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.

Zeytinyagli Bamya – Okra in Olive Oil

One last recipe from the summertime. Perhaps, I’ve heard over a hundred people say that they like the taste and aroma of okras but they hate the gooey texture. The best way to avoid the sticky slimy texture is to keep the pods intact, only peel the most outer skin on top and leave the cap intact (the holes inside shouldn’t be seen so that the mucilage will not come out of the pod), to add lots of lemon juice and not to stir it while cooking. Here’s the recipe to a flowy clear okra dish.

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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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Zeytinyagli Pirasa – Leeks In Olive Oil

This olive oil dish can be found on the dinner tables of most Turkish homes quite frequently at all times of the year. Just like her cousins, onion and garlic, leeks have antiseptic qualities. What’s more interesting about these long, sleek, layered tubes is that during Roman times a variant of this vegetable with opium-like qualities was consumed at the end of dinner to induce sleep. Turks, people of the Ottoman land in wider terms, also serve this olive oil braised leek dish at the end of meals. I don’t know if there is any connection between the two cuisines, Ottoman and Roman (if there is such thing) so to speak, but I should note that Ottoman Sultans, starting from Mehmet II the Conqueror, held the title “Kayser” (meaning Ceasar), referring to the Ottoman rule as the heir to Eastern Roman Empire.

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Zeytinyagli Lahana Sarma – Cabbage Rolls In Olive Oil

While I was in college, in Sydney, away from home, the idea of cabbage rolls in olive oil or  manti (sorta Turkish ravioli) would always bring that homesickness monster out which would torment me for a few hours once it stroke. Those few hours would then result in attempts of making one of the core traditional dishes of Turkish cuisine. None would turn out perfect, not even close, thanks to the ingredient quality! Still, it would be enough to calm me for a few months until another homesickness attack arrived. Last week, thinking of those days, I felt very grateful for being able to find the perfect cabbages for rolling these gorgeous sarma in the picture. No veins, lots of thin large leaves which beautifully held the rice filling… What more could I ask for? Here is how I made the sarma:

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Fava – Broad Beans Spread

Fava beans: Friend or foe? I like listing the health benefits of the main ingredient in my recipes. In this case, I should also list the potential hazards caused by fava beans or broad beans. For those who have a hereditary condition called G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency) fava beans can induce a fatal condition called “favism”, a type of anemia, as you may have already guessed, the condition is named after “fava”.

But for the rest of us, broad beans are a good source of protein and other healthy stuff, beneficial for those with Parkinson’s disease or hypertension. Some even say fava beans can be used as a natural alternative to the V drug, based on a proposed link between one’s libido and a substance found in fava beans. I don’t know if that’s true, you’ll have to see it for yourself.

Fava beans are also used in fortune telling by gypsies on the streets of Turkey. So, quite a miracle legume, both revealing your future and aiding you in your love life. Joking aside, I’ll just give out a decent, innocent meze recipe, made with fava beans.

I am not a drinker myself, firstly for religious reasons. But sometimes, I feel grateful to Turkish drinkers of raki, tough. Why? Because if not for those people, great meze recipes would have long gone lost. Except for a few of those mezes, Turkish homecooks and no-alcohol restaurants do not pay much attention to this category of Turkish cuisine. A good, forget about “good”, a decent topik (chickpea pâté filled with caramelized onions, currants and pine nuts and dusted with cinnamon) or tarama (another meze made with fish roe) are very hard to find nowadays, in regular restaurants. You either have to find the recipe and the ingredients and make it yourself or go to a meyhane (Turkish pub) to find those dishes. A good fava is not very easy to find either.

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Zeytinyagli Portakalli Kereviz – Celeriac Braised in Olive Oil and Orange Juice

Celeriac is the root of what is called “celery”. In my university years, in Sydney, I hadn’t seen celeriac anywhere for quite a long time,  then one day I came across this non-starchy root vegetable in the vegie isle of a supermarket. As soon as I saw this prince charming hid in the form of an ugly frog, I started jumping up and down like a child. At the check out, I noticed that something was wrong, as the girl kept skipping my lovely celeriac and finished checking out everything else I bought. Then she said she would be back in a minute and left. When she returned, she seemed quite anxious, turned to me and said “please don’t get me wrong, what do you call this thing? I tried to find it in the isle but no luck “, she obviously thought that I would be offended by her ignorance of our cultural habit of eating this weird substance. I smiled and replied, celeriac, celery-root in other words. She was relieved by my calm reaction, glad that I didn’t turn out to be the furious Muslim she was afraid that I was.

Anyhoo, another time at the same supermarket checkout, an old lady asked me about how I prepared “this thing”. I gave her a quick recipe of this olive oil dish and she seemed happy, she said “there is one other Polish lady buying this, I haven’t seen anyone else”. I don’t know how the Polish make this into a dish, but my favorite is an olive oil based recipe.

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Menemen – Turkish Style Omelette With Vegetables

Here is a simple breakfast dish, a staple food in Turkey, especially when it’s summer.

Ingredients (serves 2-4):

3 tablespoons of olive oil,

1 onion, grated,

4-5 yellow banana peppers, capsicums and/or hot peppers, chopped into 1 cm pieces,

2-3 tomatoes, peeled and diced,

1/2 teaspoon of salt

3-4 eggs or 50 g grated cheese (or you can leave these out completely)

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Zeytinyagli Taze Fasulye – String Beans In Olive Oil

Jeanne Calment, a French lady who holds the record for the longest confirmed lifespan, said that she owed her youthful appearance and longevity to olive oil which she poured on all her food and rubbed into her skin. That’s olive oil for you! It’s the fountain of youth and also makes vegetables taste superb, while preserving their color.

String beans in olive oil is a classic Ottoman dish which holds its title in contemporary Turkish kitchen as well. For this recipe, flat, thin and non-stringy types of green beans should be used. A steel pot is also a must, olive oil dishes always taste their best in steel pots.

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Fellah Kofte – Bulgur Gnocchi In Garlic Tomato Sauce

Bulgur was never a favorite ingredient for chefs in the Ottoman palace. They preferred white rice over this nutritious cereal, whereas bulgur was a staple food item for the general public in the Ottoman land. Bulgur is simply parboiled, dried and partially de-branned wheat. It is available in most Western countries in natural and organic food stores, some mainstream supermarkets, Turkish, Arab and Greek grocers. It’s high in fiber and protein, makes a wonderful ingredient for a lot of vegetarian dishes.

Fellah Kofte is a widely known recipe in Eastern Mediterranean region of Anatolia in places such as Gaziantep, Kahramanmaras, Adana, Mersin and Hatay. The recipe calls for fine-ground bulgur, (“#1 Fine Grind” in the U.S. and “koftelik bulgur” in Turkey). It’s easy to make and the outcome is definitely worth the effort.

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