Green Plum, Erik : Tart Taste of Spring and Tkemali Sauce Recipe

As a kid I loved munching on unripe plums and apricots that I had picked from the low hanging branches in our garden. This activity was not at all allowed, but as anyone knows, forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest, and I continued to pillage our trees. Imagine my surprise and delight upon discovering many years later that in the Middle East, unripe plums are a special seasonal treat. Since they’re starting to become more available at the grocery stores and farmers’ markets, I can get my fill without threatening my grandmother’s plum harvest.

green plum erik

Called erik in Turkish and goje sabz in Farsi (and sometimes marked as such at the stores), unripe green plums are in season April through June. They taste intensely tart. Crunchy and hard, they are for lovers of all things sour and mouth-puckering.  They are usually eaten with a pinch of salt, which brings out the delicate sweetness, and they have a faint floral taste. The plums are small, ranging from the size of hazelnuts to large cherries, and if left to ripen on the tree, they turn golden and syrupy sweet.

Besides eating them as a snack, you can add green plums to salads, use them instead of lemon in savory dishes or stew them with meat. I like them in coleslaw. Or I add a handful of plums whenever I make lentil and cabbage soups to brighten up the earthy flavors. Whenever I see unripe plums, I buy at least a couple of pounds and whatever I don’t eat raw or freeze to use later, I turn into a tart sauce.

green-plum-sauce-sievegreen-plum-sauce1

Like Hot and Spicy Cranberry Sauce with Coriander and Fresh Herbs, my green plum sauce is based on tkemali, which is how this condiment is known in Georgia, a country located in the Caucasus region. Tkemali is the Georgian name for the local sour plum, and it can be made with both green and ripe varieties. It’s one of the best accompaniments to grilled chicken or meat and a must for lamb kebabs. I also love to smear tkemali on rye bread and add avocado and feta cheese for an open-faced tartine or a more portable sandwich. Either way, it’s a vibrant addition.

green-plum-sauce

But don’t worry if you can’t find green plums. In Georgia, tkemali is made with ripe plums as well. Just add lemon juice to sharpen the flavor. You can make the sauce with any tart plums, such as plums that were picked too early. Often that’s very easy to find at our supermarkets.

Tkemali, Green Plum Sauce with Coriander and Fresh Herbs

I’ve given a recipe for a similar sauce using cranberries, and the plum variation uses similar flavorings. The main difference is the way you cook plums. You also don’t add any sugar because green plums are less astringent than cranberries.

You can vary the herbs to your liking, but the spicy green note of coriander leaves is especially good with tart plums.

1lb (500g) tart plums
1/2 cup (125ml) water
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 finely minced garlic cloves
1/4-1 teaspoon hot chili pepper flakes, depending on your heat tolerance
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1/2 Tablespoon minced fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
1/2 Tablespoon minced tarragon
1/2 teaspoon dried mint
2 Tablespoon lemon juice (optional, if you’re using ripe plums)

Toast coriander seeds till they become pale golden and crush to fine powder with a mortar and pestle. This extra step releases coriander’s full flavor of burnt orange peel and caramel. But you can skip it and simply add ground, untoasted coriander seeds.

Place plums and water in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, cover and cook until plums soften enough to be mashed with a spoon, about 15-20 minutes. Put through the sieve and mix the resulting puree with salt. Simmer on low heat for 2 minutes. Add garlic, chili flakes and ground coriander seeds. Cook till garlic loses its raw taste, about 5 minutes. Add fresh and dried herbs (and lemon juice, if using) and simmer for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Store in the fridge for a week.

Where to Find: Green, unripe plums are in season April through June. They are available from Turkish and Middle Eastern stores as well as farmer’s markets. In New York, they are usually sold at Sahadi’s in Brooklyn (and other stores on Atlantic Avenue) and Kalustyan’s. I also ordered them from Tulumba.com, my favorite online store for all things Turkish (sign up to be notified when these seasonal treats are in stock). In large European cities, you can find them at well-stocked supermarkets.

