Recipe: Machboos, or how I went to happy town.

Certain times call for celebration. Babies. Birthdays. Finding the love of your life. Daydreaming about the love of your life. When a light turns green at the exact right moment, before you have to apply the brakes. For those times, I present Machboos.

Take a dive off the deep end with this beloved Kuwaiti dish that boasts warm hits of cinnamon, turmeric, saffron mingled with sweet caramelized onions and raisins. We made ours with chicken, but you can also make it with fish or lamb. If you get a big enough chicken it can feed a happy collection of people (about 4-6).

For our version the traditional preparation involves simmering the chicken in fragrant water (which is then used to make the rice). Next, we rub the chicken with more seasoning and pop it in the oven to brown. All kinds of flavor goodness.

It took me to happy town, and it can take you there, too.

Kuwait City and the Al Safat building. Photos by Cnes Spot Image and AzizQ8.


To simmer the chicken:

1 whole chicken
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods

Onion Topping:

1 large onion, chopped
vegetable oil
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup slivered almonds

For the rice:

2 cups basmati Rice
vegetable oil
2 3/4 cup hot chicken stock (from the chicken’s cooking broth)
1/2 tsp saffron, soaked in 1/4 cup hot water

Spice blend for roasting the chicken:

vegetable oil
1 tsp black lime powder (optional, but delicious – available at Middle Eastern markets)
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Serve with Duqqus, Kuwaiti tomato sauce (recipe will be up this weekend)


It’s going to be a happy day, if you’re making Machboos. It is therefore appropriate to turn on some happy music from Kuwait.

Step 1:

Add chicken with bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom pods to a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a simmer. Cover and maintain a simmer for 30 minutes.

Be sure to crack open the cardamom pods for maximum flavor. And if you add a nice heaping of salt, it’ll naturally brine the chicken. Mmm, moist and fragrant chicken. I do believe we’re on the right track.

Step 2:

This one’s easy. Soak saffron and raisins in hot water. Step 2, done!

Step 3:

Fry the chopped onions in a large skillet with vegetable oil over medium heat. Once browned, add glorious spice mountains.

Toss with drained raisins and slivered almonds. Set aside. Use golden raisins if you have them – it’s more authentic.

Oh goodness. I could just eat this topping straight up. But I won’t.. I’m trying to get to happy town.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Step 4: 

Rinse rice in cool water until the water runs clear, about five times. Then soak 30 minutes.

Step 5:

Meanwhile, mix together the cardamom, salt, cinnamon, pepper, and black lime powder (optional). Black lime powder adds a tart, salty flavor which goes wonderfully with chicken.

Rub the chicken with vegetable oil and the spice blend. If you have extra spices, feel free to throw some in the cavity of the chicken. Roast for 30 minutes, or until skin is nicely browned.

Step 6:

While the chicken is roasting, gather a medium pot. Add drained rice and hot chicken stock (2 3/4 cups). Boil covered until most of the liquid is absorbed (keep an eye on it -should just take a few minutes. Sprinkle on the saffron water and reduce heat as low as it can go. Cover and cook 30 more minutes.

TO ASSEMBLE THE MACHBOOS, A.K.A. Arriving in happy town.

Layer rice, onion topping and then chicken (note: this is only about half the rice – my platter wasn’t big enough to hold all the ricey goodness)

Serve with Kuwaiti tomato sauce, duqqus, on the side and the most delicous smile you can muster.

Share with old friends, new friends, and not yet friends.

Enjoy every little celebration.

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  1. The onion topping reminds me of a filling for Lebanese kabeb, which is a vegetarian version of kibbeh balls that we eat on Good Friday.
    They’re stuffed with caramelized onions, raisins, and usually pine nuts (but my aunt sometimes uses almonds because pine nuts are expensive and it’s just as good with almonds). The spices are a bit different though. I think we use allspice and cinnamon.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Oh, you’ll have to send the recipe – lebanon is coming up :) About the spices – I did see some recipes that used allspice as well, so perhaps there is a crossover. I read that machboos is popular in other Middle Eastern countries, so that could explain the variation in spices. I’m sure it’s yummy both ways!

  2. At the end, you add half of the saffron mixture. What do you do with the other half? It looks really good. I think this will go on the list of things to try.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Sorry! I originally had thought to use it on the chicken, but the flavor got lost when I did. I updated the recipe – you can add it all to the rice. Enjoy your trip to happy town, Michelle. :)

  3. Sharisse Steber says:

    Made this last night for dinner. WOnderFuL!!!!

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  5. I doubled the recipe (ten chicken thighs) tonight and it was delicious. This is such a clever method for cooking tender and moist chicken.

    0.5 g of pure saffron was enough to give 12 portions of rice a lovely golden hue and I added bright red pomegranate seeds on top of the almond/onion/raisin mix. It looked spectacular!

    Unfortunately I forgot to put oil on the chicken , I just dry-rubbed it with the spice mix. The taste was fine but the skin would have browned nicer with some added fat.

    The tomato sauce felt odd, the taste didn’t really fit with the sweet spices. We’ll use it with pasta tomorrow…


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