Marvelous malva

Marvelous malva

Aylin Öney Tan -
Marvelous malva Spring is all about greens. Foraging for edible wild greens seems like a new trend but in rural Anatolia it has been a strong tradition for ages, more precisely since the hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic Karain Cave just north of the Mediterranean city of Antalya. This means about 200,000 years of foraging heritage, though Anatolian foliage must have changed drastically since then. Anyway, anything edible in the wild has long been discovered in this land of plenty. 

One of the marvels of the edible wild world has to be malva sylvestris. Common mallow is one of the edible greens that grow in every corner of Anatolia. Ebegümeci in Turkish, it is a lovely green and often not appreciated enough. It belongs to the malvaceae family, which is a relative of okra and hibiscus. They all have the same properties, soothing the body miraculously in many ways. In the West mallow is often recognized for its medicinal properties, but not for its place in the kitchen. It is true that mallow is a great remedy for respiratory and digestive system malfunctions; it aids in a way like an anti-clog drain cleaner for both systems. Asthma and bronchitis sufferers will benefit from its expectorant effect in the lungs and throat. It works in the same way with the intestines, as its mucilaginous property is reminiscent of okra and acts as a laxative. It is good for cleansing the body and it is an efficient diuretic as well. Besides working wonders for the inner body, mallow can be a friend to your outer appearance; with its softening properties it will make the skin silky supple, sooth irritated itches and give your hair a nice bouncy curl. 

While its place in folk remedy is strong, the place where mallow shines is in the rural Anatolian kitchen. It is often treated like spinach. Considering all the side benefits, it is actually way more preferable. Though the tender young leaves can be easily eaten raw, mallow tastes much better when cooked. It has a body and a certain resistance to disintegrate unlike most other greens, so best is to simmer it gently with a little water and allow some time to develop its flavors. Of course the youngest tender leaves will be just fine when quickly sautéed with onions, or scrambled with eggs, but bigger and bolder leaves will benefit more in slow cooking. One irresistible dish is stuffed mallow leaves, which is like a test of patience to make. The regular meat and rice-based vine-leaf stuffing is used, but even if one chooses the bigger leaves suitable for rolling, it is a painstaking task, though not a big deal for the rugged women of Anatolia who spend a life in toil. 

Foraging too after all is women’s business; the wisdom of collecting the miracles of the wilderness has been in their hands since the Karain caves. As it is one of the most recognizable greens grown at every corner and there is no excuse for not benefiting from this lovely marvel of nature. 

Mellow is indeed marvelous. Eat it fresh, cooked or brew it dried, your body will be rewarded!

Bite of the Week

Recipe of the Week: Mallow takes a bit longer to cook then most greens. Actually, the stalks never cook, so one needs to pick only the leaves. This recipe is my own method and has become a favorite spring dish. Chop one medium-sized onion, sauté in a little extra virgin olive oil with 1 tablespoon crushed coriander seeds. When translucent add 2-3 cloves garlic, minced finely. Add a big bunch of mallow (leaves only) or if you’re foraging yourself, about 4 generous handfuls of leaves, a handful or 3-4 tablespoons of coarse bulgur (preferably siyez or smoky firik), and about 4-5 dried tomatoes, chopped. Toss to mix and add a little water, merely covering the leaves. Add ½ teaspoon salt, cover and let cook until the cooking liquid is totally reduced. The tang and salty sharpness of the dried tomato contrasts the mallow’s mellow taste, the bulgur adds a certain nuttiness; if you use firik there will be also the smokiness. Coriander, I find, adds a subtle depth to the whole dish while fruitiness comes from the olive oil. It is better if harvested early… Really marvelous!

Cork of The Week: Good news came from London. Three Turkish corks were on the stage at the London Wine Fair, presented by Sonvino, a company aiming to bring the undiscovered gems of the wine world to the British market. Though Sonvino represents some interesting Italian wines, they chose to go the London Wine Fair with three Turkish wines - Gülor, Kastro Tireli, Vinolus - representing three different regions, respectively Thrace, Aegean and Central Anatolia. Gülor has been a pioneer in Turkey’s boutique winery scene; Kastro Tireli makes organic unfiltered wines; Vinolus is a lonely star in Kayseri, close to Cappadocia and keen on organic farming and winemaking in one of the most conservative regions of Anatolia. All wineries have world-class wines made with local and international grape varieties, what is more interesting is, all the wines presented in the fair were marked with the signature of female wine-makers, all carrying the pioneering spirit of women. Picking the right grape must have roots in the wisdom of gathering and foraging…  Great job ladies, you’ve come a long way!