As some of you may know, following a trip to the spellbinding Istanbul last summer, I have recently been captivated by all things Turkish, not least, the food! Therefore I was most pleased to unwrap a Turkish cookbook from under the twinkling tree on Christmas morning!
It took me less than a week to find the chance to try out some recipes on the family! I decided to keep things simple, particularly as I wasn’t in my own kitchen, and start with some fairly basic but very tasty meze dishes! Apparently, the Turkish word meze translates literally as ‘a pleasant taste’.
I picked out the following meze recipes to try; Anadolu Palitcan (baked aubergines with mint yoghurt; I love aubergines and quickly learnt to pick anything out with patlican in the name on menus while in Istanbul!), Aci domates ezmsi (chilli tomato paste) and Cacik (cucmber and mint yoghurt dip). These were to be served as a first course with my yoghurty prawns on toast (not exactly fitting with the Turkish theme, but a request had been put in and who am I to say no! Although they do at least come with yoghurt!)
For the Anadolu Patlican
- 4 small aubergines (not always easy to get in this country, otherwise 2 of the larger variety will do)
- 4 tablespoons thick yoghurt (I used a bit of a mix of natural yoghurt and Greek yoghurt, you could of course try making your own! – I’ve earmarked this as a future project..)
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with sea salt
- bunch of fresh mint, chopped
- salt and black pepper to season
Bake the aubergines at 200 degrees. After 15 minutes, take them out the oven and slit them lengthways into halves. Put them back in the oven for another 25-30 minutes, maybe a little longer if using larger aubergines. They are ready when the flesh is mashable into a pulp.
Meanwhile, mix the yoghurt with the crushed garlic, lemon juice and mint, and season to taste. When the aubergines are ready, mash the flesh into a sort of dip-like consistenmcy and spoon the cool minty yoghurt on top, serve straight away.
For the Aci domates ezmesi
- 2 tablespoons concentrated tomato puree
- Large handful of freshly chopped ripe tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 hot green chilli pepper, finely chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- The juice and rind of half a lemon
- Bunch of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- Salt and black pepper to season
Mix the tomato puree with the olive oil until smooth. Add the tomatoes, onion, chilli, garlic, lemon juice and rind, most of the parsley and salt and pepper. We then blitzed the mixture with the mortar and pestle to get a slightly smoother finish. When ready to serve, top with the remaining chopped parsley. This was our favourite, it’s really simple to make yet produces such a punch of flavour, it really smacks you in the face with delicious spicy tomatoy earthiness. I made this around an hour and a half ahead of eating and found the flavours developed really well so it’s a great one to prepare in advance!
For the Cacik
Serves 4 very generously, we had plenty left over for lunchtime dipping the next day!
- 1 cucumber,very finely chopped
- Around 1/2 pint natural yoghurt
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed with sea salt
- Bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
Finely chop the cucumber then lay out on a plate and salt well, leave for 5 minutes then rinse (this helps drain excess water from the cucumber). Crush the garlic with the salt then beat into the yoghurt. Season with salt and pepper then add the chopped mint and rinsed cucumber. Mmm perfect tasty moreish cooling minty cucumbery yoghurty goodness! This actually was the perfect partner to the punchy, earthy spicy tomatoeyness of the aci domates ezmesi.
We served these with warm just-out-the-grill toasted pitta strips – perfect for dipping!
A delicious and healthy feast 🙂
For the main course, I revisited my take on the Turkish Kebab
Continuing to be inspired by all things Turkish, we drew on the pomegranate to give our prossecco a little Turkish flavour that evening! Perfectly pearly jewels of sweet juicy crunch bobbing along on the gently fizzing bubbles, cheers!
Last weekend I had some cooked prawns that needed using up, and also had nothing much in the house for lunch. Something to do with prawns for lunch it was, then! I was feeling quite lazy and was already pretty hungry so was wondering what I could do that would be quick and tasty without using many ingredients.
I took inspiration from something my mum often makes as a starter – prawns with creme fraiche and lemon served on crunchy lettuce leaves. I had also seen a recipe for something similar in my Jamie Oliver book, I think he uses sour cream, but served on a brioche. As I am a big natural yoghurt fan, I of course had some in the fridge, and so decided to mix the prawns with these. You might be forgiven for thinking, prawns and yoghurt… really?! But believe me, it really works! I thought this would be healthier than creme fraiche or sour cream but should still keep the zingy flavour. I chucked in some other bits and pieces and plonked the whole lot on top of a piece of toast. It turned out to be one of the nicest lunches I’ve had in a long time! There’s definitely something to be said for improvising with the sparse contents of your fridge and cupboard now and then! Especially if those contents include natural yoghurt, it’s so versatile! 🙂
To serve two;
- 200g prawns
- Around 4-5 tbsps natural yoghurt
- juice and zest of one lemon (maybe a bit less if you don’t like things too zingy, I personally love lemonyness!)
- Around a quarter of a red onion, finely chopped
- Handful of freshly chopped dill
- Toast to serve
I mixed the prawns in with the yoghurt, lemon juice and zest and the dill which was helpfully hanging around the back of the fridge. At the last minute I chucked in a little red onion too in order to replace the satisfying crunch that is usually provided by my mum’s lettuce.
Well, after years of taking crazy amounts of pictures of food on holidays, food in restaurants and food that I’m cooking as well as generally liking to talk about food and recipes an awful lot, I finally listened to my friends and other half and decided to start a food blog. Maybe they think if I have an outlet I’ll stop bombarding them with so many food pictures and stories!
