saluyot adventures in molokhialand

(This was written and blogged during my brief stay in the Sultanate of Oman.)

There's this corresponding relativity to uniquely ilokanistic craving for the luxuriant bugguong, when you are away from your native land, Ilocos land. The same whim, or necessity if you will, the same desire akin to addiction, to please a selfish Ilokano palate's demand for the equally elusive saluyot to grace your dinengdengs. But being in a strange land, I initially thought this is an appettite for the impossible.

Do Omanis, do Arabs ever eat saluyot like we Ilokanos gobble this "slippery when wet" delicacy?

I thought only Ilokanos are crazy about the saluyot.

I was wrong.

Of course, they do have saluyot in the hypermarts. After some desperate scouring and foraging in one of those labyrinthine supermarkets, I finally bumped into a treasure trove of bagged saluyot languidly lying frozen and harder than diamond in one cozy corner of those huge freezers, among slabs of hardened spinach, green peas, beans, sweet corn and other frozen veggies. It's called molokhia. or mulukheyya. Or molokheyya. Whatever. It's the Egyptian Arabic name, according to Wikipedia, of the corchorus plant.

And yes, this one is imported from Egypt. And surprise, surprise, saluyot is a staple food in Egypt since the time of the pharaohs! Some Egyptians are even considering molokhia as their national dish. So that fact somehow demystifies our own popular thought that saluyot is exclusively Ilokano staple food and that it's supposedly endemic in Ilocos land. The Egyptians are devouring saluyot since time immemorial, period.

But the way we Ilokanos and Egyptians ingest saluyot/molokhia differ. While we love it fresh and whole, leaves and all, and boil it, stew it, pakbet it in bugguong, the Egyptians and others prefer molokhia in soups or as a soup base. That's what Ive discovered when I finally opened the plastic pouch of the frozen molokhia. I never thought of saluyot being cooked into a soup, a real soup.I only know saluyot soup as dinengdeng soup, boiled saluyot leaves with mixture of other leafy veggies or with bamboo shoots, its traditional Ilokano partner.

When I spotted the frozen molokhia, I was enthralled with the perfect picture of fresh saluyot leaves in the packaging and then and there readily dreampt of pinakbet a saluyot, saluyot leaves stewed dry in bugguong, vinegar, garlic, ginger, onion and peppercorns.

And I was horrified when I found out that my precious saluyot was a thick mush of a paste meant to be "soupified," indeed! My desire crumbled. What am I going to do with this mucus-like slimy mess? I wanted to say yuck! yuppie-like, but then this is saluyot all the same and I do not want to blaspheme on the sanctity, the sacredness of the blessed saluyot.

I googled for a possible recipe. and I found out an original egyptian molokhia soup recipe called "Egyptian greens soup" or simply "molokhia" (the dish and the plant are one, amongst Egyptians and Sudanese and other peoples in the Mideast). It requires some spices like coriander, chilli, cayenne and bay leaf. And chicken stock for soup base. And butter, to "fry" the soup.

I followed the recipe to the letter and here it goes, the saluyot soup boiling with a distinctly unfamiliar aroma wafting tantalizingly:

And after some time, here it is. It's still saluyot, flavor and fragrance and all. Although because of the added spices as contrasted to the simple Ilokano way, it become more of the aromatic herb that it was popularly intended and consumed in its Egyptian origin. But it's a very tasty, delicious, thick soup best for entrée. Or as is the Ilokano practice, it can go with your rice as labay and of course, it's perfect for that "bumanerber nga igup" that we usually enjoy with dinengdeng broth, especially with saluyot with that distinct "gumalisgalis" texture.

But still I'm not satisfied with my first Oman saluyot meal. I still crave for a whole and fresh saluyot with its leaves intact and not chopped or minced or pulped into a paste.

And imagine my joy when I finally came upon fresh saluyot bundles in the vegetable section of the hypermart. This is a local produce and I learned later it's plentiful in the local veggie souks (markets) though its availablity is not regular. And again, a sizeable chunk, or the whole of it, of the saluyot-ilokano-exclusivity myth in me is shattered. Of course, Omanis, the locals, the Arabs love saluyot, too. And it's a part of their own cuisine as well. Who else are buying these and for whom are the local farmers are planting these saluyots? Certainly, not only for the handful of expat Ilokanos or Filipinos here. But for themselves. They are also molokhia lovers and this is molokhialand. Get that.

And so, without much ado, I cooked my precious saluyot pakbet. You do the usual Ilokano way of stewing. the panagdengdeng act. The panamguong act. Use only a minimal amount of water. Throw in crushed garlic, crushed ginger, sliced onion, cracked or uncracked peppercorns. Simmer a bit, then place the washed saluyot tops and leaves. Simmer for a while. Optionally, put in some sagpaw like dried shrimps, dried fish or meat. Simmer some more. If the the saluyot is already kind of "slippery" or tender, put in some tablespoonfuls of vinegar (suka ti basi or suka nga iloko is preferred, but other blends like paombong is just as well). I do not add the vinegar at the beginning, I wait for some time for the saluyot to cook and only then will I add vinegar. This is for the saluyot to retain some texture and smoothness. Sometimes when you add suka by default (at the start), the saluyot "hardens" or "coarsens." But this is optional or preferential. After putting in the vinegar, simmer some more until it dries up with only a hint of broth underneath. Be careful to moderate the "broth drying" as it may burn at its base if you don't attend to it. You can retain some more broth if you want, to mix as labay with your rice.

And this is it, my favorite saluyot dish, pakbet basking in all its glory:

Once more, a close up of the heavenly dish in its rightful splendor:

But wait, here's more. I soon found out that there's a dried saluyot in the same hypermarket.

Look at those gorgeous Egyptian saluyot leaves in its petrified state. It's as if it promises a glorious psychedelic trip to gastronomic heaven. No, not to be smoked like a pot, you sucker, but to be ingested pakbet-wise after it is boiled up in bugguong in a pot. That, I have yet to try. But then again, we dry aba or taro leaves, paria leaves, mushroom, kudet or kuditdit, even marunggay leaves in the Philippines. And why not saluyot? This dried ambrosia, this saluyot, can be a concocted into an excellent soup or turned into a magnificent pakbet, all the same, fresh or dried or pulverized, it's still saluyot, molokhia or molokheyya. Does it matter?

(Originally blogged somewhere on 26 May 2008)


  1. I plant saluyot every summer here in Virginia USA. Each time I cook the saluyot, it reminds me of my youth and Inang back home in La Union