When you think of rice in Mexican cuisine it is often as rice, beans and tortillas. Rice beans and tortillas is often the only food available to the poorest (financially speaking) people in México (1). Rice (Oryza sativa) is considered to have reached the New World via two main means. Initially it was introduced by Spanish colonists through the port of Vera Cruz, probably in the 1520s. This was the origin of Mexican rice cultivation. At around the same time (a little later maybe), African rice (Oryza glaberrima) was brought to Brazil and the USA by African slaves. African rice was domesticated independently of Asian rice and is a different species. Wild rice (Zizania palustris), grown in North America is a long distant relative to both but is nothing like white rice.
- the poorest (the campesinos) will often enrich this by the addition of the wild herbs (known as quelites)
Outside of México rice is often mistreated when cooked in “Mexican food” and the standard Chipotle (or in my hometown, Zambrero) burrito is a culinary travesty created by cramming a whole meal into a freaking tortilla.
If you just want to stuff your neck then this might be the way to go. If you want to enjoy Mexican food then don’t eat this.
Rice is ubiquitous in Mexican cookery and, in this case the herby green rice known as arroz verde, is a culinary wonder that is strong enough to stand as a dish on its own. The following (slightly adapted) recipe for Arroz Verde, by Karen Hursh Graber, (1) is an excellent recipe and a good place to start combining fresh green herbs and rice.
- 1 cup rice
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 small or 2 large poblano chiles, roasted, seeded and peeled (substitute with 1 large jalapeno or 2-3 smaller serranos – adjust according to your heat preference) – OPTIONAL
- 2-3 sprigs fresh parsley
- 2-3 sprigs fresh epazote (use 1 cup of freshly chopped cilantro instead of the herbs mentioned in the recipe) – OPTIONAL
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 4 tomate verde (tomatillos) – OPTIONAL
- 1/2 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas – OPTIONAL
- Salt to taste
- Soak the rice in hot water to cover for fifteen minutes, then rinse in a strainer under running water until the water runs clear.
- Drain and let dry.
- Heat the oil and sauté the rice, stirring to prevent sticking or burning, until golden.
- In the meantime, mix the chicken broth, onion, garlic, chile (if using) and herbs/greens and tomate verde (if using) in the blender.
- Add the purée, and when it has been absorbed add the remaining two cups of broth.
- Cover and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed.
- Remove from heat, and add the peas if using them.
- Stir to fluff, taste for salt, and serve immediately.
**This recipe uses the Mexican herb epazote. the flavour of this herb is not for everyone. Its flavour is unique and lingers (See Post : Epazote). You can substitute either herb in the recipe (epazote, parsley) with cilantro (coriander leaves and tender stems). Other green herbs could also be used, as can spinach or chaya (See Post : Chaya). Quelites like chayote vines, chepil (See Post : Chipilin : Crotalaria longirostrata), or alaches (See Post : Alache : Anoda cristata) can also be used. Alaches are a mucilaginous quelite and will produce a baba similar to the mallows or the following herb, the star of this story, molokhia.
**Ignore the peas – I do
Here is another very tasty green rice from another culture.
Jane M’s Mouloukhieh (1)
Mouloukhieh is a very popular green in Lebanon and Egypt and the name refers to the leaves of Corchorus olitorius, commonly known in English as jute mallow or Jew’s Mallow (1).
- The geographical origin of Corchorus olitorius is often disputed, because it has been cultivated since centuries both in Asia and in Africa, and it occurs in the wild in both continents. There are various accounts of its discovery, though most seem to recognize that it originated in (or at least was first cultivated in) Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs. Some believe molokhia was first prepared by ancient Jews, its English name, Jew’s Mallow, is derived from a claim that Jewish priests were the ones who discovered and began using it. The plant is often thought to be the mallow mentioned in the Biblical Book of Job : Chapter 30 verses 3 and 4 : Gaunt from poverty and hunger, they gnawed the dry land, and the desolate wasteland by night. They plucked mallow among the shrubs, and the roots of the broom tree were their food.
C. olitorius is grown commercially in southern Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa and West Africa. It is a tall, usually annual herb, reaching a height of around 2.4 m (7 to 8 feet). The plant is utilised for more than its edible leaves. It is used medicinally (1) and its long fibrous stems are processed to make fibre (string, rope) and cloth. The fibre is easy to produce, sturdy, and biodegradable (and produces no toxic smoke if burnt); it is also the second most versatile fabric after cotton, and the second most common fibre grown and used across the world.
- The leaves are demulcent, diuretic, febrifuge, and tonic; they are medicinally used in the treatment of chronic cystitis, gonorrhea, and dysuria. A cold infusion is said to restore the appetite and strength. The seeds are purgative. (Kuete 2017) : C. olitorius is also used in traditional medicine to heal gonorrhea, chronic cystitis, cancers, and as an analgesic, febrifuge, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and cardiotonic. (Djeussi etal 2013) : The leaves are another form of protection against Arsenic induced cardiotoxicity (Mehta 2015). Various studies and Clinical trials have been carried out on the plant with regards to its anticancer and anti-mutagenic activities as well as its hepatoprotective, antimicrobial, antipyretic (fever reducing) and analgesic (pain relieving) effects. Its anti-inflammatory properties also have shown to be effective in the treatment of atopic dermatitis and in Diabetes mellitus and related complications (Kumari etal 2018)
This recipe comes from Jane, a Jordanian lady whose parents were from Palestine. This is one of her familys favourite recipes. The dish is traditionally an Egyptian dish. In the Middle East Egypt is considered to be part North Africa and this dish is made with rabbit. Once the recipe moved into the Middle East it began to be made with either beef or chicken. Mulukhiyah was a known dish in the Medieval Arab world. The recipe on how to prepare it is mentioned in the 14th century Arabic book Kanz al-Fawa’id fi Tanwi’ al-Mawa’id.
- also Mulukhiyah, molokhia, mulukhiyyah, moroheiya
Jane bought this dish to work one day and the smell of it reheating piqued my interest (as does almost anything involving green herb dishes). She said it is one of her childrens (and her childrens friends) favourite dishes. It consisted of white rice mixed with finely chopped green herb. The herbs were a fresh vibrant green and there was an appealing sourness to the dish. The chicken was mixed in and there was a slight baba to the dish which appeared as thin slightly sticky looking tendrils with the lifting of each forkful. The baba did not detract from the dish in any way.
This is the recipe that Jane gave me. It is very similar in one of the processes I use when making mole. I cook the chicken first and use the stock the chicken was cooked in as a key part of the recipe.
I’ve played with the recipe a little bit and broken it into three sections (for my own convenience)
- 2 breasts (or 1 breast and 1 thigh) or as Jane told me “use just thigh meat as this has more flavour than the breast)
- 1 onion – peeled
- 1 onion – roughly chopped
- 1 carrot – roughly chopped (Janes recommendation)
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- OPTIONAL – a few cardamom pods (Janes recommendation)
- water – a little over 2.5 litres (you want about 10 cups remaining after the chicken has been cooked)
- 2 cups white long grain rice
- 2 tablesp oil (neutral flavoured – dont use extra virgin olive oil)
- 4 cups (1 litre) chicken broth
- 1/4 teasp ground cinnamon
- salt – to taste
- 1 bag frozen molokhia leaves (500g). See **NOTES**
- 5 large cloves of garlic – crushed
- 1 bunch cilantro (including stems) – washed and chopped
- 100ml red wine vinegar
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 onion – finely diced
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- pita bread – cut into wedges and toasted
- start with the chicken – you’ll want to use the broth it is cooked in for both the rice and the molokhia. Put the chicken in a large deep cooking pot. . Add the salt, the cinnamon sticks, the bay leaves, one whole peeled onion as it is and one onion cut into pieces. Add water to cover the chicken and put over high heat, when it comes to boil clean all the white froth that forms on the surface and let it boil for 2 mins. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and let it cook for 30 to 35 mins or until the chicken is tender. Set the chicken and the whole onion (you’ll be using it later) aside and start on the rice
- onto the rice – we are going to use the “absorption method” to cook the rice – in a pot heat the 2 tbsp. oil and add the washed rice. Stir over medium heat for few mins then add 4 cups of broth, you want the rice to be covered by enough broth that it comes up to the first knuckle of your finger. Add salt if you had to put extra water and 1/4 tsp cinnamon, bring to the boil, stir so that the rice dis not stuck to the bottom of the pan and cover the pot with a lid (preferably tight fitting) then turn down to the lowest heat and let it simmer for 12 mins (DO NOT lift the lid during this time). When the rice is halfway through the cooking time get onto the molokhia.
3. the molokhia – In another pot heat 1 tbsp. of oil and sauté (over medium heat) the garlic until light golden then add part of the chopped coriander (I would use the chopped stems here as they can withstand cooking – add the chopped fresh leaves in the later section so as to retain some of their freshness and zing). Add 5 to 6 cups from the chicken broth. Smash the whole onion (which we saved from the liquid we cooked the chicken in) with a fork or blender (or molcajete) and add to the pot. Add the red wine vinegar and lemon juice. Raise the heat and when it comes to boil drop in the frozen molokhia. Keep it over high heat until it starts boiling again, then cover and let it simmer over medium to low heat for 15 minutes, finally add the rest of coriander and leave it for another 5 mins.
4. the garnishes – toast the pine nuts – the pine nuts can be toasted and added to the rice (just after the rice has been browned but before the stock is added – we wont use it here in this recipe though). Finely dice 1 onion and cover with 1/4 cup of the red wine vinegar. Toast the pita bread wedges
- Place the rice on a platter, sprinkle over the toasted pine nuts. Place the molokhia on top of the rice. Shred the chicken and place on top of the molokhia (the shredded chicken can also be mixed into the molokhia before being put on the rice). Sprinkle over the onion/red wine vinegar pickle and serve with the toasted pita bread.
Alternatively you can mix everything together (the chicken, rice, onions, pine nuts and molokhia) and serve it like that – this is how I was introduced to the dish.
You could easily used a shredded roasted chicken and just add that to the herb/rice mix after it has been cooked instead of cooking the chook from scratch.
Fresh or dried molokhia leaves can be used in this recipe. If using the fresh leaf – wash it well and dry (using a salad spinner) – roughly chop the leaves and add them at the same place (in the recipe above) that the frozen leaves are added. Unless you are growing the plant (or are in the Middle East) you are unlikely to have access to the fresh stuff.
The dried leaves can be purchased at most Middle-eastern grocers. The dried leaves have a long shelf life. The leaves are rehydrated with hot water and need to be washed very thoroughly before being added to the stew. It takes a good 15-20 times of washing and rinsing until the water runs clear.
- Add 10 cups of the dried molokhia leaves to a large mixing bowl. Remove any stems or brown/yellow leaves.
- Heat up a kettle of water until just boiling, and pour over the leaves to re-hydrate them. Let soak for at least 5 minutes.
- Drain the water and pour the leaves into a colander over the bowl.
- Pour water over the leaves in the colander and swirl around with your hands. Drain the water and squeeze the molokhia. You will feel slime oozing out of your hands. Repeat this step until the water runs CLEAR and the molokhia is no longer slimy
When cooked, Molokhia has somewhat of a slimy texture, similar to okra and nopal. This sliminess is called “baba” in México. Thoroughly washing the leaves before cooking will remove most of the sliminess.
- Djeussi, D.E., Noumedem, J.A., Seukep, J.A. et al. Antibacterial activities of selected edible plants extracts against multidrug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria. BMC Complement Altern Med 13, 164 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-13-164
- Kuete, V. (2017). Medicinal Spices and Vegetables from Africa || Anticancer Activities of African Medicinal Spices and Vegetables. , (), 271–297. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-809286-6.00010-8
- Kumari, Neetu; Choudhary, Shashi Bhushan; Sharma, Hariom Kumar; Singh, Binay Kumar; Kumar, Arroju Anil (2018). Health-promoting properties of Corchorus leaves: A review. Journal of Herbal Medicine, (), S2210803318300502–. doi:10.1016/j.hermed.2018.10.005
- Mehta, Ashish (2015). Handbook of Arsenic Toxicology || Arsenic and the Cardiovascular System. , (), 459–491. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-418688-0.00020-4