Mograbieh & Legume Salad with Pickled Lemon & Ras El Hanout

One of our summer staples and all-time favourites is this wonderfully flexible Mograbieh salad. Both filling and refreshing, with a balance of flavour - salty, tangy, spicy, nutty and milky sweet.

Morgabieh are dried-up semolina balls, about the size of a pearl or as small as a lentil. They are rolled and either kept frozen or left to dry, and can be prepared much like pasta. Because the mograbieh I originally used for this recipe was pearl-sized, I liked to use medium to large sized cooked beans, such as pinto beans with it. Now that I only find very small sized maftoul (the Palestinian version of the same thing)I like to pair it with smaller legumes, especially chickpeas. In all truth though, the mograbieh may be substituted for any pasta shape you have on hand, and paired with any similarly sized and attractively shaped legume. In one instance, I even used star-shaped pasta with lentils. 

What gives this dish its distinctive character and flavour is the various textures, colours and seasonings:  The texture ranges from al-dente pasta and buttery cooked legumes, crunchy onions, and pop of flavour and colours from the various pickled lemons, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, capers and more. 

2 cups cooked pinto beans or chickpeas 

200 g mograbieh or maftoul, cooked to al-dente stage (see instructions on the package you purchase) 

1 medium sweet onion, minced

1 handful of sundried tomatos, chopped

1 handful brined and wrinkly black olives (Moroccan-style), rinsed, pitted and chopped 

1-2 Tbs capers, rinsed 

 1/2 lemon, cut lengthwise into quarters and sliced very thinly

1/4-1 tsp chili flakes or to taste (depending on how spicy you want your salad to be; I like to use Korean chili flakes which are very mild) 

1/2 tsp Ras El Hanout 

1/2 Sweet red or yellow bell pepper, quartered and sliced (optional)

Olive oil, to taste 

Prepare each ingredient as described. Set aside 

- While the beans and/or Mograbieh are still warm, add the olive oil, spices, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and capers. 

- Wait for everything to cool off completely before adding the onions and lemons.

- I like to let this sit in the fridge for at least a few hours if not over night before serving. This allows for all the flavours to marinate, and the fresh lemons turns into lemon pickles! 

- Just before serving, add a few slices of quartered bell peppers to the salad. The rest of the salad keeps for at least a week in the fridge otherwise. It's like a meal all on its own, full of flavour and nutritious as well (grains, especially whole, and legumes together, form a complete set of all the 22 necessary amino acids). All of these points make this dish an excellent choice for picnic and camping trips too. I have so many fond memories of this salad, it has nourished me in more circumstances than I care to detail here. And brought good memories of lakeside camping and beach picnics from my happiest days when I was stuck at the hospital half of last summer, caring for my daughter. It certainly has merit! 

Bon Appetite!  


Caper plant (Capparis spinosa)
Legend has it that the caper plants originate in the Western Wall, where the little folded letters containing the prayers, dreams and promises of the pilgrims are transformed into beautiful white caper blossoms, blooming for a day and sending the prayers to heaven.

Many of the prayers are of barren couples who beg for a child of their own. Perhaps that is why these caper flowers are considered a remedy for fertility, as are the roots of the the plant. But this is only one of the many medicinal qualities attributed to capers in herbal and folk medicines. I will only highlight a few that I read about: The entire plant parts (root, leaves, fruit) were used as remedy for toothache, and an infusion of the fruit after it has been boiled in water is considered to aid those suffering from diabetes. The fruit and the root, when ground up, are placed for short periods on aching joints to relieve joint pain (long exposure of the skin will create burns). Despite all its many therapeutic values, caper is not a very common plant in the modern pharmacopeia -perhaps because of the emphasis on it as a culinary item.

Caper (Capparis spinosa) buds on the bush
The pickled capers most people are familiar with are the buds of Capparis spinosaIt grows here in the wild, and quite in abundance. What's special about it is that it blooms all summer long, from May through September - an unusual quality in those scorching months, which on its own alludes to nearly magical qualities.

Soaking caper buds for pickling

My first jar which I've pickled about three weeks ago turned to be quite the delicacy, so I thought I'd better hurry and go get some more buds before the season is over. As it turns out - in the meantime, the plants developed their fruit (AKA caper berries). They look like plump and short cucumbers are also very pickle-able, as are the leaves and stems of this plant.

Caper berries

I was pleased to learn that the blooming season is rather long, and will continue all summer. The hardiness of the plants around here to the arid conditions is amazing to me. I can barely survive a hot day and they can endure all summer with very little water from dew and that which is found deep in the crevices of rocks.

Capers has interesting history and uses - both culinary and medicinal. The famous "Cypriot wine" mentioned in the Talmud as well as in the Jewish daily prayer (used in the preparation of incense) was intact wine made of capers.

Capers have a unique flavour that is a tad mustard-like which develops while they pickle and release the glucocamparin (mustard oil) within them. Through the picking process, white or violet coloured dots will form on the buds, which contain the citrus flavalnol ruin, which is also dominant in asparagus, buckwheat flour and black raspberry. The stems can be added to yogurt, and both the stems and leaves can be pickled and added to salads.

Recipe for pickling capers:
The hardest part about this task is the actual harvest: the bushes are equipped with hook-shaped thorns that are quite vicious. Once you endured a few of these claws-in-flesh encounters, and collected enough caper buds or berries, soak them in water for three days, changing the water daily.

To pickle, sterilize a clean jar by rinsing with boiling water, fill with the capers, and cover with the salt and vinegar solution:

1/2 cup filtered or spring water
1/2 cup appel cider vinegar 
1 Tbs salt

Season with:
2-4 Bay leaves 
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds, whole 
(Both are local spices, so to speak, that grow wild)

Marinate for one week, then keep refrigerated. The pickled buds can be used as a flavourful garnish to sandwiches to offset fatty elements such as cheese and smoked salmon. It's great as an addition to salads, marinates, stuffed vegetables, and just to eat on their own on the side with ripe watermelon or charcuterie. It can also be used to make tartar sauce, pasta sauce (spaghetti ala puttanesca, anyone?) - and just anything else your imagination may take you to.

As for the pickled caper berries (or fruit) - I have one more week to wait till they are ready. So will report later.

Pickling capers

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