I have noticed that during Autumn season I have obsessively written about leaves, fall, and the colors of fall…and just for a couple of blog entries more- the talk of leaves will go on. This time however, it is not the kind of leaves that grow on trees. Molokheya, Mallow, or Jute Leaves as they are called in English are the base for one of the most beloved and cherished dishes in the Egyptian cuisine, the Arab world, and certainly in my world. Though I was born in Sweden and did not move to Egypt until I was eight years old- the smell of the garlic “pistou” (as I like to call it) is still one of the most vivid “smell memories” I have of of my childhood. I am eight years old and I am climbing up the stairs to my grandmother’s apartment building and the smell of fried garlic seasoned with crushed Coriander seeds is a smell that permeated the entire stair well of the building. It is a smell that will greet you in rich neighborhoods as in poor neighborhoods and it is a dish that stems back to the Ancient Egyptian cuisine.
To me, the Egyptian cuisine is highly under rated. While we share several dishes with the rest of the Arab world, we have our own signature dishes that make traditional Egyptian cuisine one of the most ancient kitchens in the world. Some traditional Egyptian dishes (all will be shared in this blog) date back for at least 4000 years back in history. Seeing that food is already an important social connecting factor, I would very much like to think that some of the Egyptian dishes that I eat today were eaten by my ancient ancestors and thus connecting me to them. How did they they prepare their food? how did they crush or chop their garlic? under which occasions did they savor certain dishes? Did they experiment in their kitchens as I do in mine?
Like most recipes that have survived the test of time, people begin to cook them in different ways. Originally, Molokhia is an Egyptian dish (an ancient Egyptian dish) but has through trade spread across the MENA region. Molokhia is prepared in Tunisia, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan etc. and depending where you are, it is prepared differently. The recipe I have chosen to make for this blog entry is the Levantine Molokheya. I love this version just as much as the Egyptian one. I love that its different in texture and slightly in taste- but still recognizable as the beloved molokheya (I LOVE saying that word!!). The Levantine Arabs dry the leaves first and that way preserve it. Once you are ready to make it, you soak the Molokheya (you can find the recipe here) into water and drain it before adding it to your stew. The Egyptian version (which is also prepared in the Levant- both methods are used) finely chops the leaves which releases a liquid that is slimy and viscous in consistency (much similar to Okra) and is added to broth (Egyptians use anything from chicken broth to shrimp broth)- making it quite more soupy and edible on its own or with a side of bread or rice. It is delicious and it is SO good for you. It has endless health benefits and is the ultimate comfort food.
As all the green leaves have turned orange and red…as all the leaves have fallen off their branches and the bitter cold starts spreading across the land…I warm up by preparing a stew of green leaves to fortify and keep me warm. A stew of history, stories, and heritage that, if I may borrow Albert Camus’ words, help me discover my inner “invincible summer”. I eat and look forward to trees blooming with green leaves again. Until then, I cook.