse the rice with cold water. Spread the rice over the potato layer evenly. Add hot water over, season with salt and pepper and cover. First start cooking on the medium heat, once it starts bubbling, keep on cooking on the low heat until the rice is cooked and all the water has been absorbed. Then put a tablespoon of butter in the middle of the rice and push down towards the middle. Add two tablespoon of hot water over the rice and cook for another 10-15 minutes on a very low heat. Once the rice is fully cooked, turn the heat off, put a paper towel over and cover with the lid tightly. The rice will keep on cooking with this steam. Make sure you cook the Mevlubi about 2 hours before you serve. That will give it a chance to rest and all the flavors blend together.
15 minutes before serving, reheat the casserole pan on a very low heat. Once it is hot, turn the casserole pan over a big serving plate or tray gently. With the moisture it has, it should come out like a cake. Non-stick pan work well, steel is good too.