Ramadan recipe: molokhia, a medieval Arabic dish done bil zeit for a healthier iftar option

Throughout the holy month, 'The National' is teaming up with Table Tales to share daily recipes to experiment with at home

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, April 10, 2021. Ramadan Recipes. Spinach Fateh. Victor Besa/The National Section: AC Reporter: Hanan Sayed Worrell
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, April 10, 2021. Ramadan Recipes. Spinach Fateh. Victor Besa/The National Section: AC Reporter: Hanan Sayed Worrell

Join The National and Table Tales on a culinary journey around the Middle East to savour the quintessential dishes that embody the spirit of Ramadan. From table staples to family favourites, this series of recipes – one for each day of Ramadan – pays homage to the holy month and the home cook alike.

An age-old ingredient, molokhia finds mention in the 14th-century Kanz Al-Fawa’id Fi Tanwi’ Al-Mawa’id book (Medieval Arab-Islamic Culinary Art).

The dish dates back to the days of the pharaohs, while there are some who believe it was first prepared by ancient Jews, which may account for its first translation, Jew’s mallow soup.

Molokhia, or jute leaves, as they naturally grow. Wikicommons 
Molokhia, or jute leaves, as they naturally grow. Wikicommons

Although the dish is considered a national symbol of Egypt, consumed by farmers and urbanites alike, this version is made the Lebanese way.

Hanan Sayed Worrell, of Table Tales, says: “When chopped and added to chicken, rabbit or duck broth, the leaves offer a mucilaginous quality. However, this is an unusual and uncommon recipe, in that it is vegetarian and meant to be eaten cold, as a side.

“The dish really brings out the essence of the molokhia leaves, since they are simply sauteed with onion, garlic and coriander. The flavours are not overpowered by the traditional chicken or meat broth,” says Worrell.

In fact, Levantine cuisine has a rich array of vegetarian recipes sauteed in oil, or food done “bil zeit”, owing to the Christian population observing Lent. More common are loubieh bil zeit (green beans) and hindbeh bil zeit (dandelion greens), while recipe contributor Sallama Al Sayegh shares: “Molokhia bil zait is unique to our family. I always have at least one bil zeit dish on our Ramadan table. They are healthy with lots of fibre, easy to digest and have a high water content, ideal after a long day’s fast. Any leftovers can be eaten for suhoor.”

Whether or not you add meat to the dish, molokhia (jute leaves) have significant health benefits, packed as they are with vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, iron and dietary fibre.

Click through the gallery below to see all of the dishes include in The National and Table Tales' Ramadan recipe series:

Sallama Al Sayegh's molokhia bil zeit – jute leaf in olive oil

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

  • 1kg fresh molokhia
  • 300g fresh coriander, chopped
  • 340g (2 medium) onions, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp coriander, ground
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 greens chillies, seeded and chopped
  • 2 whole green chillies (or less, as per taste)
  • 120ml cooking oil
  • 120ml lemon juice
  • Salt, to taste
  • Lemon wedges, to garnish

Method:

  1. Pick the leaves of the molokhia, wash and dry thoroughly.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the oil, add the onions and saute for 5 to 10 minutes, until golden.
  3. Add all the garlic and chopped chilis and stir for 1 minute.
  4. Add the fresh coriander, whole green chilis, coriander powder and salt, and stir to combine all ingredients.
  5. Working in batches, add the molokhia leaves and stir to combine with the onion mixture.
  6. Leave it to cook on low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring frequently. The molokhia is done when it turns darker and the liquid has dried out.
  7. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice and mix well.
  8. Serve on a platter and garnish with lemon wedges. This dish is best served cold.

This dish has been brought to you by Sallama Al Sayegh and curated by international recipe hunter Hanan Sayed Worrell, author of Table Tales: The Global Nomad Cuisine of Abu Dhabi. The Table Tales concept celebrates the people and stories that give flavour to recipes of the Middle East.

Published: April 22, 2021 03:09 PM

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