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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Bademli Kayisili Pilav – Pilaf With Almonds And Apricots

We were on a short trip to Ankara during the weekend. I came to understand why my brother’s way of describing Ankara is so true,  he says the city should be called a “staff only” place. We came back to Istanbul on Sunday arvo and I decided to make soup and pilaf for dinner, easy and elegant. I ended up making chicken flavored almond and apricot pilaf. It’s a classic, yet almost forgotten by the general public in Turkey. What a shame!

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Saray Helvasi – Royal Halva

Halva is the generic term for flour and/or butter and nuts based dense sweets in various world cuisines including Ottoman cuisine. This one is called royal halva and it is made of butter, wheat flour, caster/icing sugar and ground nuts (almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts). It obviously tastes somewhat like shortbread cookies, as they both contain the same ingredients, but method of preparation is what separates the two.

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Zeytinyagli Kuru Dolma – Stuffed Sun Dried Vegetables In Olive Oil

I’m quite happy today, because I just received a job offer, one that is related to my profession. I already have loads of other work stuff to do, but I am very much inclined to quit everything else and accept this one.

Anywayz, other than the good news, “Eid” has passed already and we of course visited my parents and in-laws in. On the eve of Eid I baked a cake with damson plums and cooked stuffed sun dried vegetables in olive oil. I took those to Gallipoli with me hoping to be the star of our family gathering :). I don’t know if I succeeded but everyone seemed quite satisfied with both the dolma and the plum cake.

I had bought the sun dried vegetables from Kahramanmaras last month. I also took pictures of the home-prepared ones in the process of drying. They hang carved vegetables on balconies on a clean thread and everyday around noon time covered the vegies with a huge clean cloth to avoid any discoloration from the direct sunlight for around 2 weeks until they dry 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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Pacanga Boregi – Fried Pastry With Pastrami and Kashar

As a dance, pachanga has been described as “a happy-go-lucky dance” of Cuban origin. There is also a borek named pacanga -pronounced “pachanga”- in Turkish cuisine. I don’t know if or how the two are related in any way. What I know is this crispy borek recipe is a perfect appetizer. Once you have access to the ingredients, it’s fairly easy to make.

Pastrami (pastirma – “pressed”) was obviously brought by the Turkic tribes from the Asian steppes. Apparently Turkish horse rider men would carry the pastrami between their leg and the horse’s back and this way the meat would be cured. You can substitute this with beef prosciutto as well.

Kashar cheese is one of the most consumed cheeses in Turkey and it is a semi-hard cheese produced by heating and stretching the curd. It is classified as fresh and mature in terms of ripening level. Its taste is somewhere in between sweet provolone and cow’s milk caciocavallo, the latter is also a commonly used ingredient in Turkish cuisine. I heard that 1 kg of fresh kashar cheese is produced from 12 liters of cow’s milk in average. You can easily find this type of cheese in Turkish, Greek, Bulgarian, Georgian etc. shops or substitute with mozzarella, if not available.

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Tulumba Tatlisi – Fluted Fritters In Syrup

While we were in Kahramanmaras, we went on a day trip to a place called “Icme” which literally means “drinking / to drink”.  No no, it’s not a bars street, there is a spring resort in “Icme”. People travel to the place from all over South Eastern Anatolia and the Mediterranean region just to drink and possibly take back home as much mineral water as they can to restore or  preserve their health.

The mineral water in Icme is quite bitter and not very pleasant to drink. Locals came up with a solution to this. Just next to the main spring, there are dozens of stalls selling sweets, especially in-syrup types, providing the visitors with a chance to get as thirsty as possible. They serve generous  amounts of sweets followed by bottles of mineral water, fresh from the springs. So if you survive the glucose coma,  you’ll have drunk lots of water from the fountain of health. Yeah, I am all for healthy living, so give me more of that dessert!

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Ic Pilav – Garnished Rice

On Sunday, we were at my parents’ place. Towards iftar time, my sister was trying real hard to convince to make some ic pilav – garnished rice dish, mainly used as a filling for most stuffed vegetable and meat dishes in Ottoman cuisine. A starving and insisting sister ain’t no good. I gave up and pulled myself together despite the fatigue caused by fasting on such a long day and made her the pilav. She was happy and so was I.  Mom’s garden has the perfect lighting to photograph the food I make.

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Kaygana – Turkish Omelette

Breakfast in Turkey is not considered complete without fresh cheese, tomatoes, olives and bread. Egg dishes and/or pastry usually accompany these. A traditional recipe, despite wide variations, a common favorite of both people of rural Anatolia and the Ottoman elité, is called kaygana. It’s something in between crepés and omelette.

Again, contemporary Turkish cuisine has a tendency towards neglecting classic recipes of good old kaygana, especially those sweet ones. Savory types still have a huge crowd of fans. I know dozens of locals who frown upon recipes such as “eggplant kaygana” or “anchovy kaygana”, let alone sweet kaygana recipes. They say they hate the idea of a sweet omelette because mixing eggs with sugar/honey sounds gross, well, what’s the main ingredient in a sponge cake, or almost any cake for that matter? I can’t sympathize with them, sorry. When a classic Ottoman dish is of concern, I am ready to try it, it turns out to be delicious 99 percent of the time  and that 100th percentile never came in my way, anyway.

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Imam Bayildi – Stuffed Aubergines In Olive Oil

Here comes one of the most famous olive oil dishes in Turkish cuisine: Imam Bayildi, literally means “the Muslim cleric fainted”. There is a dozen of stories surrounding the name of this meze, some claim that the imam in the tale fainted because he was so overcome with the flavor of this dish, some other accounts focus on the cost of the ingredients. Imam bayildi has also been an inspiration to the confit byaldi dish in modern French cuisine.

Nowadays people have no time to cook such classic dishes and follow the original recipes religiously. Imam bayildi would still taste good even if you skip adding pine nuts or nutmeg, but IMHO we should pay our respects to the cooks of the Ottoman palace by sticking to the original recipe as much as we could, trust me, there is a reason for every ingredient to be there in the recipe. I think, cooking is about great attention to detail, picking the finest ingredients and treating them the way they deserve to be treated.

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