Taste of Istanbul

T

I spent a few days recently on a nostalgic trip down memory lane, I taught a course here at the Cookery School entitled ‘A Taste of Istanbul’. Ironically it coincided with the coup and subsequent unrest in Turkey so for me it was a bitter sweet experience. The course was inspired by the delicious food we ate on our trip to Istanbul last year.
I longed to share my experience and favourite recipes and stories of the places we visited and the Turkish people we met. Everywhere I went people heard I was interested in the food they cooked for me and shared family recipes.

One guide in Cappadocia brought us home and cooked a delicious goat stew from his village and a bulgur pilaff from cracked wheat milled in the local water mill.
Another family brought out Granny to give me cooking classes, the flavour of the food still lingers in my memory as does the warmth and kindness of the Turkish people everywhere we went. I remember a gentle potter who made beautiful utilitarian pots including a vase like pot in which a mutton stew is traditionally cooked in the embers of a wood burning oven. The stew was brought to the dining room in the sealed pot by the cook who knocked the top off neatly with a hammer at the table and poured the intensely flavoured stew onto the plate. He also made unglazed pots specially for yoghurt, I bought one home and the yoghurt we make in this clay pot is quite exceptional.

The street food in Istanbul was intriguing, some like doner kebab, kokerec, barbequed sheep’s intestines is not easy to reproduce but we make a delicious lahmacun, a Turkish lamb pizza eaten with lots of flat parsley and lemon that everyone loves.
I brought back several bags of urfa biber, the red Turkish pepper that’s virtually an essential seasoning and that immediately gives a dish an authentic taste.
Istanbul on the Bosphorus straddles two continents so its food is a fascinating and delicious mix of European and Asian flavours and techniques.

I particularly remember the fishermen in anoraks and woolly hats with their long rods fishing over the Galata bridge and the delicious fresh fish sandwiches balik ekmek, literally ‘fish bread’ from the stalls the Karaköy edge of fish market on the Bosphorous.

We made a delicious variation with fresh Ballycotton mackerel that everyone loved. They also enjoyed the comforting mercimek, a simple rice and lentil soup that’s put together in minutes, kids love it too.

The markets in Istanbul are packed with spices, dried fruit, vegetables and herbs, candies, Turkish delight, halva, wild honey and baklava in very shape and form.
We cooked several sweet and savoury dishes with filo pastry and the related künefe a shredded filo pastry that cooks to a golden crunch.

Here’s a recipe for a terrific dinner party and a welcome change from Pavlova.

Hot Tips
Date for the Diary
Don’t miss the Taste of Donegal Food Festival which runs from August 26th for three days. Lots of cookery demonstrations, wine and beer tastings, meet local food producers and taste their produce….

Mehmet’s Cappadocian Goat or Lamb Stew

The goat meat s from Mehmet’s village was butchered by himself – the flavour was intense and delicious. Shoulder of lamb or mutton can be used if goat is not available.

Serves 4-6

800g (1 3/4lbs) goat’s meat or lamb, with lots of fat, cut into 2cm (¾ inch) cubes
350g (12oz) onions, finely chopped
5-7 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
a pinch of chilli powder, biber chilli
4 ripe tomatoes cut in segments
1 Hungarian red pepper, 2cm (3/4 inch) dice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of Kekik – a Cappadocian mountain herb, perhaps we could use thyme leaves

Accompaniment
bulgar pilaf (see recipe)
a bowl of natural yoghurt

Cut the goat meat into 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes.

Heat a saute pan or shallow wok (satita) over a medium heat.

First cook a few pieces of fat until it starts to render. Add the meat and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or so. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the diced pepper, cook for a further 5 minutes.

Add the chopped onions and garlic cloves. Cook for another 4-5 minutes. Reduce the heat, add the tomatoes and a little chilli powder. Add a little kekik or maybe substitute thyme leaves (3 teaspoons).

Add 200ml (7floz/1 scant cup) hot water, to about half way up, cover the pan or wok and continue to cook for 30-40 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning.

Serve with bulgur pilaf and a bowl of natural yoghurt.

Bulgur pilaf
The bulgur that Mehmet used was home-grown and ground in a water powered mill.
Serves 4-6
45g (1½ oz) butter
450g (1lb) bulgur wheat
salt
freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add bulgur and stir to coat. Then add salt and enough cold water to barely cover the top. Cover the saucepan and cook for five minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. Transfer into a hot serving dish.
Melt some butter in a separate pan, allow to brown. Pour over the bulgur and serve with goat stew.

Balik Ekmek (Mackerel Fish Bread)
At the Eminou end of the Galata bridge over the Bosphorus in Istanbul, you’ll find the Karaköy Fish Market and boats selling balik ekmek. The name literally means ‘fish bread’, a simple sandwich of freshly grilled fish seasoned with salt and Turkish red pepper, served with sliced onion, lettuce, maybe some tomato and or pepper salad and a wedge of lemon. The Turks love mackerel but other fresh fish can also be used.

