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Guest Post Spotlight Thursday
Hey, folks! I’m super excited to be guest-posting here today, something I’ve never done. I was honored when Lazaro asked me to. :)
My name is Mo (no, my parents aren’t cruel; this was self-inflicted) and I’m just a kid with a food blog. No biggie.
When Lazaro asked me to guest-post, he asked me way in advance so I had a lot of time to think of something. The problem was that none of my ideas were interesting enough to qualify, in my head at least, for a guest post.
My best friend, Marwa, moved to Cairo over 2 years ago. I live and have grown up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, where all the diplomats and ambassadors and foreign services agents live. So a bunch of people from all sorts of different countries come and go, and I said goodbye to Marwa in June of ’08. Now, the foodie in me had not yet fully developed as of that time so I was not really interested in learning the delicious Egyptian recipes her mother always made us, and I was not at all fascinated by the spices or the interesting ingredients. I was sort of a “let’s make cookies instead” kind of a gal. So during our friendship and our many sleepovers, I took for granted the culture that was right in my face and on my dinner plate. When Marwa moved away I was sad only because of the fact that, well, she was moving away, to a place inaccessible by me. I thought nothing of the fact that I had much to learn about cultures other than mine in terms of food, and I could have done that by walking into her kitchen if I had felt like it.
Slowly, and I do mean slowly, I broadened my horizons when it came to food and different types of cuisine. I became increasingly interested in “weird” ingredients that were hard to come by in the States but popular in other countries. I especially opened my eyes to the world of spices, which continues to fascinate me. My dad brought me to a store he frequents, called Halalco, and it was as though I was in a toy store homogenized with a candy store, and I could have anything I wanted (also, I’m 5 in this scenario). Halalco, as you may have guessed by the name, is a Middle Eastern store that specializes in halal meat for the Muslim community. However, it is certainly not limited to that. Their spice aisle is a wondrous place that makes you want to purchase things which you have no idea what they are. You just know you want to try them. And even then they’re not finished. They have aisles and aisles of interesting finds, like legume flours that would cost you an arm and a leg in a regular grocery store, sweeteners such as date molasses and grape syrup, the biggest bags of basmati rice you’ve ever seen, all kinds of different cooking oils, bulk nuts and seeds for much less than you can get other places, Indian “TV” dinners, and a produce section that includes fresh olives (I don’t know about you but you can’t find fresh olives in the regular grocery stores around here, or in any grocery store I’ve ever been to as a matter of fact) and kindly-priced vegetables. Sometimes it’s a bit confusing going into the store, because you won’t know what something is, either because it’s called by its Arabic, Hindi or other non-English name or because you’ve just never heard of it in the first place. But after a while the foreign words become more familiar and it’s the only reason I know what cumin is in several different languages. Another thing I like about the place is that if you go in there looking for something you heard about (that’s used in the Middle East, at least), you’ll most likely find it.
Case in point: molokhia. This term refers to both the leaves of the jute plant and the soup which is prepared from the leaves. The conversation I had with Marwa over Skype as she tried to tell me what molokhia was was most interesting, given it was hard to tell when she was referring to the leaves and when she was referring to the soup. So, for the purpose of this post and the sanities of everyone reading this, I will refer to the leaves as jute leaves and the soup as molokhia. But when she told me about how she had to show me how to make it, I knew what I would be sharing with you guys today. (I actually attempted this on my own as she did not have the time to make it with me during her visit which just ended two days ago, but she guided me through the recipe as well as she could. )
Molokhia (muh-luh-KAI-ah – don’t say “mo-lo-khee-UH” unless you want an Egyptian to laugh really hard at you) is a traditional and very popular Egyptian dish, and I do not pretend to know any more than that. ;) I’m sharing Marwa’s family recipe with you today, but I wanted to research how other recipes are prepared. And it turns out it’s all relatively similar, but it varies by little things like spices, amounts and whether or not there’s meat in it. I was lucky enough to find frozen minced jute leaves at Halalco, but it is normally made with fresh leaves. However, if you can find jute leaves in the US, they will most likely be frozen, already minced and at your local Middle Eastern grocery store.
