Molokhia refers to the leaves of Corchorus olitorius, commonly known in English as , jute mallow or Jew's Mallow. It is used as a vegetable and is popular in Middle East and African countries and is called “Saluyot” in the Philippines. Molokhia is rather bitter. Furthermore, in 1005 AD the Fatimid ruler of Egypt al-Hakim bi Amr Allah issued a decree which prohibited his subjects from eating molokhia, which was thought to be an aphrodisiac. However, his successor caliph al Zahir, permitted the eating again. The Druze, who hold Al-Hakim in high regard and give him quasi-divine authority, continue to respect the ban, and do not eat molokhia of any kind to this day. The food is prepared by removing the central spine from the leaves, and then chopping the leaves finely with garlic and coriander. The dish generally includes some sort of meat; in Egypt this is usually chicken or rabbit, but lamb is usually preferred. The standard molokhia dish in the Levant is prepared by cooking a meat of some sort in a separate pot by boiling. Later onions and garlic are cooked to a simmer, then water and chicken stock cubes are added to form a broth. After boiling, the cooked chicken or meat with the broth coriander and molokhia leaves are added and further cooked another 15 minutes.
In Cyprus the jute leaves are cultivated and grown in the spring, whereupon they are harvested and the leaves are separated from the stem and dried whole. They are cooked in a tomato-based broth with onions and garlic. Lamb on the bone or chicken may also be added. Sometimes it is cooked with chick peas. Most of the time it is served with rice, but if cooked plain it can be served with broth as soup. For optimal results, lemon and potato are also used to help keep the consistency from becoming too slimy. The leaves are rich in iron, calcium, vitamin C, and more than 32 other vitamins, minerals and trace elements. The plant has a potent antioxidant activity. The dish or soup is very popular with the Turkish Cypriots whereas the Greek Cypriots hardly know it.
Malva sylvestris is a species of the mallow genus Malva in the family of Malvaceae and is known as common mallow to English-speaking Europeans, or high mallow and tall mallow. M. sylvestris is a vigorous plant with showy flowers of bright purple, with dark veins, standing 3–4 feet (0.91–1.22 m) high and growing freely in meadows, and in fallow fields. In Morocco, Tunisia and Palestine, Malva leaves are steamed with garlic and tomatoes, and eaten as an appetizer or salad. In Egypt, the leaves are made into a stew-like vegetable dish, especially in winter, known as khobeiza, which is similar to Molokheia. In Cyprus moloha is very popular, eaten steamed plain or with tomatoes and garlic but also with yogurt.
Two wild humble plants which fed the Cypriots for centuries, with more or less the same sounding names, have today found their way in every home, becoming a common culinary denominator between all communities.
The ‘Did You Know’ series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus).