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.
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.
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:
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
- fresh lemon juice for serving
How to prepare chicken broth:
- Place the chicken in a large pot, add onion wedges and cardamom pods, then add enough room temperature water to just cover everything.
- Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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).
- Let the mix simmer for about half an hour, add salt and allspice.
- 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.
- 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.