Spring cleaning

Spring cleaning

Aylin Öney Tan - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
Spring cleaning Spring is the time for renewal and cleaning. All nations living in a continental climate celebrate the coming of spring with a good cleaning in the house, in the kitchen and the body. The lent period is in a way a detox diet when one abstains from all animal products. For me, it means going green as much as possible. My table becomes totally green, not a single spoon of tomato or pepper paste can contaminate my wonderfully fresh spring dishes, not to mention that no ingredient out of season can be allowed in a truly fresh spring table. I do have a few favorites that are like spring essentials. Enjoying them at least once every spring has become like a spring ritual of mine. Here they are:

Nergizleme: The translation of this one is hard, but it can be said that it means “like narcissus.” It is an egg salad made for the spring festival of Nevruz in southeastern Turkey. Boil some eggs hard, it will be nicer if the very center spot remains a bit softish like cream. Peel and cut the eggs into quarters lengthwise; arrange them on a platter. Finely chop the green parts of a few stalks of spring onions; toss them with a little lemon juice and olive oil, spoon over eggs. Sprinkle with some crushed red pepper flakes. The white and yellow of the egg, together with the bright red of pepper flakes will appear like narcissus flowers, while the green onions will resemble the stalks of the flower… A truly refreshing sunny look probably fit for your Easter lunch. Wonderful in a picnic wrapped in thin flat bread. 

Şiveydiz: Spring garlic rules this stew! When recipes start with 2 kg of spring garlic many people freak out, but it is really worth trying. It is a springtime favorite prepared by everyone in southeastern Gaziantep as soon as the first fresh garlic appears. It is essential to use the first spring garlic of the season before the bulbs begin to form. The green parts of the garlic are not used in this dish, but don’t throw them away, as they can be used in several other dishes. Don’t be put off by the quantity of garlic required - you only get 600 g or so of white stems from 2 kg of fresh garlic. Soak ½ cup chickpeas in water overnight. Wash 500 g cubed lamb and place in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to the boil and carefully skim off the froth from the surface using a perforated spoon. Add the drained chickpeas and salt. Cook until both are tender (about 1½ hours). Clean 2 kg each of spring onions and fresh garlic. Remove the green parts and cut the white parts into 3 cm pieces. Save the green parts for other dishes. When the meat is cooked, toss in the pieces of onion and garlic. Cook over a low heat until tender. Beat 3 cups yogurt with 1 egg until smooth and place in a saucepan over a low heat. Stir constantly in the same direction, occasionally adding spoonfuls of boiling cooking liquid from the stew. When it comes to the boil, remove from the heat and stir into the saucepan in which the meat is cooking. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small pan and after removing from the heat stir in 1 tablespoon dried mint to make sure it does not burn. Pour the mint butter over the top of the şiveydiz, add black pepper and serve. 

Stuffed artichokes: Slowly braised artichokes stuffed with more herbs than rice and generous doses of olive oil are a real spring treat. You have to calculate 1 tablespoon rice per artichoke, and much more of greens, mainly green parts of spring onions, chopped fresh mint, dill, parsley and whatever else you can find. The leftover green parts of onions and garlic in the previous recipe can be perfectly utilized in this dish. Make a mix of rice and finely chopped greens, rub with a little salt to reduce the volume of the greens, add a tablespoon or two of early harvest olive oil. Remove the choke of the artichokes. Stuff this mix into cleaned artichokes. Place them in a wide pot with a lid. Pour water until the brim of the bottom of artichokes. Cook them slowly until tender. Reduce the cooking juices thoroughly. Serve lukewarm or at room temperature. 
Lamb with wild fennel: Tender spring lamb has an affinity with the fragrant wild fennel, the anise infused spring wild green. Aegean and Sicilian people know how to admire the taste of this intriguing foraged vegetable. Just place lamb chunks in a pot - it can be on the bone too - salt and pepper, cover with double the volume with wild fennel; add water just to cover the meat but not the fennel. Slow cook for 1½ hours until the meat is almost falling to pieces. Serve with chunky bread to mop the heavenly sauce of the stew. Actually, directly drinking the broth is even better!

Lamb with romaine lettuce: A close cousin of the previous recipe, way more delicate in flavor and quite accessible as you don’t have to forage for the wild greens. Have a big head of romaine lettuce, tear the outer leaves into biggish chunks, line the bottom of a pan with a thick layer of leaves. Tightly place chunks of lamp (preferably on the bone), sprinkle with salt crystals and crushed black pepper. Chop spring onions, fresh dill and peel a handful of garlic cloves. Cover the lamb pieces with layers of onions, dill and tuck the garlic cloves in between. Now tear the rest of the romaine leaves and create a thick layer of leaves completely covering the pot. Pour water up to the half of the meat, salad leaf layers. Cover and cook over low heat, simmering gently for 1½ hour.