Wafa Shami’s Palestinian Mulukhiyah

25 July, 2021
Wafa’s mulukhiya with chicken (photo courtesy Wafa Shami).
Wafa’s mulukhiya with chick­en (pho­to cour­tesy Wafa Shami).

Wafa Shami

Mulukhiya ملوخية, known in Eng­lish as Jew’s Mal­low, jute mal­low or tossa jute, is a green leafy veg­etable that is very pop­u­lar across the Arab world. It orig­i­nat­ed in Egypt thou­sands of years ago dur­ing the era of Pharaohs which they liked to eat for its great health benefits.

It is believed that the name mulukhiyah (also pro­nounced molokheyya, molokhia, or mulukhiyyah) came from the Ara­bic word mulukia which means roy­als, and mulukia comes from the word malek (ملك) which means king.  So it was named by that refer­ring to food that only served for roy­als, the Pharaohs dur­ing that time. Some say that when King Farouk came into pow­er he changed the name from mulukia to mulukhiyah to sug­gest that the dish was not only reserved for  royals.

Fresh mulukhiyah leaves are only avail­able dur­ing sum­mer­time and that’s when Pales­tini­ans buy it in large quan­ti­ties and pre­pare it for stor­age, to be used through­out the year. My late father would buy 10–20 big bunch­es dur­ing his farmer’s mar­ket (his­beh) shop­ping on Sun­days.  Mulukhiyah comes in long stems with leaves that are picked.

My moth­er, sis­ters and I would sit that Sun­day after­noon, on the floor of our back porch sur­round­ed by mulukhiyah every­where, ready for pick­ing all the leaves. It used to take us three or four hours. Then my moth­er would wash, dry, chop, and pre­pare pack­ages to freeze so she could use them through­out the year. The process of stor­ing such big quan­ti­ties can be time con­sum­ing since we were a big fam­i­ly and need a lot to store. But for those of us who grew up eat­ing this dish, it was worth all the effort.

As I not­ed, mulukhiyah is pop­u­lar across the Arab world but the meth­ods of cook­ing dif­fer from one region to anoth­er — even with­in Pales­tin­ian cui­sine there are dif­fer­ent ways to cook this dish. The Egypt­ian recipe where it orig­i­nat­ed is more pop­u­lar­ly cooked with rab­bit meat, for instance.

The dish is main­ly cooked as a thick stew with either meat or chick­en broth and served with rice on the side. How­ev­er, in Tunisia and Moroc­co, the mulukhiyah is crushed fine­ly after it’s ful­ly dried and mixed with beans. We have an old Pales­tin­ian veg­an recipe that is sim­i­lar, which requires using dried mulukhiyah leaves and mix with dry fava beans, this dish is called bis­sara.

Fresh mulukhiyah leaves are hard to find out­side the Mid­dle East. How­ev­er, I’m lucky enough that I live in Cal­i­for­nia and I can find it at some of the local farmer’s markets.

Stor­ing Mulukhiyah

Here is how to pre­pare mulukhiyah for stor­age: Two options, freez­ing, or drying.

Once all the leaves are picked it is impor­tant to clean them well. I usu­al­ly fill up my sink with water and dump all the leaves, then take them out gen­tly with­out crush­ing the leaves, place them in a large colan­der then repeat this wash­ing process twice more. Be sure to keep the leaves in the colan­der for 15 to 20 min­utes until the has water drained out (or use a large sal­ad spin­ner to get rid of all the moisture).

Next, place the leaves on a large sheet cloth and leave to com­plete­ly dry from the water before chop­ping, this could take up to three or four hours. You can speed up this process by plac­ing all the leaves in a clean pil­low cov­er and close tight­ly with a rub­ber band and place in your wash­er to rinse.

For freez­ing: the leaves need to be com­plete­ly dry from the water before chop­ping oth­er­wise it’ll be hard to chop. The leaves are hand-chopped and I don’t rec­om­mend using a food proces­sor, this step shouldn’t take much time as they need to be large­ly chopped. Once chopped stack in sep­a­rate zip bags and place in the freez­er. Frozen mulukhiyah bags can last up to a year.

For dry mulukhiyah, keep the leaves on the sheet cloth for three to four days until they are ful­ly dry. Then pack them in sep­a­rate zip bags or a cloth bag. No need for chop­ping here.

Prepar­ing Mulukhiyah

While stor­ing mulukhiyah can seem over­whelm­ing and requires some work, the cook­ing method can be very easy. So here is how to cook mulukhiyah:

Mulukhiyah is cooked with either, beef or lamb chunks, or with chick­en. The steps are sim­i­lar, which requires cook­ing the meat and stock first then add mulukhiyah leaves. I’m using chick­en here:

Ingre­di­ents:

1 whole chick­en cut into 4 pieces (skin out).
1 onion cut into 4 wedges

  • 3–4 car­damom pods
  • water (about 1.5 liters)
  • Mulukhiyah leaves (about 6 cups fresh­ly cut or 3 cups frozen)
  • 8–10 gar­lic cloves crushed
  • 2 table­spoons olive oil or ghee (or mix half of each)
  • 1 tea­spoon allspice
  • salt
  • fresh lemon juice for serving

How to pre­pare chick­en broth:

  1. Place the chick­en in a large pot, add onion wedges and car­damom pods, then add enough room tem­per­a­ture water to just cov­er everything.
  2. Bring to a boil over medi­um heat, then reduce to a simmer.
  3. Skim off the foam that accu­mu­lates on top and dis­card. You may have to do this sev­er­al times dur­ing the cook­ing process. Sim­mer for up to an hour.
  4. Once the stock is ready and the chick­en is cooked, take the chick­en out and set aside until it has cooled enough to han­dle, then use your hands to debone and cut the chick­en into pieces. Set aside cut chick­en then place back over the stock. Onions and car­damom pods can be tossed at this point.

For the mulukhiyah:

  1. Add mulukhiyah over stock and chick­en, stir every­thing well togeth­er and once it starts boil­ing turn it into medi­um-low and let it sim­mer. To pre­vent fresh mulukhiyah from turn­ing slimy, add one toma­to chopped in half (the toma­to only if using fresh mulukhiyah, toss before serving).
  2. Let the mix sim­mer for about half an hour, add salt and allspice.
  3. Mean­while and while mulukhiyah is sim­mer­ing, place olive oil and gee in a skil­let, add crushed gar­lic, and sauté for a cou­ple of min­utes until gar­lic just turns light gold­en brown. Add this mix­ture to the mulukhiyah stew, and stir through. Taste for sea­son­ing and adjust.
  4. If you like the mulukhiyah soupi­er, you can add a lit­tle more broth. Serve with rice and lots of lemon juice on the side. Some like to add chopped onions dipped in vine­gar in lieu of fresh lemon juice. Mulukhiyeh often pairs well with radish­es and green pep­pers on the side.

Recipe makes 4 servings.


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Egyptian foodGazamulukhiya recipePalestinian cuisineRamallah

Wafa Shami is a food blogger and children’s book author. She describes herself as “a humanist, feminist, and a mother who is passionate about food and loves to cook and share with others.” Wafa grew up in Ramallah, Palestine and moved to the US where she graduated with a Masters in International Studies. Before launching Palestine in a Dish, she spent several years working with nonprofits, including the American Friends Service Committee.