A Lebanese Guest-Honoring Dish!
Only few dishes of our cuisine have earned that societal title of Guest-Honoring Dish. The Chicken Maghrabieh is on the short list, along with the Mloukhieh, the Waraq Enab (Stuffed Grape Leaves), the Samkeh Harra, the Sayediyeh Fish, the festive Maqloubeh, the Kibbe Nayeh, and a couple more that appear to have faded away, probably for health reasons.
The “honoring” concept comes from the fact that the hosting lady will need to dedicate quite a time and efforts to make it. I was always amazed, while growing up in Lebanon, at how much time housewives dedicate to certain dishes, some of which would take a full day!
Let me point out that, in our culture, cooking for the household, and its guests, is still the sole responsibility of our women; housewives and mothers.
Today, our women simplify as much as possible their cooking methods and recipes. However, some of these recipes still require much time and efforts. Our Chicken Maghrabieh is one of them yet worth it big time!
What is Maghrabieh?
Made out of semolina and rolled in small grains, the Maghrabieh resembles the couscous in shape and texture, yet is bigger in size and lighter in color.
Unlike common belief, the name does not refer to the country of Morocco, but to the former historical region of Biled El-Maghrab, which included Tunis, Algeria and Morocco. Translated, it comes as “the countries of the sunset”. Today, we know El-Maghreb as Morocco.
The Magrabieh grain ingredient is older than the state of Morocco. It is but in recent cultural history that this semolina grain took the name of Maghrabieh, instead of its original name of Berkukis
That occurred when it made its way through the Levantine countries, and became a cultural dish along the coast of the Green Crescent, and further inland.
The good news is that, today, the Maghrabieh is less complicated and time-consuming to cook. That is due to its availability half-cooked and/or frozen. This was not the case when my mother used to spend hours cooking it at home!
To make it even easier and quicker, I managed to amend the recipe without altering any of the delicious taste. I am delighted to share it with you here. Enjoy!
The Guest Honoring Dish of Chicken Maghrabieh
For The Broth
- 1 Kg Chicken Breasts skinless, flatten
- 1 Cinnamon Stick
- 2 cubes Chicken stock
- 2 Bay Leaves dry
- 8 1/2 cups Water
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Corn Starch melt in a 1/4 cup of water
For The Magrabieh
- 2 Kg Maghrabieh Semolina Grains frozen (if dry grains, it will take you more time to cook).
- 2 cans Chickpeas
- 15 Baby Onions peeled
- 2 tsps Ground Cumin
- 2 tsps Ground Caraway
- 2 tsps Ground Cinnamon
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1/2 cube Chicken Stock
- 1 1/2 Lemon freshly squeezed
- Vegetable Oil to cook
Preparing the Chicken Broth
Heat some oil in a large pan and fry the onions, in their shape, turning them gently regularly until cooked into a yellowing color.
Drain out the excess of oil, add the chicken breasts and fill the pan with the water.
Add the bay leaves, the cinnamon sticks and the salt and bring it to the boiling point. Reduce then the heat and leave it to simmer.
Skim off the grayish foams as they form on the surface. This technique is an important factor in the outcome of a good taste. Keep performing it until no more foam appears and the chicken is well cooked.
Pour all the content, slowly and carefully, on a strain or sieve, collecting the liquid in a deep recipient. This will be used further in the recipe.
Remove the chicken breasts and the onions to the side, and discard (throw) the remaining (bay leaves, cinnamon sticks).
Cooking the Maghrabieh Part 1
Place the Maghrabieh grains and the chickpeas into a large round baking pan.
Mix in the salt, caraway and cumin.
Stir in one cup of broth, and place it on the stove on low heat.
NOTE: It is important to keep it on low heat and mixing from time to time so the Maghrabieh grains swell nicely without sticking together or they will fail to cook properly.
When the liquid is about to wither, stir in another cup of broth, following the same routine like above.
The Maghrabieh grains are excellent in absorbing the flavoring seasoning, But you need to ensure that by mixing and adding broth continuously until they soften.
Keep repeating the method, leaving aside 2 cups of the broth for the dressing. Overall, this should take about 15-20 minutes.
If you are cooking dry Maghrabieh grains instead of the Frozen, it will need some good 40-45 minutes.
Cooking the Maghrabieh Part 2
Part the breasts by hand in small chunks, add them to the cooking Maghrabieh, and mix it all.
Add the onions and mix gently.
Cook for 5 more minutes and remove the pan on the side.
NOTE: You might want to taste a couple of grains to make sure they are well cooked. The texture should be soft and non-gluing.
Preparing the Sauce
Place the remaining broth back on medium head, stirring in the lemon juice and half the chicken cube. Bring to a boil then simmer on low heat.
Stir in the corn starch water for 3-4 minutes until the dressing thickens.
Pour it in a serving bowl.
Transfer the Maghrabieh nicely onto a serving plate. Arrange some of the chicken chunks on the top for a nice presentation.