Maftoul – The Palestinian Chicken Noodle Soup

Last Updated on February 25, 2024 by Jacqueline Rafidi

Maftoul is the epitome of comfort food. This Palestinian chicken soup is soul warming and just cozy at any time of the year. Maftoul, also written as maftool, is the Arabic word meaning “to roll” to describe the way this Palestinian couscous is made by hand and it’s also the name of the dish.

Maftoul is to Palestinians what Pastina is to Italians and definitely a favorite winter meal. When I’m sick, this cures me. When I’m sad, this comforts me. When I’m happy, this makes me ecstatic. 

This is one of my dad’s specialties and he makes it often, in hot or cold weather – often with a Cornish hen instead of chicken. This isn’t the typical version of maftoul – which usually contains less vegetables and added chick peas, but this is what I grew up with and what I love. Plus, it’s very easy to make! Depending on which part of Palestine you’re from, you may find this soup with a more tomato base where tomato sauce or tomato paste is added to make the broth more red and give it a slightly tangy flavor. I’ll share this variation one day. 

Couscous originated in North Africa where they’re typically much smaller in size and made with semolina or durum wheat (think Moroccan couscous). Once it was brought to Palestine, bulgur wheat was added and the couscous became larger and more pearl shaped. The beauty of them is that, because they’re made by hand by Palestinian women who sit and sift them with a wide maftoul sifting tool, they are all different shapes which makes for a rustic and appetizing look. The special equipment used is something I’m still trying to get my hands on – I one day hope to share a fresh maftoul recipe with you!

I use a whole chicken cut into 8 pieces. Using a bone-in chicken lends SO much flavor and savoriness to the broth which then flavors the entire dish. I often remove the skin beforehand though since I end up removing it after boiling. Place the skinless bone-in chicken pieces in a large bowl and add all the warm spices – allspice, nutmeg, turmeric, salt and black pepper. Once the chicken is coated in the spices, sear it in a large pot with olive oil over medium-high heat until the chicken becomes golden brown on each side. The chicken won’t be fully cooked at this point, just seared. Once all sides are golden, remove to a plate and continue with the rest of the pieces. 

Reduce to medium heat and add in the onions and a bit more olive oil if needed and let them get golden brown and fragrant. This will add tons of flavor to the chicken broth. Then pour tomatoes into the pot which help deglaze the bottom of the pot and lift all the brown bits. Finally, add in the chopped fresh garlic and stir till it becomes fragrant. Once all of this lifts all the goodness from the bottom of the pot, Remove it to a bowl – you’ll add this back in later. 

Add the chicken back in, starting with the larger pieces at the bottom of the bot. Add enough water to cover the chicken with an extra inch or 2 of water on top, along with a bay leaf and an onion cut into quarters. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer on low heat. Remove any foam/impurities that rise to the top to make sure you’re left with a clear broth. After 45 minutes to and hour, you’re left with tender, cooked chicken and a savory, flavorful hot chicken stock. Remove the bay leaf and chicken to a plate and discard the onion – these have done their job. Place the chicken on a plate and let it cool so you can shred it, then add the cooked onions, tomatoes and garlic along with the rest of the raw veggies back in and keep the pot on a low. 

While the chicken cools, the next step is working on the main ingredient! Add the maftoul to a pot with the olive oil and allspice. Let it toast to bring out the nutty flavor, add liquid (water or hot stock) then cook maftoul according to packing directions – the cooking time may vary for different brands, but be sure not to put too much liquid. The cooked maftoul should have a bouncy, chewy texture almost like tiny pasta pearls. 

The soup should be ready at this point. Shred and debone the chicken, add it back into the pot, then serve it up. I like to keep the maftoul separate so people can add as much as they like – also because this is how my family has always served it. Start with the maftoul grains and pour the soup right on top. Each bite of this Palestinian chicken soup is like a warm hug straight to your soul. Comfort food this easy to make is a winner, especially for a family with kids. In the West Bank, where my family is from, this is a staple food. I grew up in American with maftoul as a staple food and now my kids have it often as well! 

This is delicious served with some pita bread or crusty bread and a simple salad. I hope you and your family enjoy this as much as we do!

More Palestinian Recipes

Chicken and cauliflower makloubeh
Falafel
Shish barak

When you make this Palestinian chicken soup called maftoul, comment down below and rate this recipe to let me know your thoughts! Also, share a picture or tag me on Instagram @thebitewithjackie, I love seeing your remakes!

Maftoul – The Palestinian Chicken Noodle Soup

There is nothing that warms my soul more than this soup. 
Course Soup

Ingredients
  

  • 1 whole bone-in skin-on chicken, cut up into segments
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 2 to matoes diced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 10 cups water
  • 2 russet potatoes peeled and diced
  • 2-3 carrots peeled and diced
  • 2-3 celery stalks diced
  • 2 zucchini diced

For the Maftoul

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups maftoul can substitute for pastina or pearl couscous
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 cups water – or enough to cover the maftoul over about 1 inch

Instructions
 

  • Place the chicken in a large bowl. Season with the allspice, nutmeg, turmeric, salt and pepper and rub the spices in until chicken is completely covered.
  • In a large soup pot on medium heat, add the olive oil. Once heated through, place each piece of chicken skin side down and brown them in batches. This is not cooking the chicken through, just starting to season the chicken and the pot. Remove each piece from the pot once browned on all sides and place on a plate. Set aside.
  • Add in the onions, tomatoes and garlic to the pot and begin scraping down the brown bits at the bottom of the pan – the juices from the tomatoes should help lift that right off, but if not, add a splash of water. Stir until onions are softened and tomatoes are beginning to melt. Add all the chicken back in starting with the larger pieces at the bottom of the pot. Cover all the chicken with the 10 cups of water (use more or less water depending on the size of your pot and how much soup you want. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer on low for 45 minutes to one hour. In the meantime, carefully scoop out any of the scum and oils from the chicken that rises to the top of the pot. This will ensure a clean broth.
  • After the 45 minutes to 1 hour pass, remove the chicken to a clean plate. Let it cool for 10 minutes or until you can handle it with your hands. Add in the potatoes to the pot and stir. Remove the skin from the chicken and shred the meat off the bones, set the chicken aside. At this point, add in the carrots and celery and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add in the zucchini.
  • At this point, start on your maftoul. In a small pot on medium heat, add the olive oil, the allspice and maftoul. Stir until the maftoul begins to toast and it is coated with the spices and oil, then add the water – enough to cover the maftoul by about 1 inch, similar to rice. The maftoul will soak up the majority of this water. Let it cook uncovered until the maftoul is aldente or as the box directs. Once cooked through, set aside. At this point, all the vegetables in the soup should be done cooking. Add the shredded chicken back into the pot, taste to see if it needs more salt. To serve, place the maftoul in a bowl and pour the soup on top or around the maftoul and enjoy my favorite soup ever!
Keyword Maftoul, Maftoul – The Palestinian Chicken Noodle Soup

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