Kabsa is one of my favorite dishes. This Middle Eastern rice dish is considered the national dish of Saudi cuisine and it has variations throughout the Arab countries. My version is a beautiful and bountiful plate of rice cooked in onions, carrots, tomatoes, and garlic, coated in all kinds sweet and earthy spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and ginger speckled with juicy red cranberries and sweet raisins. The delicious flavors of kabsa rice cooked in these aromatic spices, root vegetables, and topped with crispy roasted chicken is the classic that I often make during this time of year. It is an easy dish to make in huge quantities, and everyone loves it. This plant based version replaces the chicken completely with a gorgeous roasted squash. The flavor and colorful presentation of the crispy roasted squash stuffed with kabsa rice is so stunning, nobody will notice the chicken is missing! Besides, to accommodate all, I still serve the kabsa marinated chicken on the side. I’ll be posting the classic chicken kabsa later this week as I am serving it for Thanksgiving. Stay tuned!
A word on ingredients
The spices I use in the recipe may possibly be found in any Middle Eastern markets as a single spice combination called “kabsa spices” although the combination and quality may vary. I like to combine my own individual high quality spices to control the flavors, and here I have nice balance of sweet and spicy with the cinnamon and ginger. Try combining the spices as I suggest in the recipe below and be sure to use the freshest you can get. Some people prefer to toss in whole cinnamon sticks, cloves, and cardamom pods, which is completely fine as well! Just be sure to remove them before serving so nobody has an unpleasant surprise as they eat. In my mom’s house, my brother was always the lucky one to crunch a cardamom pod in his mouth 😀
My initial vision to create this dish was with an acorn squash. Its gorgeous deep green hue splashed with some yellows and orange is a nice complement to the dish, and the squash is also tastier and creamier in texture than a pumpkin. When I had to make a large rice dish for a school potluck last week, I wanted to have my kabseh stuffed squash make its debut, and I only had orange sugar pumpkins. So an exploding pumpkin full of kabseh rice it was. It was gorgeous, tasty, and the students and parents loved it! I don’t think many children would have recognized an acorn squash anyway. Both pumpkin and acorn squash have beautiful ridges that you can slice down when serving. Use what you think you would enjoy! Be sure to choose a pretty shaped gourd with a flat bottom and a long stem if possible; for some reason none of the pumpkins in my grocery store had long stems. Meh.
I was inspired to cut the pumpkin with a star-shaped cap when I saw this gorgeous Armenian Ghapama on Dining in Diaspora. She clearly is more skilled at cutting lovely designs than I am- so be sure to take a look. I love the sweeter version of her classic recipe used by Armenian tradition here and it shows that you can really make this rice in your own way to suit your preferences.
Kabsa Rice Stuffed in Squash
- 1 squash such as sugar pumpkin or acorn squash
- 4 tbsp safflower or olive oil
- 1 c carrots, chopped (about 2-3 large carrots)
- 1 c chopped onion (about 1/2 an onion)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp shallot, minced
- 1/2 c tomato, diced (about 1 tomato)
- 3 c long grain or basmati rice
- 1 tsp all spice
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 1/2 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
- 1 c dried cranberries
- 1/2 c golden raisins
- 1/2 c pumpkin seeds or almonds(optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F).
- Wash the rice in cold water and then let it soak for 20-30 minutes. This speeds up the cook time and reduces any excess starch that causes clumpy rice.
- Wash the squash well, and cut off the top where the stem is. Carefully hollow out the inside by removing the seeds and stringy pieces. Save the seeds to toast later. Rub the outside and top of the squash with 1 tbsp of oil and set it on a pan.
- In a heavy bottom pot, heat 2 tbsp of oil and sauté the onions and shallots until they begin to yellow. Add the carrots, followed by the garlic and tomatoes until softened.
- Drain the rice and add to the vegetables in the pot. Toss in the spices until it is well coated.
- Add 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to low and cover. Check the rice in 5 minutes. The water should be absorbed from the top. Add the cranberries and raisins and stir gently. Scoop out enough rice from the pot to stuff the squash and cover with the top of the squash. Place into oven for 30-40 minutes, until the squash can be easily pierced with a fork. If there is still water visible in the pot of rice, cover the pot and allow to cook for 5 minutes more. Remove the rice from the pot and plate it onto serving platter, leaving a space in the center for the squash.
- While the squash cooks in the oven, toast the pumpkin seeds or nuts in a small pan over medium high heat until they turn golden-brown. Set aside for garnish later.
- Once the squash is cooked through, remove from the oven and transfer onto the center of the rice platter. Sprinkle toasted nuts or pumpkin seeds all over the ricer.
- When ready to serve, slice the pumpkin or acorn squash following the vertical ridges to create a beautiful petal design. Plate a slice of squash and a serving of rice for each person.