Something Old, Something New – Melokhia

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.

Melokhia Soup (1)

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
  • Seasoning
  • 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.


44 thoughts on “Something Old, Something New – Melokhia

  1. We have a show on tv here called “Food Safari” where just about every cuisine known to man is explored and recipes shared. The program goes from restaruants to locals in their home showing people how to prepare the best known ingredients and use them in recipes from each cuisine. I love the show because it is an authentic “share” and well worth watching. I saw Melokhia on an Egyptian episode and everyone cooks and eats it. It looks like a soupy dish and I did a bit of research and found out that melokhia has a very short season and is highly sought after here in Australia by Egyptians and arabs in general. It is apparently incredibly good for you as well so while it is available, grab it! You could probably grow it in Spain as well so think about planting it this season if you really like it :). The Egyptian’s that were on the episode were absolutely addicted to the stuff! I am glad that you said it wasn’t slimy like okra because one hint of sluggy slime and I most certainly WON’T be putting it in my mouth! 😉

    1. Ooh how interesting! It does seem to be highly prized and the man in the shop was very proud that he had it. Will have to do a bit of research and find out how it’s grown!

  2. I never seem to grow enough spinach to steam for a decent meal so this sounds the perfect recipe. I have some spinach just coming ready for the first picking so here’s to experiencing a new recipe.

  3. How interesting! And definitely something I haven’t heard of or seen before. It makes me want to run out to my near and dear international farmer’s market and see if they have it! I know you said you could sub spinach, but is there something you’d compare the flavor to, or did I miss that?

    1. You’re right, I didn’t mention the flavour – it’s not strong, very subtle and almost impossible to describe. At the risk of putting people off – I was reminded of what I would imagine the smell of freshly mown grass would translate to…but more delicate still 🙂

  4. Suena delicioso Tanya. La verdad es que nunca he oído hablar de este vegetal, pero como dices que puedo sustituirla por otra verdura, me reservaré esta sopita para uno de estos días de frío… 😉
    Un abrazo,

    1. Hola Giovanna – era un ingrediente nuevo para mí. La verdad es que el sabor es muy delicado entonces el cambio con otra verdura como espinacas será bueno también. Como una sopa de picadillo con verdura!

  5. Terrific: I have definitely never heard of melokhia either, but have always loved the ‘Food Safari’ series: don’t remember the soup, but have the disc with Egyptian food on it – so another lesson to learn 🙂 !

      1. A few current facts: a new season is starting local time, tomorrow Thursday, St Valentine’s Day. It’s supposed to be available ‘on line’ [don’t know how far 🙂 !] from SBS [our small but fabulous station for cookery, sport, politics etc.]. The Egyptian episode was Season 3. So google SBS Food Safari and see where it gets you 🙂 ! I would not miss it for quids! Oh, 30 miinutes in duration once a week . . .

      2. I cannot quite believe it! Just googled SBS FS myself at the moment: amidst a very exciting page of choices, the Egyptian episode is highlighted! Watched the first 10 mins, the rest tonight!! Total co-incidence or the best ‘homework’ on the planet ?!

  6. Count me in as one who’s neither seen nor heard of melokhia. And if someone had said it’s like okra, I would have thanked him and quickly moved to a display with more familiar vegetables. I must admit, though, Tanya, you do make it sound delicious in your soup. I just might give it a try. Yet another thing on my “find” list. I either have to start finding these things or quit putting them on the list. 🙂

    1. I’m just intrigued by new and different ingredients – I’ll always give them a try once and if I end up making that face that my mother told me not to make at the table when I was little (you know the one, all scrunched up and grimacing!) then I’ll just pass the next time I see it!

  7. I’m an avid admirer of Claudia Roden. Great writer, intellect and cook. Something that separates her and her contemporaries from the glut of “cookery writers” who now produce some 80,000 different titles each year. Got that off my chest. I’ve never cooked with melokhia and there’s no chance that I’ll find it here, but that soup sounds just my sort of food. Nice one.

  8. Tanya I really like the sounds of this soup, and I haven’t tried anything of Ms Roden’s that wasn’t spot-on perfectly delicious. Her books are a READ not just a collection of (albeit) wonderful recipes! I don’t have (and haven’t seen) Arabesque and I’ve made myself a promise that there’re to be no new cookbooks til [date specific.] 🙂 But maybe I can find it at the library. Melokhia on the other hand, probably not. Baby spinach you think?

    1. Totally agree, she’s a wonderful writer conjuring up images with her words. Who knows, maybe the library will oblige! Yes, I’m thinking baby spinach would be good but obviously would only need a very short time of cooking.

  9. If I ever stumble across it, I’ll know what to do – and not shy away!
    Hubby and I used to buy the occasional Iron Chef ingredient…take it home, then figure out what to do with it. We should do that again…

  10. Hi,Chica!
    Rene’ was born in Egypt ,now lives in Italy,but never forgot Malohejia ( this is how he spells it!) and,from time to time,he cooks the soup ! We found the frozen type vegetable,which is even easier to deal with!

    1. How wonderful – I love Egypt, have visited several times and the people and the food were such special memories. And another spelling, how amazing that there are so many variations! Wonderful that you can buy it frozen, much easier 🙂

  11. I have never heard of this either but, like you, would have to buy it! I’m so jealous of your Claudia Roden collection, they are at the top of my very long list of wants!! 🙂

    1. Oh yes, these books would be great for you – am taking advantage of Amazon and free UK postage! Could always get you something if you want it and bring it back to Spain for you. Let me know!

  12. Mloukhiaaa! 🙂
    Glad to know you’ve tried it! I frowned at the shopkeeper’s statement – because I don’t like okra, but I really like mloukhia! I’m glad you didn’t see the resemblance, too 🙂
    The way I’ve seen my Egyptian friends make it is different to how we do it. Their soup is all green, and the mloukhia is finely ground – almost like a thick green coloured soup.

    Mum buys the dried mloukhia and adds it to a pan with some chicken stock – she poaches the chicken with a heap of spices and uses to the stock to soften the mloukhia leaves and cook them through. She adds the typical salt/pepper/allspice and when it’s time to serve, she covers the entire plate with the poached chicken. She shallow fries some cashews and almonds which add a whole new texture and flavour to the dish.
    We normally eat it with rice, some people eat it just with bread.
    Definitely with a big squeeze of lemon juice!

    I hope you give this way a go – and let me know if you do, and whether you like it 🙂

  13. Oh sweetie dahling don’t we all like to embrace the inner peasant, or should I say paysant….
    Never heard or tried it, love Claudia Roden, if you want anymor erecipes/books just shout!
    Oh and which shop?!

    1. Oh yes, paysant indeed. Made me laugh as in Italy if you call someone a peasant it’s such an insult and my dad uses it when driving a lot! May have to how a browse through your Claudia Roden collection as am really enjoying her books. The shop is called Spicy Buddha and is in Sackville Road on the right hand side just after the railway bridge if you’re heading down to the seafront. It’s a funny little place but the guy who runs it is very jolly and often has a good selection of weird and wonderful veg as well as all the usual spices. Well worth popping in (and then I’m only round the corner with a bottle of wine in the fridge)!

    1. Oh do, they’re a wonderful read as well as great recipes. Some of them could do with Roger’s touch on the photos but if you’re more about the quality of writing, they’re great.

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