Different vendors do variations on the theme, the secret is spanking fresh fish, freshly grilled.

Serves 6

6 fillets of super fresh mackerel
extra virgin olive oil
Turkish biber pepper or sumac
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Turkish Tomato Salad

Serves 6

1 small red onion
1-2 teaspoons sumac
6 very ripe tomatoes
flat parsley, coarsely chopped
1-2 tablespoons (1 1/4 – 2 1/2 American tablespoons) lemon juice
3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper

little Gem lettuce

Parsley, Caper and Spring Onion Mayonnaise (see recipe)

4 x 6 rolls or 4 x 15cm (6 inch) pieces of small baguette.

First make the mayonnaise (see recipe).

Season the fish with salt and sprinkle with biber pepper or sumac.

Next make the tomato salad.
Half the red onion,slice, sprinkle with salt and sumac and work well into the onion slices with your hands. Allow to sit while you chop the tomatoes coarsely. Add to the bowl with the roughly chopped parsley. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, lemon juice. Toss, taste and correct the seasoning – you may need a pinch of sugar.

To serve
Heat the pan-grill on a high flame.

Split the bread in half and pan-grill on the crumb side.

Pan-grill the mackerel first, flesh-side down, turn over when nicely marked and golden and then cook on the skin-side until crisp.

Spread a little herb mayonnaise on the cut sides of the bread. Top with a piece of pan-grilled fish and a portion of tomato salad. Add a leaf or two of lettuce, either Little Gem or Lollo Rossa. Serve immediately on a little tray or a piece of brown or greaseproof paper.

Basic Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is what we call a ‘mother sauce’ in culinary jargon. In fact it is the ‘mother’ of all the cold emulsion sauces, so once you can make a Mayonnaise you can make any of the daughter sauces by just adding some extra ingredients.
I know it is very tempting to reach for the jar of ‘well-known brand’ but most people don’t seem to be aware that Mayonnaise can be made even with a hand whisk, in under five minutes, and if you use a food processor the technique is still the same but it is made in just a couple of minutes. The great secret is to have all your ingredients at room temperature and to drip the oil very slowly into the egg yolks at the beginning. The quality of your Mayonnaise will depend totally on the quality of your egg yolks, oil and vinegar and it’s perfectly possible to make a bland Mayonnaise if you use poor quality ingredients.

2 egg yolks, preferably free range
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard
1 dessertspoon (2 American teaspoons) white wine vinegar
225ml (8fl oz/1 cup) oil (sunflower or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 175ml (6fl oz3/4 cup) sunflower oil and 50ml (2fl oz1/4 cup) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1

Serve with cold cooked meats, fowl, fish, eggs and vegetables.

Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.

If the Mayonnaise curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled Mayonnaise, a half teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.

Variation
Parsley and Caper Spring Onion Mayonnaise
Add 1 tablespoon each of chopped parsley, spring onions and 1 teaspoon of chopped tiny capers and add to the basic homemade mayonnaise.

Note
Sumac (Rhus corioria) – the sour berries of a shrub that grows wild throughout Anatolia. They may be steeped in water and the juice expressed, or ground and used to give a sour note to meat and vegetable dishes. Sumac can be bought in Middle Eastern shops, or use lemon juice as a substitute.

Red pepper (Biber) – an essential item in Turkish cooking. It is available powdered or coarsely ground and the taste is not as hot as cayenne nor as mild as paprika. A combination of the two may be used as a substitute. Red pepper appears on the table as a condiment instead of black or white pepper.

Merjemec Chorba

(rice, lentil and lemon soup)

Serves 4-6

1 medium onion.
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) olive oil.
1 cup red lentils
4oz (100g/1/2 cup) long grain rice.
salt
2 1/2 – 3 1/4 pints (6-8 cups) cold water (vegetable or chicken stock)
1-2 lemons

Sweat the onion in the olive oil until soft.
Add lentils, rice, salt and water.

Simmer with a lid on for about 15 minutes until the rice and lentils are fully cooked. Add lemon juice to taste.

Note – we like to add a little biber pepper and some fresh herbs (1 heaped teaspoon each of marjoram and thyme leaves, chopped) but the basic soup is comforting and homely.
May require a little more chicken stock at the end.

Lahmacun

These round, flatbread pizzas are much thinner and crispier than Pide. They become addictive, one never seems to be enough…….

