The Turkish Cuisine’s TOP 10 “unique & wild” herbs

  • Arapsaçı (Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare):This “anise” scented herb looks like dill at first glance, but its flavor and aroma are completely different. Its seeds, leaves, stems and roots are used. In the same family as carrots and parsley, fennel grows in northern Anatolia as well as the Aegean and Mediterranean regions. Its tender shoots, buds and leaves are used in cooking. According to immigrants from Crete, it is best cooked with lamb, while in the Aegean and Mediterranean it is used in sautés of mixed greens, and in böreks. It is also used with fish and other meat dishes, and goes well with legumes.

  • Bambul (Bittersweet,Solanum nigrum):This herb, found in markets in the Aegean region during the summer, is called istifno (stifnos) in Ayvalık. In the same family as tomatoes, it is an annual with small white flowers and tiny red fruits. It is lightly aromatic and has a slightly bitter flavor. Some related species have poisonous fruits. It is boiled together with zucchini or alone as greens, cooked like spinach.

  • Çiğdem (Crocus, Crocus):With over forty different species occurring naturally in Anatolia, crocus are one of the harbingers of spring. Their roots contain starch and sugar, and can be eaten raw or cooked in savory dishes as well as sweets. The best known dishes are crocus stew, crocus pilaf and crocus with milk (a dessert). It is also cooked plain on coals. In the Black Sea region, it is rolled in flour and fried.

  • Çiriş (Foxtail Lily,Eremurus spectabilis). The çiriş which shows up in the markets of Istanbul in April are the leaves of a plant in the lily family with hundreds of yellow flowers. It grows in the mountains of Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia as well as Central Anatolia. It is most commonly made into pilaf and cooked with eggs. In Sivas it is cooked together with sorrel and is delicious. In Bingöl it is used in soup.

  • Deniz Börülcesi  (Samphire or Glasswort,Salicornia europea): Glasswort, with its salty, succulent knotted stems, grows in saline environments. If its roots are not pulled up when collecting it, it can live for years. In Turkey, glasswort is best known in the Aegean region, but recently it has come into vogue in fish restaurants for its elegant appearance and unique flavor. It is mostly simmered and served cold with lemon and oil, but it goes well with all types of seafood.

  • Ebegümeci  (Mallow,Malva sylvestris): Pink flowered mallow, which grows almost everywhere in Turkey, prefers dry and sunny areas. It is used in a wide variety of dishes. It’s large leaves are made into sarma, everyone loves it cooked with rice; it also finds its way into börek fillings and sautés. Its tender young leaves are boiled and served cold with yogurt, and are also eaten raw in salads after being lightly kneaded with salt. In Central Anatolia it is cooked with meat as well as with okra. In Adana, a mallow salad with pomegranate molasses is common.

  • Isırgan (Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica):A somewhat weedy plant that doesn’t take kindly to handling, stinging nettle grows in many different soil types and in every region of the country. It is the young branches and especially the upper shoots that are used in food. These may be made into soup, salad, börek, köfte and other dishes. It is often used in mixed green dishes, and bulgur or rice pilaf with nettles is one of our very popular dishes. In the Black Sea region, a corn meal soup with nettles is made, and in the Aegean region, it is a main ingredient in böreks.

  •  Kuzukulağı (Sorrel,Rumex acetosella): This herb has long narrow leaves with pink stems. It flavor is more sour than lemon. Sorrel likes shady, cool places, and is much used in salads for its tart flavor. It also is used in soups and mixtures of herbs for börek, and cooked with rice. In Samsun, it is used in a dish with blackeyed peas; in Adana as a salad and in Gebze, is cooked together with fennel and dock. If you are looking for a tart flavor for your cooking and salads, sorrel is just the thing during its season.

  • Hardalotu (Wild Mustard,Sinapis arvensis): An herbaceous plant with yellow flowers, wild mustard grows in many locations in Turkey. With a slightly bitter flavor and mustard aroma, it is very popular in many regions. It has slightly fuzzy stems and dark green leaves. Because of its bitter flavor, it is parboiled first and then drained, and is generally served as a traditional Aegean “boiled salad,” with olive oil and lemon. It can also be sautéed without parboiling and mixed with eggs. In Denizli it is used to fill sac böreği, in İcel, it is cooked with bulgur and in Adana, with ground meat.

  • Hindiba  (Wild chicory,Cichorium intybus): Although the spring leaves resemble those of dandelion, the branching plant and blue flowers set it apart. The beautiful blue flowers may occur singly or in groups, and open only in the morning. Its roots may be roasted and ground as a coffee substitute, while the buds are made into pickles. It may be added to kavurmawith mushrooms, borani, potato salad, or made into köfte, and its tender leaves may be added to salads.


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