The May Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by the incomparable Sawsan from Chef in Disguise. Sawsan challenged us to try our hands (literally!) at making maftoul – hand-rolled Palestinian couscous that is as versatile as it is tasty!
Wow was the only word that I could utter when I saw this month’s challenge! I love Sawsan’s work. I think she’s one of the most talented food bloggers ever. If you don’t know her site, check it out and you will thank me! 😉 So, what is Maftoul? I have seen it often on the shelves of my local supermarket and it is often sold as “pearl couscous” or “Israeli couscous”. Well, it turns out that 1. It is not couscous and 2. It is not Israeli… It very likely got that name for geopolitical reasons that I will not address on this site, but Maftoul is actually a traditional Palestinian dish. Unlike couscous, it is made with bulgur and it is much bigger in size (thus the name “pearl couscous”). What is very similar is the way both couscous and maftoul are made, when made from scratch. The majority of people just buy ready to cook couscous (I do too, very often), but if you were to make it from scratch, you would have to follow the same procedure as with maftoul. You are basically making the grains of semolina or bulgur/flour bigger and bigger by using water. I often make couscous from scratch as that is the traditional way of making Fish Couscous, one of the most famous dishes from Trapani. You can read my post about Fish Couscous and how to make couscous from scratch here. Being quite familiar with the procedure, I was very curious to see how maftoul would turn out. It was really easy to make, though a bit more time consuming than making couscous as you are making the “pearls” much bigger in size. I was really satisfied with the final result. I did some research and found a Palestinian recipe for a delicious Chicken Stew that is usually served with Maftoul. The stew is really simple and made with everyday ingredients like onions and chickpeas, but the allspice powder gives it an amazing flavour! The whole dish when served together is mouthwatering! Enjoy!
Maftoul with Chicken
The recipe for a traditional and delicious Palestinian dish: Maftoul with Chicken!
- 225 gms – 1 cup fine bulgur
- 18 gms – 1 tbsp salt
- 480 to 720 ml – 2 to 3 cups water
- 500 gms – 4 cups whole wheat flour
- 500 gms – 4 cups all-purpose plain flour
- 2 kg – 4.4 lbs. chicken cut into 6 or 8 pieces
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ tbsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1.5 kg – 3.3 lbs. onions cut into mid-sized cubes
- ½ kg – 1.1 lbs. chickpeas canned or precooked
To cook the Maftoul
- 1 onion chopped
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground corriander
- ½ tsp ground caraway I did not use this
- ½ tsp ground all spice
- 60 ml – ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Making the maftoul
Add 60 ml – ¼ cup of water to the bulgur, rub the water into the bulgur with your finger tips. You just want to moisten the bulgur granules to allow the flour to stick to them.
Sprinkle the bulgur over the bottom of a wide tray, pan or large bowl. (You want something large, with a rim and a flat base)
Sprinkle half a cup of the mixed-flour over the bulgur
With your finger tips start swirling the bulgur granules in a circular motion, the aim is to evenly coat the bulgur granules with flour. Keep swirling until all the flour is taken up by the bulgur. If you get any big clumps, break them down by gently rubbing them between your finger tips
Collect the bulgur to one side of the pan
Pour 60 ml – ¼ cup of water in the empty side.
Use the circular swirling motion to wet the bulgur granules
Sprinkle half a cup of flour and swirl using your finger-tips, you will notice that the maftoul granules will start to grow in size
Repeat the steps of wetting the bulgur granules, rolling, sprinkle with flour, roll until the maftoul granules are the size you want them to be. Keep it aside.
Check out this video to see the technique of making maftoul. It is in Arabic but you can watch the steps to get a better grasp of the process.
In a large pot, sauté chicken with the extra virgin olive oil for 5 minutes on a medium heat.
Add the chopped onion, salt, cumin, turmeric, and allspice powders.
Cover the chicken completely with water and cook it until it’s partially cooked for about half an hour.
Add the chickpeas to the partially cooked chicken and proceed to steam the maftoul (the chicken will finish cooking while the maftoul gets ready).
Cooking the Maftoul
For cooking the Maftoul, you need a couscous pot. It consists of 2 parts on top of each other. The bottom part is a large pot and the top part is a colander that holds the couscous or maftoul. If you don't have this pot, you can use a regular metal colander that fits over a large pot. Try to find a colander that fits your pot as closely as possible because you don't want any steam to escape between the pot and the colander.
You can either steam the maftoul on a pot of boiling water (in this case, you can infuse the water with 1 stick of cinnamon, 5 cardamom pods, and/or 10 all-spice pods, and/or 2 bay leaves).
Or you can steam the maftoul on with the steam of the chicken stew (this is what I did).
Place the maftoul in the oiled colander (or couscous pot) and put it over the boiling chicken stew pot while it’s still over the heat (just after adding the chickpeas).
If you wish to infuse your maftoul pearls with onions and spices, rub the spices into the chopped onion with your finger tips.
Place half the maftoul in the colander, add the onion and spices. Top with the other half of the maftoul.
Place the maftoul in the colander and then place it on top of the pot with the stew (or boiling water). Make sure that the bottom of the colander does not touch the stew/water. If you notice steam escaping from the space between the edges of the colander and the pot, use a kitchen towel to seal the edges.
Leave the maftoul undisturbed for 5 minutes or until you see steam coming through.
Then, using a fork, gently stir the maftoul in the colander.
Sprinkle 60 ml – ¼ cup of water over the maftoul and continue to gently turn the maftoul bringing the steamed maftoul from the bottom to the top and allow the top granules to steam.
The total steaming time is around 15 – 20 minutes. The maftoul granules will change color from white to a light golden color.
Take the maftoul off the heat and empty it in a large pan, add 60 ml – ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil and 60 ml – ¼ cup pf the warm chicken stew broth and gently toss the maftoul granules to coat them and fluff them up.
Serve the Maftoul with the Chicken Stew and its sauce.
Please note that the water and flour amounts provided in the recipe are for guidance only, you may need more or less depending on how big you roll your maftoul pearls.
Ha un’aspetto assolutamente delizioso …. e sono sicura che anche il sapore non sia da meno ….!! Sei bravissima Manu!
Grazie mille Silvia! Era buonissimo! 🙂
Macky Blaise says
I love foods, each places and countries I visit , I love to explore and search for best dining venues.
What a great job on the challenge. It looks delicious!
Lizzy (Good Things) says
Manuela, I LOVE the sound of this! Delicious.
Gosh, hand rolled Palestinian couscous?! I never made that or attempted. Looks just incredible. I love this dish and it’s exactly how we like to eat. Can I order take out?! 🙂
Great recipe, but I couldn’t help but notice a mistake in your post.
Although it looks like Maftool, Israeli or Pearl Couscous is not the same thing. They are very different things prepared in completely different ways. Maftoul is prepared as you so nicely described above, while Israeli couscous is almost like a pasta.
So it is actually Israeli and did not get its name as a result of “geopolitical reasons.” They are simply two different foods with different origins. One of Palestinian origin and the other Israeli!