Monday, January 18, 2010

Dinner: Molokhia



I thought I'd start off the cuisine tour with an Egyptian staple: Molokhia. It also goes by the english names of Jew's mallow, Green mallow, or nalta jute. It is a leafy green vegetable that gets confused for spinach. Let's get one thing straight: it's not spinach nor can spinach be used as a substitute.

It's texture is what makes it unique: very slimy when cooked, which is why it makes an ideal soup. Though it is found in India and the Philippines, it has been a staple of Egyptian diets as far back as the Pharaohs. It's one of the few foods that existed prior to the numerous foreign conquest of the country.

Some claim its introduction as a food was made by ancient Jewish priests, hence the name Jew’s mallow. It is also eaten in neighbouring Libya and the Levantine countries (Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon), however it is not nearly as popular as it is in Egypt. In Egypt, molokhia is eaten at most special occasions or at least once a week for family meals. It's the type of dish your mom cooks when a lot of friends or family is coming over. But it's not the dish you serve to impress new guests. For that reason it's not well-known outside of Egyptian households, though a few restaurants serve it in Egypt.

The vegetable is prepared into a viscous soup that is flavoured with garlic and ground coriander and poured onto rice, or cut pita bread and eaten with chicken or rabbit. The key spicing comes from the simple preparation of the taqliya, which is made using equal amounts of chopped garlic and ground coriander, then roasting it until it is golden brown in butter.

Walking the streets of Cairo, you are bound to come across the distinct aroma of the taqliya as households prepare molokhia. In fact, one of Egypt's rulers from the Fatimid dynasty, Caliph al-Hakim Abu Ali Mansur, who ruled Egypt from 985-1021 AD, banned its consumption after prohibiting women from going out in public, simply because he believed molokhia worked as a sexual stimulant in women. Luckily after his reign, the ban was lifted, and households continued to uphold the traditional meal—regardless of religion—across the country.

The recipe is quite simple, as is the case with most Egyptian dishes. The only trick is making the taqliya, which takes about 3 minutes and should not be painful. If you mess up, you can easily do it again.

If you are not in the mood to make your own stock, then use a packaged one. It doesn't change much; but its not nearly as fresh tasting.

Also, I would suggest staying away from any instant Uncle Ben's crap rice. It's not real nor does it have any flavour or texture. Spare the 15 minutes to make your own, or get a rice cooker.
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Total preparation time: (not including stock or rice preparation) 30 minutes
Yield: 4 persons

INGREDIENTS:

Chicken stock
1 roasting chicken
2 cinnamon sticks
1 onion
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Water (enough to submerge chicken)

Rice
2 cups of rice (can be short grain, or long grain, but must not be instant)
4 cups of water
1 teaspoon of butter
Salt

Molokhia
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 tablespoon ground coriander (whole coriander ground by mortar and pestle produces a stronger flavour)
1 tablespoon butter
1 package of frozen chopped molokhia

Frozen and dry format are readily available at any Middle Eastern grocery store. The dried one works, but I think it tastes pretty nasty...

I wouldn't suggest buying fresh molokhia because A) it's hard to find outside the country B) it's a pain in the ass to chop up everything C) frozen tastes pretty fresh.
But if you think you can be that person here are some things to look out for:
-Make sure the plants are young, the leaves are green and the veins have not turned yellow.
-Pick leaves and cut off stems, rinse in cold water, allow to air dry and then chop using a food processor or using a special cutting knife called a makhrata (available at larger Middle Eastern grocery stores)or bunch together and roll before cutting with a knife


Optional side dish
1 red (or white if red is not available) onion sliced
Enough white vinegar or lemon juice to cover sliced onions
Salt to taste
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DIRECTIONS

Chicken stock:
1. Start making the stock in advance of the molokhia preparation. This can be done in the morning, or a few days before. Remember, stock can keep well in the fridge for a week, or in the freezer for a couple months. Any stock made from a whole chicken will produce more than the needed 2 cups.
2. Add all the ingredients into a large pot. Add enough water to cover the chicken and bring to a boil.
3. Once stock is boiling, set heat to medium and leave for at least one hour. The longer it is left, the more flavourful the stock becomes.
4. Once stock is ready, set aside.

