Asure – Noah’s Pudding

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We’re in the month of Muharram according to the Islamic calendar. The first month of the Hijri lunar calendar. There is a strong and very common tradition regarding this month in Anatolia, Balkans and most other parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. Noah’s pudding is made in most homes and distributed to neighbors hoping that it will bring that household a bountiful year in return.

We believe that Prophet Noah and his people when they embarked on their voyage of salvation on the infamous ark, made this pudding from whatever they have left in stock onboard, fruits, grains, nuts and spices. The essential rule of making asure (pronounced ush-oo-rah) is that it should be made using at least seven ingredients and should be given out to seven different neighbors. There are other tips and tricks like boiling all the ingredients separately and soaking the legumes and other grains ahead of time, but this is it, basically, get seven ingredients: sugar, wheat, chickpeas, water (I don’t know if that counts as one), cinnamon, walnuts and dried figs. Make your pudding and hand it out to your neighbors hoping they won’t think that you’re some kind of psycho trying to poison them with that weird-looking blobby thing. My dear readers, try the recipe below or use it as a general guide, feel free to get creative and make up your own, as Noah’s pudding tradition -metaphorically- points out to diversity as a source of blessing. Let me know of any ideas that you come up with!

Ingredients: 10-12 servings (150ml each)

1 cup of wheat grains, soaked overnight and then boiled al-dente

1/2 cup of dry navy/lima beans, soaked overnight and then boiled al-dente

1/4 cup of corn kernels, (soak and boil if not canned)

1/2 cup of chickpeas, soaked overnight and then boiled al-dente

1/4 cup of rice, washed and drained

100g of dried figs, small variety, soaked and boiled until soft

50g of dried apple slices, soaked and boiled

100g of dried sultanas,

50g of black currants,

Zest of 1 lemon/orange,

1 tablespoon of lemon/orange juice,

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3 sticks of cinnamon,

8 clove buds,

1/2 teaspoon of allspice powder,

A dash of powdered cardamom seeds,

1/4 teaspoon of ginger powder,

1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg,

1 star anise,

A dash of powdered coriander seeds,

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2 tablespoons of rose water- edible type,

1,5 cups of sugar,

A dash of salt,

2 tablespoons of wheat starch, mixed with 1/2 cup of cold water

2,5 liters of boiling water (add more if need be)

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50g almond slices,

100g chopped walnuts/pecans

40g pine nut kernels,

100g of pomegranate seeds,

50g shredded coconut,

1 tablespoon of poppy seed,

What takes time is preparing all the ingredients, like soaking, washing, chopping and boiling… The rest is easy breezy. Add all the ingredients into a deep pot except for the nuts, pomegranate seeds, poppy seeds and shredded coconut. Save those for decoration purposes. Cook on medium heat stirring until rice cooks well, the mixture thickens and becomes glossy. Laddle into pudding bowls. When it cools off, top up and decorate with nuts, pomegranate seeds, coconut and poppy seed. Serve cold. Remember: Sharing and diversity is the key to a perfect asure.

Yumurtali Ispanak – Eggs With Spinach

It’s good for you, it’s green, leafy, crispy and aromatic. It releases its aroma when heated. Turks like it with yogurt, nutrition experts advice against this as yogurt will block the absorption of iron in spinach. If you wash, drain and prepare spinach leaves beforehand, eggs with spinach recipe serves as a very quick and fulfilling lunch or dinner, a very healthy option indeed. Here comes one of the most homely, motherly recipe of Turkish cuisine.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons of butter

1 medium size onion, chopped finely

1/2 kg spinach leaves, washed, drained and chopped into 1 inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 large free range organic eggs

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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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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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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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Kabak Tatlisi – Candied Pumpkin

Fall is over already and yet, I am not over with pumpkins and chestnuts. I even invested in a handful of pumpkin seeds which I’ll be planting this summer and hopefully enjoying my mini-pumpkins end of next year, here is a picture of what I am hoping to achieve:

For now, I’ll have to suffice with squares of candied winter squash, Turkish style of course. Some recipes from the southern part of Turkey also call for soaking the pumpkin slices into edible lime before cooking, so that the dessert turns translucent and attains a crunchy feel when cooked. This recipe here is the wider used version. (more…)

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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