Saturday, 28 February 2015

Couscous and Mograbiah With Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Couscous and Mograbiah With Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Mograbiah (or Mograbieh or Mograbieuh or Lebanese couscous or, even more common, pearl couscous or giant couscous) is a recent discovery of mine; and unfortunately, because I like it much and I am now curious to try more and more recipes using this grain. Honestly speaking I have to say that I have a particular liking for all sorts of grain like couscous, bulgur, spelt, barley, rices (impossible to list) but also quinoa and buckweath and so on. I cannot say how many packets of different types of rice and grains are stored in my pantry...and as soon as I come across something new I cannot resist from buying.
And I sometimes wonder whether my love for any kind of grain as well as any other alternative to pasta is a reaction of mine to the Italian habit of "everyday pasta" I grew up with. But I know that mine is not a dislike for pasta (impossible) but just a great and insatiable curiosity for traditions, lifestyles and customs of different countries and cultures, and in particular for anything related to food which is one of the most powerful cultural expressions. Of course food is so powerful because it's one of the basic human primary needs, but also because it is able to give one of the greatest pleasures... But I'm going off topic as my initial intention was just to share a delicious and easy recipe in which Mograbiah is one of the main ingredients.
Before telling the recipe I want to spend just few words about Mograbiah.
Like couscous, Mograbiah is made from a moistened semolina paste, rolled into small. pea-sized balls, then coated with finely ground hard white wheat flour and dried. Traditionally, it was hand-rolled and sun dried. It looks like a larger version of couscous but has a texture more similar to pasta. and in fact it is cooked like pasta in a generous amount of boiling salted water. It is very popular in Lebanon where Mograbiah refers both to the grain and to a traditional finished dish where it is cooked in chicken stock and served with pieces of chicken and / or lamb, onion and chickpeas (sounds very tasty, doesn't it?). The word moghrabieh in Arabic means “dish from the Maghreb" and in fact it originates in the Maghreb region of North West Africa. According to what I read it is often confused with Israeli couscous, which is very similar in shape (just a bit smaller), but not in taste and preparation method as it is is an extruded paste, not rolled like couscous and Mograbiah.
I had heard and read about Mograbiah but never tried or even cooked. As I said before I often buy new foods before knowing how to make it, and so it was with Mograbiah that I saw by chance one day while wandering along Carrefour's aisles, looking for nothing in particular...and of course bought it. But luckily I found very easily and rapidly a good recipe for preparing Mograbiah: in my all time favorite "Ottolenghi- The cookbook" by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. 
The recipe is very easy yet tasty and delicious: a mix of Mograbiah and couscous is combined with confit tomatoes, caramelized onion, a generous amount of olive oil, herbs (Ottolenghi suggests tarragon, I used the local zataar whose flavor I love), with an addition of freshness given by spoonfuls of labneh and nigella seeds. I recommend to prepare the dish in advance, adding labneh just before serving, to give time to all flavors to combine and amalgamate. Ottolenghi suggest to have it at room temperature, and it is delicious; but I also had it lightly re-warmed before adding labneh and found it even more tasty. 
I loved this recipe because it is very versatile - other ingredients can be added or substituted, for instance different veggies in place of or in addition to tomatoes, other herbs or spices, goat cheese instead of labneh, and so on - and also perfect for different occasions - it can be an healthy, complete lunch or an appetizer (of course in a small portion) or a vegetarian main course or a salad or can be served at a buffet dinner or carried for a picnic. 
P.S. Browsing for information about Mograbiah I realized that it is very similar, both in shape and production process, to an Italian type of pasta from Sardinia region, the so called fregola or fregula. One popular Sardinian recipe is Fregula with clams but this pasta goes particularly well with any sauce made using fish, and with fish I am going to try it in future, maybe using an Italian recipe ... 

Couscous and Mograbiah With Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Couscous and Mograbiah With Oven-Dried Tomatoes
adapted from "Ottolenghi- The cookbook"
Serves 6 to 8
16 large, ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise (I used 20)
2 tablespoons muscovado sugar
100 - 150 ml olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 onions, thinly sliced
250 g mograbiah
400 ml chicken or vegetable stock (I used water)
a pinch of saffron threads
250 g couscous
1 tablespoon tarragon leaves (I swapped for fresh zataar)
1 tablespoon nigella seeds (I used at least 2)
100 g Labneh
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 300°F / 150°C. Arrange the tomato halves, skin side down, on a baking sheet lined with parchment and sprinkle with the sugar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, and some salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake for 2 hours, until the tomatoes have lost most of their moisture.
Meanwhile, put the onions in a large pan with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 2 of water) and sauté over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and a dark golden color.
Throw the mograbiah into a large pan of boiling salted water (as for cooking pasta). Simmer for 15 minutes, until it is soft but still retains a bite; some varieties might take less time, so check the instructions on the packet. Drain well and rinse under cold water.
In a separate pot, bring the stock or water to a boil with the saffron and a little salt. Place the couscous in a large bowl and add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and the boiling stock. Cover with plastic wrap and leave for 10 minutes (also read instructions on the packet).
Once ready, mix the couscous with a fork or a whisk to get rid of any lumps and to fluff it up. Add the cooked mograbiah, the tomatoes and their juices, the onions and their oil, the tarragon (zataar), and half the nigella seeds. Taste and adjust the seasoning and olive oil. Allow the dish to come to room temperature. To serve, arrange it gently on a serving plate, place the labneh on top (in balls or spoonfuls), drizzle with the remaining oil, and finish with the rest of the nigella seeds. For a nice presentation I rolled the labneh in small balls and rolled them in the nigella seeds so as to coat them. 


  1. Where did you get your giant couscous? It looks fantastic

    1. I found it in Carrefour Mall of the Emirates, close to the regular couscous. It is really good!

  2. Looks delicious. I am going to try this recipe soon, I love experimenting with different grains too.