Edible weeds are popping up all over Israel now. Nettles, young plantain leaves, sow thistle, milk thistle, chickweed, and mallows are just a few of them. Earlier this week I explored an empty lot close by, and found a huge quantity of mallows among the wild foods. Some of the leaves were big enough to stuff, like vine leaves.
Before I go on to the recipe, let me tell you about mallows. They grow all over the Mediterranean, North Africa, Europe, and parts of the U.S and Central America. I don’t know if they grow in South America, Australia/New Zealand or the Far East – but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do. I can tell you though, that once they take hold, they will cover an area.
Mallows are related to okra, hollyhocks, and hibiscus – all edible and medicinal plants. I like to harvest the small young leaves to eat raw in salads, and the big leaves for stuffing. Sometimes I’ll just chop up a big bunch and make soup from them, or stir them into a stew, or into rice, as I do with nettles. I wrote an article about mallows for Henriette Kress’s Herbal Homepage, which you can see here. It includes a recipe for mallows soup.
And every year, I hang bunches of them upside down by their stalks, to dry for cooking when they’re out of season. If you store them in a glass jar, away from light, the leaves will last a year. If I need a soup in a hurry and don’t have much in the fridge, I just reach into my jar of dried mallows (or nettles) and crumble some into the pot, adding instant flavor and nutrition to the food.
I love the striped pink flowers of our native variety, Malva Sylvestris. If I find myself in a field of flowering mallows during one of my foraging walks, I pick as many blooms as I can, to dry for a medicinal tea. This tea soothes the respiratory system and helps to control cough.
You can read much more about the edible and medicinal properties of mallows in the awesome Plants for a Future site. That page doesn’t mention that the mallow roots are edible and medicinal too – so if you happen to uproot a few when you’re out gathering, just scrub them clean, cut the stalk away, and chuck them into soup too.
For stuffing, pick big leaves, at least as big as your outstretched hand. Small leaves are too fiddly to work with.
Check each leaf carefully. Discard any that have lots of little holes in them, or orange spots indicating insect activity. Or other mallow eaters, like this little guy:
See the rusty orange spots around the Fuzzy One? Discard any leaves with that.
The recipe assumes that you have about 20 large, washed mallow leaves. It’s better to have a few extra because they are tender and some will inevitably rip. Snip off any stalk bits to make rolling them up easy. Keep the leaves shiny side down.
Now for the recipe itself.
Stuffed Mallow Leaves
yield: 20 stuffed leaves
20 large, clean mallow leaves
1 cup of rice cooked in salted water
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 small onion, chopped fine
2 Tablespoons diced fresh mint or crumbled dried mint
juice and zest of one lemon
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley or celery leaves
1 tsp. salt
2 large tomatoes, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and whole
1 teaspoon sugar
2/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup water
1. Mix together the rice, pine nuts, chopped tomato, crushed garlic, chopped onion, mint, lemon zest, parsley, salt, and pepper to taste.
2. Line the pot with the sliced tomatoes. This adds flavor and keeps the stuffed leaves from scorching.
3. Mix the olive oil, water, sugar, and lemon juice in a bowl. Set aside.
4. Fill and roll the leaves.
Keep the shiny sides down, stem part towards you.
Just where you snipped the stem off, there is a long, horizontal wrinkle in the leaf (see 2 photos up, the one with the scissors). Put a teaspoon of filling, in a long strip, just above that wrinkle.
Roll the filled edge up once. Fold the sides of the leave over it.
Roll again, making a neat little package. Secure the edge with a toothpick.
I wish I had more and better photos to show the filling process, but I would have needed three hands to do it.
5. Place the stuffed leaves on top of the sliced tomatoes in the pan, stem sides down. Place the whole garlic cloves here and there among them. The following photo shows a bell pepper in the pot with the mallow – because I wanted to use up leftover stuffing. The flavor of the pepper didn’t hurt the stuffed leaves at all.
6. Pour the oil/water mix over the the contents of the pot. Place a small plate, or a pot lid that fits, inside the pot to prevent the leaves from unrolling as they cook. Cover the pot with its own lid. Simmer over low flame for 45 minutes. Mallow leaves are tender and release a beneficial mucilage (goopy liquid), so there will be plenty of liquid in the pot. They don’t need to cook as long as vine leaves, which need an hour or more.
7. Allow the leaves to cool down entirely before you remove them from the pan. Serve them cold.