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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Traditional knowledge of wild edible plants used in Palestine (Northern West Bank): A comparative study
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2008; 4: 13.