Food & Drink

Why Maqluba Is the Perfect Family Meal

A savory cake your loved ones will flip for

Photo: Johnny autry | Food Styling by Charlotte Autry

Melody and Michael Shemtov, the owners of Butcher & Bee and the Daily in Charleston, South Carolina, and Butcher & Bee and Redheaded Stranger in Nashville, are among the first to show up with a nourishing meal when a friend welcomes a new baby. Michael has Iraqi-Israeli roots, and the couple honors Palestinian cuisine with their go-to dish, maqluba (which means upside-down in Arabic), a beautiful mix of ground lamb or chicken, vegetables, and rice cooked with spices in a Dutch oven—then flipped, like a cake, onto a platter. “When we think about food at its most basic level, it brings us together,” Melody says. “And few dishes do that as well as maqluba.” The Shemtovs are seemingly wired for giving. When their restaurants shut down in the early days of the pandemic, they created Pay It Forward Charleston, which provided thousands of grocery bags stuffed with local produce and goods to out-of-work restaurant staffers while supporting farmers and purveyors, and they’ve since expanded the program to provide emergency assistance and grants to the restaurant community. When delivering their favorite meal to friends and family, they bring it warm and usually join in on the flipping fun. “It’s the perfect dish to share with others,” Melody says. “After eighteen months of living in a world that feels upside-down, this feels like an appropriate dish to mark a return to normal living.” 


  • (Yield: 6 to 8 servings)

    • 2 eggplants, sliced into ½-inch rounds

    • 3 cups uncooked rice

    • 1 lb. ground lamb or chicken (optional)

    • 4 to 6 white or sweet potatoes, depending on size, sliced into ½-inch rounds

    • 4 tomatoes, sliced into rounds

    • Sea salt

    • Fresh-ground pepper

    • 3 to 4 tbsp. baharat or ras el hanout (spice mixes widely available online and in specialty grocery stores)

    • Vegetable oil

    • 1 to 2 qt. water or stock (chicken or vegetable)

    • Pine nuts, toasted, for garnish

    • Scallions, chopped, for garnish

    • Plain Greek yogurt, for garnish


  1. Liberally salt eggplant slices and set aside for 30 minutes (to reduce bitterness), then press between paper towels. Meanwhile, soak raw rice for at least 30 minutes (to reduce cooking time); brown the meat (if using) and drain and set aside.

  2. Season potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant (and any other vegetables you’re including—this is a very versatile dish) with salt, pepper, and about 2 tablespoons spice mix (enough to lightly dust all vegetables).

  3. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a 10-inch Dutch oven over medium heat. Working in batches, quickly sear eggplant and potatoes for 2 minutes on each side, adding oil as necessary. Remove to a plate, then rinse and wipe out the pot.

  4. Working with one vegetable at a time, layer eggplant, potatoes, and tomatoes in the Dutch oven. Overlap each round slightly on the other, creating an even layer of each vegetable as best you can; it won’t be perfect but doesn’t need to be. Add meat and spread in an even layer. Pour in rice, and cover with water or stock so all rice is submerged. Add another generous tablespoon of spice mix to the liquid.

  5. Return Dutch oven, covered, to the stove, over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the rice is done, about 15 to 18 minutes.

  6. Now comes the fun part: When you’re ready to serve, with the help of a friend (and oven mitts!), carefully flip the Dutch oven onto a big platter. Bang the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon a few times. Let sit for 10 minutes to help it release. Soak up or carefully pour off any liquid that accumulates on the platter. Then lift the pot to reveal the savory cake below. Season to taste, and serve with pine nuts, scallions, and yogurt.

Recipe by: Melody & Michael Shemtov
Charleston, South Carolina

Drop-off Tip: Deliver the dish warm and take along a large platter (if your friends don’t have one) as well as chopped scallions, toasted pine nuts, and Greek yogurt for serving.