Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

Though It Looks Humble, Molohiya Is a King's Dish

by 
Yaren Fadiloglulari
December 1, 2021

Known in English as nalta jute or Jew’s mallow, molohiya is one of the standout dishes in my memories of my childhood in Cyprus. Some say that the origin of the word comes from the Arabic word “malik,” which means king. This doesn’t surprise me. As Cypriots, we definitely treat our molohiya like a king. It didn’t travel from ancient Egypt to Cyprus for nothing.

Cypriots plant the molohiya shrubs in May and harvest the leaves during the summer months when they are about one meter high. Then the leaves are spread out on bed sheets until they are dry. This means that every summer, the green leaves of molohiya occupy many of our beds. 

This was a usual scene at my grandmother’s house. There were drying molohiya leaves everywhere: on the bed in the room where my uncle used to sleep, on the second dining table that we rarely used, and atop just about every other flat surface in the house. After the leaves are fully dry, they are put in old pillowcases to stock for the winter. We use the dry leaves throughout the year to cook with lamb or chicken. 

No items found.

I ate molohiya all my life, so this whole process was ordinary to me. It was later on in my life when I realised that it was actually quite odd that we give up our beds for some leaves. So I asked my grandmother, “Why beds?” 

“The floor is dirty,” she said. “They need to be somewhere clean and they also need to be away from the sun so that they dry properly. You can put them on a table as well but it is much more convenient to use empty beds in your house if you have any. If you don’t, it’s also fine: you put them on the bed during the day and when you are going to sleep, you just put them on a table.”

Molohiya is more than just some green leaves. It is not an ordinary dish in Cyprus; it is the king’s dish. Every time my grandmother cooked molohiya, I would know it long before entering her house. The smell of the leaves simmering in tomato sauce and meat is so distinct that you can smell it from meters away.

After I wrote this recipe for molohiya, I called my grandmother and asked her if it was okay. After all, she was the expert. 

“It’s good,” she said. “I cooked it for the family today - it’s like you felt it! I’m sure you are missing it.”

Maybe the smell is so strong that I can smell it from overseas, I thought. At that moment, I wanted nothing but to be there to eat the king’s dish and feel like a queen.

A Simple King's Dish

 | 
 | 

Ingredients

1/2 cups of dried molohiya leaves (can be bought at a Turkish/Mediterranean deli and online)

Optional: 3oz/half box of Fifth Season spinach

2 medium sized onions, sliced

8-9 pieces of bony lamb/chicken meat

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

3 medium sized tomatoes, finely chopped

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 lemon

5-6 tbsp olive oil

Salt

Pepper

 | 
 | 

Ingredients

1/2 cups of dried molohiya leaves (can be bought at a Turkish/Mediterranean deli and online)

Optional: 3oz/half box of Fifth Season spinach

2 medium sized onions, sliced

8-9 pieces of bony lamb/chicken meat

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

3 medium sized tomatoes, finely chopped

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 lemon

5-6 tbsp olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Ingredients

1/2 cups of dried molohiya leaves (can be bought at a Turkish/Mediterranean deli and online)

Optional: 3oz/half box of Fifth Season spinach

2 medium sized onions, sliced

8-9 pieces of bony lamb/chicken meat

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

3 medium sized tomatoes, finely chopped

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 lemon

5-6 tbsp olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Directions

1. Remove stems and brown parts from the dried molohiya leaves and leave them in lukewarm water for ten minutes so that they don’t fall apart or crumble. Then, squeeze off the excess water.

2. Season the meat with salt and pepper and fry in olive oil in a large pot until they turn brown. Remove pieces of meat to a platter and reserve.

3. Add the onions and half of the garlic and cook until soft.

4. Add two tablespoons of tomato paste and finely chopped tomatoes. Stir the mixture.

5. Add the drained molohiya leaves and the optional spinach to the sauce, and enough fresh water to cover the contents of the pan. Lower the heat.

6. Check it often to make sure that there is enough water. If the sauce is too consistent before the leaves are soft, add more water.

7. Add salt, pepper, garlic and lemon. 

8. Add the meat back to the pan and let it simmer until the molohiya leaves are very soft. This usually takes 1-2 hours.

9. Serve it with rice.

About the Author

Yaren Fadiloglulari

Browse Additional Recipes

I Screwed up my Strawberry Patch, but the Silver Lining Is This Spinach Strawberry Salad

by 
Julie Laing
Read More

What To Do If You Binged “Emily in Paris” and You’re Now Binging Leeks

by 
Daniela Savone
Read More

Celebs Eat This Salad Pizza and You Can Too

by 
Tamara Palmer
Read More