Mahalabia (Egypt)

Molokhia is a vegetable, technically the leaves of the jute plant, also called Jew’s Mallow. Jute, like other mallows such as marshmallow (not that marshmallow, but the original plant) and okra, is mucilaginous, which means that it creates a mucus-lke texture when cooked. Molokhia is also the name of a soup which has been enjoyed by Egyptians since pharaonic times. Does the idea of a slimy bright green soup seem appealing? No? 

 

Well, you’ll never know until you try it. So why not give it a try? Molokhia is full of vitamins, and the onion, garlic, coriander and chicken stock will all help make the soup flavorful and delicious. Serve with a side of rice, and you’re good to go. It’s like a bright green chicken gumbo. Really. Molokhia is vague related to okra, and serves a similar purpose.

 

There are a variety of different recipes for molokhia, but they all have some consistencies. Most start with chicken, but others use rabbit - which was the original, traditional choice - or duck, lamb, or any other meat. Most include using the meat to make the stock for the soup, but honestly, if you’re using chicken, save a step by using one of the fine organic chicken stocks available in most groceries.

 

Molokhia the vegetable is not something you're going to find in most Western groceries, and outside the Middle East and Asia, you’re not going to find it fresh at all. Word on the interwebs though is that frozen molokhia works very well for this soup, and that should be available at any Middle Eastern grocery, and apparently at some Asian groceries as well.

 

You really can’t substitute spinach or kale or mustard greens or anything similar. The texture of the jute is important.

I’m basing this recipe on the recipe here: http://myhalalkitchen.com/molokhia/ — Yvonne’s recipe is the best I’ve found so far, but I’m putting coriander back into the mix, because it’s in every other recipe I’ve found, and that feels important.

 

Serves 6

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided into 2

  • 1 cup diced yellow onions (about 2 small onions)

  • 2 split chicken breasts, skin-on

  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin

  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander

  • 4 cups Chicken stock (preferably organic/roasted/reduced sodium)

  • 2 packages frozen molokhia leaves (jute leaves)

  • 8 cloves garlic (chopped - the finer you mince the garlic, the stronger the flavor. This calls for larger chunks, which should be a little more mellow)

  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

  • 4 cups prepared white rice (basmati works fine)

 

STEPS

  1. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the first 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the onions until translucent or slightly browned.

  2. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and cumin, rubbing the spices into and under the skin.

  3. Add the chicken and sauté for about 2-3 minutes. Continue to sauté until the chicken is nicely browned on all sides.

  4. Add the stock and increase the heat to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for 35 minutes.

  5. Remove the chicken and let cool. Once cooled, remove the skin and bones and pull the meat apart so that it’s nicely shredded. Add back to the broth.

  6. Open up the packages of molokhia and drop directly into the pot. As the molokhia heats up, it will break apart, but you can use your wooden spoon to help this along.

  7. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small sauté pan for the garlic and coriander. Start with the garlic, then after a couple of minutes, add the coriander. Cook until nicely browned, about 5 minutes total, stirring constantly. Watch this - you do not want to burn the garlic or overly toast the coriander.

  8. Add the garlic and coriander with the oil directly into the soup and stir it up.

  9. Scoop the rice into soup bowls and serve the soup on top, with fresh lemon on the side.

 

Play around with this - other versions have cinnamon, paprika, dill and cilantro making appearances. I promise I will try when I get back to my kitchen, and I will update this appropriately.

 

Recipe adapted from Yvonne Maffei (http://myhalalkitchen.com/molokhia/)

Photo by Yosi I

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