Moghrabieh, Lebanese Chicken Couscous Soup

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Moghrabieh is the beloved Lebanese chicken stew, full of aromatic spices and large couscous pearls by that same name, moghrabieh.

Lebanese moghrabieh chicken stew in a white dish with lemon
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Say the word “moghrabieh” to most anyone who knows this Lebanese chicken and couscous soup, and watch their eyes light up! A traditional dish for gathering family and friends, it is considered a soup or a stew. Moghrabieh (or maghribiyya) refers both to the type of couscous in the recipe and the dish itself.

There is so much comforting flavor and texture in the soup, with warm spices of cinnamon and bay leaves in a rich chicken broth. The couscous itself is ADORABLE, pearl couscous that cooks into perfect chewy little spheres, bathed in a touch of butter. This dish is a favorite in Lebanese cooking.

What Is Lebanese Moghrabia? 

The term refers to both the largest of all of the couscous varieties, Lebanese pearl couscous, and to the beloved Lebanese dish of chicken soup made with the couscous. Making moghrabia is much like making any homemade chicken soup, simmering bone-in chicken pieces in highly seasoned broth enriched with onions, chickpeas, and tender shredded chicken. 

Lebanese moghrabia is the largest of all couscous varieties, similar in both size and color to garbanzo beans, chickpeas. Typically moghrabia semolina pearls are a dried product, but traditionally home cooks make fresh moghrabieh by hand.

What is couscous? All couscous is a form of pasta made from semolina flour. 

Lebanese couscous pearls on a wooden board

What does Lebanese Moghrabieh taste like?

Lebanese moghrabia is pasta and it tastes like pasta! It is rather bland, gentle on its own and this large couscous has a soft texture that absorbs the rich flavor of the traditional, highly seasoned chicken soup that includes this couscous.

Ingredients to make Lebanese Moghrabieh

Bone-in, skin on chicken pieces. Use about 2 pounds of chicken thighs, chicken breast, legs, wings. A whole cut-up chicken works well here, or one package of skin-on, bone-in thighs.

Aromatics. The soup gets its flavor from diced onion, minced garlic, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and many spices including salt, black pepper, 7 Spice and ground caraway. Dish-specific moghrabieh spices are available in some specialty Middle Eastern markets. 

Chicken broth. I call for broth instead of water for my moghrabia recipe because it intensifies the flavor of the broth beautifully. Cups of water are typical though and work fine!

Pearl onions. In addition to the diced onion, the pearl onions in this recipe stay whole and lovely even after cooking.

Chickpeas. Use a can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed, or about 2 cups of chickpeas cooked from dry. 

Lebanese couscous. Use a cup or two of this large pearl couscous, Lebanese moghrabia, which expands and doubles up when cooked.

Lemon juice, to brighten the broth.

Fresh herbs, chopped, for finishing.

How do you make Lebanese Moghrabieh, step-by-step

Make the broth

1. Brown the chicken pieces. Place the pieces skin side-down in a large pot pot or large dutch oven, with olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Cook them until they are golden brown.

2. Deglaze the pot. Remove the browned chicken pieces to a plate, and add diced onion and minced garlic, scraping up any browned bits as these cook. Return the chicken to the pot with the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and spices.

2. Add the liquid. Use 4 cups (32 oz. container) of chicken broth plus one cup of water, or all water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Skim any foam off the top as the broth simmers. 

3. Shred the chicken. Remove the chicken, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves from the pot. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it into bite-sized pieces. 

4. Add the chicken, pearl onions, and chickpeas to the broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for 15 minutes.

Make the Lebanese couscous

1. Boil the Lebanese moghrabieh pearls. In a small saucepan, bring 1 ½ cups chicken broth or salted water to boil. Add a cup of the little balls of moghrabia, return to boil, then reduce to simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Taste to be sure the couscous is tender.

2. Season the couscous. Stir in a tablespoon of butter over low heat.

Serve the soup

1. Spoon some of the couscous into individual serving bowls. Ladle the broth over top, including chicken pieces, onions, and chickpeas in each.

