Chicken Machboos (Bahraini Spiced Chicken and Rice)

Machboos ala ajaj Bahrain chicken and rice

Chicken Machboos, or Machboos ala Dajaj (“spiced chicken and rice”), is the national dish of Bahrain, a small island country in the Persian Gulf neighbored by Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Machboos is similar to Biryani (from the Indian subcontinent) and Kabsa (from Saudi Arabia), all with varying cooking methods, ingredients, degree of spiciness, and assembly.   But all three are essentially meat and rice dishes.

I developed this recipe by way of request from Jay and Kelly.  They posted a challenge for me on The Daring Gourmet’s facebook fan page.  Having toured the Middle East during their time in the Navy, they had come to love its variety of foods.  They especially loved the Machboos from Bahrain.  Disappointed in the recipes they’ve found and tried online, they challenged me to develop an authentic Bahraini Machboos.  Jay and Kelly, while I can’t promise you that this tastes just like the particular Machboos you had in Bahrain, I can guarantee that it’s both authentic and delicious.

I even flew back to the Middle East to pick up the spices for this dish.  Just kidding.  But I was there a few years ago and could have spent HOURS in the spice stalls of the Arab markets. This vendor had a terrific selection.

And oh, how I miss that perfect sun-kissed skin!  Mine, not the spice vendor’s.  I don’t miss him – or his skin, rather.  But he was a very nice man and he let me take his picture.

The Daring Gourmet in Jerusalem

There are two ingredients in particular that set this dish apart from any Western chicken and rice dishes.  Baharat and Loomi.

Machboos prep 13

Baharat, Arabic for “spice”, is a popular spice blend found in Arab cuisine.  Ingredients can vary, but it typically includes black pepper, paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg.  An intensely flavorful spice blend, Baharat can liven up any dish.  It is commonly used as a rub for lamb, chicken, beef and fish and can be combined with olive oil and lemon juice for a delicious marinade.  It is also used in soups and sauces.

Another Daring Gourmet recipe using this wonderful spice blend is Koshari (Egyptian Lentils, Rice & Macaroni with Spicy Tomato Chile Sauce – the National Dish of Egypt)

Machboos prep 17

Loomi is another ingredient that is a must if you wish to achieve an authentic flavor in your Middle Eastern cooking.  Loomi are limes, often from Oman, that have been boiled and then left to dry in the sun.  Their color can range from tan to black.  The concentrated lime flavor is intensely tangy and earthy with an almost smoky quality.  Loomi are sold under a variety of names including black limes, black lemons (though not lemons at all), and of course dried limes.  They can be purchased either whole or in powdered form.  Whole is better as the powder oxidizes quickly and much of the flavor can be lost.  As with spices, it is better to keep them stored whole and then grind as needed.  Dried limes can be found in stores carrying Middle Eastern products or can be ordered online.  They are also delicious stuffed into the cavity of a chicken before roasting or added to boiling rice for added flavor.  You can purchase them online HERE.

Machboos prep 1

Another ingredient that I have added to this dish and that is commonly found in Middle Eastern cuisine is rosewater.  I included it as an optional ingredient to be sprinkled over the finished dish just before eating, but I highly recommend it as it will add a whole exotic flavor dimension to the Machboos.  The sweet accents of the rosewater gracefully complement the earthy spices and tangy  limes.  You can find rose water online HERE.

Once you have gathered up the ingredients necessary for this dish, it is quite easy and straightforward to make.  A one pot dish, you’ll have little cleanup to do and most of the time involved in making the process is simply cooking time.  The end result is worth whatever effort you went through to get the needed ingredients.  And it’s a great dish for the whole family.  While packed with flavor, it’s not spicy-hot.  Even our toddler ate two pieces of the chicken and then requested rice.

Let’s make some Machboos!

Separate the whole spices and the powdered spices.

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Dry roast the whole spices in a small pan over medium-high heat, tossing frequently to prevent scorching, until very fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.

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Allow the spices to cool and then transfer them to a spice or coffee grinder along with the powdered spices and grind them to a fine powder.

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Set the baharat aside.

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Either cut up a whole chicken or use chicken pieces.

Machboos prep 3

Heat some oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven (I use and love Lodge) and fry the chicken on both sides until browned and crispy.

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Set the chicken aside.

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Dice up the onions.

