Maftoul (Palestinian couscous): How to make couscous from scratch

For the month of May, it was my pleasure to host the Daring Cooks challenge

A year ago I hosted my first challenge, at the time, I chose cheese making because it is a wonderful skill to add to your repertoire. This time around I wanted to choose a challenge that represents my own heritage. Something Palestinian, something fun and tasty, something challenging but worth the trouble.

You may have come across the terms couscous, Moghrabiah or Maftoul. They may seem like tongue twisters at first but they are actually three variants of  hand-rolled pasta that are versatile and tasty. What sets maftoul apart from couscous or moghrabieh is the size of the pasta granules. Couscous has the smallest granules (about 1 mm in diameter)  while moghrabiah has the largest (about the size of chickpeas). Maftoul is middle ground between the two. Maftoul’s hand rolled tiny pasta pearls are 2-3 mm in diameter  and they are made out of a mixture of whole wheat and all purpose flour rolled around a center of bulgur which gives it a nutty earthy note that is unique and a slightly deeper color.Couscous on the other hand is made out of pure white flour and it is rolled around a center of semolina giving it a lighter color and a more neutral taste.

Maftoul, palestinian couscous recipes

For this challenge we will be making maftoul (also known as Palestinian couscous) from scratch.

 Why maftoul?

Well, because eating maftoul with those tiny balls rolling wonderfully on your tongue, really enhances the eating experience, even in a simple salad. It is also so easy and forgiving to cook. Unlike couscous, which can turn mushy if soaked for too long or in too much liquid, maftoul can be boiled in salted water, like other pasta, until tender but still retaining a bite (if you cook it like this, drain and dress it while it’s still warm, so the flavours can sink in and settle). But it can also be cooked using the absorption method (ideally in a good stock) much as you’d cook rice. And, like couscous, it can also be steamed over stock or water, which gives a fluffier, lighter consistency. (This happens to be my favorite mode of cooking and it is also the traditional way of doing it). Once cooked maftoul provides you with a world of options, you can add it  to soups, stews, salads or sauces, or you can serve it plain alongside a piece of meat, chicken or fish and I guarantee it will make your meal memorable , unique and tasty every time

 Recipe Notes

The flour Maftoul is made using a mixture of whole wheat flour and all purpose flour, that gives you the best taste and the best texture. You can use whole wheat only but that will give your maftoul a slightly deeper color and you will probably require more water and end up with pearls that are less even.

Spice and onion infusion (Dafneh): Some areas in Palestine infuse their maftool with onion and spices. You can do that by adding a layer of chopped onions that have been rubbed with spices in the center of the maftoul while steaming. This is an optional step that you can skipped if you wish to use your maftoul in a sweet recipe or if you don’t like those flavors

Maftool (Palestinian couscous) with mixed vegetables

Palestinian Maftoul

This will give you 1 kg of maftoul

Ingredients:

1 cup fine bulgur

1 tablespoon salt

2-3 cups water

4 cups whole wheat flour

4 cups all purpose flour

Instructions

Making the maftool

ingredients

  • Add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve the salt(I usually do this in a measuring cup for easy pouring) set aside
  • Mix the whole wheat and all-purpose flour in a separate bowl, set aside
  • Add 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

wet the bulgur

  • 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)

step 1

  • Sprinkle half a cup of 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

swirl

  • Collect the bulgur to one side of the pan

step 2

  • Pour 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
Note the difference in the size of the bulgur in my hand and the maftoul granules in the pan
Note the difference in the size of the bulgur in my hand and the maftoul granules in the pan
  • 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.

couscous granules

After more rolling

Maftoul granules

Note: Please note that the water and flour amounts provided in the recipe are for guidance, you may need more or less depending on how big you roll your maftoul pearls

This video shows you the technique of making maftoul. It is in Arabic but you can watch the steps to get a better grasp of the process.

Cooking the maftool

You’ll need

  • For this stage a special instrument is used: the 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 instrument (I don’t), 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 colander

colander and pot

  • Water
  • 1 stick of cinnamon (optional)
  • 5 cardamom pods(optional)
  • 10 all spice pods(optional)
  • 2 bay leaves(optional)

If you choose to make spice and onion infused maftool you will need

1 onion chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground dried corriander

1/2 teaspoon ground caraway

1/2 teaspoon all spice

Instructions

  •  In the bottom part of the couscous pan (or in a pot) add 2 inches of water
  • Add the spices to the water and bring the water to a boil
  • Brush your steaming colander (or the top part of the couscous pan)with olive oil generously
  • Place the maftoul in  the colander and then place it on top of the pot with boiling water.Make sure that the bottom of the colander does not touch the 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

If you wish to infuse your maftoul pearls with onions and spices

dafneh

    • 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
  • Leave the maftoul undisturbed for 5 minutes or until you see steam coming through
  • Using a fork gently stir the maftoul in the colander
  • Sprinkle ¼ cup of water over the couscous 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 minutes. The maftoul granules will change color from white to a light golden color

color difference

  • Take the maftoul off the heat and empty it in a large pan, add a 1/4 cup of olive oil and gently toss the maftoul granules to coat them in olive oil and fluff them

cooked maftoul

  • Allow the maftoul to cool down
  • You can use it immediately, store it in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to three months

Maftoul with veggies

Maftoul with mixed vegetables

4 cups steamed maftoul

3-4 tablespoons olive oil.

1 large onion sliced into strips (you can also use pearl onions)

2-3 cloves garlic whole

2 carrots cut into 1 cm thick rounds

1 sweet potato peeled and cubed

1 red pepper cubed

1 cup eggplant cut into cubes

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground dried corriander

1/2 teaspoon ground caraway

1/2 teaspoon all spice

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups pureed tomatoes

3 cups chicken stock

1 tablespoon tomato puree

2 cans chickpeas drained

Instructions: 

Heat the olive oil in a pot, add the onions and stir for 5 minutes

Add the garlic cloves and stir for 2 minutes

Add the vegetables starting with the ones that take the longest to cook.

Add in the carrots, stir them for 3-5 minutes

Next add the sweet potatoes and stir for 5 minutes

Follow them with the pepper and eggplant and stir for 5 more minutes

Add the spices and salt and stir

Add the pureed tomatoes, chicken stock, tomato paste and chickpeas. Bring the mixture to a boil

Lower the heat, cover the pot and cook for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through.

Check on your pot every 10 minutes,if you find that the level of fluid is too low, add 1 more cup of water and continue cooking.

If you wish to infuse your maftoul with the flavor of the vegetables and stew, place your maftoul in a pot and add 1 cup of the liquid part of your vegetable stew, cook on low heat for 5 minutes then cover and turn off the heat. The maftoul pearls will absorb the liquid and fluff up. This step is entirely optional

Maftool

If you are looking for more inspiration and recipes to use maftool, stay tuned, tomorrow I will share my Mediterranean salad using this homemade maftoul and the day after I will share a wonderful dessert using maftool pearls.

Couscous salad

couscous salad chef in disguise

Couscous dessert

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