Another spring delicacy to look for is green almonds, unripe almonds still in their fuzzy husks. They are eaten whole, with a pinch of salt, and they taste milky and tangy.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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57 Comments

  • Karima: I love to eat these plums when in Turkey but only since a native told me about the delicious combination with salt! May 24, 2013 at 8:19am Reply

    • Victoria: A pinch of salt makes all the difference! As a kid I munched on them plain, but they are definitely better with some salt. May 24, 2013 at 11:23am Reply

  • Ann: It looks tasty! I love anything spicy and sour. I’ll try it with regular plums this summer. May 24, 2013 at 8:39am Reply

    • Victoria: Regular plums and apricots work really well in this sauce. Another great variation is with cherries, especially sour cherries. May 24, 2013 at 11:24am Reply

      • Helen: Yum! I really want to make it with cherries. May 24, 2013 at 6:38pm Reply

        • Victoria: It’s going to be like a tart chutney. You can use all sorts of fruit for this sauce, even peaches. May 25, 2013 at 5:15am Reply

  • Marsha Smith: A lady in our neighborhood where I grew up had a plum tree and sometimes I would pull off a green one – man were they sour! I would like to try one again with a little salt added. A little salt can do a lot of things! May 24, 2013 at 9:05am Reply

    • Ruhsar: Strange but salt makes it less sour. May 24, 2013 at 10:02am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m not sure why as kids me and my cousin loved the green plums even more than the ripe ones. Or maybe, it really was because we weren’t allowed to eat them. 🙂 May 24, 2013 at 11:29am Reply

  • Heather W: This looks really lovely. I have a few plum trees, so can try the green plum version this summer. May 24, 2013 at 9:10am Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that you enjoy it. I love to keep condiments like this in the fridge, because with their help I can transform simple dishes into something interesting. I also use this sauce as marinade for fish and chicken breast. I keep them covered with plum sauce overnight and then the next day when I get home in the evening, I broil them. Simple and delicious. May 24, 2013 at 11:32am Reply

  • Mark: Thank you for an interesting recipe. I didn’t know green plums were even edible. May 24, 2013 at 9:51am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re welcome! At least, this variety is perfectly good to eat green. May 24, 2013 at 11:36am Reply

  • Ruhsar: In my Turkish family we look forward to spring to eat erik. We eat it with salt and we also cook with it. My mother makes the best lamb stew with erik and lots of herbs. May 24, 2013 at 10:01am Reply

    • Ruhsar: I don’t want to overwhelm you with my comments, but I wanted to jump in for a long time and finally saw a chance to contribute. I love your blog and your recipes. I’ll be making this sauce once I get my hands on erik. May 24, 2013 at 10:18am Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you very much, Ruhsar, and thank you for commenting. If you try the recipe, please let me know what you think. It’s forgiving and the proportions can be adjusted easily to your tastes. May 24, 2013 at 11:39am Reply

    • Victoria: I can just imagine how good your mom’s lamb stew tastes. Lamb goes perfectly with these sour plums. I would love to know your recipe, if you’re willing to share. May 24, 2013 at 11:38am Reply

      • Ruhsar: I don’t make it myself, but I’ll ask my mom and post it for you.
        btw, I’m surprised you know about Tulumba. It’s the best online Turkish store that many of us living far from home use. May 24, 2013 at 12:13pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you, Ruhsar. I would appreciate it.

          A few years ago, I was looking for a tea set for my husband who loves drinking tea from the Turkish pear-shaped cups. A Turkish friend recommended Tulumba, and I’ve been using it since. May 24, 2013 at 3:11pm Reply

  • sara: lovely photos, victoria! a sandwich with avocado and feta sounds great. i like both but never thought of combining them. May 24, 2013 at 11:00am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Sara! I don’t remember how I decided to try them together, but I’ve gotten addicted to this combination. I also recently learned to make fruit smoothies with avocado, and it adds such a great creamy note. May 24, 2013 at 11:40am Reply

      • Jillie: Avocados are one of my latest obsessions – they are nice for breakfast, sliced on toast with ripe tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and lots of black pepper. Along with a little black garlic, which is gorgeously caramel-like, and no tell-tale smell afterwards! Also, eating avocado is supposed to be good for your skin and hair, so that’s a bonus. May 24, 2013 at 12:04pm Reply

        • Victoria: Your avocado salad sounds irresistible. I love avocado on toast too, since that combination of creamy and crisp is especially good.

