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!
I never realized that couscous is actually a type of pasta. It is white flour rolled around a center of semolina, to a size of only about 1 mm in diameter. Maftoul is the same sort of thing, except it starts with a center of fine bulgar and is rolled in a mixture of white flour and whole wheat flour to a slightly larger size. You can think of maftoul like the slightly larger, nuttier tasting cousin to couscous. It can be used in similar ways as well. Used in soups, salads like tabouli, or simply dressed and served as a side, like I have done in this post. There is another step up in size as well with something called Moghrabiah, which ends up being similar in size to a chick pea.
Maftoul is relatively easy to make, once you get the technique down. You basically start with granules of fine bulgar, moisten them slightly with salty water, sprinkle with a flour mixture (just enough to stick without excess) and roll gently with your fingertips on a large tray. Repeat this process until your granules are of desired size (in this case 2-3 mm in diameter). This process is easy once you realize that you must use a light hand with both the water and the flour. With each repetition of the process you want to barely moisten and then barely coat each granule with a new layer of flour. I ended up throwing out my first batch because I added too much of each water and flour and made a big gloppy mess. I tried to salvage it by working it between my palms but this just made things stick together more. Instead I was forming little balls of we flour and the bulgar was sticking together separately in globs. Ugly. In the trash it went and I try, tried again. With success this time. So just be patient and realize that you need to be gentle. The granules should look like granules at all times, never globs. At the end of the process, I put my maftoul into a fine mesh sieve and tapped gently to allow any excess flour to pass through, avoiding an gumminess that might arise when cooking.
Speaking of cooking, maftoul can be cooking in ways similar to couscous, except it is even more forgiving. It will not become soggy or mushy like couscous can if you slightly overcook it. You can steam it, simmer it like rice or use the “absorption” method which is where you basically add hot liquid to the maftoul, cover it, and allow it absorb for 5-6 minutes or until tender. If will not puff up too much when cooked but it should be tender. In the recipe below, I used the absorption method, allowing the maftoul to soak in a flavorful mixture of chicken broth, lemon zest, onion and garlic. It is then tossed with fresh lemon juice and a myriad of fresh herbs.
Since this is more of a side dish rather than a meal I though I would pair it with some delicious grilled chicken. I tossed the chicken, hot off the grill, into a simple dressing using the same ingredients as the maftoul dressing (lemon and herbs) to tie the whole thing together. This really allowed me to maximize on the freshness of the season with the ridiculous amount of herbs I’ve decided to grow this year…
I’ve never had much of a green thumb but I’m sort-of going all out this year. So we’ll see how that goes. Stay tuned, I’m sure there is MUCH more to come regarding that venture. Teehee.
One more note about the chicken: since I wasn’t going to marinate the chicken ahead of time, I decided to brine it. This really helps the chicken stay flavorful and moist when grilling. Another tip I picked up is that squeezing fresh lemon over chicken while grilling it will help the skin stay moist and resist burning/flare-ups. I have to admit, besides doing exactly that, this really reinforced the flavors I was going for!
Sorry to all of my daring cook friends that this is so late! As I said, I’ve been getting a bit carried away out in the garden! Better late than never I suppose. I’m glad I got to this one though because it is SOO delicious. I wish I had rolled more maftoul and stored some uncooked for another meal. It was so good, even my boyfriend gobbled it up!
(Adapted from “Palestinian Maftoul” on http://chefindisguise.com/)
- 1 cup (225 gm) fine bulgur
- 1 tablespoon (18 gm) salt
- 2-3 cups (480- 720 ml) water
- 4 cups (500 gm) whole wheat flour
- 4 cups (500 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour
- Add the salt to the water in a large measuring cup and stir to dissolve the salt. 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
- Sprinkle the bulgur over the bottom of a wide tray, pan or large bowl. I used a half-sheet baking pan and it worked well.
- 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, NOT mush them together. 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 ¼ cup of water in the empty side and use the circular swirling motion to wet the bulgur granules. You don’t want to add too much water at once or you will make a big gummy mess and have to start over. Just add enough water to moisten the outside of each granule, and do so gently and evenly.
