When someone invites you over to cook with their mom, especially when their mom’s a chef, don’t decline.
Back in May, a Palestinian-American co-worker’s eyes lit up when I told her I was learning how to make Syrian food. She insisted that I come to her apartment to cook with her mom. Me being me, I ignorantly said, “But…you’re not Syrian…” to which she nonchalantly replied, “It’s all the same, we come from the same people.” (Please reference my brief history lesson here.)
And so, on a rainy Thursday evening after work, ingredients in tow, I ventured to my co-workers apartment in Brooklyn.
Mulukhiyah (also spelled molokia or molokhia) is a leafy green vegetable commonly eaten in the middle-east as a stew with meat and rice. It’s roughly pronounced MUH-LOOK-KEY-YAH with a little raspiness in the back of your throat in the ‘LOOK’ part. You may hear some people calling it ‘okra leaves’ because when cooked it becomes slimy, much like fresh okra though the plants are unrelated.
I searched online for recipes, most of which called for dried mulukhiyah, but depending on what’s available in your area, you can also use fresh (Warning: I’ve heard the stems are a pain to remove from fresh mulukhiyah, purchase at your own risk) or frozen. I found dried mulukhiyah at Kalustyan’s in NYC and frozen mulukhiyah in a mediterranean grocery. If you’ve never heard of or been to Kalustyan’s, it’s a gourmet food and spice heaven. It’s also surrounded by a plethora of Indian restaurants, so you know it’s legit, but back to the point.
I was surprised to find two types of mulukhiyah, not knowing it existed at all before now, and thought it’d be interesting to compare frozen to dried.
Upon review of my ingredients, my co-worker’s mom quickly turned her nose up at my dried mulukhiyah saying it couldn’t compare to the frozen one. To be honest, her eyes said, “Why would you want me to cook this for you? Do you know who I am?” (Please forgive me) but I insisted and she eventually agreed to make both kinds with the disclaimer that she would have to ‘doctor-up’ the dried one to make it edible. (It’s really not that bad, TBH).
Regardless of whether you’re using frozen, dried, or even fresh, here’s what you’ll need:
Ingredients: serves 4-6
1/2 medium yellow onion
1 roma tomato
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 package frozen (14 oz) or dried (3 oz) mulukhiyah leaves
1 cup chicken broth or stock (You’ll need more if using dried)
salt to taste
TIP If using dried mulukhiyah I highly suggest adding some chopped spinach to the mix. It will bring some life back into those dried leaves.
Step One: Dice the onion and tomato, then heat the olive oil in a dutch oven on medium-high heat and add the onion to the pot. Cook 1-2 minutes.
Step Two: Add the diced tomato to the pot and continue cooking until the onions turn translucent.
Step Two and a Half: If you’re using dried mulukhiyah, use your hands to crush the dried leaves inside the bag. You want to crush them really well, almost to a powder, but not quite.
Step Three: When the onions are translucent, add the broth or stock to the pot and let it come to a boil. Then, add the mulukhiyah. You can add the frozen one directly to the pot and let it defrost. If using dried, you’ll need to add additional water or broth to help the leaves rehydrate.
Step Four: Let everything simmer on medium to low heat for 30 minutes to 1 hour. If using dried mulukhiyah, you may need to pull out any loose stems you notice poking out. Some find these undesirable to eat. Add more broth or water to the pot as needed.
Step Five: Add the juice of your lemon to cut the sliminess of the mulukhiyah and salt your green concoction to taste.
Step Six: Serve over chicken and rice or enjoy like a soup.
Final consensus on frozen vs. dried mulukhiyah?
Go for frozen if you have the option. There’s not much of a difference between the two in terms of taste (counting the fact that we ‘doctored up’ the dried mulukhiyah with spinach). The dried mulukhiyah is slightly grainier and doesn’t taste as fresh, obviously, and was also a pain to pick out loose stems, but I wouldn’t totally discount it. Whatever you use, i’m sure it’ll taste great.
Special thanks to Hanan and Niveen Rasheed for inviting me into their home. Hanan is an inspiring mother of five, food lover, and personal chef based in San Francisco, CA. Follow her cooking series on Instagram @myhealingtable.