One of the things we really love about living in a new place is exploring the local food. Most Turkish food is pretty familiar — kebabs in various forms, bread, rice, grilled and stewed meats, and a fairly standard assortment of vegetables. In the open air market, for instance, we can get pretty much any of the same fresh produce you could find in an American farmer’s market. In fact, the one thing that I have yet to find here is fresh ginger, and I’m pretty sure that with a relatively healthy population of Asian and south Asian expats living here there might be somewhere in town to find it.

Last week at the market, we noticed a couple of vendors selling small bushes with green pods on them that we couldn’t identify. When we asked what they were, we found that they were “taze nahot” or fresh chickpeas. This is not a picture of the actual bushes in the market, which were considerably smaller, but it at least gives you an idea. What they were selling was basically the entire uprooted bush, with roots (and dirt) still intact.

We chickened out on actually buying them, but went home and promptly got on the internet to find out how they’re served. Of course, once we found out that they’re not poisonous unless soaked in lye or something (sounds silly, but one never knows…), we were dying to try our hand at preparing them. Yesterday we went back to the market and discovered the down-side of fresh, in-season produce, as it took us a good ten minutes to locate the one stall that was still selling them this week. Apparently the window of freshness is pretty small. We bought five bunches so that we’d have plenty to experiment with even if they were completely gone from the market next week.

For anyone who hasn’t tried them, the flavor of fresh chickpeas is essentially just like peas. They are, however, considerably more work than snap peas. Wikipedia says that they grow “two or three” to a pod, but the ones we got were one and sometimes two in a pod. To be able to prepare them, Danny first had to pick all the pods out of the bushes, then we washed the pods in a diluted bleach solution. We froze some in the pod for later, and decided to steam half of ours in the pod to eat like edamame and shell the other half. The shelled peas we sauteed in a little butter, green onions, garlic, a small hot pepper, fresh mint, fresh parsley, cumin, coriander, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

I will not win any food photography awards for this shot, I know, but at least you can see how they turned out. The steamed in the pod peas were good, and a beautiful bright green color, but were definitely not as easy to eat out of the pod as are edamame. Despite the fact that they tasted pretty good, we decided they were probably more trouble than they were worth when cooked this way. Part of the problem is that the chickpea pod is a sort of an airtight pouch, which makes it impossible to judge the size of the pea from the size of the pod, so the small peas got overcooked and turned to mush in the pods. The sauteed peas were delicious, although we did notice that the color didn’t stay quite as bright and vibrant.

Next week, we’re planning to buy some of the deniz börülcesi (“sea bean”), which is pictured on the left. We’ve seen it a couple of times in the market, and finally looked up how to cook it. The recommendation that sounds the best to us is to boil it about 15 minutes (without adding salt to the water, as it has a good deal of salt in it), drain and toss with olive oil, lemon juice, crushed red pepper and garlic.

We also saw some fresh pistachios, which we may buy next week to experiment with. Eaten right out of the pod, they taste like a sort of crunchier, watered down version of unsalted pistachios (so nothing all that thrilling in other words), but it could be fun to play around with. Our experience of having to scour the market for the fresh chickpeas this week has also taught us that when it comes to interesting newcomers to the market, we should just buy first and google later lest we miss out!

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