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Add the ghee or butter to the oil already in the Dutch oven and saute the onions over medium heat until caramelized and beginning to brown.

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Slice the garlic cloves and mince the ginger and jalapeno pepper.

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Add the garlic, ginger and jalapeno to the onions and saute for another two minutes.

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Add the baharat and turmeric and stir to combine.

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Return the chicken to the Dutch oven.

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Get the dried limes.

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It’s important to punch a few holes in the limes with a skewer, knife or the tines of fork before adding it to the dish, otherwise the juices won’t effectively penetrate the hardened skin.  The holes will allow the cooking juices to infuse with the flavorful interior of the limes.

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Add the dried limes, tomatoes, cinnamon stick (find a great deal online here), cardamom and ground cloves.

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Add the chicken stock.  Stir to combine, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for one hour.

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After simmering for an hour, discard the cinnamon stick and dried limes.  You can leave the cardamom pods in, but I prefer not to be surprised with a whole cardamom pod in my mouth.

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I was only able to find 3 of the cardamom pods.  I guess we’ll soon find out ends up with the other two!

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Soak the basmati rice in water for at least 10 minutes.

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Rinse and drain the rice.  This process is said to create a fluffier rice texture for the finished dish, but it also lessens the cooking time of the rice and thus preserves its flavor which can diminish through longer cooking periods.

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Add the cilantro and parsley to the Dutch oven.

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Add the rice and stir to combine.  Return the mixture to a boil, reduce to low, cover and cook for another 15-20 minutes or until the rice is fully cooked.

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Transfer the rice and chicken to a serving platter and serve immediately.  You can leave the chicken mixed in with the rice or place the chicken on top of the rice.  For an added authentic Middle Eastern touch, sprinkle some rosewater over the finished dish just before serving.

Machboos prep 1

Oh, and guess what?  I ended up finding those other two missing cardamom pods before dishing it up :)

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And there you have it – a lovely, authentic and delicious plate of Bahraini Chicken Machboos.

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Chicken Machboos Middle Eastern Biryani Rice


Chicken Machboos (Bahraini Spiced Chicken and Rice)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A delicious and authentic Chicken Machboos, the national dish of Bahrain.
Cuisine: Middle Eastern, Bahrain
Serves: 4
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 3 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon baharat (see recipe below)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • A combination of chicken thighs, legs and breasts (about 3 pounds)
  • 1 hot green chile, seeded and diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 5 large cloves or garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 large roma tomatoes, diced (or 1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes, juices drained)
  • 2-3 dried limes (loomi), several holes punched throughout each one
  • 5 green cardamom pods
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon (about 2 inches long)
  • 2½ teaspoons salt
  • 2½ cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups basmati rice (soaked for at least 15 minutes, then rinsed and drained)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • Rosewater for sprinkling (optional, but recommended)
  • Baharat
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick (about 2 inches long)
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon green cardamom seeds
  • 1 tablespoon paprika powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • For the Baharat:
  • Set the paprika and nutmeg powders aside. Place all remaining ingredients (whole seeds, cinnamon stick and cloves) in a small frying pan and dry roast over medium-high heat, tossing regularly to prevent scorching, for 3-4 minutes or until very fragrant. Transfer to a spice or coffee grinder and let cool. Add the paprika and nutmeg and grind all the ingredients to a fine powder. Store left over baharat in an airtight jar.
  1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and fry the chicken pieces on both sides until the skin is brown and crispy. Transfer the chicken to a plate and leave the remaining oil in the Dutch oven.
  2. Add the ghee (or butter), reduce the heat to medium, and fry the onions until starting to brown, about 10-12 minutes.
  3. Add the ginger, garlic, and green chile pepper and saute for another 2 minutes.
  4. Add the baharat and turmeric and cook for another minute.
  5. Return the chicken pieces to the Dutch oven along with the tomatoes, dried limes, cardamom pods, cinnamon and cloves. Add the chicken stock and stir to combine. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for one hour.
  6. Add the cilantro, parsley and drained rice and stir to combine. Return it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for another 15-20 minutes until the rice is done and has absorbed the liquid.
  7. Transfer the chicken and rice to a serving dish (either leave the chicken pieces tossed in with the rice, or place the chicken on top of the rice), and sprinkling with 1-2 tablespoons of rosewater (optional).
  8. Serve with a green salad and yogurt raita.


