Maftool, derived from the Arabic verb fatala meaning to twist or roll, is a grain traditionally served in Palestine, as well as some parts of the Levant, made of whole wheat and bulgur that is traditionally hand-rolled. This is usually done with the help of a metal sieve-like tool. However, nowadays, you can find maftool in shops selling Middle Eastern products.
Akin to couscous, maftool has similar origins as it was first introduced in Palestine by Moroccan migrants and evolved into a bigger, more textured grain. Although we find that it is currently being marketed in many countries as Israeli couscous, it cannot be proven as Israeli since couscous originated in North Africa.
As a dish, maftool typically consists of steamed maftool, chicken, lots of onions, and chickpeas all cooked in a spiced broth. It is traditionally served on special occasions and celebrations.
- 8 pieces of chicken, skin-on, bone-in (this may be a whole chicken or your preferred parts)
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large onion roughly chopped
- Whole spices: 6-8 cardamom pods, 1 tsp. black peppercorns, 3 cloves, 2 bay leaves, and 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
- 15-20 pearl onions (or 3 large onions sliced)
- 1-2 cans of chickpeas (to taste)
- 2 tsp. of garlic paste or finely chopped garlic
- Mixed ground spices: 1 tbsp. all spice, 2 tsp. cumin, ½ tsp. cardamom, 1 tsp. caraway, and salt and pepper to taste
- 1 chicken stock cube
- 3 cups of maftool
- 1 tbsp. butter
1. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large stockpot. Once the oil is hot, put the chicken skin side down in the pan and brown on all sides. Add the chopped onions and whole spices and sauté together for a minute or two. Then add enough water to fill the pot to about an inch or two above the chicken. Let the chicken simmer and be sure to scrape off all the foam floating to the top, as this will give the broth an undesirable taste.
2. Peel the pearl onions or the large onions while the chicken is being cooked. Once the chicken is mostly cooked, add the onions, chickpeas, garlic, ground spices and stock cube. Cover the pot and allow to simmer on a medium-low heat for about half an hour, or until the onions are soft. Add water if you feel like you are running low, as you will be using some of the stock to cook the maftool, and adjust the spices. Make sure you taste the broth and feel free to add more spices. Don't forget that as the broth reduces, it becomes more concentrated, so tasting frequently is a must.
3. In another pot, heat the olive oil and lightly sauté the maftool until it is coated in the oil and is shiny, about 3-4 minutes. Each maftool has its own instructions, but generally, you need about 1 ½ cups of stock for each cup of uncooked maftool.
4. Slowly add the stock to the maftool and stir. If you feel you are low on stock, you can use half water and half stock. Lower the heat on the maftool and cover, allow to simmer for about 25 minutes or until the maftool becomes soft. Fluff with a fork regularly in order to prevent the maftool from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
5. Once the maftool is done and the chicken is cooked, you have two choices. You can either remove the chicken from the broth, put on a baking sheet and under the broiler to allow the skin to crisp up, or you can keep the chicken in the broth and either remove the skin or have it soft. Transfer the maftool into a sieve (there should be no cooking liquid left), add 1 tbsp. of butter and some more of the ground spices, mix and put the sieve over the broth pot. Put the lid over the sieve and allow the maftool to steam for about 10-15 minutes while the broth simmers on low in order to absorb some of the flavour.
6. Serve in a large serving dish. First put the maftool, then spoon some of the broth with the onions and chickpeas, and top with the chicken. Serve extra broth on the side to add to each plate. Enjoy!