Everyone would swoon at the mere mention of that word. An invitation at so and so to a mouloukhieh? Teta Nabiha making it for Sunday lunch and inviting Tante Wadad and Khalo Nkoola…always an event. Teta’s double-sized bed would be covered with a clean sheet and on it would lay the mouloukhieh leaves, in neat rows, until they were dry (but not wilted). Then, Teta would gather them, one at a time, pile them up in a tight bundle like little soldiers and with her sharpened knife shave them in ever so fine ribbons. The presentation was always according to custom: Mouloukhieh soup in a tureen and on the buffet : A crown of white rice, then a platter of chicken, a platter of lamb shanks, a bowl of pita croutons, a bowl of vinegar and chopped onions, a bowl of lemon juice and chopped onions. Whew! What a production! Then people would get up and with an expression of anticipated pleasure, proceed to the buffet with their own personal procedure for eating this delicacy. Hanna liked his with the croutons at the bottom, while Khalo ate his with a lot of vinegar and onions, while Tante only had the broth with some rice…
Well, mouloukhieh is an Egyptian dish that has been thoroughly adopted by the Lebanese, albeit with some differences in execution. So, I decided to enlist the help and expertise of my friend Phoebe Hanna, who is Egyptian-American and a self-proclaimed m’lookhiyeh queen. I had tasted hers and really liked it, so we decided to try her method . She grows her own m’lookhiyeh in her backyard, but she said hers will be ready in early June (the first harvest), so we went hunting for mouloukhieh (Jew’s mallow) in the Asian supermarket near my house. It was available there in large quantities. I think it is used in Vietnamese cuisine, though I am not sure… Phoebe had told me that her method was easy and fast and she mentioned the food processor.. This method will produce a m’lookhiyeh that is pure and fresh and with a wonderfully vibrant green color. It can be frozen for months and will retain taste and color, especially if it is frozen in a standing deep freezer.
Now, for that slime factor… A couple pointers:
- Wash it well and cut off the leaves. This needs to be done carefully because it is the stalk that gives a slimy mouloukhieh.
- When the leaves are dropped into the broth, don’t boil them!
INGREDIENTS: To feed a family of 4 or 6 people
- 2 bunches of fresh m’lookhiyeh or one package of frozen (400g)/ Fresh leaves chopped will weigh about 8 oz.
- 1 chicken, cut up in 4 pieces or 2 vegetable bouillon cubes, if vegan. You need 2 quarts of bouillon. The chicken can be substituted or added to 3 lamb shanks
- 6 to 10 cloves of garlic
- salt, black pepper to taste
- 2 Large onions, one for the chicken broth and one to chop and serve with lemon or vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons of butter or olive oil or ghee
- 2 pita breads, cut up in small squares and toasted in a 275F oven
- 2 cups of rice of your choice (I use Basmati or Jasmine), cooked according to direction on package
- One cup of vinegar (rice or red) or fresh lemon juice
- Make the broth the day before. Place a whole chicken, cut up in 4 pieces in a large pot. Fill it up with cold water and bring to a boil. When it starts simmering, skim the froth at the surface and regulate the heat so that it simmers gently for about an hour. Add an onion, cut in quarters. You can also add a cinnamon stick, some salt and black pepper, a few whole allspice grains, but this is strictly optional. If you are vegan, simply dissolve a veggie cube in 2 quarts of water and set aside.
- Cool the broth and remove the chicken pieces. Run the broth through a sieve and put the chicken in a bowl and when cool enough to handle, remove the skin and cut into serving pieces. Place the chicken on a platter. One extra step is to place the broth in the fridge overnight and the next day, scrape off all the fat that has congealed on the surface. The broth should measure about 2 quarts.
- Wash the m’lookhiyeh and make sure it is perfectly clean. Now dry it in a salad spinner, or if you want to use my grandmother’s technique, cut off the leaves and dry them on a clean bed sheet for a couple of hours, by laying them flat on the sheet, vein side up. Discard the wilted leaves.
- While the leaves are drying, chop the fresh garlic cloves and run them through a press into a small skillet. Place 2 tablespoons of butter, or olive oil, or samneh (ghee) in the skillet. Heat the garlic and fat for a minute until golden. Remove from the heat. Heat the broth and drop the toasted garlic in it, stirring for a few seconds. Remove from the heat.
- Gather all the leaves and drop them in the food processor without packing them. Process the leaves in batches, pulsing all the while in one-second pulses, until the leaves are chopped very well. Place the chopped leaves in a bowl and heat up the broth. When the broth is simmering, drop the leaves in the broth, stirring with a wooden spoon, until they are well spread out with the broth and turn off the heat. Add some salt and black pepper to taste.
- Present the m’lookhiyeh in a soup tureen along some plain rice, pieces of boiled chicken, toasted pita croutons, a small bowl of vinegar with chopped onion (can be substituted with lemon juice). Sahteyn
The traditional way to eat m’lookhiyeh is with the following:
- A platter of plain rice or rice with vermicelli noodles rez be sha’aryeh. Can be done in advance to save some time.
- A bowl of toasted pita croutons, also can be done ahead of time.
- A small bowl containing about 1 cup of vinegar (or lemon juice) to which a chopped onion has been added.
- A platter of chicken, cut in small serving pieces.
How you eat it is up to you! You decide the order of ingredients. Usually, people like to pile the rice and chicken (or meat) and then pour the soup, then the croutons, then the onions and vinegar.
Also, some recipes call for adding coriander, dried and fresh, to the m’lookhiyeh. I personally tried both and prefer this version. I find that the taste of coriander overpowers the taste of the m’lookhiyeh. I find that lightly fried garlic is sufficient and will produce a dish that is pure and fresh tasting. The coriander pesto that is part of the Lebanese repertoire and found in numerous stews and soups is explained in detail in my post for cilantro pesto.
In our home, a platter of boiled lamb shanks was also served alongside the chicken, for people who prefer the meat over the chicken. Simply braise some lamb shanks in 2 quarts of water, adding a stick of cinnamon and some salt and pepper. When the shanks are thoroughly cooked, remove from the broth and cut in serving pieces. The broth can then be used to cook the m’lookhiyeh in.
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