Chicken Machboos 5 sm


46 Responses

  1. Candy

    wrote on

    Oh I am so making this one!. The washing of the rice is very typical of my country too. They wash it three times or until the rice rinse clear. What store do you recommed to go buy the spices?

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      I hope you do! It’s a wonderful blend of flavors. The spices for the baharat are pretty standard. You can find these spices in powder form virtually anywhere, finding the whole seeds can be a little more challenging. Many health food stores will have them in whole form. Some grocery chains, like Winco, also carry the whole seeds in their bulk section and you can just scoop out what you need. The only spice that will be more challenging to find is the cardamom. Again, I know some health food stores carry cardamom pods. Any Indian grocery store will as well. And of course you can get any of these spices online.

  2. Anonymous

    wrote on

    this is godly.

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Haha, thank you and love the adjective! :)

  3. wrote on

    I’m Bahraini and i approve this recipe! You did a really good job here :)

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Abdulla, you don’t know how happy that makes me! I tried to be as thorough and authentic as possible and am thrilled to have received your vote of approval. Thank you! And thank you for you visiting – hope you come back!

      • wrote on

        Your recipe is really authentic and it looks delicious.
        on special occasions we add a mixture of onion, almond, cashew nuts and raisins on the top, we call it “Hashwa” and i like it way better with the this topping.

        this how you do the Hashwa:
        in a sauce pan add onions without oil or water, and when it gets a little bit brown sprinkle some water on it and keep sprinkling the water until the onions gets brown but not burned, then add the raw nuts and raisins and a tea spoon of your baharat and you’ll also need the juice of one of those loomy you used in your recipe, just mix in everything until its almost dry, then add it on top of the rice.

        this will really take you Machboos to another level!

        • The Daring Gourmet

          wrote on

          Fantastic! That sounds absolutely delicious. Thank you for the info and tips!

  4. wrote on

    So glad you found me on Facebook – I had to come by and see your machboos! Looks absolutely lovely. Bookmarking to make for dinner soon :)

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Thanks, Yasmeen! Specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine, I’m sure you already have all the necessary ingredients :) Thanks so much for visiting!

  5. wrote on

    That looks absolutely amazing!

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Thank you, Marlis, and thanks so much for visiting!

      • wrote on

        We are big on spicy food (I cook a lot of Indian food) and your recipe looked like a simpler Shah Jahani Biriani.

  6. wrote on

    This dish looks wonderful! I’m a bit taken aback by all those unknown spices though :D

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Thanks and perfectly understandable :) Unless you do a lot of Middle Eastern cooking you would have virtually no other use for the dried limes and very, very little for the rosewater. But if you do like that cuisine, you’re going to love the additional dimensions of flavor that these ingredients bring to your dish!

      • wrote on

        That is certainly true! Who wouldn’t love Middle Eastern cooking?!

  7. NA03

    wrote on

    Hi, This looks delicious..Will surely try it. Can you please tell me how many grams is the rice, because the cups vary everywhere?

    Thanks =)

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Thank you and I’m happy you’re going to try it! 2 cups of basmati is the equivalent of 390 grams. Thanks for visiting!

      • NA03

        wrote on

        Thanks! We made this today & it turned out delicious! Finger licking good!:D Thanks once again :)

        • The Daring Gourmet

          wrote on

          Wonderful, so glad to hear that! Thanks for making this recipe and for your feedback!

  8. wrote on

    […] is the beautifully photographed recipe that helped us finally tick off the second B and here’s the very under-watched national […]

  9. Jinan

    wrote on

    I am from Bahrain too and I must agree with Abdulla; this is a very good recipe. However, I wouldn’t put jalapenos.. try the the tiny thin green chilies like the ones used in Indian cooking. It is also more authentic to use cinnamon bark rather than than sticks. I honestly have no clue if it makes a difference, it’s just that I’ve never seen a whole cinnamon stick in my grandmother or mother’s kitchens. My advice if ever struggling to find ingredients for Gulf dishes is to visit an Indian store. These are just some things I thought might be nice to know – I still think you have a great recipe here.

    There are so many recipes for Machboos out there because each family has a different way of making it and it has been passed down for generations.

