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Monday, 20 February 2012

Mloukieh o Djaj - Stew of Jute Leaves with Roasted Chicken


My Friend had asked me to post Mloukieh Recipe a while back, and having to fit the gym, courses, meetings, the kids, their activities and home into an average day, I never got the chance to do it, till now!! But now that we are here, I will go on to say that this is one of my favourite Arabic Cuisine concoctions. Not only that, but it happens to be almost everybody's and especially famous with kids! For the longest time, and so is the case, everytime I ask my children what they would like to have for lunch, they always say "Mloukieh"!! If it was up to them, they will have it everyday of the week. I had a little experiment once with one of my son's friends, who came over for a play date. I had cooked this amazing dish for them. Being English, he had no idea what this food was, but I asked him to just try and if he didn't like it I would give him something else to have. He tried it, and loved it that every time he comes over he says: "I hope you cook that seaweed soup, coz I love it!!" lol

I totally recommend you give this a go if you have never tried it before, because it is truly good :)

Of course Mloukieh is not seaweed soup, it actually grows on land! It is the leaves of Jute (similar to spinach, yet more bitter in flavour) that are treated as vegetables in Middle Eastern, North African, East African and South Asian cuisines. It is eaten cooked, not raw, and in Arabic cuisine it is usually cooked in chicken (most famous) or meat broth - and in some cases including both meat and chicken together - into a light yet rich stew. This stew is said to have originated in Egypt, however, as a fact nobody knows how the region got to eat Jute leaves, and where it started. The preparation of Mloukieh or Molokhyyah stew differs from region to another. The Egyptians' way is to very finely chop the leaves and then cook them into a broth (to look like the stew in the picture above). While in Levantine Cuisine, the leaves are cooked whole instead of finely chopped. However, and since fresh Mloukieh leaves are not always available, most people would go for the frozen leaves, which mostly come finely chopped, rather than whole leaves. Therefore, most people would serve the finely chopped stew. I personally prefer the whole leaves one in terms of texture, but nonetheless would have the finely chopped one any time.

Mloukieh is usually served topping a rice pilaf, alongside roasted and browned chicken. Custom has it that when hostesses are cooking a special lunch for guests, they would serve the Mloukieh along side Djaj Mahshi (Stuffed whole chicken - stuffing is a mix of precooked rice, minced meat and nuts). Usually each of the three items are dished separately and the host will plate rice topped with Mloukieh alongside a piece of chicken and a lemon wedge. Mloukieh needs a squeeze of lemon to perfect the flavour, or you can prepare a special vinaigrette with onions and chili (recipe below), which fabulously compliments the flavours of this dish. I would normally have both ready, lemon wedges and the vinaigrette, and keep it up to each one to decide which to go for.

Some preparations of Mloukieh include coriander and some don't. When the recipe includes coriander, some will cook the coriander with the stew, and others would lightly fry coriander and thinly sliced garlic in a little olive oil, then add it to the top of the finished dish. Whichever way you decide to go, the outcome is the same as the flavours eventually intermingle creating the whole either way. However if you are not into the whole coriander business (although highly recomended) you can skip the whole thing and cook it without coriander.

If you have access to fresh Mloukieh Leaves, then you need to cut the leaves off the stalks. Discard the stalks, then wash the leaves and dry them. Usually the leaves are then placed on a large tray to air dry for a couple of days, tossing them occasionally to ensure equal dryness. They are then  lightly stir fried and frozen till ready to use. My mother in law told me that she freezes them without stir frying, which I have tried and found to work very well. Then the leaves are used in the same manner as the finely chopped method.

After many explorations and experimentations and all, the below is how I cook Mloukieh at home. How I love it the best and how my family likes it.
PS For the roasted chicken, follow the link, and scroll down to the chicken part.

Let's do this....

You Need
to serve 4

2 whole roasted chickens
Rice Pilaf Side dish, topped with toasted nuts

For Stew
2 frozen Mloukieh bags, thawed
1 liter chicken broth
1 head of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 bunch coriander, finely chopped (optional)
2 tbsp Olive oil
Salt & Black pepper to taste

For Onion Vinaigrette
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup lemon juice (about 3 small lemons)
1/4 cup apple vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red chili finely chopped
Salt & Black pepper to taste

Clean and roast your chickens as instructed in the link above. While the chickens are roasting start making the stew.

In a large pot, place the olive oil, the thinly sliced garlic and stir fry until the garlic is translucent but not browned (browning the garlic will lend a bitter flavour which is not favourable here). Once the garlic is translucent add the finely chopped coriander, and stir fry for 3 minutes. Add the Mloukieh (whole leaves or finely chopped) and stir fry to incorporate. Continue to cook while stirring for about 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken broth, and stir to combine all. Check seasoning and adjust as necessary. Bring the whole to a boil, then let boil for 2-3 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the leaves are cooked through and the flavours have meshed together.


Make the Onion Vinaigrette,
Place all vinaigrette ingredients in a jar and shake till all are incorporated. Please note that because there is no emulsifying agent in this vinaigrette the mixture will separate, therefore before serving shake again and stir before pouring.

To serve, place rice on dinner plate, top with a ladle of stew alongside a piece of chicken or shred some chicken pieces instead, then pour a little vinaigrette on top or a squeeze of lemon juice.

Et voila, Mloukieh the old fashioned way, the always good and comforting way :)



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