2. Finish each bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice and chopped herbs.

Lebanese moghrabieh in a white dish with chicken, onions, chickpeas

Tips for making Lebanese Moghrabieh

Use any bone-in, skin on chicken pieces for Lebanese moghrabieh. They will give the broth more flavor.

Try using chicken broth instead of water to make the broth. Broth + broth makes more flavor!

Caraway seeds are traditional for this dish but they are not readily available in U.S. grocery stores. Some Middle Eastern grocery stores will stock caraway. Fennel is a delicious substitute with similar anise flavor.

Frozen pearl onions are very easy to use and beautiful. Fresh pearl onions require a lengthy trimming process. A large onion cut in wedges is also an option.

Lebanese moghrabieh is very delicious…but its color is bland. Top each serving bowl with a shower of chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, and a dusting of 7 Spice, to make it look more appealing.

A thicker stew broth is achievable by adding 2 tablespoons of cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup of cool water to the broth, stirring over medium low heat until thickened.

How to serve the soup

First spoon the couscous into individual bowls. Then, ladle the broth over top, filling the bowl about halfway with broth. Be sure there are plenty of pieces of chicken, pearl onions, and chickpeas in each bowl. 

Lebanese moghrabieh chicken stew is a hearty main dish. Include crusty bread with spreads like hummus and labneh, as well as a fresh green Lebanese Salad (Salata).

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you make it with beef or lamb?

Some do traditionally include beef or lamb in moghrabia. Bone in lamb shank is popular. Be sure to cook the meat until tender, and add more liquid to the broth mixture as it cooks.

Where do you buy Moghrabieh?

Lebanese pearl couscous is available in many grocery stores, often only as Israeli couscous which is slightly smaller than maghrabieh. Authentic mahgrabia is available a Middle Eastern grocery store or online. Buy Lebanese Couscous in my online shop!

What is pearl couscous made of?

All couscous is simply a form of pasta, made with semolina. Pearl couscous is made of semolina flour, from durham wheat. 

Is moghrabieh gluten-free?

Lebanese Couscous is not gluten-free. Semolina, the primary ingredient in couscous, is a form of wheat, which contains gluten.

Can I substitute standard couscous for Moghrabieh?

No! Standard couscous is too tiny for this recipe; the granules will not stand up nicely to the brothy chicken stew.

Can you make Moghrabieh ahead of time?

Make Lebanese moghrabieh ahead by preparing everything except the pearl couscous. The chicken soup will hold in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Reheat on the stovetop while making the couscous just before serving.

Is Lebanese Moghrabieh healthy?

This chicken soup-stew is high in protein from the chicken and chickpeas, and together with the healthy carbohydrate of the Lebanese couscous makes a nutritious main dish.

Lebanese couscous vs. Israeli couscous?

Israeli couscous is slightly smaller than Lebanese couscous. They both contain the same ingredient of semolina durum wheat flour.

Lebanese moghrabieh chicken stew in a white dish with lemon
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4.50 from 6 votes

Lebanese Moghrabieh

Moghrabieh is the beloved Lebanese chicken stew, full of aromatic spices and large couscous pearls by that same name, moghrabieh.
Servings: 6

Ingredients 

For the chicken soup:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 pounds chicken pieces, bone-in and skin-on (such as thighs and/or breasts)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon 7 Spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground caraway or fennel seeds
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 32 oz (4 cups) chicken stock or broth
  • 12 oz frozen or fresh pearl onions
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Juice of 1 lemon

For the couscous:

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Instructions 

  • In a large heavy-bottom pot or Dutch oven, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and butter over medium high heat. Add the chicken pieces, skin side down.
  • Cook the chicken until the skin is deep golden brown, about 8 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and reduce the heat to medium.
  • Deglaze the pot by adding the chopped onion, minced garlic, and a teaspoon of the salt to the pot. Cook for 5 minutes, scraping up any browned bits. Tuck the chicken back into the pot, skin side up.
  • Season the chicken with 2 teaspoons of the salt, pepper, and 7 Spice. Add the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves. Pour the chicken broth over the chicken along with an additional cup of water. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Skim off any foam as it cooks.
  • Remove the chicken from the pot. Add the pearl onions and chickpeas. Bring the liquid to boil again, then reduce to simmer for 15 minutes.
  • When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it into bite-size pieces, discarding the skin and bones. Add the shredded chicken back to the pot. Add the lemon juice. Taste and add more salt and spices if needed.
  • Make the couscous. In a medium pot, bring 4 cups of chicken broth with the salt to boil. Add the dry couscous and bring back to boil, then reduce the heat to medium low. Cover the pot while the couscous cooks until it is tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain any excess liquid if there is any. Add the butter to the couscous and stir until it is melted and the pearls are coated.
  • To serve the moghrabieh, spoon some couscous into each bowl, then ladle the chicken soup with pieces of chicken, onion, and chickpeas in each bowl. Dust the top of each bowl with parsley and serve immediately.

Notes

Tips for making Moghrabieh:
Use any bone-in, skin on chicken pieces for the recipe. They will give the broth more flavor.
Try using chicken broth instead of water to make the broth. Broth + broth makes more flavor!
Caraway seeds are traditional for this dish but they are not readily available in U.S. grocery stores. Some Middle Eastern grocery stores will stock caraway. Fennel is a delicious substitute with similar anise flavor.
Frozen pearl onions are very easy to use and beautiful. Fresh pearl onions require a lengthy trimming process. A large onion cut in wedges is also an option.
Moghrabieh is very delicious…but its color is bland. Top each serving bowl with a shower of chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, and a dusting of 7 Spice, to make it look more appealing.
A thicker stew broth is achievable by adding 2 tablespoons of cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup of cool water to the broth, stirring over medium low heat until thickened.

Nutrition

Calories: 562kcal | Carbohydrates: 54g | Protein: 30g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 98mg | Sodium: 2805mg | Potassium: 490mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 601IU | Vitamin C: 10mg | Calcium: 79mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Author: Maureen Abood
Servings: 6
Calories: 562
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13 Comments

  1. Julia Dobbins says:

    My sister made this Maghrabieh soup and it was absolutely delicious!! So light and clean with a perfectly spiced taste.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      I love your description Julia, thanks so much!

  2. Deb says:

    Good morning Maureen! My Sitto always steamed the little couscous balls over the pot of simmering broth covered with a cloth. Will these hold up to cooking this way?
    Every hour or so she would put them in another pan, add butter and ground caraway seed and then return to the steamer basket. I believe she did this every hour or so over the course of 2-3 hours. I purchased the couscous from your market and want to make it this cold New England weekend coming up!
    Love reading your stories, my upbringing was similar and we were so lucky to have these Lebanese dishes for dinner 2-3 times a week growing up!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Deb! I love that old-fashioned beautiful approach to the couscous. You can absolutely do that with our couscous, imparting deep flavor to the couscous.

      1. Deb says:

        Thank you Maureen! Can’t wait to try it this weekend!

    2. Renzi says:

      Excellent – I was super excited to eat the dish, the flavours were extraordinary. Will make it again and again

      1. Maureen Abood says:

        Thanks so much, this is a special favorite!

  3. Karen Backer says:

    I love your redeipes

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Thanks so much.

    2. Suzan says:

      This looks lovely – what is on top of the soup that looks browned? Is that a toasted pita?

      1. Maureen Abood says:

        Thank you Suzan–that is the golden brown skin of the chicken that is seasoned with 7 spice which is also deep red in color.

  4. Erin L. says:

    Thank you for this recipe. This soup is delicious! The cinnamon in the broth absolutely makes it. I will make this recipe often but will probably skip the pearl onions. I don’t think they add anything except a strange texture, but that may just my personal preference as they are not a normal item for me to incorporate into my cooking. I was glad I tried the recipe as written and gave them a chance, though! Also, if you don’t plan on serving the full six servings in one meal, you may want to adjust the amount of couscous pearls as they tend to congeal overnight in the refrigerator.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Great tips Erin! Maybe try large onions sliced, so you still get that onion-y element? Delicious in any case though.