Rice:
5. Prepare the rice ahead of time to ensure that the molokhia is ready to be eaten immediately after the spices have been added. Any method of rice cooking is fine, but most Egyptians enjoy a starchier and saltier rice. Measure out the rice and rinse the excess starch under warm water. Add 4 cups of water, add the butter and salt and set to high heat. Once the water is boiling, add the rice and stir. Cover the pot with a lid and set the heat to low. It should finish cooking within 15 minutes. Rice should like a bit like this:


Molokhia:
6. In a new pot, add the two cups of stock.
7. Prepare the taqliya by melting the butter and adding both the ground coriander and half of the garlic. If grinding the coriander with a pestle and mortar, be sure that the coriander seeds have all been crushed thoroughly; it will still be chunky compared to store-bought ground coriander.
8. Once the coriander and garlic have been covered in the butter, continue to stir while on high heat until the colour turns golden. Set aside the taqliya.
9. In the stock add the remaining garlic. Also add the molokhia. If using frozen, it does not need to be thawed beforehand.
10. Once the molokhia has reached a hot, but not boiling temperature, add the taqliya mixture and stir to ensure it is evenly distributed.
11. Serve the molokhia on a bed of rice. If desired, spoon some of the pickled onions.
12. Often the chicken from the stock is cut into quarters and fried in butter or roasted in the oven as an accompaniment.

Variation:
Instead of using a bed of rice, serve the molokhia into a soup bowl and add cut-up pita bread.

And there you have it. So frick'n yummy. And it tastes good cold with pita bread come day two, or three or four. Or sometimes five when you're really hungry and lazy. And don't let anyone call it spinach.

27 comments:

  1. Hi AM, you probably know me but have not met me, yet. I've heard a lot about you from your mom as a good friend and colleague. I and my wife travelled extensively in December, 2008 in Egypt and enjoyed tremendously the people, history, culture and the landscape.In fact my wife has a series of audiotapes that narrate the Egyptian history. For the food, we LOVE it!! But back to my point, will you be kind enough to ask your mom to prepare all your mentioned dishes, starting with Molokhia, so that I can not just read your recipe, but actually taste it before I make it for my wife! I asked your mom already with no promise. Will be watching for your blog. Hope to meet you someday. Your mom's good friend, Kam Wong.

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  2. OMG, OMG okay now that I got your attention, you are not going to believe me when I tell you that Molokhia is my FAVORITE, my # 1, middle eastern dish. I think your recipe and my mom’s recipe aren’t that different so I don’t think the Lebanese make it that differently then the Egyptians. I know that it can also be made with beef, I prefer it with chicken…For us at home it’s a must we add toasted pita bread, and most importantly we top the molokhia/rice & tasted pita bread with chopped up onions in Lemon juice (or vinegar sauce), in a huge bowl… oh man I hate you, you just made me crave it. That is always the first thing my mom makes me when I haven’t been home a while…. Now I guess I have to learn how to make it myself and since you gave me a recipe, I might as well. Thanks ;)
    - Sophia (dont mind name "CWPSC")

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  3. Sounds excellent! I'm accustomed to making my own stock - which a tad more elaborate than what you've described here, but I'm sure the results are equally as tasteful!

    I've read somewhere that Molokheyya "has the consistency of snot" - not very appetising! Personally I love it - especially if it's 5 days old.

    My family likes to add Dema'a - a strongly salty tomato sauce - to the molokheyya. I suppose it serves the same purpose as the pickled onions: to provide a sharp flavor to counterpoint the comfortably "round" flavor of the molokheyya itself.

    Good eats - keep em coming!

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  4. if i cant get a hold of jew mallow leaves then what can i use?

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  5. Hello Anonymous,

    the dish is rather dependent on the jew mallow leaves...so there really is no substitute. i suppose you could use spinach leaves, but you would lose the viscous texture of the soup that the jew mallow leaves provide. i hope this answer helps!

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  6. does anyone know a variation on this recipe with shrimp and red sauce? I've seen it before and now can't find it ANYWHERE... Thank you!

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  7. I've read other recipes that as for "7 spices" instead of corriander. I'm not sure which one to use!?! Have you tried it with the 7 spices? Is there much of a difference in taste?

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  8. Hi Anonymous,
    7 spices is a combination of the following: allspice, cinnamon, black pepper, coriander, ginger, clove & nutmeg. This is more of a lebanese spicing for Molokhia. I have tried it once before, and while it is good, it takes away from the flavour of the molokhia itself. But definitely worth a try!

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  9. The way I was taught to make Molokhia soup is like this.
    7 spoonfulls of granulated dry Molokhia leaves. I rub it between my fingers.
    1 cup of hunts tomato sauce
    6 cloves garlic
    32 oz organic chicken broth, I like the imagine brand.
    crush Garlic and cook lightly in large pot. DO NOT BURN. Add Broth to the garlic.
    In another bowl mix the ground up Molokhia with the tomato sauce till its a dark brown/green paste.
    Add the paste to the to the broth and stir and cook for about half an hour. It will smell fantastic when its ready! Add a little salt to bring out the flavour. Double the above to make a big pot!

