Why It Works
- Nestling the meat on top of the rice instead of burying it allows for a deeper browned crust.
- Keeping the garlic cloves whole infuses the dish with their flavor without overpowering it.
- Sautéing the rice first ensures it doesn’t clump or become sticky during cooking.
Qidreh is the hallmark dish of the Palestinian city of Hebron. The word itself, qidreh, simply means “pot” and refers to the copper vessel in which this dish is typically prepared. Rarely is qidreh cooked at home, however. The initial preparation may take place in the house, from boiling the meat to spicing the rice, but it is then sent in its special copper pot to the neighborhood wood-fired oven, where it is fully cooked.
It is considered an essential dish during the month of Ramadan, but is also a go-to choice for weddings, funerals, and special occasions in Hebron. Variations of qidreh exist across the country, particularly in Jerusalem and Gaza, but in its most original form in Hebron, the dish gets its distinct flavor primarily from the wood-fired oven and from pouring a generous amount of samneh baladiyeh (a local clarified butter with spices) on top before serving.
In Jerusalem, cooks have taken to adding chickpeas to the dish, which add both texture and heft to the meal, and in Gaza, it is taken a step further with whole garlic cloves and a much longer list of spices, but neither of those additions are traditional to Hebron's version. In this recipe I include both chickpeas and garlic because, without the distinct aroma of a wood-fired oven, these additions help layer more flavor into the dish. However, I keep the spices on the milder side to allow the ingredients to truly shine.
The dish is made with lamb on the bone, partly because lamb is the most popular meat in the Palestinian diet, but also because it's a pricier meat that is fitting for the special occasions where qidreh is typically served. Nowadays, in some more casual instances, chicken is also used, although the traditional dish relies on lamb.
Using bone-in pieces not only offers a more appealing presentation, it also enriches the broth much more than boneless pieces would. It is possible, however, to make a quicker version of this recipe with boneless stewing pieces of lamb. That cuts about one hour from the broth simmering time, though in that case I'd recommend making the broth with chicken stock (preferably homemade) instead of water to help build deeper flavor.
As for serving qidreh, it is almost always presented with a side of plain yogurt and a chopped Palestinian salad, which provide lightness and contrast to the dish's rich and earthy flavor.