I tried to make as many actual measurements as I could with this because the recipe Marwa gave me was very inexact. I think this is great for a home cook doing her own thing, as Marwa’s mom is a genius in the kitchen and probably doesn’t really need to make measurements (then again I’m told that Egyptians don’t really measure anything anyway), but for food blogging I think it’s rather important. I also made the second version without chicken because it was just more practical for me to do it that way, but I included the original because it looks darn delicious. I hope Marwa’s mom would be proud of this, even though it’s probably a bit different than what she makes.
Molohkia (Jute Leaf Soup)
(Recipes by Marwa’s mom, adapted and improvised by Mo)
1 whole, 2-3 lb (small) chicken (you can remove the skin or not; your choice)
1 average-sized onion, peeled
2 tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp whole peppercorns
2 cardamom pods
1 bouillon cube (made with all-natural ingredients, s’il vous plait)
14 oz frozen minced jute leaves (molohkia)
1 tbsp butter
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 tbsp coriander powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
Place the chicken, the onion, the salt, the pepper, the cardamom (place each pod between your top and bottom front teeth, bite down to crack the pod, and place in the pot) and the bouillon in a large pot. Cover with water and cook on medium-high for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken and onion from the pot. Throw away the onion (unless you have a use for a boiled onion) and allow the chicken to cool. Strain the liquid to remove the pepper and cardamom.
Meanwhile, in another large pot, add about 3.5 cups of the broth you’ve just made and the jute leaves. Heat this over low until the leaves are defrosted, then heat over medium-high until it is almost to a boil but do not bring to a boil*. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a small pan, add the garlic, sauté a bit, and then add the coriander powder. When the garlic is a nice golden brown, add to the molokhia. Season with salt, pepper and ground cumin.
To prepare the chicken, cut it up into its various body parts and brown each piece in a little bit of butter. Serve the chicken alongside the molokhia and (in my case, brown) basmati rice and/or pita bread. Eat up!
*When brought to a boil, the leaves fall to the bottom of the pot and the soup becomes dull and heavy, which obviously will make everyone sad.
With no chicken/vegetarian:
4 cups organic chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 average-sized onion, peeled
1 tsp salt (1.25 tsp if the broth you use is low-sodium)
2 tsp whole peppercorn
2 cardamom pods
14 oz frozen minced jute leaves
1 tbsp butter
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp coriander powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
In a large pot, place the broth, onion, optional salt, pepper, cardamom (place each pod between your top and bottom front teeth, crack the pod, and place in the pot). Cover and boil for 15 minutes. Remove the onion and strain the liquid into a 4-cup liquid measuring cup. There will be less than 4 cups due to evaporation, but there should be at least 3.5 cups of liquid. If there isn’t, add enough water (or broth, if you have it) to make 3.5 cups. Pour this broth into a large pot and add the jute leaves. Heat over low until the leaves are defrosted, then heat over medium-high until it is almost to a boil but do not bring to a boil*. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a small pan, add the garlic, sauté a bit, and then add the coriander powder. When the garlic is a nice golden brown, add to the molokhia. Season with salt, pepper and ground cumin.
*When brought to a boil, the leaves fall to the bottom of the pot and the soup becomes dull and heavy, which sets off a chain reaction of unyummy soups and natural disasters. Stuff like that. The point is, don’t do it!
Serve alongside basmati rice and/or pita bread.
The verdict: I’m not going to lie to you all – molokhia is weird. Mucilaginous. It’s a bit like okra in that respect, I guess. Point being, I don’t recommend serving this to picky children. Or picky adults and anything in between, for that matter. It’s got a rather interesting texture but it actually kind of goes away once you mix it with rice, which is great. I definitely had to adjust the recipe after I made it to season it well since I wasn’t actually given any measurements the first time, and at this point I have no way of knowing whether or not the recipe tastes anything like what Marwa’s used to. All I know is that it’s delicious, regardless of authenticity, and definitely an experience. If you can get past the texture, which honestly isn’t as bad as I’m probably making it sound, I highly recommend making it, or at least some variant of it. :)
PS: Yes, I am insane for making soup when it is close to 100 degrees outside. There’s no denying that.
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