I remember one time walking out of Hamra street, a once vibrant street in Beirut, during the last days of winter and seeing a vendor with styrofoam boxes overflowing with lump-like things held together with clear tape.
The first time I saw these sandy-stone-like produce I thought they were the world prized truffles with the amazing flavor and the unique aroma. I made risotto and shaved* some of those on top. I even buried one in a jar of short grain rice to fragrance it for risotto.
*shaved, more like crumbled it on the box grater’s slicer side only to get grains of sand later with every bite because I didn’t clean them well
Only later did I learn that these truffles are not the same thing.
These beautiful spores are called Desert Truffles. They are harvested not using dogs or pigs like western truffles but by roaming the desert landscapes (not desert dunes, but bare lands with rare vegetation) looking for bumps and cracks in the land. They dig their hands down and pull out the sand hoping there’s a something worthy in there.
Recently, I saw these tubers in the produce souk in Tripoli and was eager to buy some. When I bought some from Hamra, the kilo costed 35$ and I only got around 4 or 5 ping-pong sized pieces, thinking this is too much. “You only need a few shavings”
I saw some in Syria last month but I was not planning to cook anything at that time so I didn’t get any.
Yet, two weeks ago, I got these beautiful truffles for 14$ a kilo from the old souk of Tripoli.
This time, I asked the vendor how they usually prepare truffles. He told me it is usually sautéed with onions and meat, or made into a stew with rice. The most common thing they would say is use them like potatoes.
Ok Barbara. So I make a puree with them? With truffle oil on top? Boil and roast them? French fry them? What do we do with potatoes?
Anyways, I got those beauties home. I made my research on what these truffles are, where they come from and how they are prepared.
I decided to cook them the way I want and give the world wide web a new way (tried and tested) of enjoying desert truffles.
One note you should care for is cleaning them carefully.
Desert truffles come from the sand and they are covered in tiny grains of sand you won’t see but you’ll feel when they crunch under your teeth.
First, soak the truffles in water.
Then take a clean toothbrush and scrub carefully into all the crevices and rinse thoroughly many times until you’re sure its clean and sand-free.
Dry and use as soon as possible. They are similar to mushrooms and they don’t handle moisture well.
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