Don’t you just love it when you discover a new ingredient, something you’ve never come across before that just leaps out at out and says…buy me, try me, taste me! Or is it just me? No, I didn’t think so.
The other day I popped in to see my new chum at the Caribbean shop and he had bunches of something green and leafy. It looked similar to bunches of basil which has sprouted a bit too high. It was, he informed me, Melokhia (there are many variations on the spelling) and was used a lot in Arab cooking. If you don’t like the texture of okra, he said, don’t buy it. Well, I do like okra, so I did buy it, and to be honest, I didn’t find anything slimey or slippery about it at all, it adds texture to a simple soup.
I got straight onto the phone to my oracle of Arab recipes, my mum, and she knew immediately what I was talking about and told me that she had bought it dried and made a recipe from Claudia Roden’s A New Book of Middle Eastern Food. I jotted down the details to make it, and then promptly ordered the book together with another of hers Arabesque which I am now devouring slowly.
Ms Roden tells us “Melokhia is one of Egypt’s National dishes, an ancient peasant soup”. As I like to embrace my inner ancient peasant, I knew this was for me. Fear not if you can’t get hold of it, use spinach or some delicate green leafed vegetable. I was thinking of something old, something new as this is essentially a chicken or vegetable soup recipe with the added new ingredient. Sorry the photos don’t look that exciting, it’s not a looker, but it really wins points on flavour.
Ingredients (these are my scaled down version, the recipe calls for double)
- 1.25 litres of chicken (or meat stock, but I think vegetable would be good too) reserve the meat if using
- 500g of melokhia (leaves only), washed and chopped (or 60g of dried melokhia crushed and saked in hot water until doubled in size)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Olive oil
- ½ tablespoon of ground coriander
- Cayenne pepper (I used pimenton)
Bring the stock to the boil and add the fresh or reconstituted melokhia and boil for 10 (fresh) or 30 (dried) minutes. Prepare a garlic sauce by frying crushed garlic and a little salt in a small amount of oil. When the garlic is golden add the coriander and cayenne, mix to a paste and fry for a few moments longer.
Add the paste to the soup and simmer for a few minutes more.
This can be served as is or with rice. I added in the vegetables and chicken from my stock. The flavour is delicate from the Melokhia, and it was exciting to be discovering a new ingredient and rediscovering the wonderful recipes of Claudia Roden.