          I recently spotted a sweet avocado shake in a Vietnamese cookbook, and I tried it. Basically, you blend avocado, milk and condensed milk. The taste took me by surprise, because in this combo, avocado tasted green and floral, with a hint of apple. May 24, 2013 at 3:09pm Reply

  • Tim: Hello Victoria, it`s not the first time we started cooking something sensual right after reading your lovely and inspiring notes. 🙂 What a great news: Our neigbour has these plums and doesn`t care about them. Till now we enjoyed them ripe.
    Thanks a lot ! May 24, 2013 at 12:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy to hear it that the recipe might be useful. At first, I debated whether I should included it, because green plum is hardly a supermarket staple. Then I figured that the sauce can be easily made with ripe plums (and that’s an authentic variation as well), and if someone did come across unripe plums, they might know what to do with the green fruit. It has such an unexpected, vibrant flavor. May 24, 2013 at 3:14pm Reply

  • Helen: Victoria, this sounds up my alley. Cannot wait to try your other recipes! I already bookmarked your rice pudding and almond crescents. Thank you! May 24, 2013 at 6:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: Great! Please let me know what you think when you make them. 🙂 May 25, 2013 at 5:16am Reply

  • Cynthia: Another interesting post! Thank you, V. May 24, 2013 at 7:43pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’re welcome, Cynthia! 🙂 May 25, 2013 at 5:16am Reply

  • Lavanya: Oh My- this sounds so yummy. It reminds me of picking green mangoes and eating them with chili powder and salt..

    V- I had a quick question- which are the best used book stores in NYC (or your favorites)? May 25, 2013 at 11:13am Reply

    • Victoria: Green mango is another favorite! I love them shredded and tossed with a spicy-garlicky dressing.

      I love Strand in NYC, which is one of the best. It’s very big and has books on all topics. If you’re interested in cookbooks, I recommend Kitchen Arts and Letter. It’s not a used book store per se, but they carry some used copies. May 25, 2013 at 11:46am Reply

      • Lavanya: Yes they are so yum!- I tried making instant mango pickle with a seasoning of mustard seeds, chili powder and salt..yum

        Thanks, V- my Dad is coming on work and to visit and we are thinking of taking him to NYC. He is interested in doing things like used bookstores and exploring ethnic foods and neighborhoods in NY etc. I remember you talking about a street in NYC (related to ethnic food) in some post but couldn’t find it.. May 25, 2013 at 1:10pm Reply

        • Victoria: Queens is full of ethic enclaves. I probably mentioned Rego Park, which has an interesting mix of people. If you have time to plan your trip, I would recommend “Nosh New York: The Food Lover’s Guide to New York,” a book that covers various areas and mentions great stores and restaurants. I’ve used it a lot to explore the city. May 25, 2013 at 2:11pm Reply

          • Lavanya: ooh- that book looks great!! Thanks so much! Also- I probably won’t have time to do anything perfume related but if you would recommend one perfume haunt which would it be? 🙂 May 25, 2013 at 7:07pm Reply

            • Victoria: If I could go to only one place, it would be either Barney’s or Aedes, depending on what’s more convenient. Both have a great selection of different brands. There is also MiN NYC and Osswald, which get great reviews, but I haven’t visited them yet. May 26, 2013 at 4:47am Reply

  • Maren: This sounds delicious, and I can’t wait to try it. I love coriander, and it’s nice to know that if I can’t find the green plums here in the Midwest, I can try it with a different fruit. May 26, 2013 at 7:59am Reply

    • Victoria: Georgian cuisine often uses coriander with fruit, and I love the combination. You can even try adding a few roasted seeds to a sweet plum compote. It gives fruit such an interesting twist. May 26, 2013 at 11:25am Reply

  • Natalia: Victoria, I made this recipe yesterday with apricots. I should’ve known better than to send DH grocery shopping. The apricots he bought were rockhard and acid, couldn’t eat them raw. The sauce turned out great though. I added basil and hot green pepper and a little sugar to make it more sweet-n-sour. Thanks again! Your blog is a delight for all senses. May 26, 2013 at 9:09am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for letting me know, Natalia! I’m glad to hear that your inedible apricots could be salvaged this way. And as for sending DH to do grocery shopping, it can get funnier. My friend asked her husband to buy zucchini, but he brought cucumbers instead and tried to argue that it’s the same thing anyway. 🙂 May 26, 2013 at 11:28am Reply

  • Andy: No unripe plums to be had around here, but I really want to make this with some of the plums that I’ve been seeing in the stores lately (which, being out of season, are hard and sour). Normally, when I see recipes using fruit, I think of how nice it would be to make them when the fruit is at the peak of its season; in this case, I might have a good excuse to use the less than perfect fruit we have around right now. Thanks for the ever interesting recipe ideas! May 27, 2013 at 12:13am Reply

    • Andy: Also, on the topic of sweet avocado recipes, I just made avocado paletas from my new cookbook a few weeks ago. The book is devoted to recipes for paletas and other frozen/cold Mexican treats. The paletas were so good, and incredibly creamy. My family couldn’t believe they were dairy-free, because they tasted so rich. May 27, 2013 at 12:18am Reply

