Kabsa (Saudi Arabian Chicken & Rice)

chicken kabsa

Kabsa is widely recognized as the national dish of Saudi Arabia, but is eaten across the Middle East. 

Other than a few differences the characteristics of the dish remain the same in most countries. 

Kabsa literally translated from the Arabic means pressed which is derived from the way it is cooked.

The ingredients are piled one on top of the other and cooked in one pot rice dish.

What is Kabsa?

chicken kabsa

Similar to many dishes in the Middle East Kabsa is a meal that is primarily made of rice and meat

Unlike the dishes in the Levant, this traditional Saudi dish uses a long grain rice, like basmati. 

Most Middle Eastern countries traditional recipes call for using medium or short grain rice.

In my opinion the most interesting and exotic ingredient in kabsa is the black lime powder. 

Which is a preserved lime that has been boiled and dried giving it a super limey sour flavor. 

This unusual limey lemon flavor goes especially well with fish that are found in many Gulf States.

Dried lime is used frequently in dishes from that part of the world.

The recipe also calls for several spices, nutmeg, cinnamon, saffron, cardamom, and cloves.

The black lime flavor broadens the palate while bringing the spices together.

Why Basmati Rice?

chicken kabsa

A lot has been done to build agriculture in Saudi Arabia over the years, but rice is not a crop grown there.

Arab traders first introduced basmati rice to the Gulf region which they brought from nearby India.

Trade between the subcontinent and the Arabian Gulf is extensive and rice is one of the biggest imports and exports.

Liked for the flavor and the elegant look of the grain, as well as unique taste, this type of rice is eaten widely in the gulf countries.

Unlike other rice types, basmati expands lengthwise when cooked giving it a delicate appearance. 

Basmati rice also has a nutty and fragrant flavor that is different to other rice varieties.

In fact the word basmati comes from a Hindi word meaning fragrant. 

What is Black Lime?

First developed in Oman and known as loomi, black lime is often used in the cuisine of the Arabian Gulf.

They are used in several forms, from whole to sliced, or powdered.

Limes are blanched in salt water, and then dried using various methods.

Black lime should be stored in airtight containers, and used within three months.

Making your own is an easy, rewarding and fun thing to do if you want to give it a try.  

How to Make Kabsa

Kabsa is the very definition of a one pot dish of chicken and rice. 

Cook the chicken in the oven with some oil for about 30 minutes until the chicken pieces are slightly browned. 

Partially baking the chicken will ensure it is cooked through after added to the pot with the rice. 

The tomatoes, and tomato paste are stirred into a tomato sauce. 

Add the baked chicken pieces to the vegetables, add black pepper if you’d like. 

Then add the rice along with the kabsa spice mix and salt.

Pour the chicken broth, or cups of water along with tomato into the large pot of ingredients. 

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low heat. 

Allow the rice and chicken to simmer over low heat until rice is tender. 

Spoon onto a serving dish, removing the chicken and placing on top of the rice. 

Sprinkle with roasted almonds, or pine nuts, and serve.

chicken kabsa

Tips for Making

  • Basmati rice needs to be rinsed before being cooked to get rid of any extra starch.
  • Too much starch can cause the rice to clump up when cooked. 
  • You can also make this dish in the oven using a dutch oven with good results.
  • Allow the pot to sit for a few minutes and rest after turning off the heat and before serving.

Where to Buy Kabsa Spices

My favorite place to buy spices has to be The Spice House.

Their spices are vibrant and pack a flavorful punch.

Chicken Kabsa Recipe

Kabsa is widely recognized as the national dish of Saudi Arabia, but is eaten across the Middle East.
4.34 from 9 votes
Print Rate
Course: Chicken
Cuisine: Chinese, Middle Eastern
Keyword: Chicken, Kabsa, Saudi Arabia
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 724kcal


  • 6 Chicken Thighs/Legs
  • 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 2 Cloves whole
  • tsp Nutmeg
  • tsp Cumin
  • tsp Coriander
  • ½ tsp Saffron
  • ¼ tsp Cardamom
  • ½ tsp Cinnamon
  • ½ tsp Allspice
  • ¼ tsp White Pepper
  • ½ tsp Dried Lime Powder
  • tsp Salt
  • ¼ cup Butter
  • 1 Onion diced
  • 6 Garlic Cloves minced
  • ¼ cup Tomato Paste
  • 1 can Diced Tomatoes
  • cups Basmati Rice
  • 5 cups Chicken Broth
  • ¼ cup Raisins
  • ¼ cup Slivered Almonds
  • Pinch Black Pepper


  • Preheat oven to 400ºF (200ºC).
  • Place chicken pieces in a bowl, using your hands rub chicken with vegetable oil until well covered. Place on a try and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Mix all spices and salt in a small bowl.
  • Rinse the rice in a sieve with running water until water runs clear.
  • Meanwhile melt butter in a pan, saute onions, and garlic until translucent and soft. Add diced tomatoes, and tomato paste. Create sauce. 
  • Add the chicken and stir until well coated with the tomato sauce.
  • Add rice and spices. Mix well.
  • Add chicken broth, and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover loosely, leaving a gap for steam to escape.
  • Cook for roughly 20 minutes until you have cooked the rice. 
  • Toast slivered almonds in a pan over medium high heat until browned.
  • Spoon rice onto a serving dish placing the chicken pieces on top. Sprinkle with browned almonds, raisins, and a pinch of black pepper. 
  • Add more salt and pepper to taste. 



Calories: 724kcal | Carbohydrates: 77g | Protein: 27g | Fat: 34g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Cholesterol: 131mg | Sodium: 2032mg | Potassium: 837mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 571IU | Vitamin C: 25mg | Calcium: 95mg | Iron: 3mg

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