Desert Truffles



Desert truffle is a distant relative of the European truffle most of you are accustomed to. They grow in the dry environment of the Mediterranean, Arabian peninsula and North Africa. They mainly grow in the desert parts of these areas and are collected by local Bedouin. No dogs or pigs are used to find them and instead the Bedouin identify them through tiny cracks in the soil. Desert truffles grow close to the surface and they reach a fair size, up to 6 inches occasionally, pushing the surface to indicate the site of the prized fungus.

In Syria desert truffles are called Kemeh a variation of the Classic Arabic name, Kama'a. They are collected by the native Bedouins and sold in the local markets or exported to Gulf countries especially Saudi Arabia. Come spring time it is common site to see Bedouin women selling Kemeh in the streets and roundabouts of Damascus. Kemeh is highly prized by Syrians and they sell for anything between seven and fifteen UK pounds a kilogram. The price could go much higher in poor seasons and I remember seeing them going for around £80 one year. Kemeh season is very short and coincides with the beginning of spring. They just started to come into the market at the end of my holiday in Syria two weeks ago.


Local myth goes that Kemeh comes from thunder storms and the season is a good one if there were many storms over winter. Some people go even further to say Kemeh grows on the site were lightning hits the ground. Once a chemistry teacher gave us an explanation which I have no idea if it is true or not but here it goes, "when lightning passes through the air the energy causes Nitrogen and Oxygen atoms to react to form different types of nitrous oxides. These in turn dissolve and react with rain water to form nitrogen compounds including ammonia which are strong fertilizers and essential to protein formation". I tried to verify this theory from other sources but I couldn't.

Desert truffles have nothing to do with their European cousins in terms of taste, texture and aroma. Kemeh is more like dense mushrooms rather than the truffles you know. The most common way to cook them is Mufaraket Kemeh which my mum cooked us the last day of our holiday. Some people cook a rice dish with kemeh similar to Aubergine Maqluba and some adds kemeh to kabseh. My dad is a big fan of kemeh, and his favourite way to eat it is added to Lahem bi Ajeen. In Damascus, Lahem bi Ajeen is two layers of Pizza-like dough base (fatayer) with a middle layer of very thinly sliced steak baked in very hot oven.

If you fancy trying Desert Truffle here in London you can buy them preserved from DamasGate supermarket in Shepherd's Bush. Make sure you wash them thoroughly or even peel them again as kemeh is notorious for the amount of grit stuck inside its cracks.



Here is my mum's recipe of Mufaraket Kemeh:

Desert truffle 800g
400g of very thinly sliced lean lamb or beef
One large onion
Chicken stock 200mls
Water
Salt
Pepper
Ghee clarified butter 1tbsp

Finely chop the onion and fry in Ghee on medium heat till soft. Add the meat and fry till brown on all sides. Season well with salt and pepper.

Cut the truffles into bite size pieces and add them to the pot with chicken stock and some extra hot water as required. Bring to the boil then simmer for about 30 minutes till the meat and truffles are fully cooked. The truffles should keep their dense firm texture.

Serve with Arabic bread or vermicelli rice.

23 comments:

Miriam said...

So interesting! Never heard of these truffles.

Noema said...

Oh, I tried these truffles many years ago, brought from a Syrian friend of mine and tried doing some research about them but wasn't very successful at that time. Thanks for the nice story.
Like your blog very much! :-D
Regards from a Spanish foodie in Berlin

Kavey said...

What a wonderful and informative post, have never heard of these before!

blackstargourmet said...

wow what an interesting post, they look delicious we love truffles

Sarah said...

I bought preserved chunks of mushrooms imported from Morocco recently and had no idea what to do with them (Kamhin and Terfess is written on the jar). I am not positive these are the same variety but they seem to be by the texture and shape. thanks for the recipe.

Joy said...

What a lovely post! Wouldn't it be nice to think through the thunderstorms "The Kemeh will be good this year!"

cmiranda said...

Thanks for the recipe.I did a post on Desert Truffles awhile back but unfortunately couldn't find a recipe to post,plus I figured my chances of finding these here in US are nonexistant.But a few weeks ago I did come across canned kama'a from Syria in an Armenian market(go figure).Total price $24.99USD

elra said...