Makes 4

7g (1/4oz) dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
300ml (10fl oz/1 1/4 cups) warm water
500g (18oz/generous 4 cups) plain flour
2 teaspoons sea salt
a little extra virgin olive oil
polenta, for dusting
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Topping
2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
110g (4oz) onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon (1 1/4 American tablespoons) marjoram, chopped
310g (10 1/2oz) finely minced lamb
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 – 1 teaspoon Kırmızı biber flakes
1 tablespoon (1 1/4 American tablespoons) flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

To serve
4 ripe tomatoes, freshly chopped
fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Kırmızı biber pepper flakes
lemon wedges

Put the yeast, sugar and half the warm water in a small bowl, stir well and leave for 5-8 minutes or until it becomes creamy. Sieve the flour and salt into another bowl, mix. Make a well in the centre, add in the yeast and the remaining warm water. Mix to a dough with your hands. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead for 8-10 minutes or for 5 minutes in a food mixer with a dough hook. Put into a lightly oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise at room temperature until double in size – about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 240˚C/Gas Mark 9.

Meanwhile make the topping, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat, sauté the chopped onion, garlic and oregano for about 3–4 minutes or until the onion has softened. Transfer the mixture to a bowl – allow to cool. Add the lamb, paprika, biber pepper and parsley. Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix well and chill until ready to use.

When the dough has risen, knock back lightly. Shape into a roll – 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, press it down with your hand. Roll into a round thin flatbread about 30cm wide, or as thin as you possibly can, turning the dough as you roll and pulling it with your hands.

Transfer to a pizza paddle sprinkled with polenta. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the base of the first lahmacun. Drizzle with a little olive oil and slide onto a preheated metal baking tray in the oven. Bake for 10–12 minutes or until the lahmacun is crispy and golden brown. Repeat the process with the remaining lahmacun.

Serve with a couple of lemon wedges, fresh tomato dice, lots of sprigs of flat parsley and if you like more Kırmızı biber flakes scattered over the top.

Claudia Roden’s Konafa with a Cream Filling

It is my mother’s recipe. In Lebanon it is called Osmaliyah. It is meant to be served hot but it is also good cold. You can buy the soft white vermicelli-like dough frozen in Lebanese, Turkish and Greek stores. In Lebanon, it is called knafe but in the UK it is sold by its Greek name kataifi in 400g packets; it should be defrosted for 3 hours. The quantities below will make one large pastry to serve 10 but you can also make two, half the size, one to serve fewer people and one to put in the freezer to bake at a later date. It freezes well uncooked.

Serves 10

For the syrup
12oz (350g/1 1/2 cups) sugar
9fl oz (250ml/generous 1 cup) water
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) lemon juice
2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) orange blossom water

For the cream filling
4 1/2oz (125g) ground rice
950ml (approx. 1 3/4 pints/scant 4 1/2 cups) milk
4fl oz (110ml/1/2 cup) double cream
4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) sugar

For the pastry
14oz (400g) kataifi (knafe) pastry, defrosted
7oz (200g/1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

Garnish
3 1/2oz (100g) pistachios, chopped finely

Make the syrup first. Boil the sugar with the water and the lemon juice over a low heat for 510 minutes, until it is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Another way to test it is to pour a drop onto a cold plate and if it does not spread out like water, it is ready. Stir in the orange blossom water and cook a moment more. Let it cool then chill in the refrigerator. (If you have overcooked the syrup and it becomes too thick to pour when it is cold, you can rescue it by adding a little water and bringing it to the boil again.)

For the filling, mix the ground rice with enough of the cold milk to make a smooth creamy paste. Bring the rest of the milk with the cream to the boil. Add the ground rice paste, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Leave it on a very low heat and continue to stir constantly for 1520 minutes until the mixture thickens, being careful not to let it burn at the bottom. Then add the sugar and stir well.

Put the kataifi pastry in a large bowl. With your fingers, pull out and separate the strands as much as possible. Melt the butter and when it has cooled slightly, pour it over the pastry and work it in very thoroughly with your fingers, pulling out and separating the strands and turning them over so that they do not stick together, and are entirely coated with butter.

Spread half the pastry at the bottom of a large round pie pan, measuring 2830cm (11-12 inches) in diameter. Spread the cream filling over it evenly and cover with the rest of the pastry. Press down firmly and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 for about 45 minutes. Some like to brown the bottom  which comes out on top when the pastry is turned out  by running it over heat on a hob for a brief moment only. Others prefer the pastry to remain pale.

Just before serving, run a sharp knife round the edges of the osmaliyah to loosen the sides, then turn it out onto a large serving dish. Pour the cold syrup all over the hot pastry and sprinkle the top lavishly with the chopped pistachios.

Alternatively, you can pour only half the syrup over the pastry and pass the rest around in a jug for everyone to help themselves to more if they wish.

Osmaliya with Cheese Filling
This is another wonderful dessert that I strongly recommend. It is quicker and easier to make than the previous one with cream. Make the pastry as above but instead of the cream filling, use 18oz (500g) mozzarella cheese CHOPPED OR GRATED in the food processor, mix with 9oz (250g) RICOTTA, 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) sugar and 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) orange blossom water. Bake as above and pour the cold syrup over the hot pastry as it comes out of the oven, just before serving. Serve hot or at least warm while the cheese is soft.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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