APRIL 12, 2018

Making of Maftool

“Maftool is made with what seems like an absurd amount of pearl onions. Peeling them is one of the most time-consuming steps in making the dish. For my parents, though, it was the most charmed.” – Rawia Bishara, from Olives, Lemons, & Za’atar


A mere two generations is not all that long ago. Bishara, in her wonderful middle eastern home cooking book, refers to these two generations throughout her book in describing the amount of time it has taken for her native culture at Nazareth to lose many of the slow food preparations which were taught her either by her grandmother or her parents.

She says that there was much romance to the making of Maftool, “a pasta that is often incorrectly referred to as Israeli couscous here in America.” As a young girl, she had looked forward to the ritual associated with the making of dish. In what came to be seen as a show of chivalry, her father used to enter into the kitchen so to help with the mountain of pearl onions, each one needing to be peeled in a long and laborious process that is often skipped when making the dish these days.

“Because he hated to see her cry, my father always stepped in to tackle the mountain of onions on the kitchen counter. This may not seem especially gallant these days, but back then, men simply did not carry their weight in the kitchen. Watching my dad peel all those onions made me swoon.” Maftool is made of an elaborate spice and onion combination – caraway, allspice, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, cardamon, pearl and yellow onions – and topped, in this case, by any available shredded leftover chicken, and served with a side of chickpeas. “It used to be that the whole family gathered to make homemade Maftool. These days, almost no one makes it by hand, which is not surprising, since the process is very involved.”