This post was inspired by a post I read on Nutrition Unplugged a week ago. Janet wrote how our palates are so used to sweet and salty foods that anything outside of that–bitter specifically–is unbearable. What’s bitter you think? Hello asparagus, kale, and Brussels sprouts. You see where I’m going. Janet quoted Barb Stuckey, author of Taste What You’re Missing (added to my to-read list), among other Nutritionist.
And if it’s not bad enough that we can’t tolerate bitter flavors, we’re also teaching our kids to only accept sweet, salty, and greasy tastes. One expert Janet interviewed said that taste preferences broaden over time–ever wondered why you hated egg plants as a child and now you can’t get enough? When we dull our taste buds and our kids’, we’re not receptive to new flavors and tastes. We’re certainly not helping our kids broaden their preferences when we offer the same sweet, salty, and greasy foods. Kids menus don’t help either–they’re pretty much the same everywhere you go: cheese pizza, chicken fingers, French fries, and spaghetti with tomato sauce. If we’re lucky, they might offer broccoli or apple slices but that doesn’t give our kids the chance to taste something new.
Stuckey suggests eating more ethnics foods to widen our tastes preferences. And what a perfect time to share with you one of my favorite Middle Eastern recipes: Mlukhyeh (mlu-ke-yeh). By the way, you can find it spelled many different ways: molokhia, molokheya, mloukhya, and so forth!
It’s a leafy green vegetable similar to spinach. Growing up, my mom bought it fresh, leaves on the stems, and my brother and I were assigned to pulling the leaves. Then my mom would then wash them, spread them over an old bed sheet (there was one designated for kitchen needs) or large trays, and let them air dry for a day. Then she would freeze half of them whole, and that would be used to make a slightly different version of this recipe. She would finely chop the remaining with a funny looking knife then freeze them. As I grew up, she would let me do the chopping myself. I loved it.
Those days are gone. My mom in Jordan still gets her mlukhyeh fresh, but she gets the leaves already pulled. Here in the US, I’m happy to be able to get the frozen. They’re sold in Middle Eastern grocers in the freezer section. You might want to ask for some help since sometimes it’s a treasure hunt to get what you’re looking for from these freezers.
The recipe is simple. In Egypt, they make it with rabbits. My mom has always cooked it with chicken, which is the Palestinian/Jordanian way of doing it. I started by making a chicken broth from fresh organic chicken breasts. You can cut corners and use store-bought chicken broth, but it won’t taste as good, trust me. I used my pressure cooker because it cooks the chicken in no time. You can use any other pot, but it won’t be as fast.
I can’t give you details about the nutrients in mlukhyeh. It’s not something you can find on the USDA database. The two different packages listed different amounts for pretty much everything. It’s a leafy green vegetable. That’s enough for me.
The taste is a bit bitter and a bit sour, especially with the added tomato paste and lemon juice. But that’s the way it should taste. You won’t find this dish in your local kabob restaurant, so go out and give it a try on your own. Let your taste buds try something new!
- 2 tbsp olive oil, separated
- 1 medium-large onion, finely chopped
- 4 uncooked chicken breasts
- 6 c water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground pepper
- 2 tsp all spice
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- ¼ tsp ground cardamom
- 6 c water
- 2 bags frozen fine mlukhyeh
- 1 tbsp tomato past
- 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ½ fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
- 1 lemon
- Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in the pressure cooker. Add the onions and saute until soft. Add the chicken breasts and sear on both sides.
- Add the water, salt, pepper, all spice, cloves, and cardamom. Make sure chicken is covered by the water. Tightly seal your pressure cooker (read the manual!) and pressure cook for 8 minutes.
- Make sure the pressure is released before you open the pressure cooker. With tongs, remove the chicken breasts and place on a plate. Cover with foil paper to keep them warm.
- Add the frozen mlukhyeh bags and the tomato paste to the broth in the pressure cooker. Simmer until all the mlukhyeh melts. Stir to make sure tomato paste is dispersed.
- While stew is simmering, cut the chicken into chunks and add to the stew.
- Heat the remaining olive oil in a small frying pan. Add garlic and cilantro and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add to the stew after all the mlukhyeh has completely melted.
- You can serve this in many ways. You can serve the mlukhyeh is a soup bowl and the rice in another one. Or, you can place rice in a plate with high rim then add the chicken and mlukhyeh stew on top.
- Squeeze some lemon juice over the stew (very important) and enjoy.