So, what better place to start than the trip to Istanbul I just got back from last week? I was pretty excited about Istanbul, I’d wanted to go for a long time and was very excited about the history, the architecture, the culture and, of course, the food! I sat in my dreary office in the days before leaving day-dreaming of endless mezze, fresh fish, kebabs and baklava.
The week of eating started well with a 3 course meal on the flight! Having rarely flown on a Proper Airline this was quite a novelty. This included potato salad with yoghurt, aubergine stuffed with chicken and bulgur wheat in a tomato sauce as well as some sort of cheesecake. After arriving in the city as dusk fell, we headed straight out in search of our first real Turkish kebab. We stumbled across a small kebab joint just round the corner with locals eating outside and took this to be a good sign. I can’t remember what my kebab was called, buy boy was it good. Firstly we were brought some cacik, a yoghurt and cucumber dip, sort of like a thinner tzatziki, with a delicious sesame covered naan-style bread.
This was quickly devoured and we were onto the main event. The kebab. Delicious chunks of juicy grilled chicken, perfectly chargrilled tomatoes, more naan-like bread, lovely thick natural yoghurt, bulgar wheat cooked with tomato and a big pile of lettuce, cucumber, tomato and peppers – who say’s kebabs aren’t healthy?!
We were to return to this particular neighbourhood kebab spot several times throughout the week! Other kebabs we enjoyed included cubes of lamb on a puréed aubergine and yoghurt base as well as chunks of lamb and aubergine grilled together all served with delicious tomatoey bulgur wheat. The best place I ate this aubergine and lamb kebab was infact in a small local lokanta, like a canteen, where you stood at the counter and pointed out which food you wanted. I had mine with an amazingly simple but flavoursome spinach, yoghurt and garlic dish.
In fact, as you might expect, aubergine featured heavily in our Istanbul diet, from fried aubergine with yoghurt (divine) to roasted aubergine stuffed with rice, meat and herbs or onion and tomato. One particularly delicious stuffed aubergine (or patlican dolmasi) was enjoyed in a pavement cafe serving up massive trays of mezze. It was served cold and the rich tomatoey, garlicy filling perfectly complemented the taste of the aubergine. We just don’t seem capable of getting flavours like that out of vegetables in this country?! I guess we don’t enjoy the same fresh produce a lot of the time. Other mezze dishes that evening included; slivers of spicy tomatoey, vaguely grainy, deliciousness which we smothered on bread – I’m yet to find out what they were called, a delicious octopus salad with pickled vegtables, crispy rings of calamari, and cheese boregi – a pastry stuffed with feta cheese. All washed down with the local pilsner, Efes!
Another delicious foodstuff in Istanbul is of course fish – so fresh! While we saw lots of street stalls selling mussels and oysters, I wasn’t quite brave enough to count on their fresh status, I did however head down to the docks on the Eminonu where I enjoyed a fresh fish sandwich straight off the fisherman’s boat! Freshly caught grilled mackerel shoved straight into half a loaf of bread with salad and slathered with lemon juice and salt, perfection! What better or fresher lunch could you ask for?! And for the equivalent of around £2!
Before heading out for our day of eating, ahem sightseeing, the lovely local lady in our hotel made sure we were set up for the day with a big Turkish breakfast enjoyed on our delightful roof terrace overlooking the Bosphorus on one side and Blue Mosque on the other! Perhaps the best spot I’ve ever been lucky enough to enjoy breakfast! This typically consisted of big piles of fresh fruit – oranges, apricots, watermelon; tomatoes, cucumber, olives and feta cheese; hard boiled eggs, Turkish sausage, a delcious baked potato and creamy cheese dish, yoghurt with jam and a tantalising selection of homemade cakes. I must admit I got rather partial to eating a mountain of feta crumbled over watermelon every morning!
Now, following all the mouth-wateringly tasty savoury foods, of course, were the sweets, oh the sweets! The Turks really know what they’re doing here! Countless crumbly pastries with honey, pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts… Before going to Istanbul, I had no idea there was any other kind of baklava than that stuffed with pisachio, but there are all sorts. Walnut was one of my other favourites, although I must admit I do love pistachio!
Baklava and the other similar desserts were a great afternoon pick-me up! Talk about a sugar hit! I’m not sure what these were called, but little bite-sized shredded filo pastry nests filled with a variety of nuts were also a big hit!
The spize bazaar was a great place to fill up on these moreish treats, as well as other delights such as apricots and dates stuffed with cashews or almonds.
Some of the delicacies had interesting promises to make!
The market was also full of delicious shiny globes of Turkish Delight. Little did I know that the soft squidgy Turkish delight dusted with copious amounts of icing sugar that you get are in fact made specifically for the tourists! Real Turkish delight is much firmer, often dusted in dessicated coconut as opposed to icing sugar, and packed full of, you guessed it, more nuts! I actually really liked both kinds!
The last exciting thing in the spice bazaar was loose tea and, of course, spices!!
Unfortunately, we were not to discover our all-time favourite Turkish dessert until our final night! And only because we pointed at what the couple at the table next to us had and asked for the same! Kunefe, a baked shredded pastry dish stuffed with mild soft white cheese and topped with grated pistachio! The bite of the crispy pastry giving into the soft melty inside of this dish was just to die for!
Istanbul really is a fantastic and fascinating city, I highly recommend a visit and not just for the food!