Kabsa is a chicken and rice main course dish that is popular not just in Saudi Arabia but across the Arab world. While there are a lot of steps to this, it is an easy Arabic recipe if you follow along.
When I first moved to Riyadh in 2005, I was just married and knew nobody there except my sister-in-law. Coincidently, it was Ramadan then too. We would often go to Salam Park in the evening to break our fast and play badminton before Iftaar. Kabsa is one of those dishes that I learned then. This recipe that I am sharing is how my sister-in-law taught me and it is by far the tastiest kabsa I have tasted.
Kabsa is made of chicken that is slowly simmered in a spicy broth of tomatoes and spices. This chicken is then removed and either fried or grilled while the broth is used to cook the rice.
The result is a mouth-watering aromatic dish that smells lemony and spicy. The rice absorbs the juices from the chicken and vegetables and is moist. The chicken is cooked till just tender and then steamed with the rice so it is all in one with the rice when you serve it out.
This is a kind of dish that you can make when you want something special. It tastes great when it is steaming hot and usually you will find it served at most Saudi occasions.
It is like the Arab version of Biryani and much similar to Mandi, a Yemeni mutton dish. The difference between kabsa and mandi is that mandi is made in a vessel that is half buried like an earthen oven in the ground. Kabsa in made on a stove in the kitchen.
My family loves Kabsa. My seven-year-old has tried it a few times and he often remarks that he can eat it every day! Since I don’t add too much chili, my two-year-old and one-year-old eat it too. I have found that they eat quite well actually. It is a fantastic way to sneak in the veggies.
There are quite a few variations to how Kabsa is made. Most Arab ladies have their own family recipe. This recipe that I am sharing today is how my sister-in-law makes it. She learned it from a Saudi neighbor.
Some (Not Traditional) Substitutions for Kabsa to Try
Not only is Saudi Arabian Chicken Kabsa incredibly tasty and easy to make, but it’s also highly versatile. As such, there are numerous potential ingredient substitutions you can use to tailor the flavor of your kabsa according to your own preferences or dietary requirements. Here are some suggested substitutions:
• Instead of chicken, you could try using lamb or beef,
• You can switch up the herbs and spices according to taste,
• Quinoa or couscous makes a great alternative to basmati rice,
• Try using Greek yogurt instead of plain yogurt.
I like the taste of fresh lemon compared to dried lime or Lomi (as it is locally called). Lomi has a different taste and smell. I also like the chicken to be steamed with rice rather than placed on top of a bed of rice. You can also whip up this Kabsa chutney to serve with it!
How to Make Saudi Arabian Chicken Kabsa
Kabsa is a chicken and rice main course dish that is popular not just in Saudi Arabia but across the Arab world.
- 1 chicken with skin, cut into 4-8 pieces.
- 3 cups rice
- 2 onions finely chopped
- 2 tomatoes blended with skin
- 1 tsp of tomato paste
- 1 tsp garlic paste
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 1 grated medium sized carrot
- 1 tsp of coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp of cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1/4 tsp black pepper powder
- 1/2 tsp of red chilli powder(or to taste)
- half a lemon cut in thick slices
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 3 cardamom pods
- 5 cloves
- handful of raisins (for garnishing)
- handful of pine nuts (for garnishing)
- a cup of oil
- 4 cups of water (+additional)
You will need to use a large pot that can accommodate the chicken pieces well.
- Start by heating the oil in the pan. Add the whole spices (cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper and cloves) and let them splutter before you add the onions.
- Fry the onions on medium high till they are golden.
- Add the ginger and garlic paste and fry a little before you add the tomatoes, tomato paste and the powdered spices. Keep stirring and fry till the tomatoes are all mushy and the oil starts to separate.
- Add the chicken pieces and some salt.
- Saute the chicken on high heat till the oil separates again.
- Add 4 cups of water and reduce heat when it starts to simmer.
- Reduce heat and let this cook till the chicken pieces are tender.
- Usually it takes about 15-20 minutes on medium low heat.
Wash and soak the rice while the chicken cooks.
- Once the chicken is done, with a slotted spoon remove the chicken pieces on to a dish and cover with foil.
- Measure the broth. For every cup of rice that you are using, you will need one and a half cup of water. If the broth is not enough then you can add some water to make it equal to what you need.
- Start the heat again. Add the grated carrots and sliced lemon to the broth.
- When the water starts to boil, add the drained rice to it. Check and adjust the salt.
- Let it cook on medium high till the water reduces and it becomes difficult to stir. If you want the chicken in the rice then now is the time to add them.
- Remove the skin first and then drop them in to the rice and stir it.
- Close the lid tighly, reduce the heat to the lowest and let it steam for 15-20 minutes.
- If you are not adding the chicken to the rice but would like it grilled or fried then you can proceed to steaming without the chicken.
To grill the chicken, just brush it will oil and place it in the oven for 5- 10 minutes. You can fry it hot oil too to get a golden crispy texture to it too.
Once the rice is cooked, slowly tilt the lid slightly to let the steam escape. (Be careful the steam will escape fast!)
You can fry the raisins and pinenuts in a little butter and oil in the meanwhile and pour this on the rice for garnishing. After the steam escapes, serve the rice with the chicken.
Please Note: The chicken will be cooked with the skin on to keep it moist. You can removed the skin before steaming with the rice. If you choose to grill or fry the chicken pieces then the skin helps give it a crispy outer layer.
You can wash and make slits in the chicken before hand. Rub in a little salt and garlic-ginger paste too. This helps the chicken absorb the juices well.
You can serve it as it is with a fresh salad or with a bowl of hot fresh tomato sauce (tomato and green chillies blended). Enjoy!
Tools I suggest for this;
Are you looking for more great Arabic and Middle Eastern rice recipes to add to your meal plan? I put together this list of 10 dishes you can make. None of them are overly complicated and if you like this recipe – I think you’ll like the others as well!
Want more great Saudi dishes? Aysh has a post on 5 Recipes from Saudi Arabia you should check out.
About this post:
This post is from Aysh of JeddahMom. She currently lives in Saudi Arabia and shares all about her multicultural life and crafting passions on her site. You can follow Aysh on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Enjoy!