      • Victoria: Is it a book by Fanny Gerschon (I’m sure I’ve just completely butchered her name)? I remember flipping through a fantastic book on Mexican desserts, and it’s been in my Amazon shopping cart for ages. May 27, 2013 at 6:51am Reply

        • Andy: Yes, that book is the one! Paletas by Fany Gerson. I love it! May 27, 2013 at 11:06pm Reply

          • Victoria: Thank you, Andy! I just ordered it, since it has been on my wishlist for a while. May 28, 2013 at 4:38am Reply

            • Andy: I think you will definitely love it! I have only made a few recipes so far, and only for the paletas, but I have loved each kind I have made—fresh coconut, avocado, and pineapple with chile. In fact, the pineapple-chile ones play on a similar theme to this recipe, pairing fruit with savory flavors and also adding the intriguing aspect of heat (from the chiles) in a frozen dessert. The cookbook is, for me, very beautiful, informative, transporting, and inspiring. May 28, 2013 at 8:53pm Reply

              • Victoria: Not sure if you’ve noticed it, but when I clicked on the author’s name, I noticed that she has another interesting book called My Sweet Mexico, which includes various recipes for desserts and confections.

                The combination of pineapple and chili sounds amazing. May 29, 2013 at 6:23am Reply

                • Andy: I did read a few book reviews for My Sweet Mexico. I’m hoping to get it on loan at my local library. May 29, 2013 at 10:32am Reply

    • Victoria: So true! Even in season, finding perfectly ripe plums (and many other fruits) is hard. But this kind of sauce is a good way to make the most of them.

      In Georgia they use many different berries and fruits for savory sauces. Another favorite is blackberry sauce–crush blackberries with salt, garlic and add some minced cilantro/coriander leaves. It’s perfect with lamb and even salmon. May 27, 2013 at 6:51am Reply

  • Daisy: That looks so delicious and versatile. I have only had green plums with salt a few times. You think it’s not going to work, but it really does! Kind of like how a really tart margarita is better with salt…

    I love unripe almonds too. Hmmm, it’s officially springtime . . . maybe it’s time to give Kalustyan’s a call 🙂 May 27, 2013 at 11:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: That’s a great analogy. Or like salt on grapefruit. I just love this combo.

      Kalustyan’s should have them for sure, because Tulumba website I mentioned in a note on sources already sent me a notification two weeks ago that their plums and almonds are in. May 28, 2013 at 4:45am Reply

  • Anna: When you said that green plums can be used like lemon, it reminded me that my Irish grandmother would use gooseberries that way. Gooseberries could also work in your recipe instead of plums. May 29, 2013 at 4:40am Reply

    • Victoria: These days when we think of tart, we think of lemon, but isn’t it amazing how many different souring ingredients there are. In old Russian books, the recipes often call for the juice of unripe apples to add a tart note to dishes.

      I can just imagine how great tart gooseberries would be in this sauce. Thank you for an interesting idea. May 29, 2013 at 6:28am Reply

  • casey23: Read this article while eating “erik” 🙂 Ohhh how I love it and usually eat too much and left with a bit of stomach ache but it’s ok!! Here is Turkey seeing “erik” on the market is the signal of good seasons! May 29, 2013 at 7:59am Reply

    • Victoria: Do you anything else with it besides eating them raw?

      I loved seeing erik and green almonds on a mezze table in Turkey. Eating them immediately puts me in the mood for spring, and since our spring has never arrived, I buy erik whenever I spot them at stores. 🙂 May 29, 2013 at 10:43am Reply

      • casey23: Erik (and green almonds) are my go-to snack for tv nights 🙂 I’m on a diet for about 5 months now and I don’t eat dinner after 5.30 pm so they really hold my stomach. But I never tried using them in a recipe I would definitely try yours and really wondered about Ruhsar’s mom’s recipe!!! May 30, 2013 at 1:45am Reply

        • Victoria: Casey, I also make them into a simple stew, but with chicken. I saute onions, brown chicken pieces and add some white wine. Then I add green plums and lots of minced herbs (parsley, dill, scallions, coriander leaves). I cover the pan and let the whole thing cook for 40min-1h, or till the chicken is tender. Salt, pepper, to taste.
          One whole chicken cut up in medium size pieces, 2 onions, 1/2 cup white wine, 1 cup green plums, 1/2 cup minced herbs. I like a bit of heat, so I also add some minced hot chili pepper. May 30, 2013 at 10:41am Reply

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