Intriguing! I wonder if I can mail order this in the U.S. I can imagine how delicious they are. Are they pricey as the French truffles?

Kano said...

@miriam
I thought these are available in Spain (according to Wikipedia)!

@Noema
Thank you very much and I am glad you like the blog. I hope this has answered some of your questions and gave you ideas to cook kemeh If you ever got some again.

@Sarah
I think they are the same thing (again according to Wikipedia) Let me know when you cook them what do you think. Quite different from European truffles.

@Kavey
Thank you very much. Get some from DamasGate and give them a go.

@blackstargourmet
Welcome to my blog. I love your website. I am going to be making some orders for sure.

@Joy
:) you put a smile on my face. What a nice thought.

@cmiranda
I totally missed that post of yours. I was surprised how expensive they are in Saudi Arabi, almost ten times its current price in Syria. But the one you got in America is a good price. I hope they taste good as the fresh ones.

@elra
Welcome to my blog. I am not sure where you can you order these from. You might want to ask Cmiranda above where she got hers from. They are relatively expensive but nothing like French Truffles, much much cheaper.

tasteofbeirut said...

I bought them canned by Cortas for USD$19 at several middle-eastern grocers in Dallas, texas. I made an omelette with them and the rest , well, I think they got forgotten in the fridge; I wish I had your mom's recipe back when I needed one! I am now eager to try the real thing because the canned ones were good but not outstanding.

Andy said...

I still have a load of these in my freezer, I bought them this time last year in Beirut and was advised to wash, dry and freeze them as the ones I brought back from Damascus the previous year went mouldy very quickly. I'll try this recipe when I get round to defrosting them, thanks!

Kano said...

@tasteofbeirut
I think you got a good price there! How do you cook them traditionally in Lebanon?

@Andy
You welcome! They should work well frozen. My mum buys them in season and keeps them in the freezer for months to come.

Kano said...

@dya

Sorry I removed your comment. I have a "No advertising, No Spam" policy.

Nev said...

Just found loads of these growing wild in Tenerife
& am grateful for a useful recipe with which to impress my friends

Kano said...

@Nev

Welcome to my blog.

I heard they are avilable in Spain but never seen any Spanish recipe using them.

Try adding them to Paella. I imagine it will work very well.

Anonymous said...

I have been dying to try these, saw them in the grocery store and can't find a good recipe. THANKS! Any tips to keep the grit out?

Kano said...

@anonymous

No tips to be honest. Just wash and wash. Use a small knife to peel carefully. It is time consuming but absolutely worth it.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

I am from Algeria, I am exportateur of Desert truffles (kemeh) to Arab country since 2006
I would be happy to discuss any export related project with you to UK or other country

Regards
Hakim
fruitsstoreexport@yahoo.com


Kano said...

@Hakim

I don't have any commercial interests myself.

If you want to discuss any export business I would suggest contacting Damas Gate http://www.damasgate.co.uk/

rhubarb said...

Thanks for your post, I read it to my father who had been remembering eating truffles with scotch on the side in Syria in the early 70s.

Kano said...

@rhubarb

Welcome to my blog and regards to your dad.

Gaby Poulain said...

ahlan Kano...
I come from Malaysia but I happen to be a big, big fan of Syrian food...kemeh (desert truffles) are perhaps some of the many other notable delicacies from your homeland that I have yet to try...I first heard of kemeh in celebrity chef Barry Vera's cookbook Feast Bazaar, where he combines black kemeh with beef kebabs, although he didn't call it kemeh; he used the term black desert truffles instead...I later heard from a Palestinian friend of mine that kemeh also goes by another name, which I unfortunately cannot really remember at the moment...it sounds something like "fagah", and another thing he told me is that although they are from the mushroom family, they tend to look more like potatoes...
on a different note, is it possible to make mahshi out of kemeh? Forgive my overwhelming curiosity but I simply have to ask, given that kemeh is after all quite a big "vegetable"...

Kano said...

@Gaby

Welcome to my blog. I am delighted to hear you love Syrian food.

Fagah is the name mostly used in Gulf countries. Not sure if they use that name in Palestine.

You can't make mehshi out of Kemeh. The usual size is 3-4 cm in diameter. The one you see in the picture are exceptionally big. Also the texture of kemeh will not allow coring. It is too dence and will simply crack.

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