Truffles -the delicious tubers- have been a topic in food literature throughout the ages, from neo-Sumerian inscriptions in the 20th century BCE, to the writings of 19th-century chef Brilliant Savarin, to the joyful greediness of contemporary author Peter Mayle. But if you think that good truffles come exclusively from Italy and France…be prepared for an enjoyable surprise.The fabulous fungus also sprouts in the desert sands of the Middle East and North Africa region.
In this article in the SaudiAramcoworld blog, writer John Feeney says:
“If you can only find them, desert truffles lie in wait in arid areas all around the Mediterranean, especially along the North African coast from Morocco to Egypt and farther east across the great desert plain from Damascus in Syria to Basra in Iraq. In all this vast region of the earth, you will find few, if any, surface signs to show you where the truffles are hiding—yet in all these regions, people gather truffles for food
The shuks of the Levant begin to sell desert truffles in the springtime, from February to April, although the season may extend until June. They are much more abundant and affordable than their European cousins. Sweeney, a long-time resident of Cairo, adds,
“The truffles of the desert are not so strongly flavored, but as they grow much more prolifically than their European cousins, they can be used in much greater volume. I once enjoyed, in a humble restaurant in Damascus, a whole plateful of raw, sliced black desert truffles as a salad, dressed in olive oil and lemon. Now where, in all of Europe, could you enjoy such a thing? It would cost a king’s ransom. With the desert truffle, however, even people of relatively modest means can splurge on a kilo or two …”
Desert truffles are delicate, so once you’ve bought some, use them up right away.
You can preserve their flavor for a brief time by slicing or grating them into cooled smen butter or softened ordinary butter, or good oil. They may be frozen in a glass jar that withstands the cold of the freezer. Or borrow a European idea and bury sliced desert truffles in raw rice, packed into a jar and kept refrigerated. The rice will absorb the truffle flavor.
A system for flavoring raw eggs with truffles comes from the Wild About Mushrooms online cookbook:
Cut an egg carton in half crosswise. Place 1 or 2 (preferably 2) medium truffles in each carton in the middle of the eggs. Enclose the cartons in a plastic bag and seal. Place in the refrigerator. The eggs will be ready for use after 3 days. (Do not keep the eggs in the refrigerator longer than 1 week, as their odor and flavor may become too strong, and the lack of fresh air may cause them to spoil.) The eggs may be used to prepare scrambled eggs, omelettes, or your favorite deviled egg recipe.
Desert Truffle Soup Recipe
The recipe for desert truffles soup below comes from Tom Volk’s Fungus Of The Month site. As for many desert truffle recipes, it calls for camel’s milk. (Laurie Balbo has written about the growing popularity of camel milk here.) Not having camel milk on hand, substitute cow’s milk.
To keep it vegetarian, or vegan, use vegetable stock instead of beef stock, soy milk and cream instead of cow milk.
Elinoar’s Cream of Desert Truffles Soup
9-10 medium sized fresh white desert truffles (Tirmania nivea)
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup very light beef stock
2 cups camel’s milk
½ cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste
Chopped parsley for decoration
light roux made with 2 tbsp butter cooked with 2 tbsp flour
Gently scrub the truffles with a soft brush to remove sand.
Peel and chop roughly
Slice two truffles, boil in the milk, remove and set aside for decoration.
Sauté onion in the butter until the onion pieces are clear.
Add truffles and white pepper.
Cook for a few minutes, add beef stock and bring to low boil
Reduce heat and cook until juices reduce (10 minutes)
Add roux to hot milk, mixing quickly to dissolve.
Pour over the truffles, and cook on low heat, mixing constantly, for 2 minutes
Puree the mixture (optional), return to the pan and add the cream
Heat through but do not boil.
Add salt, taste and correct flavors. Decorate with sliced truffle and parsley /
More wild recipes from the Middle East:
Image of Turkish desert truffle via Wikipedia