All About Tagarninas
Despite the fact that I have regularly travelled to Andalusia during the last 20 years, it was only recently that I became fully conscious of the existence of tagarninas. My mum possibly rambled about them once in a while, though I'm not sure.
A few months ago, I ate a delicious stew in a restaurant that led to my tagarnina discovery. I forgot the name of the stew, silly me. Amongst other things I remember it had chickpeas, chorizo and a mysterious vegetable that my mum and the waitress informed me was called tagarninas.
I was both curious and impressed with the tagarninas so off I went to the market to buy some. I was told an easy way to make tagarninas was in scrambled eggs. When I got home I made them like so. Mr H said they tasted like boiled weeds - as in those unwanted wild plants. He was right, they did taste a bit like what weeds probably taste like. Shortly afterwards we accidentally tried some tagarninas in scrambled eggs in a restaurant. It was scrumptious and I realised that theirs was spiced with cumin. I rushed off to buy more tagarninas, and made them with a good dose of cumin. Success!
So, after this long introduction to tagarninas, what exactly are tagarninas?
I needed to investigate what they're called in English because I had no idea. First I wrote about them to my friend Darya, and we came to the conclusion that they're close to the cardoon family, i.e. kind of like artichokes. After a more detailed search I found that in English they're called the common golden thistle, or the Spanish oyster thistle. It seems that even though they grow wild all around Spain and in some other Mediterranean countries, they are only popularly eaten in Andalusia, and mostly in some towns in Cadiz. They are wild short-lived perennial plants that are available from the mid-winter to mid-spring. The stem parts of the plant are what you eat.
They are usually sold in markets and random stalls in the streets already cut up into pieces, like the above photo. Whenever and wherever I have bought them, I've always been told to wash them thoroughly first. Always. It always makes me think that when I wash them a herd of bugs will squirm out, and half of its weight in dirt will be rinsed away. But no, they have always been pretty clean, cleaner than many other vegetables I get. Leeks, I'm looking at you.
To me they taste like (apart from weeds) a mix between artichokes and asparagus. I've been cooking with them a lot this season while I could. I'll be posting a couple of recipes that use tagarninas, along with my suggestions of alternatives to tagarninas seeing that they are a very local vegetable. How would you cook them if you had a batch in your kitchen right now?