My new thing lately is buying cookbooks when I travel. My latest is a Tunisian cookbook with all of its recipes written in French. The Internet was very helpful when it came to figuring out what I needed to do to make it edible. It wasn’t just the pretty food photographs that made me buy it, but this mloukhiya recipe. When the Dr. and I were traveling in Tunisia and scouring the food markets, one of the least familiar spice we saw for sale was that of the corète of Japan. Whenever we asked the seller, they told us it was powdered spinach because of its color. A trip to the grocery store in Carthage solved the mystery. I went to the spice aisle and picked a packet up with an English translation of its contents.
I later found out–happily, too–that the mloukhiya plant is what we Filipinos call saluyot because the English name of the plant translated to corchorus. This recipe is a beef stew using the powdered leaves simmered for a long time until it is thick and almost black. You know it’s done when it has the consistency of stewed okra. My father is Ilocano, but I don’t remember ever eating, or liking, saluyot. I may have to revisit those childhood memories.
Mloukhiya is generally prepared to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Fast-Breaking, or the end of Ramadan. Because I’ve inundated you with Tunisian stories for the past two weeks, I just thought it was appropriate to publish this recipe today. I still have to check out the African store in my neighborhood to see if they sell the spice.
1 1/2 pounds of beef chunks
1 large onion, quartered
1 packet of powdered mloukhiya
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs of mint leaves, leave some for garnish
salt, pepper, oil
1. Season the beef chunks with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
2. In the meantime, in a large Dutch oven, add the mloukhiya in 8 cups of water and some olive oil. Slowly stir with a heat-resistant spatula until the powder is fully-mixed in. Use the spatula to keep the mloukhiya from sticking to the sides of the pot.
3. When the mixture takes the consistency of a thick cream, bring to a boil, uncovered, and then lower the heat and simmer, covered. Stir occasionally and pour in a little water from time to time in order to maintain its initial volume.
4. Add the beef chunks with the rest of the ingredients and continue to simmer for about 2 hours, or until beef is cooked through. Season with salt, pepper and chili flakes.