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  • Writer's pictureJocette Lee

Cuma//joo mah: Mahlep

It goes by many names: mahlepi, mahaleb, halub, etc. In Turkey, it goes by mahlep, and until living in Turkey and purposely studying Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, I was completely unfamiliar with this pale ground powder. Despite the many names and spellings of almond-shaped kernels found inside the pits of wild St. Lucie cherries, mahlep is native to the Anatolian region, is tied to many historic medicinal remedies, bread/pastry recipes, and perfume formulas.

"Mahleb was first used as an addition to perfumes in Turkey and the Middle East. The unique scent is the perfect blend of subtle yet noticeable, making it ideal for fragrances" (2). This perfume-like ingredient quickly transferred to culinary pursuits, "mahleb has a delicate, mild flavor of almonds with notes of both cherry and roses. There is a nice mildly bitter aftertaste that adds an extra dimension to sweet foods. Some have even said the flavor is vaguely of rosewater" (2). As a result, the ingredient soon became a staple and signature flavor of various regional cuisines in the Mediterranean, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

According to The Guide Istanbul, "mahlep is commonly thought of as a spice, but it isn’t. Most stone fruits or drupes (i.e., fruits with large pits or ‘stones’ at the center), such as cherries, apricots, and peaches, contain such almond-like kernels, in which traces of cyanide are present. This endows them with a degree of bitterness, which in some cases can be too overpowering to enjoy. A mere teaspoonful of mahlep is usually enough to transform a standard loaf of bread–or a baking tray full of cookies–into something truly delectable"(1). To learn more about this almond-shaped kernel's texture, taste, and potency, I decided to work with it first hand.

I could only find preground mahlep (photo above) at the store in Selçuk, which according to most sources, is not preferred. The mahlep kernels keep longer when whole and deliver extra aromatic flavor to the bread when freshly powdered. Nonetheless, I proceeded with the preground powder that I purchased from Migros. Next, I found an Easter Bread/Paskalya Coreği from Özlem Warren of Özlem's Turkish Table cookbook. It is a fairly straightforward enriched bread dough recipe with additional mahlep and mastic flavorings (stay tuned to learn about mastic). After incorporating the ground mahlep into the dry ingredients of the bread, I proceeded with the bread recipe. Throughout the baking process, the flavors of the mahlep imparted unexpected nutty and floral aromas into the bread, which came alive and seeped out of the oven while baking. In addition, the mahlep added complexity and richness to the dough - I am so surprised that this mahlep addition has not yet had its moment in #instabaking fame. I still have much experimenting with mahlep, and I look forward to making these Mahlep Sugar Cookies next! To see the process of making Özlem's bread, see the video embedded below.

Overcome by Natural (and Manmade) Disasters

While my primary focus here at Hasat is food, I have to make a slight departure from all-things gastronomy to share the heaviness of the past few months. Within the last eight months in various corners of Turkey, there has been a devastating earthquake in our city (Izmir), catastrophic fires across parts of the Mediterranean and Aegean coast, and an annihilating flood in the Black Sea. The Sea of Marmara has been declared "dead," and there are few unified efforts to restore the people and land seriously impacted by these events. And this report is zoomed-in on Turkey, let alone the worldwide catastrophic events in Haiti, Afghanistan, Greece, California, China, etc. Oh, and the continuation of an ever-evolving and contentious pandemic. It feels heavy on my chest and stifles any ability to connect and create.

This is where I structure my thoughts and experiences about my unconventional life split between two countries, cultures, languages. I often try to articulate the confusion and heaviness of being deeply rooted in two lands because I always long for the other. I attempt to advocate for representation of thought, perspective, and experience for both countries and those somewhere in-between. I know many of you carry a load far more complicated and painful than the one on my back. Yet, in the midst of all these painful events, we do not know where to look. There are too many (metaphorical and actual) fires blazing at once. I was recently reading Gabrielle Blair's Newsletter called Design Mom, and I resonate with the weight of her words.

"It could just be what the algorithms are showing me, but it seems like each of these events gets less attention because there are so many happening at once. Is that happening for you too? Are you having trouble keeping track of the natural disasters the world is experiencing?" - Gabrielle Blair Newsletter

If donating to the land restoration of Turkey interests you, the best organization to donate to at the moment is TEMA. Salih and I have also donated to them and have seen how their efforts have made a difference so far. We are so grateful for your concern and efforts to support the people and land devastated by the fires. Here is the link.

Things I am loving:

1. A delicious recipe I am hoping to make soon for Okonomiyaki: an iconic Japanese street food savory pancake.

2. Bike riding! For the past couple of weeks, I have been based in Brooklyn, NY, with my sister, and she bikes around the city every day. It has filled me with child-like joy to jump on a bike and experience NYC with her. Something about biking encourages delight!

3. Why Do American Grocery Stores Still Have an Ethnic Aisle? : "Since its inception following World War II, the ethnic aisle has become a fixture of American grocery stores" (Priya Krishna).

An Rong Xu for The New York Times


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