Molohiya is both the name of the meal and the leaves, best described as akin to spinach although that really doesn’t do it justice. It’s not uncommon for the floors of Cypriot village houses to be scattered with fresh molihiya leaves (naturally laying on a clean sheet!) left to dry. However, the leaves can also be bought already dried in bags from most supermarkets in Cyprus and Arabic countries, as well as from similar shops found in London. Long hot summer breaks whilst I was still at uni, saw me joining in with local ladies, picking the leaves from the tall stems, ready to lay them to dry. They advocated it being the best way to ensure the leaves are clean and of superior quality – buying pre-dried, leaves a lot to luck and the diligence of those responsible for selecting. Time, was a luxury these ladies had, straight after breakfast the evening meal was planned, vegetables were hollowed ready for stuffing, salad was picked from the garden and dough was left to raise. Another name for the plant which originates from Egypt is Jews mallow, a long time ago boats from Egypt brought the plant to the shores of Cyprus and it has remained the national dish ever since, particularly in the north, though celebrated in the south too.
I can eat this meal every day, and some trips to Cyprus have seen me do just that! I first discovered molihiya as a child. Whenever I landed, my auntie always used to make sure she had some on the stove ready for me to scoop a bowlful, boy oh boy, was I delighted! Apparently it was my paternal Grandmother’s (whom I never met due to her passing before I was born) speciality. Dad recalls with a twinkle in his eye how she would put the tail of an ox in for extra flavour, and replaced cubes of meat (chicken, lamb or goat are traditional) with small kofte (meatballs). I have yet to try that method, but surely will… in honour of her. My healthier version (found under Cyprus in Lemon Compendium) uses cubed chicken or lamb, minus fat & skin (some people plonk a whole chicken in roughly chopped, including the skin) and also allows for a veggie alternative to be made at the same time…Enjoy:
Molohiya was originally brought from Egypt to Cyprus, but anyone who knows North Cyprus well, would concur it is the meal that most evokes village life, its unique aroma providing a sense of ‘home’. Lemon plays a big role, and like a curry; it tastes even better the next day. Accommodating differing tastes, I make mine a particular way. Some cook the chicken or indeed lamb with the leaves from the beginning, but my method, means you can cater for vegetarians easily, by removing a portion before adding the meat (in which case, theirs needs no further cooking) Some cook it with chilli, I prefer instead to serve it with Sumac (a lemony spice) Pul Biber (more peppery) and aci biber (hotter). Serve with Çoban Salatası (Turkish salad) çörek bread, cakistas (olives) and gabbah (pickled caper leaves) or indeed any other pickles. Afiyet olsun!
200g dried molohiya leaves
4 lemon, juice only
60ml olive oil
4 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
Pinch salt & pepper
400g tin tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp organic low salt, vegetable bouillon
450g chicken breast, cubed
Combine the molohiya and juice of one lemon, cover with boiling water and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Drain in a sieve. Place into a clean bowl of cold water to rinse the leaves, work in batches, squeeze the leaves in your hands, green slime will be released, repeat this process until the leaves only produce clean water (a fair few times)! Squeeze the leaves and set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat half the oil and fry the onions and garlic until transparent. Add the salt, pepper, tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, molohiya, juice of 2 lemons, bouillon and water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for an hour. Meanwhile heat the remaining oil in a pan, fry the chicken until golden and set aside. After the molohiya has been cooking for an hour, add the chicken and cook for a further 30 minutes. Add the juice of the remaining lemon, stir and serve with the suggested accompaniments above.