You say Egyptian Molokhia, I say Mlukhiyeh! This delicious green stew has always been high on my list for most favourite Middle Eastern and North African foods, often competing against the East Mediterranean and Levantine Kousa Mahshi (stuffed courgette or zucchini), and fried Syrian-Lebanese Kibbeh.
Most city-dwelling Middle Easterners living in the Levant call it Mlukhiyeh or Mulukhiyeh in their soft Levantine dialect. However, this delicious dish originates in Egypt where this North African nation commonly pronounces it as Molokhia or Molokheya. Legend has it, the Pharaohs prohibited Ancient Egypt commoners from delighting in this tasty leafy plant, and therefore people referred to it as the shrub that is “fit for the Kings.” This translates into Molokiya, or Royal in Arabic – which it truly is!
Before I go on, I must impart a friendly warning about how Mlukhiyeh can be an acquired taste for some. Many of our Italian and European friends can’t bear the sight of it. The reason is, when over boiled this green stew tends to go slimy in texture. This can put some people off, but not the die-hard Mlukhiyeh fans across the MENA region and some other parts of the world, including the blogger behind Foods from Africa who fell in love with Molokhia at first sight!
Egyptian Molokhia v.s. Lebanese Mlukhiyeh Waraq
Let’s talk variations on the dish! Referred to as Jute Mallow in English, the most common version of this highly nutritious and iron-rich plate is the Egyptian-style, finely chopped variety. Egyptian cooks make a broth with chicken and then add the leafy green to it. They also bake chicken separately in the oven to delicious crispiness.
There is also another traditional version made with rabbit meat; this one is actually quite popular across Egypt! Rabbit meat has no place in the Levantine cuisine (also known as Matbakh Bilad el Sham), and so you can imagine why the chicken version is the one that made it to the Eastern Mediterranean.
If you don’t like chicken, you can always cook it with beef, boneless or on the bone, or without meat at all. You can also substitute the chicken or meat broth with vegetable stock for a vegetarian-vegan version.
The recipe I’m sharing with you today is with beef cubes (Lahmeh Asafiri) as well as store-bought vegetable stock. I’m also using a packet of chopped and frozen Mlukhiyeh leaves, easily found at Middle Eastern and North African grocery stores. When in season, I like to cook Mlukhiyeh fresh, chopping the leaves using a crescent-shaped rocking knife that the Italians call Mezzaluna, meaning “half moon” – also one of my favourite Middle Eastern kitchen tools to illustrate! I usually chop and freeze my own Mlukhiyeh, but this season I wasn’t in the mood for it, so I made it with store-bought leaves from a well-known Egyptian brand.
Lebanese and Syrian home cooks have two versions for Mlukhiyeh, an Egyptian-inspired recipe, as well as a Mlukhiyeh Waraq bil Zait variety. Here, the leaves (Waraq) are sautéed whole, no chopping involved, with olive oil (Zait), minced and uncut garlic bulbs and fresh coriander. The final result is a dish with lesser liquid, served with pita bread rather than Egyptian rice. White rice cooked with ghee or butter and a sprinkle of Sheeriyeh (short vermicelli-like pasta) happens to be the more common accompaniment to the finely chopped Molokhia.
There are also several ways to cook the Egyptian Molokhia. The Egyptians seal the dish with a Ti’liya at the very end of the cooking process, consisting of lightly sautéed minced garlic with dried coriander seeds.
The Levantine dialect, on the other hand, calls this final step Ti’layeh, where fresh coriander leaves are used instead of the dried coriander. That’s also how today’s recipe likes its! And this my friends is not just the Levantine take on the dish, but also a family recipe adjusted to the tastes of my mom and late Grandmother, both superb home cooks with strong Lebanese, Syrian, and Turkish influences.
This recipe also goes through the filter of my husband’s Italian taste, preferring a minimal addition of crushed black pepper and salt, instead of the lavish Arabic-style Seven Spices that the original recipe calls for.
Levantine-Style Mlukhiyeh: The Recipe
To add a bit of tanginess to the grassy flavours of Mlukhiyeh, enjoy this Levantine-style Molokhia with a squeeze of lemon or a drizzle of chopped onions immersed in apple cider vinegar. At home, we also serve fried, or baked, pita bread squares on the side to add a bit of crunchiness to the dish.
In Egypt, Molokhia is often served with a sude dish of Damaa’, a red tomato sauce made with meat, and sometimes without. There is also another clear sauce of cooked vinegar with fresh green chilli and garlic served along with the Damaa’ that I once tried in Egypt. It came as a super tangy side condiment with my takeaway order from a restaurant that serves the best Molokhia in Egypt, called Abou el Sid.
- 200-300 gr beef cubes (optional)
- 1 packet finely chopped Molokhia/Mlukhiyeh, frozen
- 1 large bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped
- 1 large tomato, finely minced
- 1 medium onion, finely minced
- 8 garlic cloves, finely minced and divided
- 4 cups water
- 2 cubes chicken, beef or vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp Arabic Ghee (Samneh) or unsalted butter
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of salt to taste
- Allow the frozen Molokhia/Mlukhiyeh packet to thaw in the fridge overnight.
- Heat 1½ tablespoons of ghee (or butter) in a pot over medium-high heat, then add the beef cubes. Season with a pinch of crushed black pepper and salt.
- Once the meat forms an outer crust, pour in the water.
- Add the finely minced tomatoes and onions, crushed black pepper, and 4 cloves of finely minced garlic. Add the cubes of beef, chicken, or vegetable stock, and salt to taste.
- Cover the pot, and bring to a 5-minute boil, followed by lowering the heat to allow a 25-minute simmer.
- Remove the lid and add the Mlukhiyeh leaves, stir well. Bring the stew to a 1-minute boil, and switch off the heat.
- Divide the fresh coriander leaves into half. Stir in one half, and leave the rest for the Ti’layeh topping.
- In a shallow pan, melt the rest of the ghee or butter, add the rest of the garlic and sauté until golden.
- Add the second half of the fresh coriander and switch off the heat immediately.
- Quickly add the garlic-coriander topping to the Mlukhiyeh pot and gently stir in to lightly combine.
- Serve hot with white rice, fried or baked pita bread on the side, and a squeeze of lemon or a dab of onion-filled apple cider vinegar.
Egyptian Molokhia Food Illustration
Before making this Egyptian Molokhia food illustration for my Illustrated Middle Eastern Recipes blog series, I actually did an oil painting of the dish, which seems to have reflected on the illustration style you see in today’s artwork. In this fully digital illustration, I tried to capture Mlukhiyeh the way I experience it; as a mysterious food that managed to break into the colourful kitchens of Middle Easterners from different culinary cultures. The colours here are reminiscent of the vibrant North African, Turkish, and Eastern Mediterranean colours found in handmade ceramics and traditional handcrafted jewellery and amulets.
Illustrated Recipe + Egyptian Molokhia Food illustration by illustrator and artist Yaansoon