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Maftool–Middle Easern Couscous Recipe

Maftool is a less-known version of the very well-known couscous. Couscous originated by the Berber in North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco) and was enjoyed by the royalty in Granada. Most likely by the way of merchants and ships of the Mediterranean, it showed up in the Middle East/ Eastern Mediterranean (Jordan, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon) sometime around or before the seventeenth century.

However, the version of couscous was larger in size. My Lebanese friend calls it Moghrabyah. In Jordan and Palestine, it’s called maftool.

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For more on couscous and maftool history, visit this page from the Clifford A Wright Web site.

Maftool, or moghrabyah, larger in size than couscous

In the US, maftool is sold in ethnic stores, especially Middle Eastern, and sometimes in ethnic aisles in regular grocery stores. Maftool is round and larger than couscous in size, and both are made of hard wheat such as durum wheat. The maftool I found was dark in color, but I wasn’t able to tell if it’s made of whole wheat or from a dark colored wheat kernel. When you buy it, try to find whole grain maftool–although sadly, most types aren’t.

This is a recipe for the traditional main meal, called maftool (the same name of the grain itself). While couscous is a staple in North Africa, it’s not eaten as often in the Middle East. Nonetheless, it’s delicious and great for adding vegetables and fiber to your diet. I tried to stick to the original recipe, but you can add more vegetables, such as zucchini, peppers, or cauliflower.


  • 1 whole chicken, skinned and cut into 4 pieces, or 4 skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground all spice
  • 1/4 ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground caraway
  • Oil for sauteing, such as canola or sunflower oil
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1-1/2 cups dry garbanzo beans (Important: soak the dry garbanzo beans overnight, then measure 1-1/2 cups)
  • 2 large carrots, cut into slices
  • 2-3 large fresh tomatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes
  • Maftool, about 1 lb or enough for 4-6 servings

Place the chicken pieces in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. A white foam will form, discard it, then add all the spices.

Meanwhile, in another pot, saute the onions, carrots, and garbanzo beans for 5 minutes. Then add to the chicken pot (the chicken should have been boiling for about 10 minutes).

Allow the chicken and vegetables to simmer for another 30 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, then simmer for another 5-10 minutes. The chicken should be fully cooked but not overcooked.

Cook the maftool according to package instructions–it can either be boiling or steaming. The type I found was frozen and required steaming.

To serve, place the maftool in the bottom of bowl, then top with the vegetable and chicken mixture. Moisten the maftool with the sauce for more of the taste.

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