Kabsa: a One-Pot Gulf Style Rice & Meat Dish

Somehow during this polar vortex we’re having, I keep finding myself craving Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods- perhaps it’s the hefty amounts of meat (with all that ‘good’ fat I always include), or the pungent spices that I crave when it’s cold.

For the last two days, I’ve made Kebsa (also spelled “Kepsa” or “Kabsa”), a one-pot Gulf style rice and meat dish that has to be on the top of my favorite foods. Some people describe it as a sort of Arabic paella because it has the same two main ingredients of rice and meat, but this is something very different from Spanish paella and the cooking process is also quite different.

That said, I am quite picky about the method in which it’s made because if I don’t stick to my own method, then I don’t get the results I want. I’ve practiced this over and over again to get it just right, which is why I included it in my first cookbook, Summer Ramadan Cooking

kebsa january 2014 v. 2 picmonkey

For this recipe, I use famously aromatic Basmati rice. I don’t recommend trying any other type of rice (unless it’s brown Basmati rice, which may actually require a tad more water). Any other rice will require different amounts of water-rice ratios and cooking times and could result in mushy over-cooked rice or hard-to-the-teeth under-cooked rice. Regardless of which one you use, with bags like the one shown below, however, the rice must be thoroughly rinsed several times to be sure it’s free of any debris. 


One very interesting ‘spice’ in this dish and probably my favorite, is the dried black lime (also known as “loomi” in Arabic).  Loomi, or Limu Omani is actually what made me fall in love with this dish because once it’s cooked, you push the cooked lime with the back of  your spoon and you get this juicy Worcestershire-like sauce that just oozes out. It only really happens if the lime doesn’t have any holes in it, so I throw in a few to make the odds in my favor. I just love that added, yet unexpected umami flavor it gives.kebsa january 2014 v. 1 picmonkey

I always serve Kebsa with a fresh salad of finely chopped salad greens, diced tomatoes, fresh parsley and/or mint and a squeeze of one fresh lemon or lime, too.

I don’t always make the side tomato sauce to go with Kebsa, but when I do it’s just extra good. I chop up one tomato and add a jar of tomato sauce, salt, a dash of pepper, some sugar and olive oil. It goes on top of the rice when it’s on your plate, if desired.

Highly recommended…

shata via pick monkey

Every region in Saudi, Kuwait, Oman or in other parts of the Gulf make their own version and with their own spices- some even make it with raisins, which is something I’d never think of putting in, but I’d definitely try if someone else made it that way.  You can see the Persian influence in that style (with raisins), which I do like, but wouldn’t eat the tomato sauce alongside it.

Now you can try it for yourself…

Gulf Style Kabsa with Tomato Sauce

This dish is a traditional rice and meat dish stemming from the Gulf of Arabia and often made for guests as a token of hospitality, particularly at Iftar meals where the fast is broken among family, friends and neighbors. The lamb can be replaced with beef or chicken. Serve with a fresh tomato and cucumber salad on the side, if desired, as well as the tomato sauce included in the recipe. 

Serves 4

Ingredients for Rice & Meat

• 4 tablespoons grape seed oil or olive oil
• 1 small yellow onion, diced
• 1 Roma (plum) tomato, diced
• 1 pound bone-in lamb shoulder cut in small pieces (bone-in gives it more flavor, but use boneless if that’s what you have)
• 1 tablespoon kabsa spice mix (or make your own with the recipe below)
• 5 cardamom pods
• 5 cloves or 1/8 teaspoon clove powder
• 2 cinnamon sticks or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 2 1/4 cups water (or just enough to cover the rice)
2-3 dried limes
½ teaspoon saffron threads
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
1.5 cup Basmati rice, thoroughly washed

Ingredients for Spice Mix

• 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
• 1 teaspoon turmeric, ground
• ¼ teaspoon pepper flakes
• ½ teaspoon ground coriander
• ½ teaspoon fennel powder
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• ½ teaspoon allspice

Directions for Spice Mix 

Combine all ingredients. Only 1 tablespoon will be used for this recipe.

Ingredients for Tomato Sauce

• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce + 1 tomato, finely chopped
• ½ teaspoon sugar
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 3 large garlic cloves, crushed, particularly roasted garlic

Directions for Tomato Sauce (Make up to 1 Day Ahead)

1. In a small saucepan over low heat, heat oil and add garlic. Stir softly for a minute.
2. Add the diced tomato then the tomato sauce. Stir in the sugar and salt.
3. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes, uncovered.
4. Serve warm for guests to dollop over their rice.

Cooking Directions for Rice & Meat

1. Heat oil in large Dutch oven. Sauté onion until translucent. Add tomatoes and sauté. Add lamb and brown on both sides.

2. Add the spice mix, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. Add the water, saffron, limes, and salt. Bring to a boil and then lower to a rolling boil. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile clean and soak the rice and make the sauce. Add the rice to the pot.

4. Bring to a boil then immediately reduce heat to lower. Cover tightly and do not open lid for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, open lid and gently stir ingredients to make sure all rice is done. Turn off heat and let sit, uncovered for a few minutes. Serve alongside tomato sauce.

Bismillah & Sahtein!

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  1. My in laws lived in Saudi for many years and my MIL and sisters in law make AWESOME lamb or chicken Kabsa. We usually sit around large round trays and eat together from them as a family. 🙂 I noticed you use Basmati rice, we usually use the fatter, shorter grain rice, not sure what its called but we call it Arab rice (since we are Indo/Pakistani, Basmati is the rice we use for most other dishes). I think that ice rarely gets sticky.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe.:-) I tried Kebsa at a restaurant in Philadelphia years ago (I think they were from Palestine), they had potatoes in theirs. But it was absolutely the best tasting dish I’ve had. It got addicting too. Thank you,I will have to definitely try this.

  3. Assalamuaalaikum warahmatullahi wabarakaatuhu sister, may i know wat is this allspice powder? Can i know its ingredients? Jazaakillah Khair for the share 🙂

    1. Allspice is an actual spice itself. I have seen it whole and it is small round dried berries. The powder is just those ground finely. Nice flavor but too much can be overpowering. Some Senegalese dishes call for it and that is how I came to like allspice.

        1. Yes, you can but some people prefer fresh mixtures to boxes that have been sitting on the shelf. Whatever is easier and preferable to each individual.

  4. My old man is Yemeni and this is very similar to their kabsah but they don’t use the loomi. I haven’t made kabsah in a while but I shall have to now that I have seen this post. A Yemeni gal pal of mine has her own recipe for a lamb kabsah she makes and it is so fabulous. I wait with great anticipation until the next time she makes it!!

  5. Is the spice mix you used the same as the Arab seven spice mix you can find at the stores? I have some at home and it would make my life a whole lot easier :).

  6. Salaamalaikum Yvonne. Just wanted to share that I followed your kabsah recipe to the letter and it turned out a huge success at the dinner table Alhamdulillah. I was hesitant to try the recipe at first, as my attempts to cook mixed rice dishes (ex. biryani, pilaf…) almost turns out with the rice going soft or burnt at the bottom of the pot. I am glad I tried, my confidence is growing! JazakAllah kher for your recipe. I enjoy your website, keep it up.

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