Molokhia ( ملوخية), also known as Jute, or Jews Mallow is the name of both a plant and a dish. It has medium sized saw-toothed leaves that come to a point at the tip and have small tendrils at the base of each leaf. Nutritionally, it has three times the calcium and phospherous as Kale, and four times the amount of riboflavin. It also provides 70% of the RDA value for Vitamin C, 25% of the RDA of Vitamin A amongst a host of other minerals and vitamins. Put simply, it’s an extremely nutrient dense vegetable that’s widely eaten throughout the Middle East and Asia.
So why hasn’t it enjoyed the same kind of popularity in the US? My guess is that it has to do with the mouthfeel. Like other members of the mallow family, including Okra and Marsh Mallow, the plant has a mucilaginous texture that’s intensified by bruising and lightly cooking the leaves. While it’s a cherished consistency in many cultures, I can see how it might be a turn-off if you associate the texture with the unpleasantness that comes with a cold.
Molokhia the dish is made throughout much of Africa and the Middle East, but the origins of the dish are said to be in ancient Egypt, where it’s still popular to this day. In the Egyptian preparation, the Molokhia leaves are stripped from the stems, then minced using a mezzaluna. It’s cooked with ground coriander, garlic and stock and is often served with chicken (or more traditionally rabbit). In Levantine countries such as Syria and Lebanon, Molokhia is made with the whole leaves and is served with a vinegar and onion sauce along with toasted pita squares.
While I’ve used Molokhia for years in Japanese cuisine, I first encountered the eponymous dish while cooking in a kitchen in the Middle East where the chefs were Egyptian, Syrian and Lebanese. I was struck by how utterly simple it was and yet so comforting. Savory, and redolent of garlic and coriander, Molokhia has a verdant flavor made rich with the viscous mucilage from the leaves. In many ways, it reminded me of a marvelous green gumbo I once had at a farmers market in New Orleans.
The fresh leaves can be hard to find in the US, but I’ve seen them in Asian grocery stores. It goes by the name bai po in Thailand, nalta sag in India, saluyot in the Philippines, and moroheiya in Japan. You should also be able to find it frozen in any Middle Eastern grocery store.
For vegetarians, you can make this without chicken. Just substitute some vegetable stock for the chicken stock and serve it with roasted veggies such as bell peppers, zucchini and eggplant.
- Add the chicken, onions, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf salt and water to a stock pot that's just large enough to hold the chicken. The chicken should be completely submerged. Cover and bring to a boil, then remove the lid and skim off any scum that accumulates on the surface. Keep skimming until there's no more foam coming up. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook the chicken for 20 minutes.
- To make the Taqliya, combine the garlic, coriander and olive oil and salt and mash together into a paste.
- Prepare the molokhia, by removing the leaves from the stems, and then washing thoroughly to remove the grit that accumulates on the leaves. Use a mezzaluna or chef's knife to mince the leaves. You can also put the leaves in a food processor and pulse.
- When the chicken is done, transfer it to a bowl using tongs and cover the chicken with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.
- Thoroughly wash the rice and cook it according to the direction on the package, but substitute the chicken stock for the water.
- When the rice 15 minutes away from being done, preheat the oven to 230 C (450 degrees F) spread about 1/3 of the Taqliya on the chicken skin, sprinkle with salt, and then place the chicken on a roasting pan. Bake the chicken for 15 minutes, or until the skin is golden brown.
- Add half the remaining Taqliya to a pot. Fry the mixture until fragrant and browned. Add the 1 1/2 cups of reserved chicken stock along with the minced molokhia. Gently simmer, stirring occasionally until the molokhia is cooked (about 10-15 minutes). If you like your molokhia thinner, add more chicken stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add the remaining Taqliya to a small frying pan along with 2 tablespoons of ghee. Fry until the garlic has browned.
- Add the lemon juice to the molokhia and stir it in.
- To serve, put the rice in a large platter. Section the chicken into pieces and place them on top of the rice. Serve the Molokhia in a separate bowl to pour on the rice and chicken.