What’s that Green? Easy Foraging at the Shuk

by Sarah on January 9, 2010

Selling Jerusalem sage leaves and spinach

For those of you who don’t feel like trekking into the woods and fields to gather wild greens the next best option is going to the Ramle shuk during the green season (late autumn to spring). The Arab vendors have many different kinds of greens popular mainly within their population and seldom seen in regular Israeli markets.

Selling chickory at Ramle shuk

All of these plants can be found in the wild although some may be cultivated as well. Israel and the territories are densely populated and no matter how much I enjoy eating wild plants I also realize over picking may be a problem now and in the future.

Lisan-

Jerusalem sage leaves

When I asked the vendor the name of this plant he called it waraket el-lisan,  meaning leaf of tongue in Arabic, which made me think it was from the borage family as there are several plants in that family that have similar colloquial names in Hebrew such as Anchusa (cow’s tongue). In fact, I was pretty confident it was borage as it is a very popular green in Italy, used as a ravioli filling or cooked salad but I was mistaken. After a bit of research I found a fascinating article about Palestinian wild edible plants written by a group in Nablus University which indicated that Salvia hierosolymitana, of the mint family was the most likely plant being sold at the shuk.

Jerusalem sage near Tarum in the Jerusalem Hills

Miriam Kresh who writes the food blog Israeli Kitchen and also an avid plant enthusiast told me Moshe Basson of Eucalyptus restaurant in Jerusalem uses this plant, called Jerusalem sage,  in some of his dishes. As there were no pictures in the article I decided to write to Professor Mohammed Saleem Ali-Shtayeh, of the Biodiversity and Environmental Research Center (BERC) in Nablus, enclosing a picture of lisan to make certain we were talking about the same plant and indeed, as Professor Ali-Shtayeh verified it is a species of sage that grows wild in Israel and Palestine. What did I do with it? I asked the vendor who told me that it is stuffed similar to grape leaves and this is exactly what I did using my grandmother’s recipe.

Usually pinenuts are used in Middle Eastern cuisine but Yael Lee who has the only Finnish language food blog in Israel made some delicious spiced sunflower seeds for the recent blogger’s event , perfect for this dish.

Olesh-

Olesh is chickory (Cichorium pumilum), a lovely green popular in Europe, Turkey and many other parts of the world. It is easy to identify this plant when it blooms, with its distinctive baby blue flowers but by then it is fibrous, bitter and inedible.

Finding young chickory is much harder as it looks as generic as any other plant at this stage.

The young chickory leaves have a slightly bitter flavor prefered some but the vendor, the same man that sold me the lisan, told me to boil it to reduce the bitterness then to squeeze the moisture out with my hands.

These sauted leaves are more bitter than the boiled ones

His favorite way of preparing it is with fried onions and topped with tehini sauce which is surprisingly good. Chickory is used in traditional Arab medicine to alleviate the symptoms of diabetes and a group in Haifa has suggested cultivating them for conservation reasons.

Sbanach-

cultivated spinach, I have yet to find wild lettuce at the shuk

This is another mystery green which took me some time to decipher. As I wrote in a previous post on fatayer, sbanach, also known as wild or Turkish spinach is actually wild lettuce, either Lactuca serriola or Lactuca saligna as both Professor Mohammed Saleem Ali-Shtayeh and Nissin Krispil have informed me. It can be identified by the milky substance it secretes and is used the way cultivated spinach is used.

is this wild spinach? I am not sure

References:

Traditional knowledge of wild edible plants used in Palestine (Northern West Bank): A comparative study

J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2008; 4: 13.

Mohammed S Ali-Shtayeh, Rana M Jamous, Jehan H Al-Shafie’, Wafa’ A Elgharabah, Fatemah A Kherfan, Kifayeh H Qarariah, Isra’ S Khdair, Israa M Soos, Aseel A Musleh, Buthainah A Isa, Hanan M Herzallah,Rasha B Khlaif, Samiah M Aiash, Ghadah M Swaiti, Muna A Abuzahra, Maha M Haj-Ali, Nehaya A Saifi, Hebah K Azem, and Hanadi A Nasrallah
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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Irene Sharon Hodes January 9, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Wonderful post! I wish I had a car to get to these Arab markets…maybe if I look hard enough I can find some of these in Tel Aviv. I’m keeping my eyes open.

Perhaps you could shed some light on a recent find — I was at a busy greengrocer’s I stumbled upon a few weeks ago on a Friday afternoon in south Tel Aviv — and I picked up a bundle of dark greens that looked like, I don’t know, spinach crossed with collard. I asked at the time what it was, but the name eluded me almost immediately. I remembered it had something to do with sour – chamutz-something – and the old lady behind me in line told me I could make soup with it. It was indeed very sour and made excellent soup where the plant proceeded to fall apart, get a bit stringy, but thickened the mess up substantially in a very pleasant way. Any ideas?

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Sarah January 9, 2010 at 1:39 pm

indeed that sounds like sorrel. I made soup from it last year but didn’t know it turns an unattractive gray when cooked so it is best to combine it with another green, perhaps spinach for a more appetizing color

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Yael the Finn January 9, 2010 at 2:59 pm

What an interesting post again! I love to learn about the “weeds” that grow around us this time of the year.

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Liz January 10, 2010 at 4:31 am

Great post! I happened to pick up some chicory of my own in Haifa a few days ago, plus a mystery green that may or may not be large cauliflower leaves meant for stuffing …

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Baroness Tapuzina January 10, 2010 at 5:43 am

David and I had a great albeit short visit to Shuk Ramle with Miriam after the fun nature hike with you. I am now hooked. I bought freekah from a Halal Butcher shop near the entrance to the Shuk, purple carrots, fresh peas, and beautiful artichokes. I want to go back very soon. One of my colleagues who lives 10 minutes from there says that Ramle has one of the best hummous places in Israel and they serve stuffed purple carrots. I didn’t make it to the Indian shop this trip.

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Mimi January 12, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Another new fan of Ramle shuk…thanks for introducing me to that small and funky, yet very rich market.

And your post about the greens we bought there is beautiful.

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Esther January 27, 2010 at 1:07 am

I loved reading your post. I think I’ve eaten most of these greens while visiting various Arabs, Lebanese and Druze friends but up until know I only knew that they were delicious.

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Nolafoodie August 5, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Hi, Sarah — great post! Some time ago, I had inquired about “lisan” (or, in my family’s village accent, “lsayyen”) on eGullet, and you helped identify it. Based on the descriptions provided by everyone in my family, it really did seem like they were talking about borage. However, during my last visit, I asked my in-laws what color the plant’s flowers were (blue for borage vs. pink for Jerusalem sage), and they not only emphatically stated that the flowers were a vibrant pink, but also showed me a plant that had managed to stick around past winter. So, I definitely agree that the plant in question is Salvia hierosolymitana. Thanks for the detective work!

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Stephen October 30, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Your last picture looks like a Rumex species, but not common sorrel, Rumex acetosa..

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Stephen October 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm

…and thanks for the interesting article!

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Sarah October 30, 2011 at 1:06 pm

You’re welcome, glad you enjoyed it!

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