Egyptian Molokheya Soup

Rate this recipe

Preparation info

  • Serves

    6 to 8

    • Difficulty

      Easy

Appears in

A Canon of Vegetables

A Canon of Vegetables

By Raymond Sokolov

Published 2007

  • About

This is the national soup of Egypt. The elite version is prepared with rabbit, but chicken is common and acceptable. Khalid M. Baheyeldin, a computer engineer from Alexandria now based in Canada, maintains a Web site (Baheyeldin.com) containing, among much else, lore about molokheya. It transpires that a millennium ago the “mad Fatimid caliph al-Hakim bi Amrillah” forbade his subjects to eat molokheya. Why? Because “Mu’awya ibn Abi Sufyan, the arch-enemy of the Shia used to like it!” People caught with molokheya were flogged. A later ruler, al-Zahir, relaxed the prohibition.

Mr. Baheyeldin goes on to quote several translations of Tale 43 of the Arabian Nights (“The Man of Yemen and His Six Slave Girls”), in which one concubine derides another by comparing her to an inferior kind of molokheya grown in a poor quarter of Cairo, Bab al-Luq. The Burton translation is rich and strange:

My form is all grace and my shape is built on heavy base; Kings desire my colour which all adore, rich and poor. I am pleasant, active, handsome, elegant, soft of skin and prized for price: eke I am perfect in seemlibead [sic] and breeding and eloquence; my aspect is comely and my tongue witty; my temper is bright and my play a pretty sight Thou art like unto a mallow growing about the Lúk gate; in hue sallow and streaked-yellow and made all of sulphur. Aroynt thee, O copper-worth of jaundiced sorrel, O rust of brass-pot, O face of owl in gloom, and fruit of the Hell-tree Zakkúm….

Ingredients

  • pounds dried or frozen molokheya leaves, picked clean of twigs and stones if necessary*
  • 9 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Method

  1. If you use fresh molokheya leaves, chop them as fine as possible, or if you are feeling in an energetic mood, grab a handful, press it into a tight ball, and shred the leaves into very fine slivers. If you use frozen leaves, put them, undefrosted, in a 3-quart saucepan.
  2. Pour the chicken stock over the leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small skillet and brown the garlic in it. Add to the soup after the molokheya has disintegrated.
  4. When the soup is finished, add the chopped coriander leaves, ground coriander, and salt and pepper to taste.

*Thirty years ago, following a recipe of Claudia Roden, I used dried molokheya leaves, purchased at Sahadi’s market in the Arab district of Atlantic Avenue in South Brooklyn. All was going well until I reached the stage where Ms. Roden called for pureeing the soup in a blender. I threw the switch; there was a loud, explosive noise; and the soup poured out of a small hole in the base of the blender jar. I had not managed to remove a small stone lurking among the leaves. My conclusion was that it was the wrong historical moment for one Jew to be telling another how to make the national soup of Egypt. You will note that the recipe above does not call for a blender.

Part of