To call this dish a soup is misleading; like the Mexican posole it is a grand dish with many components each of which have to be prepared separately.
Mouloukhieh is hugely popular in Lebanon and in Egypt and the exact origin of this dish has not been established yet. Suffice it to say that each region prepares it a bit differently. My Egyptian friend Phoebe who has successfully grown the mouloukhieh plant in her Dallas backyard, never uses any cilantro in hers; omitting cilantro in the Lebanese version would be considered heresy.
This plant is called jew’s mallow in the US and corette in French-speaking countries. It is available frozen in all Middle-Eastern grocers in the US and Canada; it is available fresh in Asian markets in the US, as it is a plant that is consumed in Asian countries.
The method for making mouloukhieh is very simple: Prepare a chicken or beef or lamb broth by boiling the meat with some aromatic spices. Prepare a cilantro pesto using fresh and dried cilantro, garlic and olive oil. Flavor the broth with the cilantro pesto and cook the mouloukhieh leaves in the broth very briefly. Serve the soup with pieces of meat or chicken (or both) over white rice, some toasted pita chips, and ladle some chopped onion and vinegar (or lemon) over the soup when ready to savor it.
For some pointers on how to use the fresh mouloukhieh, click here.
INGREDIENTS: 8 generous servings
- 3-pound whole chicken
- 2 lamb or beef shanks (optional)
- 4 cups of cooked long-grain rice (can use Basmati)
- 3 pita breads, toasted in a 275F oven till golden and dry and crumbled
- Aromatics for the broth (chicken and meat): 1 or 2 carrots, 2 bay leaves, black peppercorns, 1 leek or 1 celery stalk, 1 sprig of thyme, 2 cinnamon sticks, a few sprigs of parsley, any other spice you like to add to your broth.
- 2 packages of frozen mouloukhieh (about 400 g each)
- 3 large onions, chopped fine
- 1 cup of red vinegar or 1 cup of fresh lemon juice
- For the cilantro pesto: 2 bunches of fresh cilantro, 12 cloves of garlic, 1/3 cup of olive oil.
- 1 tbsp of dried cilantro powder (optional)
- Place the whole chicken (minus innards) in a pot with cold water to cover and the aromatics; bring to a simmer and let it simmer slowly until cooked, skimming any froth from the surface of the pot. Cool the chicken and debone, reserving large pieces for the mouloukhieh later on. Strain the broth and set aside.
- If using meat shanks, follow the same procedure; when cooked, set aside and strain the broth. Mix the chicken and meat broth.
- Wash, dry and chop the cilantro leaves. Peel and chop the garlic and mash in a mortar with a teaspoon of salt. Chop the onions. In a skillet, heat the olive oil and fry the onions till soft and golden then add the mashed garlic and the chopped cilantro as well as the dried cilantro. Stir-fry for a few seconds (till the pesto is fragrant), then transfer to the broth. Heat the broth and drop the frozen mouloukhieh packages in the broth; bring to a boil and let it simmer for 2 minutes until the mouloukhieh leaves are warmed up.
- Serve the soup with some cooked white rice, the chicken and meat pieces, a bowl of crumbled toasted pita croutons and a bowl of red vinegar (or lemon) with a handful of chopped onion.
NOTE: There are no set rules for how one is supposed to eat the mouloukhieh; growing up, every member of the family had his or her customized way; some people like to fill their bowl with croutons, then rice, then mouloukhieh then chicken and meat, then onion and vinegar. You get to decide!
The tricky part of making this dish is determining the amount of broth versus the amount of mouloukhieh; the soup itself is quite soupy, so if you find your soup thick and muddy add more broth. If on the other hand it looks too watery, add more mouloukhieh.