Mograbieh is one of many styles of wheat-based ‘little pasta balls’ that exist in the Levant. The most well known variety is couscous, which seems to have inspired many of the others.
Israeli couscous, known as ptitim, has become popular in the West over the last few years crossing the line from a sustainable and cheap way to feed a hungry family into the world of smart fine dining and exorbitant prices. Maftoul, similar to couscous in size and much smaller than Israeli couscous, is the Palestinian version of uneven balls made by hand. See (link to our maftoul).
Mograbieh, which literally means ‘from North Africa,’ is the largest of the lot and also has the hardiest texture.
It is produced in Lebanon and cooked in boiling water, just like pasta. Run a few under cold water before removing from the heat, just to make sure they are properly cooked (they tend to go hard as they cool down). Mograbieh balls have many uses. They add an interesting “bouncy” texture to soups and stews. We like using them in salads as well.
Couscous and mograbieh with oven-dried tomatoes
Serves six to eight
16 large ripe plum tomatoes
2 tbsp muscovado sugar
150ml olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
2 onions, peeled and sliced thinly
250g mograbieh (or couscous instead)
400ml chicken or vegetable stock
Pinch of saffron
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp chopped tarragon
1 tbsp nigella seeds
100g of labneh (or a thick yoghurt)
Preheat the oven to 150ºC.
Quarter the tomatoes lengthways and arrange on a baking tray, skin side down. Sprinkle with sugar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepper. Place in the oven for 2 hours or until the tomatoes have lost most of their moisture.
Put the onion with 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan. Sauté on high heat for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until you get a dark golden colour.
Throw the mograbiah into plenty of salted boiling water, same as with pasta. Simmer for 15 minutes, drain and rinse under cold water. Some varieties might take less, so check the cooking instructions. In any case, make sure you don’t cook it too long (it must be soft but retain a bite), or it will go mushy.
In a separate pot bring the stock to the boil together with the saffron and a little salt. Place the couscous in a large bowl and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the boiling stock. Cover with cling-film and leave for 10 minutes.
Once ready, mix the couscous with a fork or a whisk to get rid on any lumps and to fluff it up. Add the cooked mograbiah, tomatoes and juices, onions and oils, tarragon and half the nigella seeds. Taste and adjust seasoning and oil. It is likely that it will need a fair amount of salt. Allow the dish to come to room temperature.
To serve, layer gently on a serving plate, place some labneh on top (balls or spoon-fulls), drizzle with oil and finish with the rest of the nigella seeds.