By Mary Kay Radnich
With its location at the northeast corner of the African continent, Egypt is truly a crossroads of Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. Very few foods are completely unique to Egyptian cooking and perhaps the most unusual of these foods is the green known as Melokiyah.
The plant commonly known as melokiyah to the Egyptians is known in the botanical realm as Corchorus olitorius and is known in English as Jews Mallow. A member of the plant family Tiliaceae, it is common around the world as secondary source of the fiber crop, dark jute.
In Egypt, Melokiyah prepared as a soup is believed to be an ancient peasant soup from the time of the pharaohs and is portrayed in tomb paintings. Every peasant had a small plot of land for his own use and in the summer months, this was used exclusively for the cultivation of melokiyah, with its dark green leaves and small, yellow flowers. This custom is continued today, making melokiyah a staple food in contemporary Egypt. And no wonder, considering the nutritional value of this vegetable plant. A low calorie food with 43-58 calories/100 gms, C. olitorius contains calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, potassium, beta-carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and ascorbic acid. The folic acid content is substantially higher than other folacin-rich vegetables. It is eaten as a medicinal vegetable from Tanzania to Egypt, providing folk remedies for ailments such as aches and pains, dysentery, enteritis, fever, pectoral pain and tumors. Elsewhere, the leaves are used for cystitis and gonorrhea. A cold infusion of the leaves is believed to improve appetite and restore strength.
Today, melokiyah is still a food of ordinary people. Egyptians find it hard to believe that foreigners would be interested in sampling such a common dish, much less develop a fondness for it. The best Melokiyah is found in Upper Egypt, in Aswan and Luxor. And at that, it maybe difficult to find, as many restaurants will always have a pot going on the cooker in the kitchen for the staff, but it will not appear on the menu. Dont be afraid, just ask your waiter for a fresh bowl of Melokiyah and he will be happy to oblige!
Because of its popularity as a baladi or home-style dish, there is a variety of ways to prepare the melokiyah leaves. Fresh is best, however finding them may prove difficult for the Westerner. If you do find yourself acquiring a taste for this gelatinous soup the properties of melokiyah are similar to okra you will do best to look for it dried or frozen, from Middle Eastern specialty markets or the international department of very large supermarkets.
Fresh melokiyah leaves can be chopped very finely. An alternative method is to shave the leaves, which is called mahluqa. This is accomplished by using a very sharp knife to shave the leaves into very thin strips and is well liked by connoisseurs of the plant.
Melokiyah is generally considered to always be prepared as a soup, unless the recipe specifies Melokiyah Burani, where the leaves are cooked and served whole with beef cubes. It may also be prepared bil-samak with fish.
Basic Melokiyah soup is prepared with a good meat or vegetable stock, onion, lemon juice, cardamom and taliya, which is garlic fried with salt and coriander in cooking oil. A tasty but less mucilaginous substitute for melokiyah is spinach.
- 2 pounds frozen or dried Melokiyah
- 1 onion, cut in half
- 1 bay leaf
- 4-5 cardamom grains
- 5 pound chicken ( or 2 smaller chickens)
- 15-20 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 Tb coriander powder
- 1 Tb lemon juice
- cooking oil
- cooked rice
Boil water with onion, salt, bay leaf and cardamom tied in a muslin bag, then add the chicken and cook until tender. Remove chicken, cut into neat joints and fry.
Discard the muslin bag and mash the onion. Boil the soup stock, add the melokiyah, adjust the seasoning and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Do not overcook, as the melokiyah will lose its ability to be suspended in the broth and fall to the bottom of the pot.
Mix crushed garlic with salt and coriander (taliya) and fry until golden. Toss into the boiling melokiyah and simmer for 2 minutes. Add lemon juice. Place the cooked rice at the bottom of the serving bowl, add a piece of chicken and cover with the soup.
Types of Travel to Egypt by Jimmy Dunn
Neil Bush Family Visits El Gouna by Hazel Heyer
Party Time in Ancient Egypt by Ilene Springer
Camel Trekking in the Sinai by Joyce Carta
Nuweiba by Jimmy Dunn
Egyptian Hajj Painting by Sonny Stengle
Where Have All the Pharaohs Gone by Anita Stratos
Marvelous Melokiyah by Mary Kay Radnich
Exploring Isis by Catherine C. Harris
Never Mind, Just Crossing the Moon by Arnvid Aakre
Editor's Commentary By Jimmy Dunn
Ancient Beauty Secrets By Judith Illes
Book Reviews Various Editors
Hotel Reviews By Jimmy Dunn & Juergen Stryjak
Kid's Corner By Margo Wayman
Cooking with Tour Egypt By Mary K Radnich
The Month in Review By John Applegate
Egyptian Exhibitions By Staff
Egyptian View-Point By Adel Murad
Nightlife Various Editors
Egypt On Screen By Carolyn Patricia Scott
Restaurant Reviews Various Editors
Shopping Around Various Editors
Web Reviews By Siri Bezdicek
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