This Egyptian Recipe Delivers a Traditional and Low-Calorie Soup that is Intensely Flavoursome and Nutritious
I fell in love…in Alexandrie.
With Molokheya… For all my senses, it was love at first… of everything.
Molokheya or Molokhia, the soup that was once only the privy of the Pharaohs. I call it the soup of life, and love. So simple, so healthy, so unassuming, so Egyptian… So good, it has made it into my list of some of life’s best things.
We first met a few months ago at Alexandrie. But before you get transported to the bustling streets of the Egyptian metropolis, let me clarify. I am talking about Alexandrie, the only address in upmarket Kensington neighbourhood in London for seriously good Egyptian food – gourmet-style.
It was a long winter evening, and I had been in London for the day. That evening, I had plans to meet a friend for dinner at Alexandrie. The menu, filled with every dish I wanted to try, transported me to foodie heaven. One dish caught my eye… Molokheya. My Egyptian friend nodded in agreement. I felt he too, wanted me to experience molokheya. I was convinced. The deal was sealed. My main course had just been selected, and ordered. When it arrived, it was love at first sight. A dark green and viscous soup. Mysterious and intriguing. Beckoning from the bowl…to be tasted, and savoured. My curiosity had been piqued by the aroma coming from the soup bowl, and I was damn going to satisfy my curious senses!
Molokhia is a traditional and low-calorie Egyptian soup, made from jew’s mallow leaves. Jew’s mallow is a vegetable prolific in almost every country in Africa, although it is difficult to ascertain the exact origins of the plant. It has been cultivated and eaten as a herb in Africa for thousands of years. It goes by different names in different parts of Africa; Molokhia in Egypt, Ewedu or Rama in Nigeria, Murere in Kenya, and across the middle east, several regions have their own characteristic way of preparing molokhia; Lebanese molokhia, Egyptian molokhia etc.
Literally unknown outside Africa, and relatively unloved, the African Jew’s mallow has nutritional credentials that rival that of kale or quinoa. It contains more protein and iron than kale, and twice as much vitamin A as spinach. Jew’s Mallow, with its nutritional properties, is a superfood in its own right.the African Jew's mallow has nutritional credentials that rival that of kale or quinoaClick To Tweet
Folklore has it that in ancient Egypt, molokhia was historically prepared for, and eaten by royalty in Ancient Egypt. Those Pharaohs sure knew a good thing when they saw one! Over time though, molokhia became more mainstream in Egypt, enjoyed by all. However, it still has a claim to some sort of special status, albeit informally. Friends tell me that in Egypt, molokhia is still eaten at special occasions, especially on those occasions where there is a large gathering of family and/or friends.
Anyway, back to the evening at Alexandrie, “taste it“, he tells me, from across the table. I close my eyes to relish in the slimy and slippery pleasure of molokhia, as I take the first spoonful. Oh yes, jew’s mallow leaves have mucilaginous properties when minced, reminiscent of okra, although in my opinion, jute mallow leaves are not as slimy as okra. But I digress. It didn’t disappoint..that first spoonful. I was bowled over by the flavours.
After I had shamelessly slurped down every last drop of the soup, in record time, might I add, two things happened. I learned that the molokhia served at Alexandrie Restaurant is prepared based on a good old authentic Egyptian recipe that had been handed down through a few generations. And I subconsciously set about the challenge to recreate molokhia in my own kitchen… Well, I do take this relationship with food rather seriously..
After a lot of research and a few attempts at some Egyptian recipes of molokhia, I have come to the conclusion, now more than ever, that the best things in life are also the simplest. A cliché, I know, but one that rings true. Think about it for a second. A warm bed, holding hands with a loved one, that first bite of a decadent dessert,… simple things, reminiscent of this molokhia recipe. So simple, you will read this recipe and you will think “really?” Two words. Yes, Really!.
Let’s talk about this recipe for a minute. If you do a quick search for molokhia, you’ll find recipes that include several ingredients including spinach, cardamom, coriander seeds and the like. I must confess, I haven’t tried them all, but I find that you only need 4 ingredients to whip up a steaming bowl of the perfect molokhia; chicken broth (substitute the chicken broth with vegetable broth for a vegan version of this dish), jew’s mallow leaves, garlic and olive oil or ghee. All other ingredients are optional, and, might even detract from the distinct flavour of molokhia. With molokhia, less is definitely more.
One tip about the garlic. It is super easy to overcook garlic when frying it in oil. Fry garlic too fast, too long or at too-high a temperature, and it turns on you – acrid, bitter and rather unpleasant. To achieve the piquant notes that the garlic introduce to this dish, you have to gently sauté the garlic on low heat until it caramelized.
Serve it with rice or pita bread, and some vinegar on the side as is customary in Egypt, or with yam flour and tomato sauce as is done in Nigeria. I served it as a soup with a dollop of natural yogurt and some nuts and seeds, just because I can.
Or better still, just book a table at Alexandrie, and be transported to Egypt, one meze at a time. Mention Foods From Africa, and you’ll even get a complimentary welcome drink. Hit me up on my FaceBook page please with your reviews if you visit the restaurant. And for your recipe photos, for which by now, you know that I am a sucker for, Instagram me @foodsfromafrica.
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Recipe adapted from Sugar and Spice.com
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