A Bowl of Chicken Soup Comfort to Eat All Winter: Palestinian Maftoul
By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
My favorite indoor respite from the rain, bone chilling wind, and dark leafless trees of winter, is a warm bowl of chicken soup. I love closing my kitchen doors to sequester the spicy aroma and comforting simmer of a particularly hearty soup called Maftoul.
Maftoul is the Palestinian equivalent to chicken noodle soup. From the silky chicken and peppery allspice to the sweet onions and garlic infused tomato, a bowl of this goodness makes winter much more bearable.
Instead of pasta, Arabs tend to use couscous or other grains like bulgur or barley in their soups. Maftoul is the Arabic word for “couscous,” but this couscous, in particular, is larger grained and more chewy than the average boxed kind you ’ll find in most grocery stores.
Today there are women’s fair trade cooperatives in Palestine that are keeping alive the traditional hand-rolled method of maftoul. For example, in the Canaan Women’s Cooperative, the women make everything with their own hands. First, they clean and boil the wheat. Then they grind the wheat, add flour to it, and roll it with their hands until it’s ready to be steamed again. Then they put the rolled wheat out in the sun to dry.
Since this is a labor-intensive product, your best bet is to buy maftoul online from organizations like Canaan directly, which will not only give your dish an authentic flavor, but also help at-risk Palestinian farms to survive. If there is no maftoul available where you live, you can also substitute the Italian acini de pepe, a pasta that looks like tiny beads.
My mother would make me this soup whenever I had a cold, and I would instantly feel better after a bowl (or two)– hope this recipe does the same for you. Feel free to add extra vegetables to cook in the final broth if you wish, like zucchini, carrots, or butternut squash.
To see an easy video tutorial on how to make this dish, click on the video below:
- 2 pounds dark-meat chicken (use all drumsticks or combination of drumsticks and thighs, you can also use lamb shoulder chops if you prefer)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 -3 fresh tomatoes, pureed
- 1 can tomato sauce, or 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
- 1 large minced onion
- Whole bulb of garlic, each clove sliced in half
- 1 cup canned garbanzo beans (optional)
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups maftoul
Place the chicken in a large pot and add approximately 2 teaspoons of salt, onions, cinnamon stick, allspice berries, halved garlic cloves, and bay leaves. Pour in water so that there is at least 5 inches of water above chicken. Place the pot on the stovetop over high heat until boiling.
Remove any scum that rises to the top with a sieve. After water reaches its boiling point, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add tomato sauce and tomato puree and let boil for an additional 20 minutes. Let the soup cool slightly. Using tongs, scoop out chicken pieces and set aside in a bowl.
Using a large colander, pour the tomato broth into another stainless steel bowl to strain out bay leaves, allspice, cinnamon, and onion. Return the broth to the pot and reduce heat to simmer. Add the garbanzo beans and any additional vegetables you wish, and simmer for an additional 20 minutes.
Return the chicken to soup. In another pot, melt butter, and add the olive oil and 2 cups maftoul and brown until butter is melted.
Carefully remove 4 cups of the tomato chicken broth from the main pot and add to maftoul. After mixture boils, cover and simmer on low heat for approximately 20 minutes. (Cooking time and liquid required may vary depending on the type of maftoul – make sure to follow package directions for doneness and add more liquid if needed.)
To serve, scoop maftoul into a bowl and use a soup ladle to pour broth, chickpeas, and meats over the maftoul.
Blanche Shaheen is the author of the cookbook called “Feast In the Middle East, a Journey of Family and Cuisine” which you can order here: https://secure.mybookorders.com/mbo_index.php?isbn=9781545675113 She is also a journalist, and host of the popular cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond. You can check out her cooking video tutorials at https://www.youtube.com/user/blanchetv Her recipes can also be found at: https://feastinthemiddleeast.wordpress.com/