This is my favorite season for visiting street bazaars and farmer’s markets in Turkey. Always overflowing with a colorful selection of fresh produce, the month of August and the first few weeks of September turn each seller’s makeshift table into a work of art accentuated by rich, ripe hues. The best part is, it all tastes as wonderful as it looks – sometimes even better in the case of a juicy, wonky-looking tomato or a splotchy but fragrant yellow melon.
Aside from the amazing produce, it’s the unusual seasonal offerings that make each trip unique. Over the years I’ve come across things like fresh mountain oregano, locally foraged mushrooms or even the edible saltwater succulent samphire. So imagine my delight when I rounded a corner at a farmer’s market in the town of Taşköprü in Kastamonu province and saw five sunflower blossoms chock-full of black and white seeds amid a spattering of tiny roasting potatoes in front of the cutest elderly local seller. I stopped and asked her how much they were. Hard of hearing, she asked me to repeat my question, twice. Finally, she waved her hand dismissively, straightened her headscarf and said: “Oh, just give me TL 5 ($0.68) for that one. It’s the end of the day.” Sold.
After living in Turkey for years, I have developed an obsession with sunflower seeds that rivals that of the Turks. That’s saying a lot considering they are the most consumed dried snack in the country. However, seeds still on the bloom, we found, do not taste the same as those bought at the corner market. The shells are much softer and the kernels still have a tangy earthy flavor that though pleasant, does not satisfy crunchy cravings. Still, we didn’t give up on our fun find and brought it back to Istanbul. It was given a place of honor on a decorative plate in the middle of our dining table – and there it sat for the next month. We didn’t have the heart to throw it away but also weren’t big fans of the earthy freshness.
The other day, my 8-year-old son was jittery and bored, so I set him to the task of extracting the seeds. While he reveled in the semi-destructive, messy process, I consulted Google about what to do with the tiny harvest. Lo and behold, I came across several recipes for roasting sunflower seeds in the oven at home. I was surprised to find that the process was quite simple.
Roast your own sunflower seeds
With sunflowers being harvested across the country, you may also come across whole blossoms in bazaars here and there over the next few weeks. If you are feeling adventurous, here’s our recipe for a perfectly roasted snack. Our medium-sized sunflower yielded around 4 cups of seeds, and the following directions are for that amount. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit). Boil 2.5 liters of water and add 4 tablespoons of salt. Boil the seeds in the salted water for 15 to 20 minutes, then strain and place the damp seeds on an ungreased baking sheet. Depending on your oven, it could take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes for the perfect crunch. With our 4 cups of seeds, it was impossible to spread them out in a single layer, so I took them out every five minutes and gave them a good stir for even roasting. At the 10-minute mark, take a few out for a taste test. They go from perfectly roasted to burned very quickly, so keep a close eye on them at that point. You know they are ready when they are as crunchy as those found in the store, and the kernels have taken on a pleasant roasted flavor. Once done, let them cool and store them in an airtight container.
The amount of salt may sound like a lot, but once they were roasted, it was not quite enough for our taste. They turned out salty enough not to be bland but not as salty as those you buy at the store. If you prefer, you could add 5 tablespoons to the boiling water or even sprinkle salt over the damp seeds before placing them in the oven. Likewise, you could omit the salt altogether or rinse the seeds after boiling to reduce the amount of sodium. I also recommend baking two batches if you have more than 4 cups, otherwise, it is difficult to roast them evenly.