My grandmother Alyce was famous in our family for the Sunday lunches she’d cook in her small town in Lebanon. When she was alive, before my parents and I came to live in America, I was too young and rowdy to pay close attention to all the meze dishes, grilled meats, stews and salads on her table. But I do remember one dish, molokhia, vividly. It was dark green and soupy, and I wanted no part of it. I knew one thing about it, though: It was Egyptian.
It would be a few years before I would begin to like molokhia, by which I mean fall madly in love with it. It has layers of cinnamon-scented chicken and buttery rice surrounded by a wonderful sauce of dark, bittersweet greens—an adult-looking dish, to be sure. Even though the Lebanese consider it a staple, they’ll generally concede credit for it to the Egyptians. Molokhia, which means “of the kings,” is what first put Egypt on my radar, well before I’d learned much else about the country.
Of course, politics, not food, has turned the world’s attention to Egypt since the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak from an almost-30-year dictatorship, and the subsequent struggle over the post-revolutionary leadership. It has been a tumultuous year, no doubt about it, and as the country continues to undergo all kinds of changes (parliamentary elections, a new constitution), the world is watching. I hope that once the headlines die down, one positive result of all the eyes on Egypt will be a renewed interest in the country’s history and culture, including its fascinating and little-known culinary traditions.