Don't Eat Your Greens

That was the dietry advice in tenth century Egypt. And being the tenth century, not following that advice didn't result in Gillian McKeith going through your poo. It resulted in flogging and public shaming.

Egypt at the time was ruled by eccentric (polite for barking mad) Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah the sixth Fatimid caliph. He issued a number of arbitrary laws that were getting weirder and more eccentric as years goes by.He tried to prevent women from going out so he banned shoemakers from making women shoes. Christian were only allowed to ride horses if the saddles were wooden and undecorated. He banned fishermen from catching any fish that had no scales and forbade people from selling or eating such fish. And to our subject, he banned watercress, rocket and most importantly Mulukhiyah the national and favourite dish of Egypt. Egyptians loved Mulukhiyah since the dawn of time. It was even mentioned in Pharaohs texts.

Nobody really knows why he banned Mulukhiyah. Some people claim that it was the favourite dish of Mu'awya ibn Abi Sufyan the archenemy and hate figure of Shiaa Muslims. Some say greens are sheep and cattle food and eating them will bring human intelligence to the level of livestock. Some theory goes that Mulukhiyah is a strong aphrodisiac and by banning it he was trying to cut promiscuity. We in Damascus have a theory/urban legend to explain it. Although the theory is funny, it is offensive and un-PC so I will leave it out.


Mulukhiyah (Mlukhyeh as we Syrians pronounce it, Jute Mallow or Jew's Mallow in English) is a green leaf vegetable with a distinct bitter taste. To me, it has the most distinct and unusual flavour compared to any other Middle Eastern ingredient. It has a natural thickening agent that could turn unpleasantly slimy if not cooked properly. In Syria we never break the leaves or leave any stalks to avoid that.

Mulukhiyah with rabbit is Egypt top dish. Mulukhiyah leaves are very finally chopped and cooked is soup-like stew. In Syria and the rest of the Levant it is a firm favourite. We cook it with chicken and the leaves used whole. The leaves are used fresh or they can be dried or frozen to be used out of season.

In London it is almost impossible to find Mulukhiyah fresh. You can get the dry leaves from Middle Eastern supermarkets. I get mine from Damas Gate in Shepherd's Bush. Don't even touch the frozen variety as you will end up with a big lump of slime.

Here is my recipe for Mulukhiyeh Syrian style:

Dry Mulukhiyah 100g packet
Chicken breast on the bone (bones for added flavour to the stock if available)
Garlic 8 cloves
Coriander chopped 1 table spoon
Chicken Stock 1 cube
Small onion or two shallots
Salt and pepper

Soak Mulukhiyah leaves in plenty of cold water for two hours.

Cover the chicken breast with water and bring to boil skimming the water to get clear stock. When water reach boiling point reduce heat to simmer and add coarsely chopped onion and the stock cube. Cook till the chicken is fully cooked then remove from stock.

Drain the mulukhiyah leaves and wash them. That will get rid of the slime. Add the leaves to the stock and cook. Peel and half five garlic cloves and add them to the pot. Remove the chicken meat, shred it and add it to the pot. Continue cooking till the mulukhiya is cooked. It should take 20 - 30 min and will keep some bite. There is no right and wrong to the amount of stock in the finished dish. I like mine fairly dry. Crush the rest of the garlic and add with the coriander and cook for a final 3 minutes.

Serve with a sprinkle of dry chilli and squeeze of lemon. You can serve it hot with Vermicelli rice or room temperature with Arabic bread.

19 comments:

abu kareem said...

Kano,
Inriguing story about Mlukhiyah but you cannot allude to the Damascene urban legend and not tell us what it is!!! It is not fair.

Kano said...

Hi Abu Kareem
Welcome to my blog. I am glad you visited as I am a big fan of your blog.
Regarding the Damascene urban legend, trust me on this one, not suitable for publishing. Ask around next time you are in Damascus :)
Regards

Tammam Aloudat said...

Hi Kanu,

This blog is going from being a cooking blog to becoming a literary treasure. I am enjoying your posts, and recipes, thoroughly.

I think historical background stories about Middle Eastern food is a fantastic idea. Love this one.

Keep going mate.

