Monday, 18 July 2011

Samphire Dressed in Olive Oil, Lemon and Garlic

Dear Sophie,

This post is for you!  It was such a great pleasure to receive your lovely email recently that here I am , sharing  the delights of deniz börülcesi/samphire on my blog and all because you were so enthusiastic about the stuff! 
samphire/deniz börülcesi looks like this

Here is Sophie’s own lyrical description of what she did with her market samphire – I’m sure you will enjoy reading it just as much as I did:

‘The other day as I whizzed through our local market (whizzed because I had a fractious toddler in my market trolley), I felt a sudden craving for green beans. But being incredibly busy that day - tough deadline - I didn't have the luxury of allocating ten minutes to trimming them before cooking them. My eyes fell on these mysterious heaps / bundles of dark green - well, stuff - that I'd overlooked for years. It was called "deniz börülcesi", it was cheap, and it was everywhere. Hmmm. Börülce was a kind of almost-bean, right? And they looked greenish, right? Most importantly, it didn't seem to have any tough stringy bits to trim. So I bought a kilo and took it home.

After working out that it was probably the Aegean version of samphire, I checked BBC Good Food etc., and decided that the recommended way of preparation (blanching lightly for a few seconds) was too delicate for the stuff I held in my hands. So I bounced next door.

My neighbours explained how to prepare it: soak and wash thoroughly (my purchase was still shedding clods of sandy soil, so, good advice), chop off woody roots. Wash some more. Bring unsalted water to the boil. ("It's already salty," I learned, to my fascination.) Cram all the deniz börülcesi into the pot of boiling water. Boil like spaghetti for about 15 mins until tender. Dump into colander and run under cold water to cool slightly.
I boiled mine for 10 minutes

Now, apparently the succulent deniz börülcesi does have tough stringy bits - inside the stem. And removing these was actually the fun part. You hold each clump of fronds at the base with one hand, grip with the other and move your second hand up the stem. Succulent soft juicy fronds of samphire plop into the waiting bowl, and you are left clutching something like a fish skeleton or umbrella frame. You discard this and grab the next clump. I know it sounds tedious but it was such fun. I forgot all about my deadline.

stripping the juicy fronds off the woody stems

When you have a bowlful of boneless samphire, you dress it. Please, please ignore alternative dressing suggestions out there. The Turkish way is utterly exquisite: olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. No pepper, no chilli, no mint or dill or any other kind of sprinkle (and I am a huge fan of herbs/ spices). I used about 3 huge walnut-sized cloves of garlic, two juicy lemons and almost a cupful of the greenest, golden-est olive oil. I then went into a kind of trance, only emerging when the bowl had been licked clean (I blame the cats).
it shouldn't be limp or soggy

Apparently this dish is a popular rakı meze around these parts (the Aegean), whereas poncy gourmet websites suggest serving it with fish or lamb. I suggest serving with fresh bread. Or stale bread. Or - don't serve it; lock yourself in your kitchen and eat it yourself.

Somebody suggested it tastes a little like poached baby spinach stalks, or tiny  little asparagus shoots. Neither description does justice.’

What a fabulous description! I love it, Sophie! I don’t know what you do but I would hazard a guess that you are a writer. You made me go out there to find my samphire and try all over again. Because I admit freely that I tried this years ago and wasn’t impressed. And then when it makes its appearance on that meze tray in  restaurants here, it doesn’t look very prepossessing: just dark and oily.  But you know what? I cooked it myself and as you can see from the pictures, it was every bit as delicious as Sophie describes! And then we had it yesterday in a little place here in Assos by the sea and sure enough it was as overcooked and soggy as it usually is when you have it out. So moral of the story: prepare it yourself!

A little bit of info: samphire is apparently super healthy containing loads of nutrients including Vitamins A,C,B2 and B15. And as if this wasn’t enough, it is also full of minerals especially iron, calcium, and magnesium.  There are two types: rock samphire and marsh samphire, which is the one we use, and the season is now.

Ingredients for Samphire dressed in Olive Oil, Lemon and Garlic

An adaptation of Sophie’s, Angie Mitchell’s, and my own experience

Serves 4-6

500g/1 lb fresh samphire/deniz börülcesi

Juice of 1 lemon

2 cloves garlic

Olive oil to dress


·         Boil the samphire in fresh water for 10 minutes or until tender. Don’t add salt as it’s salty enough. Strain and plunge into ice-cold water to retain its vibrant green colour, taste and nutritional content.

·         When cool enough to handle, strip the fleshy shoots from the inedible stalks. It should ease away easily between your thumb and forefinger.

·         To serve, toss together with the lemon juice and garlic and a little olive oil.

Afiyet olsun and thanks again, Sophie!