Monday, April 14, 2008

Molokhia (Egyptian Greens Soup)

Molokhia (Melokiyah, etc.) is a traditional dish in Egypt and Sudan -- some people believe it originated among Egyptians during the time of the Pharaohs. Others believe that it was first prepared by ancient Jews. Molokhia is a mucilaginous, nutritious soup made from a type of greens, known as molokhia or Jew's mallow (also called Nalta jute, Tussa jute, Corchorus olitorius), which is found throughout Egypt, the Levant, and similar climes elsewhere. Dried or frozen molokhia greens may be obtained from Middle Eastern or Asian grocery stores worldwide.

  • six cups chicken stock
  • one pound fresh molokhia leaves or frozen molokhia leaves (thawed) -- or -- a similar amount of spinach; stems removed, cleaned, rinsed in cold water, and patted dry (frozen molokhia is usually already cleaned and chopped)
  • one tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
  • one hot chile pepper, cleaned and chopped (optional)
  • one bay leaf (optional)
  • one small onion, finely chopped (optional)
  • black pepper, to taste
  • two tablespoons olive oil, butter, or any cooking oil
  • several cloves (or more) of garlic, minced
  • one teaspoon ground coriander
  • one teaspoon salt
  • one tablespoon fresh coriander leaves (also called cilantro) or fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)
  • juice of one lemon or a teaspoon vinegar (optional)
  • ground cayenne pepper or red pepper, to taste (optional)
  • Chop the molokhia leaves as finely as possible. This should leave them bright green and slightly slimey. In Egypt, the perfect tool to finely chop molokhia leaves is a makhrata -- a curved knife with two handles similar to the Italian mezzaluna. (Get one of these kitchen cutters and you'll love it so much you'll be using it by the light of a half-moon!) Some Egyptian cooks prefer to cut the molokhia leaves by rolling them into a tight bundle and using a very sharp knife to shave them into thin slices.
  • Over high heat, bring the chicken stock to a near boil in a large pot. Add the molokhia, stirring well. Add the tomato paste, chile pepper, bay leaf, and onion (if desired), and black pepper, continuing to stir. Reduce heat and simmer. The molokhia will simmer for about twenty minutes. (Allow an extra ten if frozen molokhia is not completely thawed.)
  • After the chicken stock and molokhia have simmered for about ten minutes: heat the oil (or butter) in a skillet. Using either the back of a spoon in a bowl or a sharp knife on a cutting board, grind the garlic, ground coriander, and the salt together into a paste. Fry the mixture in the oil for two to four minutes, stirring constantly, until the garlic is slightly browned.
  • After the garlic has been browned and the molokhia is nearly done (after it has been simmering for about twenty minutes and has broken down to make a thick soup), add the garlic mixture and the oil it was fried in to the simmering molokhia. Stir well.
  • Add any of the remaining optional ingredients that you like. Continue simmering and stirring occasionally for a few more minutes.
  • Adjust seasoning. Serve immediately, hot. Molokhia soup is often served over boiled Rice and sometimes with boiled chicken.
Molokhia is prized for its mucilaginous quality, a quality which spinach lacks. If using spinach, the addition of a few tender okra pods, very finely chopped, will serve to thicken the soup.

If using dried molokhia, rub the leaves between your hand to crumble them into small pieces, moisten these with a few spoonfuls of water then proceed with the recipe. Frozen Mulukhiya is sold already cleaned and chopped, ready to use.

The fried garlic and coriander mixture is known as ta'lya (ta'leya, ta'liya) and is used in many Egyptian dishes. Some cooks leave out the salt; others add the onion and/or the tomato paste to the ta'lya. The ta'lya can also be added to the molokhia earlier.

A richer Molokhia Chicken soup can be obtained by boiling a pound of cut-up chicken meat in the chicken stock before adding the molokhia leaves. Some cooks add a bit of cardamom or cinnamon.

If you like molokhia, consider yourself lucky that you didn't live in Egypt a thousand years ago: Consumption of molokhia was banned (along with a great many other things) during the reign of the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim (c.1000 AD).

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