Maftoul – an Arabic word derived from the root ‘fa-ta-la’ which means to roll or to twist – is a traditional Palestinian hand-rolled grain that was introduced to the country by Moroccan migrants. It possesses a beautiful nutty taste – especially of you go to the trouble of toasting it first – and a really pleasing texture in the mouth. This simple tabbouleh salad features on my Jerusalem-inspired menu at the School House Gallery providing a bright backdrop to the bold punchy flavours of my main dishes. The balance of parsley and lemon is often a mute point amongst Palestinians and I definitely use less parsley than they do; I think that the point is that tabbouleh salad is a deeply personal dish often inspired by the way our mothers make it. In fact, I had a guy call by for lunch last week who considers the dish to be a staple of his family table; he liked the coarse parsley I used (grown outside) and the addition of mint but he strongly recommended that I add more lemon juice. I followed his advice and my recipe is definitely all the better for it but my advice is to start with the juice of two lemons and add more if you want to.
100g fine couscous
Extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 lemons, zested and juiced
4 ripe plum tomatoes, finely chopped
A bunch of spring onions, finely chopped
60g flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
30g mint, roughly chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
Pomegranate arils, for garnishing
A handful of slivered almonds, lightly toasted, for garnishing (you can also use shopped pistachio nuts)
How I make it
In a large frying pan gently toast the maftoul over a medium heat, stirring all the time so as to ensure a uniform golden colour. Cover with boiling water, turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes until it is just cooked. Drain, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and set aside.
Meanwhile, place the couscous in a medium bowl, add boiling water to a depth of 1cm above the couscous itself. Cover and leave for 10 minutes.
When ready, loosen the regular couscous with a fork to separate the grains, mix with the cooled maftoul and dress with the juice of two lemons. Add a generous glug of olive oil and season to your taste.
Add the remaining ingredients – including the lemon zest – mix and, if needed, adjust the seasoning and and add more lemon juice according to your taste.
Turn it out onto a pretty plate and garnish with pomegranate arils and toasted almonds.