Everybody relates a favourite dish to a special person at a certain time in their lives. Ruz bi dfeen is one of the memories I have of my aunt Rosette who excelled in making this delightful dish. Let me first explain what the word dfeen means in Arabic; it simply suggests that something is buried, referring to the juicy soft lamb meat that gets engulfed by the rice, onions and chickpeas as it cooks in the richly seasoned meat stock. Succulent lamb meat combined with gently caramelised onions, and tender chickpeas are essential for the flavour foundation of this amazing dish. The highlight, however, is when ruz bi dfeen is served. The cake-like shape you get when you turn the pot upside down on a serving platter is reserved for a few chefs. My aunt was one of them.
Another variation of this dish is to cook it with bulgur instead of rice, and give it a sweet note by adding ground caraway to the spices. This version is more popular in Lebanon than ruz bi dfeen which we marjeyounee can call our own.
I am sharing with you the recipe that made it into my book “The Taste of Marjeyoun” and “Le Goût de Marjeyoun”.
Ruz bi dfeen - Lamb with Rice and Chickpeas
- For the meat
- 60 ml sunflower oil
- 750 g leg of lamb cut into 4-5 cm cubes
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- 1 onion peeled
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 Cardamom pods
- 1 litre hot water
- For the dfeen
- 60 ml sunflower oil
- 500 g onions peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced into half-moon shapes
- 200 g chickpeas soaked overnight in one litre water (you can use canned chickpeas as well)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoons allspice
- 400 g parboiled rice soaked in cold water for 10 minutes, and drained
- 900 ml from the meat stock
- 500 ml plain yoghurt to serve
- Drain the chickpeas, add them with one litre water to a pressure cooker, put the lid on, and following the manufacturer’s instructions, cook over low heat for about 30 minutes. Drain them in a colander and set aside. (Skip this step if using canned chickpeas)
- For the meat: Heat the oil in a pressure cooker over medium-high heat. Add the meat, the cinnamon and the allspice and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often. Then add the water, onion, bay leaf, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods and put the lid on. Following manufacturer’s instructions, cook over low heat for about 20 minutes. Uncover and discard the onion, bay leaf, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods. Reserve.
- For the dfeen: Heat the oil in a large pot and cook the onions over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring often until wilted and slightly brown. Add the drained chickpeas and the spices and mix well. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and place neatly over the chickpeas. Then cover with the rice. Pour in the 900 ml meat stock and bring to a boil. Adjust taste if necessary. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 20 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the water is fully absorbed. Let rest, covered, for 10 minutes.
- Turn the round platter over onto the top of the uncovered pot, and holding the platter and the pot firmly with both hands, invert them and quickly place the platter on the counter. Remove the pot slowly. If you are lucky, you’ll get a cake like shape. Serve immediately. Eat with some yoghurt on the side.