Katia said...

Hi Kano,

That's a very nice blog you've got here. Love the history and science bits :-)

Regarding the mlukhyeh, do you the know the dry fine version or it? Dried mlukhyeh, rubbed to powder, cooked on its own as a sort of stew and served in layers with chicken, rice (vermicelli is banned in this one), small pieces of baked bread and an onion-vinegar-sauce. The acid-bitter combo fits together so amazingly well. I really love this dish but it seems quite unknown to most people. I haven't met anybody yet who seemed to know it, beside my family that is. But I don't know that many Syrians so maybe it's a regional dish, might be Damascene?

Keep up with the tasty blog and I'll be coming back for more :-)

Katia

Kano said...

Hi Katia

Welcome to my blog. I am really glad you like it. I ll do my best to keep it going but you have to keep visiting.

Regarding the Mlukhyeh, my mum cooked it once the way you describe it when we were kids but never seen it or tried it since. It is not Damascene for sure.

I always thought that this is the Palastenian way (specifically Gaza) way of cooking Mlukhyeh. But I have no idea if this is a fact or just in my head. If anybody reading this from Palestine or knows please let us know.

Sarah said...

thanks for sharing the Syrian way of preparing moulouchia. The Tunisian way also uses dried leaves. From a cookbook (Arab cuisine from the Galillee) Mirian Hinnawi prepares it in a similar way but with coriander seeds, allspice and lots of garlic. Never heard of the onion vinegar sauce Katia refers to. Curious as to the urban legend.

Kano said...

@Sarah
Welcome to my blog. I am glad you left a comment so I got the chance to see your awesome blog. I loved your sambousek post. Really fascinating stuff.
In Damascus we never use dry coriander. We don't even keep it in our kitchens. But if you move up north you will see they use it in Hama and Aleppo.

Sarah said...

Thank you! I have linked you in. I was wondering if Druze eat Mulukhiyah as they consider the Caliph a divinity and founder of their religion.

Kano said...

@Sarah
Thanks for the link.
No they don't eat it (or at least they shouldn't. I have few Druz friends and they all eat Mlukhiyeh).

Tiffany said...

This looks really good. I can't wait to try it. Quick question though: When you say Coriander, do you mean the seeds or the leaves? I assume you mean the leaves because you said chopped but I just want to check because in the U.S. we usually say Cilantro if we mean the leaves and Coriander if we mean the seeds. Thanks!

Kano said...

@Tiffany

Here in England we use the word coriander for both seeds and leaves.

For my recipe I used leaves. In fact in Damascene cooking we don't use coriander seeds at all while in Allepo they use it all the time.

So if you want a Damascene style mlukhiyeh use leaves and for Aleppean style use the same recipe but with ground seeds.

kkatushka said...

To Kano
I have been to palestine a few times and the only way i ate molokhiah in Palestine (West Bank) was a soupy consistence, served in a separate bowl with roast chicken and rice or makloubeh. Basicly just made from chicken stock and dried ground leaves of molokhieh, seasoned with a little garlic and ground coriander. This is also the only way my husband (Palestinian) knows and like.
Love your blog.

Kano said...

@kkatushka

Thank you for the clarification and welcome to my blog!

Amanda said...

My husband is from Damascus and I cook this quite often, but add some pomegranate molasses when cooking and also to garnish as well.

Love that you have a kishkeh recipe here :)

Kano said...

@Amanda

mmmm! this is the first time I heard of pomegranate molasses with mlokhiyeh

Welcome to my blog.

Ahluuul said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I love mlokhiyeh! I have attempted to make this by experimentation. It always turned out too 'crunchy' -because I didn't pre-soak long enough - and quite tasteless because I didn't add enough garlic. And embarrassingly I called it 'mnokhiyeh' - yes, my family always asked me to keep on saying it to have a laugh at my expense, hehe.

Kano said...

@Ahluul

Let me know how it goes when you try it.

Anonymous said...

Live in Reading, Berkshire and trying to get hold of som dried Mulohia Any suggestions?

Kano said...

@anonymous

Not sure if you can get it in or around Reading. West Ealing is a good bit, otherwise Shepherds Bush.

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