Saturday, January 26, 2008

Syrian Style Melukhiyya (Jew's Mallow) with Chicken, served with Vermicelli Rice

So, this is the second in my multipart "What my friend Reem taught me to cook" series of Syrian recipes. This entry is "melukhiyya", known in English as "Jew's Mallow" for who knows what reason.

There are two versions of this recipe apparently - the Egyptian(and Jordanian style) consists of a more soup like consistency with very finely cut leaves that tends to be much more "mucusy" (incidentally the equivalent word is used in Arabic to describe it) i.e. viscous as a result of the nature of the leaves. It's basically the same kind of stuff that's in okra. The Jordanian version, as I've had it, is generally served in small portions as a soup eaten straight from a bowl. In viscosity and serving size, it's much like egg drop soup (though not at all in flavor).

The Syrian and Lebanese styles are quite different - there is generally much less liquid involved, there is generally some form of meat included (chicken here, though sometimes it's made with lamb) and is served with rice(usually on top of the rice). I will give the recipe exactly as Reem made it, though you can feel free to experiment. She really hates the mucusiness of the Egyptian version, for example, but presumably if you like that you can ommit some of the cleaning steps. Also, I've seen it served in restaraunts with a whole chicken thigh+leg rather than in pieces as here. Reem's way was just easier to share with an entire family.

(proportions very approximate and based soley on observation. Nothing was measured):
4-5 cups of Jew's Mallow (presumably frozen from your local Arabic supermarket e.g. Holyland)
5-7 cloves garlic chopped
1 bunch cilantro minced(optional, but tasty)
Arabic spice mix "baharaat"
Curry powder

3 thigh+legs of chicken
Cinnamon stick
Handful of bay leaves (Reem threw in maybe 6-7 small leaves)

1) Boil chicken with cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Though this is partially to cook the chicken, it's also to produce broth. Therefore, you can cook for as long as you like.
2)When finished cooking, remove chicken from bone.

Jew's Mallow:
1) Boil enough water to submerge the jew's mallow.
2) If you get the jew's mallow fresh, you should remove the pithy stem in the middle of the leaves. I don't know if the frozen kind comes with this in or removed, so you be the judge.
3) Once the water has boiled, remove from heat and soak the jew's mallow for about 30 minutes.
4) Drain, then rinse in cold water, then drain.
5) Submerge in cold water (and boy, was the water damn cold, since she doesn't have a water heater), then grab handfuls of the stuff, squeeze out the water, and set the little balls aside.
6) Repeat step 5.
7) Put aside, spreading it out a bit so it dries off somewhat.
Note that most of the above steps are to reduce the mucusiness, so feel free to omit them if you want more viscosity.

The dish:
1) Sautee the chicken and garlic in some oil for a bit, until the chicken is browned a bit and the garlic has lost a bit of it's edge.
2) Add the jew's mallow and cilantro, stir and cook for a while(10-15 minutes) until the jew's mallow is softened a bit.
3) Add maybe 1/2-1 tsp Arabic spice powder(sometimes called "baharaat", not sure what's in it exactly. It's kind of like Arabic curry, since there's no exact standard, but it's all the same idea. You can get this at an Arabic market), coriander, curry powder, and maybe a little cumin if you like.
4) Add enough broth from the chicken to create a stewier rather than soupy consistency. Just enough to have a nice sauce for the rice.
5) Cook for a while, until the leaves are pretty soft - like cooked spinach (which you might be able to use instead of the Jew's Mallow, frankly, though you'd have to cook everything for a really short time or else the spinach would completely break down)
6) Adjust seasonings to taste - you may wish to add more garlic if it's not garlicy enough for you. Conversly, if too garlicy, just cook longer. The jew's mallow stands up well to a lot of cooking, as you'll no doubt have noticed by this point.
7) Serve with the standard Arabic vermicelli rice, as detailed below.

Arabic Vermicelli Rice (whenever people serve something with rice, this is what they serve - rarely plain rice)
Vermicelli(I believe this is the English word for it. Very thin, twisty noodles. I believe they are wheat based)
2x water/quantity of rice.
Oil, butter, or fat (Damascus is famous for using cow fat when making rice. Presumably in the US, lard is pig fat.)
Cube of chicken bullion (optional. One could probably use any extra chicken broth from the above recipe as well)

1) Heat oil/whatever, then crumble(if its not pre-chopped into 1/2-1 inch or so pieces) and brown the vermicelli. You have to make sure to properly brown it, or else it will become one with the rice upon cooking. Though it can be easy to burn it.
2) Add the rice. Reem prefers to cook it for a little while in the oil, though her mother's recipe calls just for water at this point.
3) Add water, bring to boil. Cook until done(it seemed a little longer than 20 minutes, but we didn't time it).
4) When serving, spring a bit of the Arabic spice mix on top.
5) Some people also like to throw peas(frozen, canned, whatever) on top at the end and then mix them in with the rice.

Serve the Melukhiyya either atop or next to the rice, with fresh lemon juice, or the Lebanese melukhiyya sauce.

Lebanese Melukhiyya Sauce
1 onion, minced finely
Ground sumac berries (again, available in Arabic grocery stores)
Apple cider vinegar
Water(1.5-2x as much vinegar, I think)

Combine the ingredients, with each to taste. The onion gives a nice crunch to the meal, and the vinegar adds a nice bit of acidity that is normally provided by the fresh lemon.

Excuse the lack of pictures, but I forgot my camera at home when we made this stuff.


Paul said...

Thanks for this detailed recipe! I've tried making it several times the way my mom and tata have done, but it isn't quiet the same. This looks promising though, except for the cilantro :P

Summer said...

Have you checked my vegetarian recipe for this dish? you can find it here: