Thursday, March 24, 2016

Molokhia Soup with Za'atar Spice Salmon Steak and Brown Basmati Rice

     A Healthy Soup Entrée With Classic Middle Eastern Flavors! 
     Molokhia is the leaves of the Jute Plant.  Jute fiber is used to make carpet.  Both carpet making and cooking Molokhia are old Middle Eastern traditions.  During the age of the Pharaohs, the common folk in Egypt were banned from eating Molokhia, because it was considered to be a food fit for royalty.  Many modern Egyptians still respect the past and they will not consume Molokhia out of respect for the ancient Pharaohs.  
     Molokhia is loaded with healthy nutrients and dietary fiber.  Molokhia does have an interesting mucilaginous texture.  The flavor is more complex than spinach.  When combined with broth, Molokhia tastes very rich.  
     Due to religious restrictions, many people cannot eat bottom feeding fish or shellfish.  I chose salmon for today's recipe, because it is a fast moving predator fish and it is not a bottom feeder.  However, the strictest religions allow only white flesh fish to be consumed.  A firm textured whitefish can be substituted for salmon in the recipe.  Either way, Za'atar Spice will make the fish extra tasty!  
     Za'atar Spice also has been made since the days of ancient Egypt.  Recipes for a Za'atar Spice Mixture can vary from one household to the next.  Za'atar Spice recipes vary from region to region too.  The basic Za'atar Spice Mixture has a high proportion of toasted sesame seed and Wild Thyme.  A variety of Middle Eastern spices make up the rest of the ingredients.  
     It is much cheaper to purchase a bag of pre-mixed Za'atar Spice mix than it is to blend your own.  Some of the ingredients, like Wild Thyme, are not easy to find.  Regular European thyme is not an acceptable substitute for Middle Eastern Wild Thyme.  Those two varieties of thyme have completely different flavor profiles.    
     I purchased a large bag of very fresh looking Za'atar Spice that came from Jordan a few months ago.  The Jordanian za'atar spice mixture is a nice regional version of Za'atar and the proportion of Wild Thyme is very high.  Jordanian Za'atar tastes really nice on roasted salmon! 
      Here in Las Vegas the air is very arid, so dried spices keep well for a long time.  The Wild Thyme in the Za'atar looked as fresh and green as it did a few months ago.  This is one of the benefits of living in the desert! 

     Basmati Rice:
     This recipe yields 2 portions.
     Basmati requires a special preparation technique!  Soaking and rinsing the rice produces a light fluffy basmati rice. 
     Step 1:  Soak 1/2 cup of basmati rice in cold water for 2 hours.
     Rinse the rice with cold water, till the water that drains off is clear.
     Step 2:  Place the rice in a sauce pot.
     Add 1 1/4 cups of water.
     Bring the liquid to a boil over medium high heat.
     Step 3:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Place a lid on the pot.
     Simmer and steam the rice till it is tender.  (about 15 minutes)
     Step 4:  Drain off any excess water.
     Keep the basmati rice warm on a stove top.
     Molokhia Soup:
     This recipe yields 1 serving!  (2 1/4 cups)  
     Packages of frozen minced Molokhia can be found in Middle Eastern food markets.
     Step 1:  Place 1 1/3 cups of thawed prepared frozen minced Molokhia in a sauce pot.
     Add 2 cups of chicken broth.
     Step 2:  Add 3 tablespoons of chopped onion.
     Add 2 minced garlic cloves.
     Add 4 tablespoons of chopped tomato.
     Add 1/2 of a chopped green onion.
     Step 3:  Add 1 pinch of cumin.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of coriander.
     Add 1 small pinch of mace or nutmeg.
     Add 1 pinch of sumac berry spice.
     Add 1 small pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 2 pinches of sea salt and black pepper.
     Step 4:  Add 1/2 tablespoon of ghee.  (clarified butter)
     Add 1 teaspoon of virgin olive oil.
     Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Step 5:  Place the pot over medium low heat.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle simmer.
     Simmer till the vegetables are tender and the volume of the soup reduces to about 2 1/4 cups.  The Molokhia will give the soup a medium thin puree consistency.
     Keep the Molokhia Soup warm over very low heat.  Add chicken broth if the soup is too thick 

     Za'atar Spice Salmon Steak:
     This recipe yields 1 portion.
     Step 1:  Season a 6 ounce salmon steak with sea salt and black pepper.
     Use a short skewer to pin the salmon belly flaps together.
     Step 2:  Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of blended olive oil.
     Sear the salmon on both sides till a few light brown highlights appear.
     Step 3:  Remove the pan from the heat.
     Sprinkle a generous amount of Za'atar Spice on the salmon.  (About 1/2 tablespoon.)
     Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon of virgin olive oil on the Za'atar Spice. 
     Bake in a 350ºF oven till the salmon is fully cooked and the Za'atar Spice is lightly toasted.
     Step 4:  Let the salmon rest for about 1 minute before serving.
     Remove the skewer.

     Molokhia Soup with Za'atar Spice Salmon Steak and Brown Basmati Rice:
     Place a 3" wide ring mold in a shallow soup bowl.
     Place about 1 cup of the basmati rice in the ring mold and use a spoon to pack it firm.
     Place the Za'atar Spice Salmon on top of the rice.
     Ladle the Molokhia Soup into the bowl.
     Garnish the salmon with thin roasted red bell pepper strips.
     Garnish the red pepper strips with Italian Parsley leaves.
     *Be sure to warn guests that salmon steaks have bones!  

     This is a nice variation of Molokhia Soup!

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