Arabic chicken machboos on a platter

Machboos is a common dish found across many parts of the Middle East. It’s a fantastic, flavourful dish that has a lot of similarities with biryani. This Arabic chicken machboos recipe is my take on this popular dish, inspired by the many amazing iftar buffets I’ve had the pleasure of attending during my time living in Dubai.

What is machboos?

Machboos is a rice-based dish, it often goes by the name of kabsa. Kabsa originated in Saudi Arabia but is a traditional dish across many countries in the middle east. The dish is made from basmati rice, cooked in an abundance of flavourful spices with meat. Chicken and lamb are both popular options.

The dish is cooked in one pot making clean up a little easier! It seems like a complicated dish, usually because of a long ingredient list as it involves a lot of spices, but it’s actually pretty easy once you’ve got everything prepared.


Warning – the indgredient list for this recipe does look quite long! However, you can really break it down into the main recipe and then the spices used which makes it less over-facing:

Chicken Machboos Ingredients

Main Recipe:

  1. Full, skin-on chicken leg – or if you are making a larger batch you can buy a full chicken and cut it up.
  2. Rice – white basmati rice works best
  3. Raisins
  4. Onion – use brown or white onion and slice thinly
  5. Garlic – one clove, minced
  6. Canola oil or vegetable oil


  1. Loomi – this is basically dried, black lime. If you can’t find it you can try making it – or you can substitute for a tsp of lime juice instead
  2. Cardamom pods – cut a small slit into the side of each pod to help it release the flavour
  3. Spice mix – traditionally this recipe uses an Arabic spice mix called baharat or bezar, in addition to some other spices used for this recipe. However, to make this recipe a little simpler and more accessible I use one spice mix for this recipe throughout rather than having to make one mix and then add another load of spices on top of that.

The spice mix includes:

  • Turmeric
  • Fennel seed
  • Crushed coriander seed
  • Cumin


For the spice mix, other flavours that work well include cloves and nutmeg. You can add, swap out and substitute as you wish. Don’t swap out the turmeric, however, as this helps it get that beautiful yellow colour.

The recipe includes loomi which is basically dried lime. This is not essential and if you can’t get hold of it then use a squeeze of fresh lime instead.

Chicken breast can be used instead of the leg – but it will be drier. Try and use skin on breasts as it will help to lock in the juices.

Close up of chicken machboos

How do you make it?

This recipe simplifies the dish a little to make it easier for first-time chefs, but it really doesn’t sacrifice any flavour! First, make the spice mix by mixing together the cumin, fennel seeds, crushed coriander seeds and turmeric.

Pat the chicken skin dry and then rub around 1/4 of the spice mix into the skin. Leave to marinade while you prepare everything else.

Add half the oil into a large saucepan and then seal the chicken so the skin is lightly browned on all sides. Set aside. Add the onion to the pan and cook until softened before adding the garlic, remaining spice mix, cardamom, cinnamon stick and loomi. Stir for around 30 seconds.

Recipe steps 1-6 pre the ingredients, fry the chicken, fry the onion

Add the stock, tomatoes and raisins and then return the chicken to the pan. Reduce the heat and cover and cook, at a low simmer, for 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken, loomi and cinnamon stick and set aside. Add the basmati rice to the pan and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes – or until the water is no longer above the level of the rice. Cover and cook for a further 15 minutes over a low heat.

While the rice is cooking cook the chicken in the remaining oil over a medium to high heat – you want to really brown the skin and crispen it up.

Serve the rice on a place with the chicken placed over the top. You can add a dollop of raita and a few sprigs of parsley or mint to garnish.

Recipe steps 7-11 add stock and spices, add chicken and simmer. Add rice, remove chicken, fry chicken

Bil afia (which is ‘in good health’ in Arabic and traditionally said instead of ‘bon appetit’)

Can it be frozen?

I wouldn’t recommend freezing this dish. It will certainly sacrifice texture and flavour. I have been known to reheat leftovers the next day though. Just make sure that it is steaming hot throughout as rice is dangerous to reheat if not done properly.

If you are a fan of rice-based dishes then check out this prawn biryani. Looking to try some other Arabic recipes? Try this moutabal (aubergine dip) or this tabbouleh (parsley salad)

Products that work great for this recipe:

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Arabic chicken machboos on a platter

Arabic Chicken Machboos

  • Author: caroline
  • Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 1x


An traditional Middle East dish of spiced rice and meat – this Arabic Chicken Machboos is both flavoursome and delicious. 

The default recipe serves one.


  • 1 large chicken leg
  • 65g / 2.3oz (1/3 cup) basmati rice
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 onion (brown or white)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 180ml (3/4 cup) chicken or vegetable stock 
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 1 loomi (4-6 holes pierced in the skin with a knife) or 1 tsp lime juice
  • 2 cardamom pods, with a small slit cut into each with a sharp knife
  • 1 small cinnamon stick

For Spice Mix:

  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ¼ tsp fennel seeds
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp crushed coriander seeds


  1. Mix together all the spice mix ingredients. Pat the chicken dry with some kitchen towel and use a small amount of the spice mix to rub into the skin. Leave for at least 15 minutes while you prepare everything else. Rinse and soak the rice for 15 minutes.
  2. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan/skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sear on all sides (you just want the skin to turn a light golden brown – not to fully cook) and then set aside.
  3. Add the onions to the pan and fry for around 5-6 minutes until softened. 
  4. Add the garlic, spice mix, cinnamon stick and loomi to the onions and cook for a further minute before stirring in the stock, tomato and raisins. Add the chicken back to the pan, season well and reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. 
  5. After 15 minutes remove the loomi, cinnamon stick and discard and remove the chicken and set aside. Stir the rice into the mixture increase the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Until the water has mainly evaporated. Reduce the heat to low and cover and cook for a further 15 minutes.
  6. While the rice is cooking, heat the remainder of the oil in another frying pan over medium-high heat and when hot, add the chicken. Cook and turn regularly until the chicken is dark brown and a little charred. It should take around 8-10 minutes to get a good deep colour and crispy skin.
  7. Serve the rice on a plate and then add the chicken on top. Garnish with some fresh parsley or mint and serve with some raita drizzled over the top. 


  1. If you are using loomi for this recipe then one will be fine if you are cooking up to 4 portions – you don’t need to increase the number of loomi used
  2. You also do not need to increase the amount of cinnamon if multiplying the recipe
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Hob
  • Cuisine: Arabic


  • Serving Size: 1
  • Calories: 713
  • Fat: 27g
  • Carbohydrates: 79g
  • Protein: 36g

Keywords: arabic, rice, dinner, middle eastern, chicken

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