Showing posts with label wild. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wild. Show all posts

Feb 19, 2018

Ingredients: Mallow, Soachal, Malva, Lapha, Khubeza, Chalamit

mallow, malva, soachal, lapha, ebegümeci, khubeza, chalamit, cheeseweed, buttonweed, edible, wild, Kashmiri, forage, weed,

Mallow is common plant renowned for its medicinal and culinary uses. You'll most often see mallow growing wild as a weed but it is also cultivated as an ornamental. Its leaves, flowers, stems, seeds, and roots are all completely edible. The mallow plant is known throughout the world by various names: malva, soachal, lapha, auk, dōngháncài, ebegümeci, khubezachalamit, cheeseweed, and buttonweed.

mallow, malva, soachal, lapha, ebegümeci, khubeza, chalamit, cheeseweed, buttonweed, edible, wild, Kashmiri, forage, weed,
Kashmiri soachal or sauteed mallow leaves

Imagine my surprise on my last visit to Kashmir when my sister-in-law served me a tasty saute of mallow leaves simply seasoned with garlic and Kashmiri mirch (red chili).  I had seen her preparing the dish of this common roadside weed earlier but was completely shocked at how mild and tasty it was. It was not at all bitter, sour, earthy, metallic, or alkaline tasting as some wild greens can be. I had no idea that mallow was completely edible!  Mallow leaves are a much-loved vegetable dish in the north Indian region of Kashmir and are called soachal in Kashmiri. (The pronunciation sounds like tsot-zall to my ear.) 

Common Mallow (Malva neglecta)
A little research revealed that mallow has been a common foodstuff since ancient times around the Mediterranean, China, and northern India. The plant was popular in ancient Rome: Horace, the Roman poet, said his modest diet was made up mainly of olives, endive, and mallow. Mallow is also mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Job where the plant was called chalamit

If the word “mallow” reminds you of marshmallows, it’s no accident! Before marshmallows were made out of sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin the ancient Egyptians made them from the pounded and boiled roots of the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis). Which is a kind of mallow! The pounded and boiled roots would produce a mucilaginous substance with the consistency of egg whites. This was whipped and sweetened with sugar and rose water to produce the prototype of the confection we now call marshmallows. (Personally, I think the Egyptian version sounds light years better than the synthetic abominations we call marshmallows today.) 

Distribution of Common Mallow (Malva neglecta) : Red= native habitat Blue = non native habitat

Mallow is a member of the family Malvaceae and the genus Malva. There are about 30 species of herbaceous annual, biennial, and perennial plants in the genus Malva. All are completely edible. The broader family Malvaceae includes hibiscus, okra, cotton, cacao, and durian. Cotton is the only poisonous member of the Malvaceae family. The genus Malva is now widespread throughout the temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Several species are widely grown as garden flowers, while some are invasive weeds, particularly in the Americas where they are not native.

Mallow nutlets on the left and dried seeds on the right
The name "mallow" is derived from Old English "malwe", which was imported from Latin "malva" a cognate with the ancient Greek word malakhēMauve, the shade of pale purple which took the fashion world by storm in the 1890's was named after the French word for mallow flower. Common English names for mallow include buttonweed and cheeseweed as English-speakers thought the nutlets and seeds looked like buttons or wheels of cheese. The Arabic word for mallow is khubeza as the Arabs thought the nutlets and seeds resembled the traditional round bread called khubz. The Hebrew word for mallow is chalamit because the seeds and nutlets look like a little challah or loaf of bread.

What does mallow look like, and how can you identify it? There are quite a few different types of mallows and each of them has a slightly different appearance. Mallow leaves are fan-shaped with rounded lobes, obut can be slightly pointy. Sometimes, even the same plant can have leaves that are shaped differently. All mallow leaves have veins radiating from a central point, with lots of tinier veins branching off of those veins. Each leaf has a slightly reddish, brownish, or darker colored center where it meets up with its stem and is covered with minute hairs. The mallows' flowers all have 5 symmetrical petals radiating from one central point. They can be pink, purple, or white or any combination thereof.  Most of the wild mallows have a low, mounding habit and all mallows freely reseed.

Mallow cultivars L to R: Zabrina, Maria's Blue Eyes, Braveheart
Amazingly beautiful strains of Malva sylvestris are available as ornamentals for your garden. The mallow can be a perennial, annual, or biannual depending upon region. Mallow likes a well-drained soil, even slightly dry and poor. Plants dislike transplanting, so do not move them and only grow from seed. Mallow appreciates full or part sun and moderate temperatures. Although mallows are drought tolerant they tend to get rangy and ratty looking in hot weather. An ideal place for mallows in the garden is the back of a sunny border. I always planted the variety Zabrina in my California garden picturing swathes of mauve-y spires in my cottage-style garden. The seeds would all pop up almost immediately. However, when the seedlings got to about six inches high without fail the deer would come and nibble them down to the root. ARGH! Nonetheless every Spring I'd see gorgeous photos in the catalogs promising 3 months of neverending flowers in swoon-worthy shades of pink and purple and I'd plant them again. Those darn deer wouldn't eat the wild mallows growing by the road but they'd munch my expensive plants!

