Food can be a window into Turkish culture, even from home (recipe included below)
So there I was, sitting in Izmir, Turkey, overlooking the sea. I love the Aegean.
Yeah, in my own mind.
The truth is I was not at the Aegean yesterday. I was not in Turkey. I was with Asli, a daughter of the town of Izmir and her husband Ilgaz – at their home here in Georgia.
But I have to say that last night I was in Turkey.
First of all, when we arrived, you cannot imagine what we saw: On every surface there were ingredients Cheeses and four kinds of seafood and lamb and walnuts and several aromatic oils and multiple rices (and spices) and beans and sweets and syrups and breads and almonds and, and, and…
Asli had clearly been cooking for already two days and there was still so much work to be done. After I received my fantastic hug and kiss from the cook, I begged to help (“I could learn”, I coaxed…). I tied on my apron and set to work.
I set to play.
First, my job was to sauté scallions. Big whoop. That is not a difficult job. I suppose I passed muster, though, because next I was trusted with the brussel sprouts. Asli had braised them and halved them and handed them to me along with a bottle of hazelnut oil. Okay, now we are getting somewhere. We sprinkled the oil in the saucepan and browned each side of the brussel sprouts, then tossed more oil in the pan and sautéed chopped almonds. It was as though I had my ticket already – passport in hand…
While I was being “sous-chef-extrordinaire,” Asli already had a lamb (and many of his cousins) roasting in the oven with plenty of garlic. Another dish, Kakavya, baked in another oven.
Kakavya is a dish of at least three kinds of firm white fish. The tomato and pepper based sauce is specially designed for soaking up with bread. There are fantastic unnamed flavors in this dish, which was the favorite of my eighteen-year old son, Aaron.
Also waiting for me in the Land of Surprises (the kitchen) was an amazing Fava Bean dip made by cubing potatoes and sauté-ing onions and shallots, combined in a saucepan with olive oil.
Enter the fava beans – large, green and pre-shelled. Add to the potatoes and onions, cook in a small amount of water, and blend. This dip loves to have dill on top, she tells me, and to be drizzled with oil. These were not the Lima beans of my childhood, but big, grown-up Fava’s which seduced me beyond belief.[pullquote]After I received my fantastic hug and kiss from the cook, I begged to help (“I could learn”, I coaxed…)[/pullquote]
(The trick of Turkish cooking: Everything is either elegantly drizzled with oils or syrups – certain to relax you after a long, hot afternoon).
Next I was honored with the dipping of the stuffed calamari. Whole calamari stuffed with pre-cooked seafood blended with potatoes was sliced and “tempura-ed.” One bite of this and I was already on the plane.
There were eggplant baskets of vegetables – “Kizartma” (of course drizzled in olive oil) “tied” with scallions, a pinkish rice made with beet greens, basmati, walnuts and my magical sautéed scallions. There was oiled and sautéed basmati tossed with currants, cinnamon and toasted pine nuts called “Ich’pilav” without its traditional meat bits.
We enjoyed beet cubes sautéed in walnuts, olive oil, onions – and mixed with yogurt. There was kisir — a dish of peppers and bulgar wheat.
There were skewered mussels and scallops, served with Tarator sauce. Not “tartar” sauce…but Tarator.
Tarator is the absolute miracle of bread crumbs and walnuts and lemon and olive oil. Now, this is no joke — I tasted that sauce and I began to cry.
Now I was in the harem of the Sultan…
and I was his favorite.
I was elevated to Empress when I tasted the Silivri, a cake of vanilla, flour, yogurt and semolina soaked in lemon syrup.
Best. Cake. Ever.
I had been loved and seduced and moved to tears.
I can’t wait to go.
Rice Ic Pilav – Rice With Spices
- 1 cup rice
- 1/2 cup butter or oil
- 1 1/2 cup boiling water
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1/2 cup pinnola nuts
Melt butter or put oil a pan and add the chopped onions and pinnola nuts
and stir until the nuts are golden. Add the washed and drained rice and
continue stirring for about five minutes, then add the water and cover
tightly. Reduce heat to low after about five minutes and cook for another
fifteen minutes. Then turn off the heat and steep before
Tarator Sauce (FISTIKLI VEYA CEVÝZLÝ TARATOR or as we call it: the sauce that brought Leslie to tears)
- 100 gr. pine nuts or walnuts
- 2 slices of dry bread
- 2 cloves of garlic
- ½ glass olive oil
- ¼ lemon juice or vinegar
- ½ teaspoon salt
Pound pine nuts or walnuts in a mortar. Soak bread in water.
Sequeeze by hand to extract excess water. Crumble and add to nuts,
together with crushed garlic and salt. Slowly add the olive oil and lemon
juice or vinegar, beating constantly to make a smooth paste.