Wow, thanks for all the compliments!
I learned the recipe from some acquaintances of mixed Iraqi and Iranian extraction. :) As for a maqlouba pot, I tried looking for a picture online, but can't seem to find one, so I'll just describe it as best I can. The pot is round, with slightly flared sides, and made of aluminum (sometimes Teflon-coated on the inside and painted red on the outside). It has a fairly prominent rim (about 1"), but no handles.
As for the recipe, goodness, I don't even use a recipe anymore (I've never been one to use recipes in cooking anyway). Let me see if I can recreate the process. Mind you, the amounts I list below yield a large amount of food. :)
2.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken pieces, cubed (or about 4 lbs. bone-in, cut up)
4 lbs. basmati rice, rinsed well to remove excess starch
6 oz. dried zereshk/barberries (rinsed very well, several times, then soaked in hot water) or up to 12 oz. dried cranberries
3 large onions, diced
6-12 oz. slivered or chopped pistachios
Salt, to taste
Middle Eastern seasoning mix, to taste (I like "mixed spices" or "kabseh seasoning," but any blend of allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, etc. will do -- as long as it has little or no cumin)
Generous pinch saffron
Butter/ghee/oil for sauteing
Water, for boiling rice
1. In a large skillet, sweat one diced onion in 2 tablespoons oil/ghee/butter. Add chicken and salt and seasoning mix to taste. Saute until chicken is lightly brown and cooked through. Meanwhile, steep saffron in about one cup boiling water.
2. In a separate skillet, saute nuts in 1 tablespoon fat, until barely fragrant. Remove to plate and wipe skillet clean. Then saute berries in about 2 tablespoons fat, until oil is absorbed and berries become glossy. Again, remove to plate and wipe skillet. Finally, saute onions in several tablespoons of fat until light brown and crisp. (These items can be prepared ahead.)
3. Fill a large (at least 12-quart) pot 2/3 with water and bring to a boil. Salt the water as appropriate, and add the rice. Boil until barely "al dente," or about 3/4 cooked. Drain immediately, but do not rinse. Work quickly from this point forward, to preserve the heat of the rice and ensure that it comes out fluffy.
4. In a separate bowl, combine 1/4-1/3 of the rice with 1/2 cup of the saffron water. Cover with a clean towel (or a few paper towels) and aluminum foil.
5. In the same pot in which the rice was cooked, spoon in about 1/4 of the remaining rice. Sprinkle lightly with saffron water (over only one side), then sprinkle with some of the onions, nuts, and berries. Repeat for a few more layers, building the rice into a mound rather than smoothing or flattening it. Be sure to leave enough onions, nuts, and berries for topping. Cover with a clean towel and place the lid on the pot tightly. Let it steam over low heat on the stove, for about 15 minutes.
6. To serve: (a) spoon 1/2 of the rice/berry/nut/onion mixture into a serving platter or dish. Top with chicken, and then remaining rice mixture. Top with the rice that was steamed in saffron water (should be very yellow) and reserved berries, nuts, and onions, arranged in a pretty design. Alternatively, (b) create a design using reserved berries, nuts, and onions, along the bottom of a well-oiled pot, large bowl, or roasting pan lid large enough to fit all the rice and chicken. Anchor the design with yellow rice. Top yellow rice with 1/2 of the rice mixture, then the chicken, then remaining rice mixture. Pack slightly and smooth, then cover and allow to rest until serving time. To serve, invert onto a large platter.
This dish sounds like a lot more work than it actually is. If you skip some of the molding/presentation techniques, it can even be a reasonably quick weeknight meal.