Foods to watch for: Sea buckthorn, roselle

Credit: John Kessler

Credit: John Kessler

Over the past few years I've traveled a lot in northern Europe, including Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Everywhere I went I noticed that people were crazy for sea buckthorn -- those little orange/yellow berries that grow on shrubs  in sandy soil along the shore. I ate them at Noma, the influential Copenhagen restaurant, and I ate them in Russian coffee shops, where they flavored tea and soda.

How to describe the flavor? It's weird, like apricot mixed with papaya, guava and lavender. Herbalists and aestheticians alike love the stuff for its antioxidant and moisturizing properties. It is also considered a natural lubricant. Nuff said.

The only local restaurant featuring sea buckthorn on its menu that I know of is True Food Kitchen . But if you want to try some, look in the Russian freezer section of the Buford Highway Farmers Market. (You might also want to pick up some frozen morello cherries, those dark-fleshed sour cherries that are all too rare in this country.)

Now, roselle: my new crush. I first got turned on these sour greens as I researched my recent Personal Journey story on Susan Pavlin and Global Growers.  You can find a recipe for a Burmese roselle soup in this accompanying article.

Roselle is the leaf of the hibiscus variety that produces those fleshy purple flowers used to make sorrel tea in Jamaica. It originated in West Africa and has since become a favorite crop throughout Asia. You can find it in season (now) at Indian markets (where it is called gongura) and the Buford Highway Farmers Market.

Credit: John Kessler

Credit: John Kessler

This past weekend Global Growers had a stand at the

Explore Clarkston Farmers Market

, and they were selling roselle. The sweet Indian lady working the stall told me how she prepares roselle. I followed her verbal instructions and ended up with a really memorable pot of dal.

  • 1 tablespoon panch puran (mixed aromatic seeds) lightly toasted in a glut of oil in a big pot
  • 1 large onion, chopped and sautéed in the oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced and added to the onions to briefly saute
  • 1 1-inch chunk of ginger, peeled, cut into matchsticks and briefly sautéed
  • a bit of minced hot chile? Why not: the garden is overrun.
  • About 3 cups chopped roselle leaf, cooked until wilted. (Discard the red stems.)
  • 3 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped, sauteed, then simmered with the onions under a lid until fragrant goopage ensues
  • salt
  • about 1 cup of dry chana dal (which are split chickpeas), cooked separately until nearly soft, then added to the goopage with enough water to cover.

Cook this until the dal is soft, seasoning as necessary.  You may want it to turn creamy and fall apart, or you might like having the semi-firm peas in a broth. Love, love, love.