Makluba (Lamb Steaks with Cauliflower and Apricots)

Meal: King David's Nuptials

  • recipe
  • bible reference
  • history

Makluba (Lamb Steaks with Cauliflower and Apricots)

Makluba means “upside down.”

  • 1 large cooking onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • olive oil for frying
  • 6 large lamb steaks
  • 8–12 cups water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 2 heads cauliflower
  • 3–4 cups uncooked basmati rice
  • 1 large tomato
  • ½ cup pine nuts, browned
  • 1 lb. dried apricots

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Many cultures have developed “upside-down” dishes, and makluba is an especially attractive rice dish made more special by the addition of a garnish of nuts and apricots.

In a deep cooking pot with lid, saute onion and garlic with a small amount of olive oil till limp and clear. Add meat and water, plus salt, pepper, and cardamom. Simmer meat until it is tender and the broth is richly flavored (about 45 minutes). While that is cooking, cut cauliflower into small and manageable florets. Fry florets in olive oil till thoroughly cooked and browned on all sides. Drain cooked florets on a plate covered with a paper towel to help remove as much oil as possible.

When meat, broth, and cauliflower are done, remove meat and broth from the cooking pot (or use another deep pot). Layer uncooked rice, meat, and cauliflower, one on top of the next, creating two or three 3-part layers. Place another layer of rice on top. Slice tomato into thin pieces and place the slices around on top of the rice. Season with a bit more salt and pepper. Pour the broth over the entire casserole. Add a bit more water so that the rice will cook well. Put a tight lid on the pot and let ingredients steam until rice is cooked and virtually all the liquid is absorbed.

Upturn the pot of makluba onto a large platter. Garnish with browned pine nuts, surrounded by dried apricots.

Yield: About 6–8 servings

The Text

39b Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife.

His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”

She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “Here is your maidservant, ready to serve you and wash the feet of my master's servants.”

42 Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five maids, went with David's messengers and became his wife.

I Samuel 25:39b-42, New International Version


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A jug of olive oil was representative of the feast of kings, as the ancient Hebrews believed that olive oil was capable of restoring health and adding longevity.

Biblical Passage Notes

The Bible does not provide us with any words about the preparations for David's marriages, but there seems to be a long history associated with a wedding feast in the House of David. The imagery is seen over and over again in the Song of Songs, where some scholars and a longstanding tradition identify the male protagonist, the lover, as Solomon, David's son and successor. In addition, the parable of the wedding feast in the Christian gospels (Matthew 22:1–14, Luke 14:15–24) is rooted in a Jewish understanding of the marriage of a great king. The stories surrounding David were undoubtedly on the minds of the gospel writers as they related the teachings of Jesus, who himself was said to be a descendant of David.

The Preparation

What would a feast for such a great king look like? In modern-day Israel, one will come across more than a few sites pitching “King David's Feast” (such as Genesis Land just outside of Jerusalem) to the tourist trade; and many of the cookbooks of the last seventy years have a recipe or two that imagine some glorious confection worthy of the Jerusalem court. We've attempted a fair cross section of both offerings, while adding in a few recipes we think would make an 11th-century b.c.e. royal meal complete. If you're going to try the whole menu at one sitting, make sure you have left yourself a lot of preparation time and that you've invited lots of friends and family with hearty appetites!

The History

As related in Chapter 8, King Saul had become extremely jealous of David's success in battle, his popularity among the people, and his special relationship with God, to the point that Saul actually tried to murder David with a spear while the young man was playing music. David, aided by his wife Michal and Saul's son Jonathan, managed to elude Saul's men and to gather a large band of supporters. Even though he was a fugitive, David cornered Saul on two different occasions, but each time David spared the king's life. Saul and three of his sons, including Jonathan, finally met their end during another battle with the Philistines, Saul committing suicide instead of allowing the enemy to kill him. Afterward, David went to Hebron and became king of Judah; he was but thirty years old. A war between the House of Saul and the House of David ensued, and after seven years of fighting David's forces prevailed; he was then anointed king of Israel as well. Historians date the unification of Judah and Israel to the 11th century b.c.e.

David reigned for about thirty-three years as ruler of the united kingdom. During that time he was able to subdue the Philistines and conquer the rest of Canaan. Historians also credit David with having provided strong spiritual leadership to a fractious group of tribal families who were easily tempted to abandon the Covenant in favor of the religious practices of the native peoples. He made Jerusalem the capital of the new nation of Israel because that city was and still is considered to be sacred to God: within its boundaries is Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham was supposed to have gone to sacrifice Isaac and the place where Jacob was believed to have had his vision of a ladder ascending to heaven. To this holy spot David brought the Ark of the Covenant with the Tablets of the Ten Commandments, and there he is believed to have composed many of the works found in the book of Psalms.

Before and during his reign as king, David took at least eight wives, a number of concubines, and had at least twenty children, including a son, Daniel, with Abigail; a son, Absalom, and a daughter, Tamar, with Maachah; and a son, Solomon, with Bathsheba. It was Solomon, known for his wisdom, who succeeded to the throne when David died, and it was he who built the great Temple at Jerusalem.