Molokheya: Iconic Egyptian Soup of Jute Mellow

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LONG TIME NO POST!

I apologize for this radio silence, YET a sequence of unexpected turn of events kept me busy for a whole three weeks.

To stay focused on this week’s EPIC recipe, I will talk more about those personal developments in another post!

If you have been following my blog for a while, you probably know that The Orthodox Coptic lent ended on May 2nd after 55 days of abstaining from animal products. 

In my household we observed a total vegan diet until Easter night, when we broke our fast with a galore of meaty dishes. 

For a whole month and until the Coptic feast of St. Paul and St. Peter (starts on June 21st), I will share on my blog a series of NON-VEGAN delectable Egyptian dishes.

I’ll launch this indulgence season with my FAVORITE Egyptian dish of all time, MOLOKHEYA. 

WHAT IS MOLOKHEYA?

MOLOKHEYA is soup made of deep green leaves that are scientifically known as JUTE MALLOW or NALTA JUTE.

A photo of Jute Mallow green leaves
Molokheya leaves aka Jute Mallow

According to the World Vegetable Center, MOLOKHEYA is an excellent source of fiber, folic acid, and calcium.

In addition to Egypt, it grows in some other countries in the Middle East, South Asia, East Asian, Brazil and the Caribbean.

WHY IS JUTE MALLOW SOUP NAMED MOLOKHEYA?

The most dominant and logical story behind naming this soup Molokheya, is that Molokheya means ROYAL in hieroglyphic (the old Egyptian language), and it was served to pharos (ancient Egyptian royalty), given its high nutrition value.

HOW IS EGYPTIAN MOLOKHEYA COOKED? 

Growing up in Egypt, I have known Molokheya cooked and served as a thick, slimy soup. Traditionally, it is cooked of fresh leaves that are finely chopped using Makhrata or a mezzaluna in Arabic.

This image to show what is a mezzalluna
Mezzalluna Knife

As far as memory serves me, finely chopping the Molokheya was the most taxing step, as I vividly recall the sweaty face of my grandma after getting the chopping job done. However, that should not turn you off, as a regular blender serves the same purpose with a fraction of one’s time and effort. 

Past the chopping step, the Molokheya is added to a hearty broth, like chicken, meat, or duck broth, where it receives a vigorous stir! My personal favorite broth is BEEF BONE BROTH, as it has a cleaner flavor and is rich in nutrients. Find my homemade BEEF BONE BROTH recipe here.

FUNNY FACT 

The most interesting scene of this traditional recipe happens when the home cook adds the TASHA (AKA TEKLIA), which is a condiment made of crushed garlic mixed with salt, pepper, and coriander fried in hot ghee or butter.

Once the TASHA, or condiment, begins to brown and gets fragrant, the home cook simultaneously sniffles loudly (TESHHAG in ARABIC),  while she/he adds the wafting condiment into the simmering soup.

You may wonder why? I don’t blame you!  It is actually an antique belief that this loud sniffle ensures the success of this specific dish. Weird, I know. Yet this practice was passed down through generations in Egypt.  

HOW TO COOK MOLOKHEYA?  

To the best of my knowledge, Molokheya is one of those dishes that is more or less cooked the same way in every Egyptian family I am aware of.  

However, the Lebanese community that took refuge in Egypt during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) figured out an extra ingredient that took the Egyptian classic soup to the next level, which is fresh cilantro leaves.

Chopped along with the Molokheya leaves, the aromatic cilantro enlivens the deep taste of Molokheya and adds a refreshing aftertaste that I am fond of. 

I left Egypt almost 15 years ago, so fresh Molokehya is not an option in most of the places where I have lived, but frozen Molokheya is available in Middle Eastern stores across Europe and the US.

The good news that preparing frozen Molokheya is a piece of cake. The blender will do an excellent job of turning the frozen leaves into finely blended soup. 

WHAT ARE THE KEYS TO SUCCESS FOR A FLAWLESS MOLOKHEYA?

Funnily enough, Egyptian women are judged according to their Molokehya! For your info, a Molokheya soup nightmare is:

  • SAKTA  (means failed): This happens when blended leaves separate from the broth and sink in the soup pot. 
  • Lackluster: The garlic is overcooked in the ghee turns and bitter which damages the flavor of the entire soup.
  • Slimy: A thick slimy soup, where the Molokheya ratio is greater than broth.

To avoid the above missteps:

  1. Use the right ratio of broth to blended Molokheya. 2 ½ cups of broth is enough to add to 400 grams of frozen MOLOKEHYA. In case you are using fresh MOLOKHEYA leaves, then 3 cups would be fine.
  2. Don’t cover the pot after adding the TASHA (garlic and ground coriander fried in ghee). SEE NOTES.
  3. Don’t overcook the garlic in the ghee. Remove it from the heat once the garlic becomes fragrant and turn into a golden color. 
  4. Temper the MOLOKHEYA. Don’t add the frozen Molokheya immediately to the hot broth. Using the blender, blend it first with some warm broth.

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Molokheya: Egyptian Soup of Jute Mallow 

Serves 4-6 people 

INGREDIENTS

  • Frozen bag of Molokheya, 400 grams
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup vegetable or beef broth, and 2 cups broth, divided  (see broth recipe)
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed  
  • ½ teaspoon coriander and 1 tablespoon coriander, divided 
  • Salt and pepper 

DIRECTIONS

  1. Blend the Molokheya and the cilantro. In the recipient of a blender, empty the whole bag of frozen Molokheya, add the cilantro leaves, and ½ cup of warm broth.
  2. Warm 2 cups of broth on a low heat.
  3. Add the Molokheya-cilantro mixture to the warm broth, add ½ teaspoon of crushed garlic and ½ teaspoon of ground coriander. Blend everything together with a wire whisk. Bring the soup to a gentle simmer on low heat. 
  4. Make the TASHA. While the soup is coming to a gentle simmer, in a frying skillet, add the ghee, butter or olive oil, and fry the crushed garlic and dry coriander. Stir until the garlic becomes golden and sizzling and the wafting aromas of both garlic and coriander are all over the kitchen. Add the Tasha to the simmering soup, turn off the heat immediately and don’t cover the soup (see notes).
  5. Let the TASHA infuse the soup for at least 15 minutes before serving. 
  6. Serve it hot with vermicelli rice, roasted chicken, or kabab Hala (Egyptian Meat Stew).

NERMINE’S NOTES

TASHA (AKA TAKLIA) is a significant cooking asset in the Egyptian traditional cuisine.  

Simply put, TASHA or TAKLIA is the process of frying coriander, and garlic in hot ghee and then adding them to a dish.

The heat of the hot ghee amps up the flavor of both the coriander and the garlic. When this sizzling mixture of garlic and coriander is added to the Molokheya, it imparts its aromas and flavors and seals the dish with a unique taste and smell. 

 

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Former diplomat | Travel & Food Writer | Stauch advocate of Culinary Diplomacy. Find more here: https://cheznermine.com/about/

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