Eat like a Pharaoh! I don’t care how you spell it (Molokhia, Molokheya, Mulukhiya) or what you call it (Jews Mallow, Jute Mallow, Mallow Leaves) because regardless of the name, this is one of my favorite comfort foods. It is a traditional Egyptian soup that was typically eaten by royalty in Ancient Egypt, but eventually became a very common food.
When I was a teenager, my mother knew that there were two easy ways to get me out of bed once He-Man cartoons lost their allure. She would cook something that included sauteed onions or sauteed garlic. Within a few minutes as the smell permeated the house, I was up and floating towards the kitchen like a cartoon character led by his nose following the scent of food. When I got to the kitchen and saw the sauteed garlic, it was usually going into a pot of Molokhia.
It is a low calorie food prepared using finely minced leaves of the Molokhia plant, which are then mixed with a broth, topped with sauteed garlic, and often served over rice or pieces of pita bread. Common pairings include roasted chicken, seafood, and roasted/fried rabbit! I think rabbit goes wonderfully with this soup. As a child, my brother always liked it best when our mother would tear up small pieces of chicken and put it in his Molokhia. Children often eat it this way even though that was never my preference.
Most people seem to agree that the taste of the soup is delicious, but where people differ is in their opinions on the texture. The Molokhia leaves, while packed with vitamins and nutrients as most green leafy vegetables are, tend to have a viscosity that some people don’t find appealing. It is often compared to okra in this regard, but I think okra is much more slimy than Molokhia. Growing up with this soup, I don’t see the texture as a problem at all, so the delicious taste is all I really care about.
At some point when I was in law school, I asked my mother how to really make Molokhia properly because to my surprise, I’ve had some really bad preparations over the years. I might be biased, but I’m convinced that my mother’s recipe is the best (along with her stuffed grape leaves, but that’s a different post!). When she told me how to make it, I was very surprised at how simple it was. I then realized that the reason the other preparations I’d had were so bad was that they were overly complicating the recipe with unnecessary, even detrimental, ingredients.
As you read the recipe below, the most important thing I can tell you is: KEEP IT SIMPLE. If you research Molokhia online, you will find recipes that include coriander, cardamom, bay leaves, and even mastik. DO NOT, I repeat, do not do this, no matter how enticing you might find those ingredients. Please. I’ve had versions that I found truly inedible. My personal feeling is that the second you complicate this recipe, is the second you ruin the wonderful flavors.
Lastly, don’t worry about frozen vs. fresh Molokhia. I know people love fresh food, but we just don’t have much fresh Molokhia in America. My family used to grow some in the summer, but it takes a lot of leaves to make one pot, so it wasn’t really worth the effort. The alternative is frozen Molokhia, which is actually very good, so go to your local Middle Eastern store and grab a couple of packages. The rest of the ingredients are things you would normally have lying around.
Makes one pot with about 400 calories and about 4 large or 6 smaller servings of 100 – 67 calories each.
+ optional: 1 cup of cooked white rice at about 205 cal.
+ optional: half a loaf of large pita bread at about 160 cal.
Egyptian Style Molokhia Soup Recipe
Molokhia served over crispy pita bread.
- 2 frozen packages (or 800 grams) of diced Molokhia (about 240 calories total) Note: Molokhia also comes as whole leaves (even if frozen). You do not want this unless you are making a different kind of preparation such as a Lebanese or Vietnamese version.
- 6-8 crushed garlic cloves (about 18 – 24 calories)
- 4 cups of chicken broth / chicken flavored vegetable broth / equivalent chicken bullion cubes (about 20 cal.) Note: You can also use beef broth, but only if the beef broth is light and freshly made. I wouldn’t recommend canned beef broth.
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (120 calories)
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt and then add to taste (if you use bullion cubes, they may already be salty enough)
- A pinch of fresh ground black pepper.
- Optional, but recommended: White rice and/or toasted pita bread (about 150 cal. per 1/4 cup of rice or 160 cal. per half a large pita)
- Large pot
- Small frying pan
- Wooden spoon
- Garlic press
- If making rice then a pot for rice
- Cup and tablespoon measurements
- Bring 4 cups of broth to a boil.
- Open up your packages of Molokhia leaves as soon as your broth is about to boil. Do not thaw the leaves ahead of time. That “X” shape isn’t anything special. It’s just how my mother used to open the package quickly with a knife and it’s fun, so I do it too.
- Carefully drop each package of frozen molokhia into the boiling broth.
- Bring the broth back up to a mild boil and then just let it simmer. You do not want to boil this soup very hard. A low simmer is perfect.
- Stir the molokhia every once in a while to really get the molokhia melted (only about 15-20 minutes).
- While that is cooking, make your white rice and/or toast some pita bread in the oven. Set the oven to 325 degrees and place the bread inside right on the rack.
- After a few minutes take out the bread when it has a nice golden brown color to it. Watch it closely because it can go from perfect to flat out burned in seconds. Carefully remove the bread from the racks and let them cool. If you’re not careful, the bread can shatter in your oven and that’s just a huge pain.
- Once the bread has cooled, crumble each large piece into small bite-sized pieces.
- As soon as the molokhia is all melted, let the pot simmer (not boil) for about 5 minutes and then turn off the heat.
- In a small saute pan, heat up a tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil on medium heat.
- Add in 6 crushed cloves of garlic (8 if you really like it garlicky) and saute while stirring frequently until golden brown. Be careful not to burn the garlic! At this point add in the pinch of crushed black pepper to the garlic and saute together.
- Once the garlic is ready, bring the pan over the pot with the Molokhia in it and then ladle some of the Molokhia over the garlic. If you get a satisfying sizzle noise then you’re doing it right.
- Repeat this step so that all of the garlic in the pan is now in the pot. I’m not sure why this is done except that this is how it is done at my house. It’s an easy way to get the garlic out of the pan and mix the soup at the same time.
- That’s it. Molokhia is ready to be served on its own, or over some rice and/or some toasted pita bread. Add salt to taste. If you happened to use chicken flavored bouillon cubes, then it might already be salty enough. If you just used chicken or beef broth then you will definitely need salt. At my house, we each add however much salt we want to our own bowl because we all have different tastes. Serve the Molokhia alongside fried/roasted rabbit, chicken, seafood, or a spinach pie!
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