Lakerda – Cured Fish in Olive Oil

During our last meal in Cunda, before the mesmerizing effect of the lor tatlisi arrived, we were knocked down by a couple of meze dishes. One was lakerda, which is among my a dozen seafood favorites and a new acquaintance for my husband. I was reluctant to tell him that it was raw fish in fact, I know he would do anything to avoid it if he knew. The plan worked well. The delicacy turned him into a humming bird soon enough so I told him what it really was, two seconds of hesitant silence was again followed by num nums. He liked it so much that he asked the restaurant owner to pack a jar of that goodness for us to take home.

A properly-made lakerda tastes divine. Fatty fish fillets, cured with salt, then soaked in extra virgin olive oil… The type of fish differs. What we had was akya, garrick fish that is. A more desirable fish for pickling would be large bonito, called torik in Turkish. It takes around two weeks to cure the fish. Cleaning is the tricky part, no blood should remain in the flesh.

It is best served cold with olive oil, red onions and dill. It makes me thank God for living in this part of the world.

Cacik – Cucumber and Yogurt Dip

What could be more cooling than a bowl of cacik on a hot summer day? Greeks make it thicker, Turks like it more in a liquid form. Mix up some yogurt, crushed garlic, chopped cucumber and fresh mint, it’s that easy. Garlic is yogurt’s best friend in a Turkish kitchen and mint leaves freshen up the whole thing. Serve it with bread, legumes cooked in tomato sauce or with meatballs. I know I know, it’s not the healthiest thing to consume yogurt and meat together, as it prevents the body from metabolizing the iron in meat.

The trick to a good cacik or tzatziki as Greeks call it, is to avoid the temptation to grate the cucumbers and to chop them finely with a knife instead.

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Piyaz – Lima Bean Salad With Olive Oil, Sumac and Tahini

Spring is around the corner and one of the most exciting things about spring, to me, is a generous serving of kofte eaten outdoors accompanied by the sea-view and iodine smell. The best thing to go with that drizzling kofte (meatballs) platter is piyaz. Kofte-piyaz duo is like the Laurel & Hardy of Turkish Cuisine and of course ayran (the infamous yogurt drink) always accompanies the feast.

There are various ways to make piyaz, here goes my favorite:

Ingredients:

2 cups of dried lima beans, soaked overnight, then boiled in 3 liters of salted water, or 400-500 g canned beans

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Cerkes Tavugu – Circassian Chicken

The answer to what makes Ottoman cuisine so special lies in the wide variety of influences ranging from the Caucasus to the Balkans, from Niles to Euphrates… Even Chinese cuisine had an impact on the Ottomans, as Turks brought an over-1000-year-old heritage from the steppes of Central Asia where they were in close contact with the Chinese. Cuisines of the Caucasus region appear as one of the hundreds of influences within the Ottoman cuisine. Georgian, Laz and Circassian people (one might want to include Armenians and Azeris as well) and their unique ways of preparing food is quite distinctive. Circassian chicken, contrary to what its name suggests, has more likely originated from Georgian territories and is a widely-known dish in today’s Turkey.

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Humus – Chickpea Spread With Tahini

Humus, originally a Middle Eastern meze, “is high in iron and vitamin C, and also has significant amounts of folate and vitamin B6. Garbanzo beans make it a good source of protein and dietary fiber; the tahini consists mostly of sesame seeds, an excellent source of amino acid, complementing the proteins in chickpeas”, says Wikipedia. Humus is a very convenient food for those who prefer a vegetarian or vegan diet and like other combinations of grains and pulses, when eaten with bread it serves as a complete protein. It’s great for your digestive system as well.

Its creamy texture and earthy, yet rich, flavor balances great with the mild and acidic flavors of olive oil and lemon juice. I am always up for regional staple food recipes as they are usually amazingly well balanced both in terms of health and taste. I am not a drinker at all, but some say, humus when eaten with alcoholic beverages helps avoid a nasty hangover.

Here goes the recipe for humus:

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Yogurtlu Semizotu Salatasi – Purslane and Potato Salad With Yogurt Sauce

This one’s not so Ottoman. The ingredients are very Turkish though. I like it because it’s simple, delicious, fulfilling and healthy.

Ingredients:

300-400 of purslane

2-3 medium size potatoes

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Lorlu Biber Mezesi – Stuffed Red Capsicum With Ricotta and Pine Nuts

I love cold dishes in summer, that’s why I keep coming back with more meze recipes. This light and easy but still elegant recipe looks really good. If it looks good, it tastes good. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this, e.g. the previous monstrous looking samphire meze.

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Taratorlu Deniz Borulcesi – Marsh Samphire With Tartar Sauce

Meze dishes are the stars of Ottoman cuisine. The word meze refers to side dishes that accompany alcoholic beverages or main dishes. The other day, I saw a news report on a national TV channel saying that some freaks (yeah I am jealous, I should have thought of that before those guys) decided to take the Guinness challenge of cooking 1500 mezes in one day, original recipes from Ottoman cuisine and they succeeded. I am sure this samphire meze was one of those 1500 dishes. It’s a widely available dish in Turkey, especially at seafood restaurants. I suppose the plant is also quite common in the UK and Australia, I don’t know about the US though. In  Turkey the best deniz borulcesi, i.e. marsh samphire, is available in spring through early summer. The greener the better, as it reddens it gets saltier and coarser, you wouldn’t want that on your plate, considering the stringy bits in the cores of the stalks. Another trick is buying or picking them with the roots still intact, as this makes the process of removing the strings easier. If you ever decide to make this into a salad or meze, make sure that you season it with garlic, the two go really nice together.

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