So besides shiso, which you can see to the right of that photo above, my other experiment in the garden this year was molokhiya, which is one of a variety of spellings for the plant above. I’d read the description of it in the seed catalogue back in February or so and was intrigued by the description of it as a kind of Egyptian spinach, concluding it would grow well out here as a result. Of course, I’d never actually had it so I didn’t know what to expect.
And what is it, exactly? Wikipedia provides a page with a little more information as well as a slew of alternate spellings — important given how transliteration works, as well as in terms of searching for more information on the net. As a more random but also good starting point I’ll also refer you to “Popeye Did Not Know Egyptian Spinach Called Molokhiya”, which I would love for the title alone. As discussed there:
One may encounter many different transliterations for the Arabic word molokhiya, such as mulukhiya and molokhia. It is also called jute, Egyptian spinach, Jews mallow, Jute mallow, or saluyot, with a scientific name of Corchorus olitorius.
Molokhiya is known as the king of vegetables. Its carotene contents are 4.6 times more than spinach, which Popeye loved, and 19 times more than broccoli. Its calcium contents are 9 times more than spinach and 10 times more than broccoli. Even vitamins B1 and B2 are five times more compared to spinach. It contains much more Vitamin E, C, potassium, iron, and other vegetable fibers than any other vegetables.
So on balance it’s one of those handy little leaves that people figured were edible and then used accordingly. Why not investigate, after all?
I took a little care when collecting a slew of leaves to work with since they have a reputation for stickiness — it wasn’t anything drastic but I was glad I had my gloves. As the links note, the leaves can easily be dried for later use and I figure I’ll do something with a lot of them like that as the season continues — the idea of using them as a green tea catches my eye and I can see this going down well closer to winter.
For fresh leaves, I consulted a variety of recipe possibilities, noting that it’s Egypt that uses the plant the most and has the most common recipes as a result. There are apparently two chief dishes when it comes to molokhiya — a chicken preparation and a soup, both of which have no one standard recipe but a variety of general approaches done to taste. This version of the chicken dish provides both explanatory context and a nice personal story if you’d like to give it a go; since I don’t cook with meat at home I vaguely considered trying a substitution then figured it would be simpler to do the soup version instead. This version of the recipe — from a vegetarian recipe site in Greece, whose author learned the recipe from an Egyptian acquaintance — was the one I worked with, though as noted in the comments there are a number of possible variations.
In all cases the sense of general preparation is the same — fresh leaves are never used raw but are chopped up and cooked. It was when I was chopping them up that I really noticed the sticky, slimy texture of the leaves — it doesn’t irritate the skin, but be prepared to wash up once more after the initial work. For broth, I used a batch of vegetable broth I’d created and stored some time back, noticing that the molokhiya turned it much darker in quick fashion. This slightly out of focus shot gives a quick sense of it:
The garlic/onion/spice preparation that was made and then added to the soup was easy enough, though instead of soy sauce I added tomato paste, often talked about as a common ingredient. I also included tofu as well for protein, and to soak up some more of the flavors. One thing I did notice, though, is that I’d underestimated the amount of broth needed; close to the conclusion of cooking there was very little left. However, the soup itself is meant to be served over rice, and I’d been prepping up a small batch of brown rice separately for that reason. After some quick thought, I decided to shift from a soup to a sauce or more properly a reduction, to be poured over the rice.
The end result:
This turned out pretty nicely, I thought! It wasn’t what I planned but it was still plenty tasty — cooked molokhiya definitely has a viscous touch to it, and some of the comparisons I’ve read on line say that okra resembles it in feel if not entirely flavor. But it wasn’t gross to my mind, and it blended together well with all the other spices and textures, a sense of richness that wasn’t overpowering.
So we’ll see what else I try with the plant! Any and all suggestions welcomed, of course.