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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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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Firinda Nohut Yemegi – Garbanzo Beans Baked In Tomato Sauce

A warm, winter comfort food: Beans and tomato. Good complex carbs, protein and fiber to support your digestive system.

In Turkey, beans are one of those things that miraculously unite all people. Rich and poor, religious or not, city dwellers and people from rural areas, no matter who you are, there is one common food that everyone misses a lot when abroad: Beans in a rich tomato sauce, served with rice and ayran (yogurt drink). Some like it soupy, some prefer thicker consistency varieties. Most favor lima beans over garbanzo, my favorite is by far garbanzo beans.

You can make delicious garbanzo beans baked in tomato sauce at home if you follow these steps:

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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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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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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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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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