    To serve pour over brown rice and chopped up chicken.
    DELICIOUS!
    This recipe is straight from Egypt!

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  10. I have another recipe..
    fry garlic ( a big bunch) and then add the moloukhiah to it and fry for 2 - 3 minutes.
    then add the stew beef meat with the broth of the meat (the meat is cooked and boiled already)..
    if you need to, add some water to cover the moloukhiah completey.
    add salt..
    the trick is to add LEMON in order to avoid gewy moloukhiah.. and let it cook for half and hour... until the moloukhiah soup is not gewy anymore.

    then add fresh corriander and grinded garlic at the end. let it cook for another 10 minutes and serve.
    white (indian basmati ) rice on the side.

    In lebanon, we have a sauce.. it is mainly finly chopped onion with white vinger that you serve as seperate next to the moloukhiah with dried arabic bread.

    rice then moloukhieh then sauce then bread and you are set to go.
    enjoy...

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  11. Egypt is a beautiful place, I went there last year and visited many places.The food is great most memorable is the Koshari I first tated it in Dream Park,but found a good restaurant which serves only Koshari in Shubra, and I ate this dish for three staright days and before I left to qatar I just have to have one last bowl or two :) of koshari.The sugar cane juice is very refreshing also. I found some shops here in qatar which serve koshari and sugar cane juice but the best is still the ones I had in Eggypt. The Molokiah is saluyot in the philippines. I found the fresh and dried variety here in qatar and this is like comfort food for me. There is also this one rice pudding dish i tried which has rose water, milk, and pistachio yummy.
    The molikiah I also tried using fried fish. When making the stock just add water, or fish stock the fried fish, crushed garlic cloves.And allow to simmer. I also add dried mushrooms into the stock, and allow to simmer.The taqliya i cook a batch in olive oil and just get a spoonfull and drizzle it on top of the stock before serving.

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  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  13. Made with rabbit, wild one (they are a terrible pests in Australia and destroy our environment), this is a really unusual recipe for me but like okra dishes is probably very healthy, taqliya gives it a nice lift, will try the onions as well. Many thanks for a great recipe,,,Ray

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    Replies
    1. Hi Ray,
      Glad you got to taste it with rabbit!
      Enjoy

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  14. is there any way to do it without chicken or chicken soup?

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    Replies
    1. I suppose you could do it using a vegetable stock, but it wouldn't have the same flavouring.

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  15. Thank you so much for this blog and recipe. I am actually the very opposite of you. My parents are Egyptian but I was only introduced to the Arabic language but not the Arabic food. My mother was always busy working or studying and so I never really loved the kitchen until I had kids of my own and was forced into one. My son loves Molokhia so I just brought a frozen package, googled molokhia and God led me to you! Thanks!!!

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  16. I'm Italian-Egyptian and I love molokhia, we used to have it at least once a month and that's beside when visiting friends or relatives and special occasions. Your recipe matches the way my mom used to do it and how she taught me and my sisters too. Thanks :) P.

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    Replies
    1. I'm happy that my recipe is just like that of your mom's. Enjoy!

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  17. Hi Abissada, I live in Australia and have just picked a bucket load of Molokhia leaves. They grow very easily and once you have then, you have them for ever, because the seed heads pop and spread everywhere. when the plant gets to seeding stage I like to spread them in my wild Permaculture gardens... so I just shake the bush around. I usually make some Molokhia leaves with my omelette or scrambled eggs in the morning as I believe eating lots of greens is beneficial. Cooked some leaves last night in a beef stock with onions. Will try the coriander and garlic flavouring with this bucket load... adding it again to another pot of beef stock. Great site. Congratulations. Sarita. sar.on.air@hotmail.com

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  18. made molokhia first time in ages last night. Superb! Took a while to find molokhia leaves in this area!

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  19. My hubby loves this, if I want to make it with shrimp, like Alex, when or how would I cook the shrimp???? Thanks so much, I've been living in Cairo for 27 years.....

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jayne,
      Great to hear from you. If you are doing shrimp, you could do one of two things:
      1. cook the shrimps beforehand to make a broth...but take care not to over cook them as they do cook quickly
      or
      2. follow the recipe as I have, but before you at the taqliya, add the shrimp, wait until they are cooked, and then add the taqliya.

      hope this helps!

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  20. Love your writing style; makes me laugh while cooking! Love Molokhia and make it for my Lebanese husband the Egyptian way and I think he's afraid to say he likes mine better! So glad I found this site.

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  21. P.S. do you use mastic when you cook the chicken for the broth?

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    Replies
    1. Hello!
      Thank you for your kind comment. I am glad your husband is enjoying th egyptian version ;) To answer your question, no I do not use mastic when I cook the chicken broth.
      Take care

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