Maftoul – Palestinian Couscous

This dish is hearty and satisfying, and perfect for a night when nothing less than soul-warming will do.
By Faith Gorsky

Maftoul - Palestinian Couscous

Cold weather comfort food varies across the world but shares one common thread: it’s soul-warming, heating your body from the inside out. And if you’re really lucky, it reminds you of home. When winter’s frigid weather nipped at the door and howled at the windows, in Upstate New York I grew up eating savory veggie-laden stews, flaky crusted pot pies, and roast chicken or beef pot roast served with mashed potatoes and gravy. My husband, growing up in the Middle East, enjoyed maftoul.

Maftoul, known as Palestinian couscous, is made of wheat. According to Canaan Fair Trade, “The wheat is boiled, sun-dried and cracked, and hand-rolled in freshly ground organic whole wheat flour, then steamed and sun-dried.” Like couscous, maftoul is traditionally cooked using special cooking equipment to steam it. Chickpeas are added to make it heartier, and onion to make it flavorful. Warm spices add depth and complexity to the dish.

I don’t have the special equipment for cooking this dish, so I make it using an easier method, very similar to the way I cook my rice. I start by melting down a good amount of onion into some ghee (clarified butter), which gives the dish a wonderfully nutty flavor. I add the maftoul and let it toast for a few minutes to let its own nutty flavor develop, and then I add hot stock, spices, and chickpeas. Once the stock is up to a boil, I cover the pot and turn the heat down to very low until the liquid is absorbed and the maftoul is tender.

When it comes to serving, the most common way to serve this dish is with a flavorful broth for spooning on top. If you used chicken stock to make the maftoul, it would be chicken broth, with pieces of boiled or roasted bone-in chicken; if you used beef or lamb stock, it would be beef or lamb broth with slow-cooked, falling-apart tender pieces of beef or lamb. Alternatively, to keep the dish vegetarian, maftoul can be served with a light tomato broth containing any veggies you like. Any way you make it, this dish is hearty and satisfying, and perfect for a night when nothing less than soul-warming will do.

5.0 from 5 reviews
Maftoul (Palestinian Couscous)
 
Prep Time
Cook Time
Total Time
 
Perfect Middle Eastern comfort food for cold weather.
Author:
Recipe Type: Main Course
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
  • 1 medium-large onion, chopped
  • 2 cups (425 g) maftoul
  • 1 teaspoon Middle Eastern 7 Spice Mix
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 cups (.7 L) well-seasoned Middle Eastern lamb, beef, chicken, or vegetable stock, heated to boiling (see note below)
  • 1 (16 oz/450 g) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Instructions
  1. Melt the ghee in a medium saucepan over medium heat; add the onion and cook until softened but not browned, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Stir in the maftoul and cook until toasted and fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the 7 Spice Mix, cumin, salt, black pepper, hot stock, and chickpeas.
  3. Bring up to a boil, then cover the pot, turn the heat down to very low, and cook until the water is absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Turn the heat off and let the maftoul sit with the lid on for 15 minutes before fluffing and serving.
Notes
Stock: For this dish, I used a homemade lamb stock that I seasoned well with salt, pepper, Middle Eastern 7 Spice Mix, and several aromatics like carrot, celery, leek, onion, garlic, and parsley. If you prefer to use store-bought stock, you can add additional salt, pepper, and Middle Eastern 7 Spice Mix to taste. Serving: I served this with a lamb broth that had tender pieces of slow-cooked lamb to spoon on top.
19 Comments
  1. Faith, this is absolutely heartwarming! I’ve never heard of maftoul before, but I’m so intrigued by your description! Sounds like a very heathy and tasty wheat product! And I love the way you cook it. I’m sure onion and lamb broth complete its nutty flavor well! Hope I can find it here, in Turkey.

  2. Yummy!
    We do something similar to it, but we call it Marmaoun.
    I have no idea where Marmaoun is from, but maybe it’s from Palestime like the Maftoul?
    What we do different is that we cook chicken and use its broth to cook the couscous. And we use more onion, around 6 of them. We cut the onions in wedges and stir fry them until golden. Then we place the couscous, we flip them in a little oil or ghee until golden, pour in the cooked onion, chickpeas, and shredded chicken (I cut them in cubes) and pour the chicken broth on them. Then I would add salt, cinnamon and all spice, and caraway. That’s it. It is so delicious. Some people leave broth and do a sauce with it which you can pour on the dish.

  3. This is really delicious, my little boy loves it too. I’ve made this recipe as well as the user’s comment (Susan). But for my little boy it’s easier making it this way :)

  4. Abdul,

    The water used in this recipe is in the form of stock; it’s listed in the ingredient list as:

    3 cups (.7 L) well-seasoned Middle Eastern lamb, beef, chicken, or vegetable stock, heated to boiling (see note below).

    Then the Note below says:

    Stock: For this dish, I used a homemade lamb stock that I seasoned well with salt, pepper, Middle Eastern 7 Spice Mix, and several aromatics like carrot, celery, leek, onion, garlic, and parsley. If you prefer to use store-bought stock, you can add additional salt, pepper, and Middle Eastern 7 Spice Mix to taste.

    Hope this helps!

  5. Dear Faith,

    This recipe sounds wonderful, and I plan to make it soon. My Palestinian husband remembers his Mom making something like this. He does not know what Middle Eastern 7 Spice Mix is. Can you tell me what is in it? His family might call it something else???

  6. I found your recipe by ‘accident’ and it sounds wonderful! My husband grew up in Iran & I would love to surprise him with this. However, I live in Italy and I haven’t a clue as to what ”Middle Eastern 7 Spice Mix” is…could you tell me what spices are in it?

    Also, being Irish, I am still learning about Middle Eastern traditions…especially Iranian & Palestinian..also Assyrian. My husband is Armenian- Assyrian, but grew up in Iran. So, I am also in need of Armenian recipes!

    One last thing…is Maftoul the same as Couscous that I see here ? (Italians love Couscous)…or is it completely different? HELP!!! ty

  7. Dear Elizabeth,

    Thank you so much for your kind words about this recipe! The exact ratios and even the particular spices used in 7-spice mix can differ from area to area, and even family to family. I use the following spices in my 7-spice mix, as taught to me by my Syrian mother-in-law: black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, sweet paprika, coriander, and cumin. The recipe is included in my cookbook, An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair.

    I hope you enjoy this dish if you give it a try – it is absolutely perfect for chilly weather!

  8. Siobhàn,

    I’m happy you stumbled on this recipe; thank you so much for your kind words! The exact ratios and even the particular spices used in 7-spice mix can differ from area to area, and even family to family. I use the following spices in my 7-spice mix, as taught to me by my Syrian mother-in-law: black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, sweet paprika, coriander, and cumin. The recipe is included in my cookbook, An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair.

    Maftoul is a large-grain couscous that comes from Palestine. It’s made from bulgur wheat, so it’s a bit darker and heartier than other kinds of couscous. If you can’t find it, the dish won’t have quite the same flavor, but you can substitute with any kind of large-grain couscous that you can find.

    I hope you give the recipe a try! :)

  9. Hi Faith
    Well I found the grains in the local wholefood store and was curious to try – having never previously heard of maftoul! Back home I searched for a recipes – and came across yours.
    The whole family loves it!
    I will used it as a side dish for Easter.
    Thanks again!

  10. Wonderful recipe..thanks Faith….and it is now possible to Buy Maftool online at Amazon no less! it is organic handmade from Canaan -Palestine womens’ cooperative..for those who cannot find this superb ingredient locally…..thanks again! gonna find your cook book next! /cheers, Myriam

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