Cloudy mosses, snowflake flowers
Imagine a flower that looks like a snowflake and makes a foam as white as snow. The “Çöven” plant is one of the natural treasures of the Anatolian plateaus and mountains that blooms in May with white or pale pink flowers so small that they appear like snowflakes flying lazily through the air. The plant is a fodder that has strong saponifying properties, which is used in traditional confectionery to make cloud-like candies from the essence of the root. This is the hidden secret of “tahini helva”, or tahini halva, that has sweetened our palates for hundreds of years.
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The plant is almost a miracle of Anatolian geography. Everyone knows and appreciates halva, but very few know its hidden secret that gives it that chewy, chalky consistency that’s hard to describe. A good halvah is always about this particular texture. It is also used in other varieties of halva, the white glue that sticks layers of papery wafers in “kağıt helva”, which means paper-helva, is actually made with the same secret ingredient, and of course all nougat chey, and the bright white ‘susam helva’ or sesame halva tablets that look like sweet sesame cookies. There are more uses for this wonder plant. In Antakya, Mersin and Tarsus, it is used to transform a simple sugar syrup into a snow mousse, a sort of meringue without eggs, used as a glaze to cover the local “kerebiç” cookies. Bartın’s foamy halva and Ordu nut halva are among other uses. In many parts of the eastern Black Sea region, a soft cloud-like foam named “Mayıs Yedisi Helvası”, which translates to May 7 Halva, leaves its mark on the spring festivals. There are also Turkish delicacies in white color, the secret of its smooth and opaque whiteness is çöven, this time used in place of titanium dioxide which is used elsewhere as a food coloring.
The secret of the plant lies in the essence extracted from the root which has a foaming property. The root of gypsophila has a woody appearance. The roots harvested from nature are chopped and dried into pieces, and when the dried root is boiled in water, a clear tea-colored extract is obtained which becomes sparkling when shaken. When added to sugar syrup while whisking, it forms a foam that resembles a meringue without eggs or a marshmallow spread.
Gypsophila species not only grow in Turkey, there are other species that grow in other geographic regions, but some plants in the same family contain high levels of toxins, so they cannot be used for any purpose. culinary. However, in Turkey there are many perfectly edible species, and therefore used in countless ways in our kitchens. Today the plant is picked in many places in Anatolia ranging from the highlands of Taurus to the highlands of the eastern provinces such as Van, passing through the countryside of Çorum, Yozgat, Niğde, Konya, Beyşehir and Isparta. The variety of Van’s baby’s breath has the most foamy properties, being also the most sought after. Fortunately, there is now a new project led by the university to have the variety cultivated. The main gypsophila extract maker Kalealtı also started cultivating the plant in Diyarbakır. This means that it will not necessarily be picked from the wild threatening its natural existence, but will also be cultivated for a sustainable choice for a plant future. This traditional ingredient which has given unmatched texture to our sweets and confectionery for ages can also be used for other purposes. Traditionally due to its saponifying properties, it was also used to wash fine textiles such as silk, but new horizons for its culinary uses are to be explored by creative chefs. I’m noticing that a growing number of mixologists are incorporating the extract into cocktails to achieve that frothy sensation normally created by egg whites. I’m sure it can also be used for salty taste like mayonnaise. Many chefs try to use plant-based alternatives to egg whites like Aqua Faba, aka chickpea water, made by boiling chickpeas. But how sustainable is that, unless you have a strong connection to a hummus maker?
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Well, I will leave the innovative creations to the Spanish chefs, hopefully. Why? Let me tell you the good news. I will be talking about our miraculous gypsophila root “çöven” at the World Congress of Science and Cooking to be held in Barcelona from November 8-10. The Turkish delegation’s conference takes place on November 9. Our team consists of me as researcher / writer, Maksut Aşkar as chef and Gökmen Sözen as founder of the Gastromasa organization. The congress can also be followed online. https://scienceandcookingworldcongress.com/
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As I prepare to capture the hearts of Spanish chefs with my humble herbal çöven extract, Spanish chefs will capture the hearts of the public in Istanbul at the annual Gastromasa event which brings together world-renowned chefs for a a day-long marathon of inspiring discussions. Gastromasa is the brainchild of Gökmen Sözen who travels the world all year round visiting chefs and persuades them to join Gastromasa and similar events he organizes in Turkey. This year the theme is chosen as ‘Design’ and apparently the discussions will be even more inspiring than ever, with a line of 21 creative chefs. This year we can talk about a Spanish conquest, this is what I call the culinary revolution of Spain, Spanish chefs are winning our hearts in every way they can. This is proven by their powerful existence at Gastromasa this year with the participation of seven chefs, more in number than any other country, such as Dabiz Munoz, who won first place in The Best Chefs Awards this year, and Oriol Castro from Disfrutar, one of the most successful and creative restaurants of recent years, Juanjo Lopez, who made the difference with his minimalist and revolutionary attitude in Madrid, and the legendary Andoni Luis Aduriz of the Mugaritz restaurant in San Sebastian. I just watched a video from Disfrutar and was too excited that its three founding chefs decided to open their own restaurant after El Bulli closed at a hotel in Turkey while on vacation here. This led to their first place Compartir and then their multiple award-winning Disfrutar which simply means profit. I spent my birthday there five years ago and plan to do it again.
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Speaking of Spanish chefs visiting Turkey, two other Michelin starred chefs recently visited Turkey. Pere Planaguma spent a week cooking at the Paloma complex in Antalya, and María José San Román cooked for distinguished guests at the Spanish Embassy in Ankara. Planaguma is a regular visitor to Turkey, and I’m sure San Román will be a frequent visitor soon as well. She is a force of ideas, she is the driving force of MEG, Mujeres de Gastronomía / Women in Gastronomy, an association aimed at empowering women in the gastronomy sector. She has already established excellent contacts in Turkey, ready to launch the Turkish chapter, hopefully organizing an early spring meeting at the Barceló hotel in Istanbul in early spring with the support of the Embassy of Turkey. ‘Spain.