International Recipes and Cooking Around the World

Kabsa, or Machboos

Kabsa, or Machboos (Gulf States aromatic chicken with rice)

(Gulf States aromatic chicken with rice)

Average: 4.4 (12 votes)

Kabsa — chicken or meat served on a bed of steaming rice and redolent of exotic spices — is a national dish of Saudi Arabia. Variations are also popular in Yemen and the Gulf States of the Arabian peninsula, where it is known as machboos.

In a cooking method unique to kabsa, the chicken or meat is first simmered in water until tender. The resulting broth is then used to cook the rice separately. Also spelled kabseh, kebsa, majboos, majbus or machbus. Arabic: مكبوس‎.

4 to 6 servings


  • Basmati rice -- 2 cups
  • Chicken, cut into serving pieces -- 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
  • Water -- 4 cups
  • Salt -- to season
  • Oil or clarified butter (ghee) -- 3 tablespoons
  • Onions, thinly sliced -- 2
  • Kabsa spice mix (see variations) -- 1 tablespoon
  • Tomatoes, chopped -- 1 cup
  • Dried limes (optional, see variations) -- 2 whole or 2 teaspoons ground
  • Salt and pepper -- to season
  • Toasted almonds, cashews or pine nuts-- 1/3 cup
  • Raisins, soaked in warm water -- 1/3 cup


  1. Place the rice in a bowl and rinse it with a couple changes of water. Add water to cover and set the rice aside to soak.
  2. Put the chicken, 4 cups of water and a big pinch of salt in a large pot. Set the pot over medium-high flame and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate. Strain and reserve the broth.
  3. Clean out the pot, and then heat the oil or ghee in the same large pot over medium-high flame. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown in batches on both sides in the hot oil. Remove to a plate and set in a warm oven while you cook the rice.
  4. Add the sliced onions and kabsa spices to the hot oil and saute until the onions have wilted, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and cook until the liquid has reduced somewhat, about 5 minutes.
  5. Drain the rice and stir into the pot, along with 3 cups of the reserved broth, the optional dried limes and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, and then cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and let it rest, covered, for another 5 minutes.
  6. To serve, mound the rice onto a serving platter and place the chicken pieces neatly on top of the rice. Garnish with the nuts and drained raisins and serve with dakkous tomato sauce (recipe below).

Kabsa Variations

  • Meat Kabsa: Substitute boneless, cubed lamb, goat, beef or camel for the chicken. You will have to simmer the meat longer until it becomes tender, from 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  • Kabsa (Baharat) Spice Mix: Kabsa spices, also known as baharat, are available in premade packets or you can make your own. Here is a simple recipe for kabsa spice mix:
    • Coriander, ground or whole -- 1 tablespoon
    • Pepper, ground or whole peppercorns -- 1 tablespoon
    • Cardamom, ground or whole -- 2 teaspoons
    • Cinnamon, ground or whole -- 2 teaspoons or 1/2 stick
    • Cloves, ground or whole -- 1 teaspoon
    • Nutmeg, ground -- 1/2 teaspoon
    1. If using ground spices, mix the spices together and use as needed, storing any remaining mix in an airtight container.
    2. If using whole spices, toast the spices in a dry skillet over medium heat until they begin to release their aroma. Transfer to a coffee grinder and grind to a powder. Use as needed and store any remaining mix in an airtight container.

    Other common additions to kabsa spice mix include paprika, saffron, cumin, turmeric, fennelseed, allspice and bay leaf.

  • Dried Limes (loomi): Dried limes are a common seasoning in many Middle Eastern dishes and add a unique flavor to kabsa. The limes are first cooked in salt water, then dried in the sun. Whole or ground, dried limes can be found in many Middle Eastern markets. If you are unable to find dried limes, substitute the zest of 2 fresh limes. You can also stir a piece of orange peel into the simmering rice to give it a wonderful perfume.
  • Vegetables: Add some chopped carrots, cabbage or peas to the simmering rice to make a your kabsa a full meal.
  • Dakkous, or Daqqus (Simple tomato sauce): Saute 2 minced cloves of garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until the garlic just starts to brown. Add 2 cups of crushed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, salt to taste and a minced green chile or a pinch of crushed red pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes and serve on the side with the kabsa.


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