The poisonous Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens)
The only poisonous lookalike I've found for mallow is creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens). Creeping buttercup leaves have deeper clefts and are shinier with a lighter green coloration. Mallows have slightly fuzzy leaves like a geranium while creeping buttercup has a smooth, shiny leaf like a strawberry plant. If you aren't sure about a plant, wait a few weeks to see how the plant matures. If it develops yellow flowers and sharply cleft leaves then it is the toxic creeping buttercup. Mallows also tend to concentrate nitrates so if they are growing near a place where chemical fertilizers are in use (i.e. lawns) they're best avoided.

mallow, malva, soachal, lapha, ebegümeci, khubeza, chalamit, cheeseweed, buttonweed, edible, wild, Kashmiri, forage, weed,
Fresh picked soachal or mallow from our garden
You can use mallow leaves as you would any other green like spinach or chard. Their flavor is mild so they can be paired with pretty much anything. The fresh flowers and leaves make lovely a salad when mixed with other sturdier and sharper flavored greens. Because it's a weed that grows plentifully in neglected areas, mallows have been used throughout history as a survival food during times of crop failure or war. There are many different species of mallow all over the world that differ in size, shape, and taste. Don't expect to see mallow leaves at your local grocery store or even farmer's market. They're best eaten the same day they're picked. Mallow leaves tend to wilt and turn to mush after picking in about a day. I have found that you can prolong their freshness by rinsing the leaves with cold water then refrigerating them in a paper towel lined and airtight container for 2-3 days. I have heard of freezing the leaves for future use but have never tried it. Mallow is also a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Best of all, they're about the easiest green you could possibly grow or forage.

Dolmas made with mallow leaves
Kashmiris certainly aren't the only ones who eat mallow! The Bodo people of northeastern India cultivate a species of mallow called lapha and use it extensively in their traditional cuisine. Mallows are mostly used as a stewing green in Greece, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Egypt, Morocco, and the Piedmont region of Italy. The slightly mucilaginous sap of mallow leaves acts as a thickener much like okra when boiled or stewed. Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Grains and Greens is the best source I've found for mallow recipes. In Turkey and Greece, larger mallow leaves are also used to make dolmas or dolmades, also known as stuffed grape leaves. The Moroccans make a sort of tapenade out of stewed wild mallow with olives called bakoola du rif  enjoyed as a spread on fresh bread. Malva verticillata is grown on a commercial scale in Korea and China for use as an herbal infusion. The recipe for the Kashmiri sauteed mallow dish is here and a new recipe that a Palestinian friend sent me for mallow will be up soon!

Have you ever seen mallows growing in your area? 
Have you ever tasted any form of mallow? (tea, soup, dolmas)
Would you feel confident enough to go and forage mallow after reading this post?

Jun 6, 2016

Ingredient of the Week: Kachri, Kaachri, Sane

These are a wild melon called "kachri" or "sane"  found in various parts of South Asia. You'll often see these for sale at markets in both rural villages and urban markets in Northern India. They range in color from green to yellow and can be as nearly as big as a football to about the size of a walnut. As they are wild and never cultivated you'll often see kachri vines volunteering along roadsides, amidst crops, and in jungle thickets throughout India.

There seems to be a lot of confusion as to the exact name of this plant, it is variously called Cucumis callosus, Cucumis pubescens, and Cucumis melo sp. agrestis. I suppose that's not surprising given all the different shapes and sizes of it's fruits. The plant looks rather unremarkable and like most cucumber, melon, or gourd vines in South Asia. Whether these are actually different species or not isn't known, but evidently they can all freely interbreed according to one study I read.

This rather blurry photo shows how they look when ready to be picked, the vine withers and the small melons can be green to yellowish brown. The flesh inside is watery and seedy like a cucumber and can range from pale green to yellow. When green kachri can have a bitter astringent taste but when ripened they turn yellow and have a definite melon flavor that's rather tart.

I've seen fresh slices of kachri being sold at markets in Delhi for snacking as well as children in the countryside in Uttar Pradesh nibbling on them. Kachri are quite popular in Rajasthan where the harsh desert climate makes growing most vegetables impossible. Rajasthanis make several chutneys and vegetable curries out of kachri.

Here you can see how tiny the melons can be. Since they are a feral and foraged (or "wildcrafted" as the hipsters say) fruit their size depends primarily in the conditions in which they grew. South Asian cultures have a lot of these foraged plants in their cuisines that you don't often see nor hear about in cookbooks.

Kachri are also sun dried for later use in India. They are then ground to powder for use in chutneys or as a meat tenderizer. Kachri powder is also used as a souring agent much like amchur or dried mango powder. It is advised to buy dried kachri whole and grind them yourself as flavor is said to dissipate after grinding. There are commercially available brands of kachri powder available though.

Guess where else you can find kachri powder? Yes, indeed! It's souring my favorite chat masala by the brand Catch!

Catch brand Magic Chat Masala ingredients : Salt, Dry Mango, Kachri, Black Salt, Cumin, Bishop's Weed, Mint, Long Pepper, Sugar, Black Pepper, Tartaric Acid, Big Cardamom, Red Chilli, Clove, Cinnamon, Coriander, Nausadar, Asafoetida

That's what I love about these Catch brand masalas. They have these really unique blends featuring traditional spices that have become a bit obscure in modern times. This really stands out in the complex flavors of their spice blends. (If you are wondering what the ingredient "nausadar" is it's ammonium chloride. The same ammonium chloride that's used in Scandinavian salty licorice.)

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