Molokhia is a staple. I haven't met a single person who grew up in the community (or even a descendent of someone who grew up in the community) that doesn't like it. The texture of the soup is a little gelatinous (similar to Ocra) but don't let that put you off! Cutting the leaves very fine minimises this and anyway, it's part of what makes it so satisfying.
Batata Hamda literally means ‘Sour Potato’ – but let’s forget about that because it’s a name that doesn’t do this dish justice. It’s a tangy chicken soup made distinctive by its gorgeous yellow colour, served with potatoes and celery. In most cases, kobeba dumplings are also added to the soup, although these are optional.
You can adjust the lemon to taste and use any type of boned chicken for the soup. It can also be served with rice and is usually eaten as a meal in itself – as well as eating it during the year, we have it before Yom Kippur because lemon is supposed to be good for thirst.
It seems strange to think that I began this project just over a year ago, and that it is once again coming up to Rosh HaShannah. At our house no feast would be a feast without Warab Enab; stuffed vine leaves. We have meat, rice, vegetables and all sorts of other things on the table, but these are the crowning glory – the thing that everyone looks forward to. Maybe it’s because we only eat them twice a year, or maybe because knowing how much time and effort has gone into making them gives them that extra bit of special.
This is a recipe of many parts, but it is well worth the effort when you bite into the deliciously juicy and satisfying kobeba and taste the warm, tangy soup. Of Iraqi origin, the dish takes time to make, but is comfort food at its best - perfect for Shabbat dinner or a special occasion. In Sudan, kobeba dough was made with a mixture of ground rice and minced beef, but once the community left and money was a bit tighter a ground rice/semolina mixture became the norm. I think it is tastier that way, as the semolina provides a nice ‘bite’ to the dumplings.
This one takes time, so it's best to set aside a morning or afternoon to prepare it.
10 raw beetroots- washed, topped and tailed
1.7ltrs cold water
To save time, this can be made the night before.
- Boil the beetroots in 300ml of water for about 1 hour until they are just soft enough for a skewer to pierce them
- Pour the remaining water in a bowl and transfer the beetroots into it. Save the water they were boiled in
- On being immersed in the cold water the skins of the beetroot will rub off. Leave the skins in this cold water and put the peeled beetroots to one side
- Cut 5 of the beetroot into slices about 1 cm thick and leave to thoroughly cool down. The remaining 5 beetroots are not needed for this recipe and will last for about 3-4 days in the fridge
- After half an hour combine the two beetroot waters, sieving and discarding the skins
2 baby potatoes
20-25g parsley leaves (without the stalks)
2 large spring onions
550g minced beef or lamb
½ tbsp. baharat
- Finely mince the parsley and chop the entirety of the spring onions as small as you can get them
- Thinly grate the potatoes into a mixing bowl of cold salty water, then drain the water and squeeze them dry
- Mix the parsley, onion, spices and minced beef to the potatoes and set to the side
500 g ground rice
50ml cold water
2 tsps salt
1 tsp. ground white pepper (black pepper will do if you don’t have white pepper at home)
- Gradually add the water to the ground rice and semolina, slowly mixing it until a firm but damp dough is formed, add more water if necessary
- Cover with cling film and set aside for 10 minutes so that the water can fully absorb into the rice and semolina
- Assemble the dumplings by forming flat circles of dough in the palm of your hand, placing a small amount of meat in the centre of the dough and closing your hand, pinching the top to form a ball and rolling in your hands until smooth. Wet hands will help with this
- Each kobeba should be about the size of a golf ball, any left-over meat or dough can be formed into their own balls
Cooking & Assembly
2-3 tbsps olive oil
3 ½ lemons - squeezed
2 tbsps caster sugar
1 tbsp. salt
500 ml water
You will need a very large saucepan, if you don’t have one big enough, divide the soup into two as it’s better not to cram the kobeba in.
- Lightly fry the sliced beetroot in the olive oil for a couple of minutes until they have warmed up
- Slowly transfer the beetroot water into this new saucepan using a mesh cloth to drain it
- Add the salt, sugar, water and lemon juice and bring to the boil
- When the soup has come to the boil, lower it down to a gentle simmer and begin to gently drop the kobeba balls into the pan - wet hands helps when handling the dumplings
- When the bottom surface of the pan has been covered by kobeba, wait for about 30 seconds and then gently stir
- Gently add another layer kobeba, stirring occasionally and adding the balls to the empty parts of the soup so that each one becomes fully submerged
- When all of the balls have been added to the soup stir one last time to prevent sticking, cover the saucepan and leave to simmer for about 1 hour. Don’t worry if some of the balls split open whilst cooking - it will still be delicious!
- Gently simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. After an hour (half an hour if using smaller pans) the kobeba should be floating. Test one by slicing it open - when the dough is firm and the meat inside is cooked through, they are ready
When I started talking about recipes most people started giving me the trusted, tried and tested delicious food they had been making week in, week out for the last fifty years or so. One of them - kebabs - I have included today. But they are not the star of the show.