May Craze and the Green Man
Aylin ÖNEY TANMay is the month when the spring is in full bloom. The month is believed to be named after the Greek goddess Maia, and its successor Roman goddess Maius, the deity related to the growth of plants. In May, the plants are in full growth, the trees totally green, the fields like green carpets, all inviting for a fresh day out in the countryside. In Turkey, the spring festival of Hıdrellez is celebrated out in the nature as a picnic day, starting on the night of May 5, and continues all day on May 6. According to the legend, this is the only day of the year when the prophets Hızır (al-Khidr) and İlyas (Elijah) meet on earth, the former the symbol of greenery and earth, the latter representing the seas and water. May 6 is the day when earth and water unite, nurture the plants and paint the nature green.
The Hıdrellez festival is celebrated in many countries in a geography stretching from Central Asia to the Balkans, especially favored by the Romani people. Like many season-related festivals, the traditions are of Pagan origin, not confined to the Muslim religion only. The Christian Gagauz Turks of Romania take the day so seriously, that they even name the month of May after this spring ritual, as Hederlez. The Balkan countries have the spring festival Durdevdan, which is actually the day for the honor of St. George, the Christian equivalent of Hızır. The day of Hıdrellez falls on April 23 in the Julian calendar, and is celebrated as Aya Yorgi day in honor of St George, just like the Hıdrellez day, as a joyous day of eating out enjoying the full bloom of spring.
The day also marks the start of summer, in the old times the summer consisted of 186 days, which started on Hıdrellez day, and lasted till Nov. 8, when the winter days started. The widespread belief about Hızır is that he appears and disappears in an instant, often disguised as an old man or a tramp, or he’s totally invisible. Even if not visible to the human eye, it is believed the one can feel the presence of Hızır like a whiff of cool spring breeze. Hızır brings luck, fertility, abundance and most of all fixes what goes wrong in one’s life. Hızır also brings fortune to the needy. Consequently, all rituals include superstitious acts like leaving the doors and windows open all day long to bring good fortune into the house, or leaving wishing messages to water going to a riverside or sea on the night of 5th, or burying wishful notes under a rose tree. One lesser known ritual is fortune telling by spring onions. If you’re growing onions in your garden, you cut two sprigs of green onion in the same length and tie a white thread around one and a black thread around the other. If the one with the white thread grows faster, your fortune in the forth coming year will be as bright as the white skies. Now it is time to go into the open air, and maybe enjoy spring with some green onions!
Recipe of the Week: One good use for fresh green onions is to grill them and enjoy with a drizzle of good olive oil and a few drops of pomegranate extract. Another recipe is another spring delight, originally made for Nevruz is a fresh egg salad with lots of green onions. Put about 12 eggs in cold water in a pot and sit on a medium fire. The moment the water starts to boil turn the heat off and let cool. The eggs will be softly boiled not tough, but all whites will be set, and yellows set but still creamy. Peel and cut into quarters. Arrange on a plate, and cover with a bunch of chopped spring onions, green parts only. Drizzle with a dressing made with 1/3 cup lemon juice, 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Sprinkle with bright red chili pepper flakes. Your plate will resemble a bunch of narcissus flowers, hence the name of the dish Nergizleme, meaning narcissus-like, with the bright yellow and shiny white of eggs, and deep green of spring onions.
Bite of the weekFork of the Week: If you really want to have a special dinner in May, or want to celebrate mother’s day in a unique location, the place to go is the pop-up restaurant opened by MSA in Çırağan Palace Kempinski Hotel, Istanbul. The open-air pop-up restaurant will only be open in May and June, situated just near Laledan, in a wonderful setting with the background of the historic building and the wonderful garden just on the shore of Bosphorus. MSA, the Culinary Arts Academy, has joined forces with the Kempinski chain to offer top professional experience for its students and graduates. This pop-up is a part of their multi-faceted joint project, which will include more surprises in the coming months. My pick from the menu is artichoke confit and fresh fava bean pureé, so representative of the green month of May.
Cork of the Week: The newly launched Allure series by Kayra offers three fabulous white wines, just right for a fresh spring rite. They will blow a cool spring breeze to your table, as if Hızır is around, or bring the joy of spring to your happy hour on the happiest day of spring. The selection includes a lovely Sauvignon Blanc, a crispy Chardonnay, and a delicate white Kalecik Karası. For an extra touch of spring, just add a sprig of lilac blossoms to your glass if you happen to be near a lilac tree.