Medgreens Urfa

Jeff & Linda's Kitchen of Diversity

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Mustard Greens with Cowpeas and Rice -- Urfa, Turkey


As our forbearers began to move away from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to becoming more sedentary farmers, one of the principle issues that they needed to address was balancing their protein intake from vegetable materials.  While meat provides all of the essential amino acid building blocks needed for a healthy body, a given plant material in general does not provide complete protein.  Rather it is necessary to eat a variety of vegetables to ensure that all of the needed amino acids are present in the diet.  What our ancestors learned -- and what vegetarians today recognize as one of the basic tenants of a healthy diet -- is that complete protein is usually present when you eat grass grains and legume seeds in the same meal.

It should thus not be surprising to find the combination of grains and pulses occurring over and over again across the globe, from tofu and rice (east Asia) to dhal and rice (India) to beans and corn (the Americas) to chickpeas and pasta (see the earlier recipe from this month's blog). 

In today's recipe, loosely adapted from a lamb-based dish described by Paula Wolfert in Mediterranean Grains and Greens, this tried and true combination comes from the Urfa region of southern Turkey, just across the Syrian border.  Our version combines basmati rice and cowpeas with wild greens to make a tasty, nutritional powerhouse.

There is one special ingredient for this dish that is not readily available:  Urfa pepper.  These chili pepper flakes are a specality of the Urfa region, and are characterized by their deep chocolate color and complex, almost sweet, smoky, raisin-like flavor along with the hot capsicum bite.  This condiment could not be purchased in the USA when Paula Wolfert detailed the original recipe, so she came up with a substitute based on a 1:1 combination of hot paprika with ground black pepper. 

However, this pepper is now available from a number of vendors on the Internet.  We bought ours off the shelf at the Spanish Table cooking store in Santa Fe.  While we looked for this item on their website, we've not yet been able to find it.  We're hoping that it will soon be available through their website.  Serves 6


1 cup dry cowpeas

1 cup basmati rice

8 cups wild mustard or other spicy greens, such as arugula

¼ cup olive oil, in all

1 cup onion, chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon red pepper paste

salt to taste

1 tablespoon Urfa pepper flakes


Pick over cowpeas to remove any foreign objects, and soak overnight.  Drain, cover with cool water, and bring to a gentle boil.  Cook until almost tender, about 30-45 minutes.

Soak rice in hot water for 10 minutes and drain.  Wash greens and coarsely chop. 

Place 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a casserole and place over medium-high heat.  Add onions and cook for 3-4 minutes or until translucent.  Stir in tomato and pepper pastes, and add in ½ cup water.  Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.   Add in the rice and cooked cowpeas.  Simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.  Stir in chopped greens and continue cooking over medium heat until all are tender, another 10 minutes or so.  Remove from heat and season with salt to taste.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small pan over low heat.  Add in the Urfa pepper flakes, and cook gently for a minute or so.  Pour mixture over the cowpeas, greens, and rice, and mix all together.

Serve warm.

Baker Creek offers perhaps the largest selection of cowpeas of any seed seller in North America.  Any would work well for this dish, and you should try various types to see which you like best.  We recommend using a pungent onion like Stuttgarter.  If you don't have access to wild greens, any other spicy greens -- like arugula or black mustard -- will do.