Saima's upside-down lamb cake

Mukloubi bi lahmi – upside-down lamb cake

Build up alternating layers of rice, aubergine and lamb, be careful when you flip the dish. Photography by Katie Wilson.

Build up alternating layers of rice, aubergine and lamb, be careful when you flip the dish. Photography by Katie Wilson.

Where does it come from?

In Arabic, “Maghluba” literally means “upside down”, and refers to a style of cooking which has become popular across the Middle East. The dish, traditionally prepared either with lamb and aubergine, or with chicken and cauliflower, is tipped upside down on the plate once complete, revealing the patterns of meat and vegetables below.

Syrians are renowned for their warm hospitality, with a cuisine shaped by the diverse civilisations who settled there over centuries of trading, creating Armenian, Turkish, Palestinian and Greek flavour influences.

The juicy fat of the lamb is complemented best by creamy mezze dips such as blended chargrilled pepper, tomato, garlic, and lemon, scattered on the table in bowls in Syrian “family style” .

Below, Saima Khan, founder of The Hampstead Kitchen, shares her secrets for a tantalising upside-down lamb cake. The half-Persian half-Pakistani chef was one of the 100 chefs to contribute a recipe to the #CookForSyria cookbook - a celebration of Syrian cuisine and culture in aid of the largest humanitarian crisis of our time.

Ingredients (serves 8)

For the Syrian spice mixture

1 tsp sweet paprika

2 tsp group cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp cinnamon

1 ground allspice berry

2 tsp ground black pepper

For the main part of the dish

1kg lamb loin cut into 2cm cubes with the fat trimmed

700g aubergine cut into ¼inch-thick slices

50g seven spice mixture (see below)

1 cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves

Juice of ½ a lemon

A few glugs vegetable oil

50g clarified butter

500g long-grain rice (wash the rice at least 5 times

until the water is clear, then soak for a minimum of 30 minutes)

90g pine nuts

How to make it ?

  1. Cut the aubergines into slices, cover with cold water and salt. Soak for half an hour, then place on sheets of clean kitchen paper and leave to dry for a few hours. I usually do this overnight.

  2. In a pan, combine the lamb with the spice mix, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and salt.

  3. Bring to the boil, then cover and cook on a slow heat for about 2 hours until the lamb is soft and tender. I use a pressure cooker to speed this process along in only 45 minutes.

  4. In another pan, heat the vegetable oil, make sure it is sizzling hot and then fry the aubergine, leaving the cooked slices on kitchen roll to soak up any excess oil.

  5. Heat the butter in a deep pan, making sure that it doesn’t brown, then stir in the rice and ensure it is coated in butter.

  6. In a casserole dish, add a layer of the lamb (but leave the lamb stock to one side) then build up alternating layers of rice, aubergine and then more lamb.

  7. Pour over the lamb stock so that the rice is covered.

  8. Cover with a tightly sealed lid, and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes, until you see the rice swell up and the liquid reduce.

  9. In another pan, fry the pine nuts with the remaining butter and dry them out on sheets of kitchen paper.

  10. Put a flat serving dish under the casserole dish and flip the dish upside down.

  11. Scatter the pine nuts over the top and serve with natural yoghurt.

Saima’s recipe was featured in #CookForSyria, which raised £750,000 for UNICEF to help children in Syria

Saima’s recipe was featured in #CookForSyria, which raised £750,000 for UNICEF to help children in Syria