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The articles in this issue have been divided upinto the following categories







Desert Truffles- A Gourmet’s Buried Secrets

"A natural phenomenon of great complexity, one of the strangest plants, without root, stem, fibre, branch, bud, leaf or flower." The words of Theopharstus, a pupil of Aristotle’s in 300 BCE, puzzled by the mystery of the truffle. They grow completely out of sight, below the surface of the soil and no one can predict exactly where they will grow or when. All types grow completely in the wild: no one has ever managed to grow them under cultivation, despite continuing efforts.

They look for most of the world like bruised, lobed potatoes, wizened walnuts or dried prunes. There are more than 30 varieties of truffles — Brown, black, creamy white, sometimes pink. They are usually no more than a few centimetres across, but occasionally the size of a fist, light in the hand, typically weighing from 30 to 300 grams.

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 Baghdad and Basra in Iraq.

Truffles go by different names in different places. In Morocco they are called ‘Terfez’ — probably the source of the Latin Botanical name. In Egypt the Bedouin of the Western desert call them ‘Terfas’. The Kuwaitis call them ‘Fagga’ the Saudis ‘Fag’, the Syrians ‘Kamaa’. The Iraqis call them ‘Kamaa’ or ‘Chima’, depending on local dialects.

A common belief in the Middle East is, that the truffles’ numbers and size are influenced by the force of thunderclaps. In fact, there is a connection, for the rains must be just right during October and November to start the truffles germinating. Too much rain at the wrong time an rot the truffle spores. Researchers found that as little as 200-250 millimetres of rain can produce a good crop. When there is less, experienced truffle-gatherers know to look preferentially in hollows and other places, that may dry out more slowly.

Even before searching for or buying truffles, you ought to know what kind of taste you are in for. European truffles, prized for their intoxicating aroma, can impart a delicate flavour to terrines of foie gras, poultry scrambled eggs and soufflés.. The truffles of the desert are not so strongly flavoured, but as they grow much more prolifically they can be used in much greater volume. While a salad made of European truffles may cost a king’s ransom, even people of relatively modest means can afford a kilo or two to make a Cream of Desert Truffle soup — a gourmet’s delight if there ever was one.

Relished by the rich and famous from the earliest times, desert fungi were served to the Pharaoh, as papyrus writings tell us.

Part of the mystique of European truffles that grow around the roots of oak and hazelnut trees, their extravagant cost of around $2000 a kilo.

Desert truffles should never be cooked more than a few minutes. Roasting them in campfire ashes remains one cooking method.

From Aramco World Magazine

Crème of Desert Truffles Soup

9 or 10 medium-sized white desert truffles, fresh or tinned

4 cups whole milk or light cream

1 small onion , peeled and roughly chopped

2 or 3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

4 more cups whole milk or light cream

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 tablespoons, white all-purpose flour

1 vegetable cube

1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

salt & freshly ground white pepper

1/4 tablespoon more unsalted butter

3/4 cup more light cream

Clean fresh truffles from sand as necessary.

Roughly chop all but two of the truffles. Put the onion & garlic in the first four cups of the milk and let it boil for five minutes, then add the chopped truffles.

Simmer gently, for another three minutes , no longer. Purée the mixture in a blender & set aside.

Make a white sauce. Melt one tablespoon of the butter, then turn down the heat,

add flour & keep on stirring until it becomes a thick paste. Then pour in the remaining four cups of milk , half cup at a time. Keep stirring until a smooth, creamy, thick sauce is achieved.

Slowly stir in the puréed truffle mixture until it is absorbed into the sauce. Drop in the vegetable cube & sugar. Add salt & white & cayenne pepper. Stir in the 3/4 cup of cream & the 1/4 tablespoon of butter for finishing. If the soup seems too thick, dilute with a little more milk.

At the very last moment before serving, so as to obtain the maximum truffle flavour, take the truffles you have set aside and grate them, directly into the soup. Keep the soup hot, with the lid on, in double boiler, and do not let it boil again.

Kept in a sealed jar, the finished soup will keep its truffle flavour for several days.

P.S. tinned truffles are obtainable from Middle Eastern shops

Eileen Khalastchy writes:

Back in 1970, we were still in Baghdad. At the beginning of winter, the Government of the United States sent excellent wheat seeds to the government of Iraq to be given to the farmers to plant. They were warned that the seeds were poisoned and not to be eaten.

The farmers were tempted to make bread out of that wheat and did not pay attention to the warning. They also fed their cattle of that wheat.

A disaster happened out of their greed. People died by the hundreds. Some families were all wiped out. In some families just one person survived who luckily left early for work before the bread was baked. (Because country farmers bake their own bread every morning).

We had a friend who worked as a matron in a hospital and used to tell us what was happening.

To be on our guard, we stopped eating any meat as sheep and chickens were dying also.

That year, rain and thunder came in abundance. So truffles were plentiful. And so we used them in cooking instead of meat. For four months all we ate was truffles in different kind of dishes just like meat. I must say they were delicious and as tasty and nutritious as meat.

The truffles come in two kinds in Iraq. One kind is found in lands where wheat grows and are dark in colour and tastier than the ones found in the land where barley in grown.

In Baghdad the street vendors of snacks used to call

which means "Egg and Truffle sandwiches at 2 annas" (2 annas = 1 pence = 1.6 U.S. cents.).

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