- Sprinkle in a half a cup of flour and swirl using your finger-tips. The maftoul granules will start to grow in size.
- Repeat the steps of wetting the bulgur granules, rolling, sprinkling with flour, and rolling until the maftoul granules are the size you want them to be. (If cousous is usually about 1mm in diameter as a reference, maftoul should be slightly larger at 2-3 mm in diameter.
- The granules should feel dry to the touch but not be powdery from too much flour when done. You should be able to store them in a plastic bag without them sticking together at all. If they are too moist, sprinkle a bit more flour. If too floury, you can pass them through a fine mesh sieve which will collect the maftoul in the top, allowing excess flour to go through. If you have too much excess flour, it will become messy and sticky when cooking.
Lemon-Herb Grilled Chicken and Maftoul
*Note: All of the herbs for the Maftoul & for the Chicken are the same and in the same amounts so it is easiest to prep (chop) them all at once and divide in half. They are separated in the following recipe for clarification purposes.
Ingredients for the Brine & Chicken:
- 1 gallon room temperature tap water
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup kosher salt
- 3 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (basically one cut-up fryer)
- Canola or vegetable oil for greasing grill grates
- Juice and Zest of 1 lemon + 1 additional lemon, halved
- 1 tbsp. of whole grain mustard
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tbsp. chopped fresh chives
- 1 tbsp. fresh, chopped oregano
- 1 tbsp. fresh, chopped rosemary
- 1 tbsp. fresh, chopped thyme
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- Additional slices of lemons and sprigs of herbs to garnish, optional
Ingredients for the Maftoul:
- 2 tbsp. ghee (or olive oil if you prefer but ghee adds a nice nutty, buttery flavor)
- Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- 1 medium yellow onion, small dice
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 2 cups of chicken broth (or 2 tsp. chicken concentrate dissolved in two cups of water)
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 1 ½ cups Maftoul (large grain couscous) or Plain Couscous
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tbp. freshly chopped chives
- 1 tbsp. fresh, chopped oregano
- 1 tbsp. fresh, chopped rosemary
- 1 tbsp. fresh, chopped thyme
Directions for the Chicken:
- In a large bowl or dish (big enough to submerge the chicken pieces fully in liquid), mix together the water, ½ cup granulated sugar and ½ cup salt. Whisk together to dissolve. Add the chicken, adding a bit more water if necessary to cover. If chicken won’t stay submerged, place a plate over it to weigh it down. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
- Remove chicken from the refrigerator, remove from the bowl and rinse fully. Pat dry with paper towels and place on a large plate.
- Oil the grates of your grill with canola or vegetable oil and bring to moderate heat.
- Drizzle chicken segments evenly with 2 tbsp. olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Grill chicken until cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F (it will go up another 5-10 degrees upon standing), flipping occasionally with thongs, about 20 minutes. Chicken should be golden brown with some darker crispy bits at the edges. During this process, squeeze the juice of the halved lemon over the chicken occasionally. This will keep the skin moist without flare-ups and will add more flavor!
- Meanwhile, place mustard, remaining lemon zest and juice (from one lemon), remaining herbs and a pinch of each salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add 1 tbsp. olive oil and whisk to combine.
- Toss the hot chicken in the herb mixture thoroughly to coat.
- Transfer to a platter and garnish with additional sprigs of herbs if desired. Pour any extra herb mixture over the top of the chicken.
- Serve maftoul alongside, or under pieces of the grilled chicken. Garnish with additional fresh herbs and lemon slices, if desired.
Directions for the Maftoul:
- Warm 2 tbsp. of ghee in a large saucepan over medium heat
- Add onion and sauté until translucent and soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Stir in the chicken broth and lemon zest and bring to a simmer.
- Remove from heat and stir in the maftou. Cover and allow to sit for 5-8 minutes or until maftoul is tender (it will not puff up much but most of the liquid should be absorbed).
- Remove lid and fluff the maftoul with a fork.
- Stir in the lemon juice and herbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.