    In my family, we used Hot Madras Curry Powder instead of bharat when sauteing the onions. and, we add in whole cloves, cracked cardamom pods black lime and cinnamon bark to the water before adding the rice. Another variation, which comes from granny, is that we boil the meat until it’s cooked through (it also serves as making stock) and then we rub it with salt and some of the spice before frying. The stock is then used to cook the rice. So, we serve the meat sperately.

    My family’s take on Hashew or Hashwa:

    Saute roughly chopped red onion in very little oil along with a little minced ginger and garlic. Once the garlic and ginger have dissolved, add some madras curry powder, turmeric and chilli powder.. As the onions become translucent and the spice have cooked through, add boiled yellow lentils (daal) and and mix until they take on the color of the spices – the lentils ahve to be whole (cooked through with a bite and not mashed. Then add cashew nuts and golden raisins (keshmesh). Add salt to taste.

    Another accompaniment for this dish is Daqqous (a sort of warm Bahraini salsa). This is very easy and quick to make. It’s almost exactly like the chili sauce you use in your Koshari recipe except I add curry powder (my family has a bit of an addiction to it – but it makes it taste so much better) and omit the vinegar. Saute finely chopped onions with garlic and chopped green chilies as desired. Finally blitz whole tinned tomatoes (or blanched and skinned fresh tomatoes), and pour into the onions. Add salt to taste and bring to a boil.

    As the food is very heavy and it is advisable to go light on the hashew. Having a green salad on the side or even just some greens is quite common. If you have that one person in your family who doesn’t think it’s spicy enough (like my brother) hand them a bottle of Tabasco or a handful of tiny green chilies.

    • Jinan

      wrote on

      Just to add Madras Curry Powder is pretty much the same as the Bahraini spice mix with the addition of fennel which aids digestions.

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Jinan, this is fantastic! Thank you so much for all the information, including variations of the dish. I love the idea of the Daqquos and will include that the next time I make Machboos! Again, thank you so much!

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Hi Peter! That’s wonderful, thank you for including this in your roundup (which looks fabulous, by the way!). I know, I really miss the spice vendors over there – you walk in and find yourself surrounded by such a huge variety of spices and herbs (and in such massive quantities!) reaching from floor to ceiling. An unforgettable experience.

  10. Anonymous

    wrote on

    hai i m mubarak from bangalore indian i love this reciepie thank u ……

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Thank you, Mubarak, and welcome!

  11. lerizi

    wrote on

    Every time I make Machboos, this is the site I visit. My mother in law makes machboos, this is as tasty as her recipe if not better. Makes my pregnant Wife happy whenever I make this. Thank you so much! The step by step instructions with the pictures are excellent, they really help.

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Lerizi, I am truly honored – thank you so very much for the compliment. I’m so happy you and your wife enjoy this dish so much! Just don’t tell your mother-in-law that you can make this dish better than she can! :) Best to your pregnant wife and your new baby! -Kimberly

  12. Anonymous

    wrote on

    This food looks like Pakistani biryani

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      There are many, many (dozens) versions of biryani all specific to their own countries and regions and they vary according to the kind of meat and spices used as well as the cooking method. The most common biryani eaten in Pakistan is Sindhi biryani which features either chicken, mutton, fish or shrimp as well as potatoes and yogurt. Still, I would imagine most biryanis look very similar since they’re practically all meat and rice dishes.

  13. maha

    wrote on

    This is really great. Currently in Bahrain and sad about how I wont get to eat anymore machboos when I leave tomorrow. Now i’m packing some loomy and baharat to make this when I’m back in the US. Thank you and thumbs up from another Bahraini!

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Perfect timing, maha! Have a safe travel back and looking forward to hearing from you again at The Daring Gourmet! Best, Kimberly

  14. James KLY

    wrote on

    Spectacular. My friends here in Sydney loved it.

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Wonderful! Thanks so much for the feedback, James!

  15. Fluff

    wrote on

    Simple and delicious. I love to learn about new spice blends and this is certainly new to me.
    I work with spices often and I use a tea infuser for the cardamom and other pods and shards that can be nasty when you bite into them. That way, the flavor of the spices infuse into the stew, broth etc and you can take them out in one fell swoop ;)

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Thanks, Fluff! I’ll sometimes use a tea infuser as well. I LOVE spices of all kinds, too, so fun to experiment with!


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