Chickpea Soup with Moghrabieh (Lebanese Couscous)

by on March 9, 2007
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Moghrabieh (Lebanese Couscous

Thanks to everyone who participated in the challenge! Congratulations to lucky winner TheONLYTania, whose name was drawn from the 16 people who answered “Israeli couscous” or “couscous.” (Tania, please send me your address, and I’ll mail you a package.) And while that isn’t exactly correct, it’s close enough.

Mughrabia (Lebanese Couscous

What you see in the photo is actually moghrabieh, also known as Lebanese couscous, mughrabia, maghrebiyya (and various spellings), pearl couscous, and berkukis. It’s similar to Israeli couscous–in fact, it’s the original upon which the more recently marketed Israeli Couscous is based–but it’s a little larger than Israeli couscous and its “pearls” are more irregularly sized. Here’s what Madhur Jaffrey says about the two kinds of larger couscous in her book World Vegetarian:

Israeli Couscous: This is relatively new on the market and consists of small balls about the size of peppercorns. It is sold by Middle Eastern grocers where is is sometimes labeled Israeli Toasted Pasta, as the balls are very lightly toasted. I like to cook this couscous like most pastas, in lots of boiling, salted water. It cooks in 8-10 minutes….
Lebanese couscous: This also consists of small balls that have been toasted, but they are slightly larger in size than Israeli couscous…. It cooks slowly (taking about 25 minutes) and unevenly and is therefore, in my opinion, best for soups or stews where it turns into pea-sized dumplings….I mention it because you should not confuse it with Israeli couscous.

A few weeks ago, I bought a bag of this mystery ingredient at the local Middle Eastern restaurant/grocery not knowing what it was or how to use it. I suspected at the time that it might be Israeli couscous, which has become popular lately on blogs and in restaurants (well, not the restaurants I go to, but those in more happening places than Jackson, Mississippi!) but as I started researching I found that it was slightly different from Israeli couscous. I’d planned to use it in a salad until I read what Madhur Jaffrey had to say. I still have salad plans for it, but just to find out what it tasted and cooked like, I decided to throw it into this aromatic, Moroccan-inspired soup.

What it tastes like is basically what it is: dense, starchy pasta. The first time I made this soup I erred and put way too much moghrabiah into it (1 cup). It was like chewing your way through soup! My husband said that the texture reminded him of “those things in that bubble tea stuff,” so those of you who guessed tapioca pearls were, in a way, not so far off. It’s less gelatinous than tapioca, however, and much more starchy. I decided that in a soup it should be used more sparingly, to provide a surprise chewy texture every now and then, not starch overload, so the next time I made this soup, I cut the amount down to 1/4 cup, which seems about right. You could go as high as 1/3 cup, but I wouldn’t risk more than that.

chickpea soup with moghrabieh

If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see that the moghrabieh swells as it cooks to almost the size of the chickpeas; the larger pearls were actually hard to tell from the chickpeas. It takes about 25 minutes for them to get to the right softness, but they pick up some of the flavor from the broth as they cook. Fortunately, they don’t seem to break down after the soup is removed from the heat, so leftovers were still tasty, not mushy, the next day.

The soup is very fragrant and highly spiced, redolent of cumin and saffron. I know that saffron is expensive, but it really makes a big difference here: I accidentally left it out the second time I made the soup and noticed that it wasn’t as good as the first batch; when I remembered to add the saffron, all the seasonings fell into perfect harmony.

Chickpea Soup with Moghrabieh (Lebanese Couscous)

More info about Lebanese and Israeli couscous:

All About Couscous
Buy Various Types of Couscous Online
A History of Couscous
Israeli Couscous with Roasted Butternut Squash and Preserved Lemon
A non-vegetarian recipe for Moghrabieh Custard with Kaffir Lime Leaf Syrup

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous October 20, 2009 at 10:32 am

Oh my goodness! I only had Israeli couscous, so I subbed that for the Lebanese couscous, and it came out beautifully! I bought saffron for the first time for this recipe (I'd been procrastinating for a while) and I am SO glad I did. Waking up with the sniffles and aches doesn't seem so bad with some of this delicious soup.

Another great recipe! And I can have a nice big bowl without feeling guilty. Thanks, SusanV!

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2 Viviane November 24, 2009 at 3:58 am

I am Lebanese and I am so glad that you discovered Moghrabieh. Moghrabieh's best feature is its capacity to catch flavors and store them, it can even become better the next day.
We have a variety which is dried and you get to steam before cooking, it is even better than the ready to cook ones because you can steam over the pot you are cooking in.
If you like to see what a traditional Moghrabieh dish looks like you can visit my flickr on this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vvnm/4124773905/
Unfortunately it is not a vegan dish, I am not sure if you can find a vegan replacement for the meat in it, because it used to create the sauce to soak all in. But the chickpeas are a good addition for your soup. We have a special mix of spices for this dish also, I don't know if you can find where you are. I will be glad to provide the original recipe if you like and you can see how you can adapt to your diet.

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3 Anon November 22, 2010 at 11:34 pm

My mum made moghrabieh today similar to Viviane’s but it’s nice to see different adaptations of the ingredient. I love the stuff and it would be very interesting to try this vegan version. I’ve never seen moghrabieh as big as that. I am lebanese and the kind we usually get is smaller than the chickpeas but then I guess that’s the Israeli kind. I never knew there was a difference until I read this post so thank you :)

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4 Phlebologist June 13, 2012 at 2:14 pm

In Lebanon, the main spice that we use in mogribieh is ground caraway seeds, not saffron. Accordingly, to those who find saffron expensive, or want to try another version (the Lebanese version) replace the saffron in the recipe with a generous pinch of caraway. I am sure it will be fine, because most of the other spices are the same; that is, cinammon, cumin, and allspice.

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5 Katherine March 17, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Hi Susan, I’m having difficulty trying to find out if Moghrabieh is gluten free? I’m guessing that it’s not?

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6 Susan Voisin March 17, 2013 at 2:36 pm

I’m afraid it’s not. Like couscous, it’s made from semolina (wheat) flour.

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7 Lebanese Cooking May 24, 2013 at 5:35 am

Hi, i was searching for some Lebanese Recipes and came across your blog. they look really colorful and delicious.(My daughter love them very much). I prefer using vegetable broth than bouillon. Anyways, thank for the idea.

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