Mallow — or malva sylvestris — is one of several edible members of the Malvaceae family. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)
Mallow — or malva sylvestris — is one of several edible members of the Malvaceae family. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Cooking with the common weed (no, not that kind) that sustained Israel in ’48

On Yom HaAtzmaut this year, consider celebrating Israel’s 70th birthday by eating dishes made with, or at least inspired by, a common weed — for it was that weed, mallow, that helped feed Jerusalem’s Jewish residents during the War of Independence in 1948-49.

Seventy years ago in Jerusalem, mallow (or malva) was easy to find since it grew wild in abandoned lots, yards and even the cracks of the sidewalks. It is rich in vitamins, iron and calcium.

During the war, a blockade prevented supplies from getting through, so residents relied on the local variety of mallow, called khubeza or chubeza, turning its leaves into fritters, soups and salads.

I wasn’t able to find khubeza (also known as bull mallow or French mallow), but I was able to find a related vegetable, molokhia (also known as Jew’s mallow, tossa jute or jute leaf mallow). Popular in many cultures, molokhia is sold frozen in some Middle Eastern groceries. The brand I found was certified kosher.

Molokhia adds a gelatinous texture to the chicken soup. Since mallow is plentiful in the wild but not in stores, I used spinach and dill to replicate its taste. Use fresh baby spinach and dill in the fritters.

By the way, Yom HaAtzmaut, or Israel Independence Day, is on April 19 this year, though officially it starts at sundown the evening before.

Chicken Soup with Spinach and Dill (Or Mallow)

Serves 10

  • 2 Tbs. oil

  • 2 cups chopped onion

  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped garlic

  • ½ tsp. salt

  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper

  • ½ tsp. dried mint

  • ¼ tsp. ground sumac

  • ¼ tsp. ground cumin

  • 12 cups chicken broth

  • 3 cups sliced carrots (¼-inch thick)

  • 3 cups sliced celery (¼-inch thick)

  • 3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

  • 16 oz. bag frozen chopped spinach, defrosted (or use mallow; see note below)

  • 4 Tbs. minced fresh dill, divided

  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add onion, sauté until soft. Add garlic, sauté until golden. Stir in salt, pepper, mint, sumac and cumin. Add broth and carrots. Stir, cover and bring to a simmer. Add celery and chicken. Cover and simmer until chicken is just cooked through. Remove chicken with tongs. Remove pot from heat. Keep covered until chicken is cool enough to shred into large bite-sized pieces. Return broth to a simmer. Add in chicken and spinach and 2 Tbs. dill. Simmer until the chicken and soup are thoroughly heated. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve garnished with tomatoes and remaining dill.

Note: Substitute one 14 oz. bag of frozen minced mallow (molokhia) for the spinach. Reduce dill to 2 Tbs. and only use as a garnish.

Faith Kramer’s Spinach and Dill Fritters

Spinach and Dill Fritters

Serves 3-4

  • 1½ cups cooked bulgur or couscous (at room temperature)

  • 4 Tbs. oil, divided

  • ¾ cup finely chopped onion

  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic

  • ½ tsp. salt

  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper

  • ¼ to ½ tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste (optional)

  • ½ cup chopped carrots (¼-inch pieces)

  • 4 cups, packed, chopped fresh baby spinach

  • 2 Tbs. minced fresh dill

  • 2 large eggs, beaten

  • About ¼ cup matzah meal

Place bulgur in large bowl. Heat 2 Tbs. oil in a large fry pan over medium-high heat. Sauté onion until soft. Add garlic and sauté until golden. Mix in salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Add carrots and sauté until softened. Stir in spinach and dill. Sauté until spinach is just wilted. Stir into bulgur. Let cool a few minutes, then taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in eggs. Stir in matzah meal by the tablespoon until the batter is no longer loose. Press firmly with hands to form into 6 to 8 patties.

Heat remaining oil in large fry pan over medium heat and fry fritters, turning once, until browned on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Note: Top with hummus, tahini, tomato sauce or garlic sauce. See my garlic sauce recipe here.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].