This creamy vegan rice dish with vegetable broth, greens, and lemon is a traditional Turkish Jewish recipe. It is the perfect homey comfort food, that you and your children will want again and again. If you can’t forage wild mallow greens our Turkish rice with lemon can be made equally delicious with spinach.
Where does our food come from?
Every Tuesday morning, we open our door to discover a box of fresh vegetables delivered from a family farm outside of Tel Aviv. Unpacking the vegetables and sorting them in the fridge is one of the highlights of Sophia’s week. For example, she may decide to take a bite out of each tomato. On the other hand, perhaps tearing up all of the swiss chard leaves seems more fun on that particular morning. Luckily enough, she can easily be diverted by the fun task of sorting the onions and the muddy potatoes in their baskets.
Her excitement in handling the vegetables and in being a part of our weekly food preparation made me think. We live in an age where supermarket shelves supply an endless variety of foods that seems to appear from out of nowhere. Even if you order a box of vegetables from a local farm like both Einav and I do, it still magically appears at our door once a week. We wondered “how can we show our kids the process of where our food comes from?”. Therefore we decided to take David and Sophia on a foraging trip. They could help us gather wild mallow for our dinner and most importantly see how their food is grown.
Foraging for wild greens
Mallow is a spinach-like wild green that grows abundantly throughout Israel in the winter and spring. It grows like a weed, sprouting up at the edge of sidewalks, along roads and in gardens, without ever having been planted. About half an hour East of Tel Aviv we arrived at the forest and to our delight it did indeed grow on the side of almost every path we walked. We found a giant field of it with stalks twice as tall as the kids.
David and Sophia caught on to the foraging task right away. They were very intent on filling up the basket that Einav brought. In addition, they took turns dragging the basket around and crumpling up the leaves to stuff in more and more. I love the look they get on their faces when they are concentrating. Such focus, to pick a leaf and find the right spot for it in the basket.
lessons in slow living
If you’ve wandered in the woods with children, then you know that it’s very different than walking alone. They stop at every daffodil and at every twig. Their faces shine with excitement from an encounter with a puddle, and colorful stones are viewed as the most spectacular treasures. Walking a few feet can take an hour. We had plans of where to walk, what to see…but when we just let them set the pace, Einav and I started noticing all of the beauty around us too.
After a couple of hours exploring every twig and leaf and butterfly in a radius of our few feet, we headed home with a big basket of mallow. Sophia and David helped to sort the green leaves and separate them from their bigger stems. Meanwhile, watching them, their concentration and interest continued to amaze me. It certainly strengthened my belief that we really don’t need to buy so many toys when they are so much more interested in leaves and stones and feathers. As I continue to witness each new adventure, such as on our trip to a clementine grove, I see that our kids are happiest when allowed to run. In conclusion, they just want to get dirty and be a part of something real.
Creamy Turkish rice with lemon and greens
Once the little hands had finished preparing the greens, I made my favorite Turkish rice dish with lemon. I used the wild mallow, instead of spinach which also works great). It was delicious! The rice is cooked in vegetable broth; the fried onion, olive oil and sautéed greens turn it creamy like risotto.
I found the recipe in an old cookbook, created by the elderly residents of a Turkish nursing home. The author recorded the residents signature recipes into a spiral-bound book and written in Turkish and English. Friends of the family brought it over after a trip to Istanbul, guessing how much we would appreciate it because of our Turkish roots. The recipes remind me so much of my grandma’s food and her way of cooking with her senses. Firstly, they are written in the voice of nursing home residents. Secondly, the ingredients are listed but no quantities, except a little bit of this or that.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the book is for sale anymore, but I recently purchased a newer Turkish cookbook that I love. It’s actually called The Turkish Cookbook by Musa Dagdeviren, and has 550 traditional recipes! We’re looking forward to sharing some of the other unique Turkish dishes that I grew up on, like rice with eggplant and spinach stems in lemon sauce.
Here is the recipe for my favorite Turkish rice with lemon and wild mallow (or spinach). Our toddlers devoured it! Make sure to follow the steps precisely; rice can be tricky.
Turkish Rice with Lemon and Greens
- 1 onion medium/large
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 5 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 4-5 cups mallow leaves or spinach (packed full)
- 1½ cups jasmine rice
- 3 cups vegetable broth homemade or store bought
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric ground
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon organic cane sugar
- toasted pine nuts for garnish optional
- Choose a pot with a tight-fitting lid, preferably glass. Put three tablespoons of olive oil in it over medium heat.
- Add one chopped onion. Cook until onion is soft and translucent. Add two crushed cloves of garlic and saute for another 2 minutes.
- Remove all of the stems from the mallow leaves and wash. Chop them into medium-large pieces. Add them to the onion and garlic along with 3 tablespoons of water and cover the pot.
- After about 3 minutes when the leaves have begun to cook, remove the lid and let any remaining water evaporate.
- Add the rice and the broth and then the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, turmeric, pepper, and sugar. Stir once and then refrain from stirring again.
- Turn the flame to high and wait until the water begins to boil.
- Cover the pot and turn down the flame to low. Let cook for about 10 minutes without opening the lid.
- After 10 minutes open and peak to see if the water is all gone. If you aren’t sure then use a fork to check the bottom. If there is still water then recover and check again after 3 minutes.
- Once the water has all disappeared then quickly turn off the flame, place a clean dish towel on the pot and put the lid on top of it. Let sit for 10 minutes at least.
- After 10 minutes open and gently fluff with a fork.
- Serve with toasted pine nuts on top.