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Deniz Börülcesi Salatasi: Samphire Salad


This refreshing dish is served along the coasts of Turkey, especially in places that are located ‘off the beaten track’. The reason for its conspicuous absence from the typical tourist menu is that its main ingredient, marsh samphire, is unfamiliar to most western travellers, in spite of the fact that it grows along much of the Eurasian coastline and used to be eaten quite commonly in Britain. It still plays a significant role in the cuisines of France, the Netherlands and Japan.

Marsh samphire (salicornia europea), traditionally known as pickleweed or glasswort, is a rather unusual species. It is one of very few plants that require surplus salt for growth, as well as copious amounts of water. It therefore favours salt marshes, beaches and other low-lying locations near the sea. This peculiarity results in a fleshy, juicy plant of rich and complex flavour. It’s cousin, rock samphire, is also eaten, but is far less common.

Salicornia contains a rich and unusual array of rare minerals, mainly various salts, iodine and calcium. In fact, it was used as a major source of sodium sulphate for glass-making until the 19th century. Its high mineral content makes it very nutritious – similar in health properties to seaweed. Since it is rarely cultivated in Turkey, most marsh samphire grows wild, which makes it about as natural and organic as you can get.

So, this surprisingly tasty salad plant (in French or Japanese menus it is nowadays often called ‘sea asparagus’) does not just offer you a quickly prepared and strikingly Turkish eating experience, but also puts you in touch with a long and ancient culinary tradition that is on the cusp of a global revival.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a side dish):

500 g marsh samphire (available in many delicatessens:, it may be labelled as ‘sea asparagus, or alternatively in Turkish: ‘deniz börülcesi’, French: ‘salicorne’ or Dutch: ‘zeekral’.) 
2 tablespoons lemon juice 
4-6 cloves garlic, crushed 
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Deniz Börülcesi Preparation:

Pour 2 litres of water into a saucepan and place on a high heat. Do not add salt! While the water is heating up, cut off the (white-ish) roots and wash the samphire under cold running water. Then separate the individual stalks from each other.

Once the water is boiling, reduce the temperature slightly, add the samphire and leave for a few minutes - long enough to blanch, but you don’t want it to soften too much. Then remove from the water and leave it to cool down.

Meanwhile, mix the garlic with the lemon juice and the olive oil. Once the samphire is cold or lukewarm, brush the smaller side branches from the main stalks by holding the main stalk near the root and rubbing your hand along it lightly. Place the side branches in a salad bowl. If the main branches are not overly tough (try one), add them as well and finally drizzle over the lemon-garlic dressing.

Some good Turkish or Greek yoghurt really brings out the flavour of the Deniz Börülcesi, which can be served as a starter or as a side salad, especially with grilled fish or lamb.

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