Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Pinch of Home

I was born in the Southeastern European country of Bulgaria, and raised on traditional Bulgarian cuisine, which is heavily influenced by Oriental cooking traditions. This is particularly evident in the endless variety of spices which can be found in the kitchen counter of an average Bulgarian home. One of these spices, however, is used exclusively in Southeastern Bulgaria – the so-called “samardala”, also known as “green salt”. It is a mixture of plain salt and freshly ground young leaves of the flowering herb samardala (Nectaroscordum siculum ssp. bulgaricum). In English-speaking countries the plant is known as Honey Garlic or Ornamental onion.

In the wild, Honey Garlic has been found in Romania, Moldova, Crimea and Turkey. According to the website Dave’s Garden, the plant has been said to grow in regions all over the US, from Maine in the north to Texas and Florida in the south (http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/1832/), and forum visitors give lengthy advice on proper growing conditions. The Beth Chatto Gardens of Unusual Plants, located in Essex, England, offer bulbs of Nectaroscordum siculum bulgaricum for 2.95 GBP, or about $5. It seems that in the Western world, Honey Garlic is exclusively used as a flower – it is suitable for beginner gardeners since it hardly requires any special conditions to grow, and blooms in pretty pink bell clusters. However, Honey Garlic fans are in for a big culinary surprise if only they sacrifice a handful of leaves before flowering has started.

In cross-section, the leaf looks like a three-pointed star – legend has it that when God was creating plants, He caught the Honey Garlic leaf with three fingers to pull it out of the ground, giving it this peculiar shape. Fresh young leaves can be used to season salads, but their flavor simply shines when prepared as green salt. Once picked, the leaves are left in a shady place for a day, and then ground to a fine pulp using a mortar and pestle, a blender or even a meat grinder. During the process they emit an extremely pungent, spicy odor, arguably surpassing that of onion or garlic, so efficiency is recommended if you don’t fancy spilling tears over a worthless plant. The bright green pulp is then mixed with salt and spread to dry out in a shady, airy room, and stirred periodically. Once the mixture is sufficiently dry, it can be transferred to a salt cellar and enjoyed with any of the following: fried, roasted, or boiled eggs, roast chicken, potato dishes, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, buttered toast, feta cheese, lamb, and sweetbreads.

As green salt ages, it gradually loses its original bright green color and refreshing spiciness, so it’s very important to keep it in the dark, in a closed container, if you want to enjoy it for a longer time. Once it becomes brownish and tastes predominantly like salt, you can throw it away. Also keep in mind that green salt is, essentially, salt, so if you are planning to season your dishes with it before serving, reduce the quantity of salt in the recipe.

Image, plant information and instructions for preparing green salt are courtesy of http://kulinar.gbg.bg/.

-- Zhana Sandeva

1 comment:

  1. I tasted samardala and "Sharena salt" recently and now I use it daily with lot of dishes. It's add wonderful taste to brynza,yogurt, and pastries with spinach, etc...
    Unfortunatly ,' it's a problem to find this spices in my region so i order it on-line.



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