Citizens! As we enter week 6 of lockdown, the Sultan of Spice, the Nabob of Nom – YOUR TFD! – finds Himself seeking a new flavor challenge to occupy His time.
Whilst my body may be imprisoned, my soul roams unfettered across vast expanses of astral culinary wisdom, since planning for World kitchen domination knows no respite – global pandemic be damned!
As such, allow me to share a way to brighten virtually any dish you might be preparing with the flavors of the Balkans – yes, I speak of nothing less than the seminal seasoning of Bulgaria, known as sharena sol aka multi-colored salt!
As noted on mealsofbulgaria.wordpress.com:
If we make a list of the 10 most used Bulgarian spices for our traditional dishes, the mixed salt will most certainly top it. It is the most Bulgarian spice that has existed up to this day.
Many generations have been familiar with it since long ago and have grown with this magical spice on their home tables. It is not a coincidence that an ancient tradition of formal folk Bulgarian reception involves an offering of a morsel of home-baked bread dunked in mixed salt.
This spice is deeply rooted in our history and national cuisine. A lot of Bulgarians that go abroad include the mixed salt in their luggage. This totem of our motherland evokes many powerful memories about in the mind of anyone having the honor to be born in Bulgaria. It reminds us of the place where every Bulgarian face the sunlight for the very first time.
It is the most iconic and dear memory of everyone’s childhood – you and the mob of kids wearing slingshots in their pockets and joyfully chirping to each other while running around barefoot holding a slice of freshly baked, still warm bread spread with butter and sprinkled with mixed salt.
There is virtually nothing more delicious than this breakfast for any kid between the ages of 2 and 13. Do not think that mixed salt is a supplement for only bread slices. You can garnish a wide variety of foods with this – for example to sprinkle a sandwich with the spice, to drizzle it over a steaming vegetable soup, to dredge it over a hot crescent of a freshly boiled egg.
There are countless recipes for preparing mixed salt. It is so widely popular that in almost every municipality people have come up with their own secret recipe and ways of making this unique ingredient with its own proportion, types of base ingredients and technology of mixing them.
The recipe has evolved during the centuries depending on one’s taste. Unfortunately manufactured mixed salt is not as tasty, enriched and diverse as the home-made one.
Sharena sol has no single fixed recipe, although virtually all of them include summer savory (an herb most beloved by Bulgarians), paprika, dried fenugreek leaves and – of course – salt.
Another very common ingredient is a very rare herb outside of Bulgaria, known as samardala – the following details are from the excellent website tastycraze.com:
Samardala is a herbaceous plant that belongs to the allium family and is endemic to the Balkan Peninsula. As a component of lean salt as a seasoning samardala is used dried and crushed. Samardala (Nectaroscordum siculum ssp. Bulgaricum syn. Allium bulgaricum) is one of the main ingredients in Bulgarian traditional colorful salt.
In translation from Greek, its name means garlic nectar and coincidentally the English name of the spice is Honey Garlic. Samardala is known as chives, Bulgarian onions, garlic Bulgarian and others. Actually samardala is a spice that is used mostly only in Bulgaria and in particular in the region of Strandja, Sliven, Stara Zagora, Kazanlak and the Sunny Beach.
Southeast samardala can be found fresh or dried in markets, and people grow it as a mandatory plant in their yards. Samardala is also found in smaller amounts in Romania, Moldova, the Crimea, in the Caucasus, even in Turkey, and the southern parts of Italy and France.
You can see it in the wild undergrowth of beech and hornbeam forests. It is a bulbous plant from which a few thin and long stems to 40 cm spring. Samardala is a close relative of garlic and onions, but its leaves are different. One legend says that when God created plants, he caught the leaves of the samardala to get it out of the ground and thus obtain the specific form of its leaves.
Needless to say, it is damned near impossible to find samardala outside of Bulgaria, but I did manage to track down a source for the fresh plant, as part of a program to preserve rare herbs from the Balkans, you can find it here.
This is an essential part of the flavor profile of sharena sol, so if you can’t find it please try and use one of my suggested alternates – these include wild Ramp powder and garlic scape powder. You can buy top-quality Summer Savory from here, dried Fenugreek leaves here, and dried lovage here. Sharena sol is a most unusual salt / spice blend because it also contains a surprising ingredient – corn flour, which you can buy here.
Citizens, this is a delicious, rare and most historic recipe that I am fully confident will be embraced by our Bulgarian brethren as most accurate and on-point – I hope you see fit to try it at your earliest opportunity! 🙂
Sharena sol would be a delicious spice blend to be used with any part of a Bulgarian meal – consider it with some delicious Bulgarian meatball soup!
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