WATERTOWN — This Ma’loubeh – Upside Down Pilaf recipe from Annie Chekijian is featured in the St. James Family Table Cookbook from the Women’s Guild of St. James Armenian Apostolic Church in Watertown, MA. “This is a customary Levantine dish consisting mainly of rice, meat, and vegetables. The word name means ‘upside down’ because the ingredients are layered one on top of the other, and after it is fully cooked, the pot is flipped over and served that way,” says Annie. (This dish is often cooked with chicken, beef or lamb, but it is easy to omit the meat and keep it vegan. If you are following a vegan diet, you can make it with the vegetables only; chickpeas can be added as well.)
“The rice can be Egyptian or American short grain, and the vegetables can be cauliflower or eggplant (some cooks use potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, peas, and carrots). This is your chance to use any leftover vegetables that you have and make up your own combinations and creations. The best part of the dish is the flipping of it: you pull off the pot to reveal a steaming hot layered cake of rice, tender meat or chicken, and fragrant eggplant,” she adds.
Born in the Old City of Jerusalem, Annie Haroutiounian came to the United States in 1971 after marrying her high school sweetheart, Berj Chekijian. They have a son, Sarkis, and a daughter, Salpi, and “five beautiful Armenian-speaking grandchildren.” She has attended St. James Church services since the second Sunday she arrived in the United States. Annie has managed the parish Mesrob Mashdotz Institute that offers Western Armenian Language instruction for adults for nearly 30 years. She retired in 2016 after working for 45 years as a certified public accountant (CPA) for various firms.
“I enjoy teaching, tutoring, reading, cooking, baking, crocheting, entertaining and supporting the St. James Church as a volunteer when our Women’s Guild gathers to make manti, choereg, and simit during the year. Over the generations, many of my family members have made this recipe — probably since my maternal grandmother came to Jerusalem from Armenia and learned how to make it there. My mother was born in Jerusalem, too, and her four sisters (my aunts) also learned to make this recipe from my grandmother. A common dish in Middle Eastern cuisine, Ma’loubeh is a little more labor intensive than some dishes, so it is always a festive event when it is made. It is often served on special occasions and everyone has their own twist. This impressive dish is relatively inexpensive to make, and everyone likes it. If you do not like eggplant or cauliflower, you can still enjoy the rice and tasty meat,” she adds.