Every spring in Turkey I set aside time to get to know the seasonal vegetables I still consider foreign: artichokes, fresh fava beans, asparagus, unripe almonds, green plums, blessed whistle and such. I find the spring guys tricky: they either play hard to get (think peeling artichokes or shelling fava beans) or require extra work to unleash their flavor (think unripe almonds). This year I have made a significant progress with artichokes. I eat them every week, and I have learned to peel them myself, a big achievement for an Istanbullite: every greengrocer happily offers peeled artichokes, and dedicated artichoke carts roam around the city neighborhoods in season.
Two weeks ago I did a spring detox. There is a good reason why the 40 days of the Great Fast fall on the spring, time of new beginnings. Maybe because I was born in spring, this is when my year starts. I don’t care for the New Year resolutions, but every spring I take stock of what I am up to; my thoughts take shape, and new directions become clear. Some people undertake a major house cleaning, some remember that bikini season starts in a short while. Me, I make big decisions in spring.
My first Ayurveda consultation was like the sound of the starter pistol. When I returned home, I took the slightly dusted jar of organic extra-virgin coconut oil (precious as gold in Istanbul, present of my friend) and turmeric, and made myself a most satisfying red lentil soup. Next morning I put on the sneakers and went for a walk along the sea. I had got all the ingredients I needed to kick off a healthier lifestyle. In fact, I was at the start line for a long time: I pitched a tent, made myself comfortable and forgot that I needed to get running. Until I heard the starter pistol.
The moment an Aeroflot flight attendant handed me over their “Asian vegetarian” lunchbox I knew my culinary deprivation started. I regretted not packing any snack in my carry-on and none of the essential Turkish pantry in my suitcase. This New Years I was traveling ultra-light. I still had a fever. To endure a flight, the Moscow metro and an overnight train journey I packed nothing but the presents and my mountain skiing clothes: not that I am such a skier, it was the warmest gear I had.
My mom as usual reassured me I did not need to bring anything. She made a shopping trip to source some red lentils (they are not so readily available in Russia) and chickpeas, my favorite proteins. Still, a week without pekmez, tahin, yogurt, home-made tomato paste, kekik and all looked gloomy.
My first trip to the organic market this spring was a revelation. I regularly shop from farmers at the Friday market in Sapanca and have gotten to know producers that sell at a handful of weekly markets in Istanbul. So I though I was very close to getting the kind of food my grandparents used to grow in their beautiful garden. I was mistaken. Ah, the Turkish agriculture developments.. I have almost forgotten that beets come in whimsical shapes and have greens, that carrots don’t mean intense orange color, that artichokes are small and come unpeeled in all their formidable beauty, that leafy greens are not the size of a pillow case and that baby spinach is not an oxymoron in Turkey.
Since the start of my grain-free experiment I have been thinking about a quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky: “Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!” Being this very scoundrel, I don’t miss pilaf, and my heart doesn’t beat faster when I bake with my cooking classes’ guests. Maybe because I know my grain-free state is temporary. But I long for the textures often associated with the grain baking. I imagine biting into a fluffy something made of butter, goat cheese and dill. And I fancy a crunch of home-made crackers. To make both possible in the grain-free existence, I started baking with bean and nut flours.
As the spring comes, it is easy to rush into the green goodness of the season and forget what has been nourishing us the whole winter. But the beginning of the spring might be deceiving: warm days end with cold evenings, wide open windows turn into drafts and thinner clothes means unpleasant colds. That’s why taking care of your immune system is so important at this time of the year, and one of the ways to do so is through taking care of your .. gut because this is where the majority of the immune cells in our body are located. And one of the best things you can treat your gut to is lacto-fermented food, like this Russian fermented cabbage.