Saturday, September 25, 2010

When I unpacked my kitchen this week, I was happy to rediscover my Cajun spices bought in New Orleans during past trips.  All I could think of was the city’s seductive, distinctive cuisine, especially the gumbo.

To me, gumbo defines the city. The variations are infinite, just like the southern accents you hear on the streets. We’ve eaten gumbo with alligator, duck, shrimp, oysters, chicken, crawfish, andouille sausage and Tasso. Some are as thick as swamp water; while others have a thin, but smooth finish.

The New Orleans trio of red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo at the Chartres House in NOLA.
We have visited New Orleans three times – one for our wedding in March. So this southern city holds a special place in my heart.  Now, I live 6,200 miles away, and I am craving a big bowl of gumbo.

During the past few days, the weather suddenly turned damp and a bit chilly. I thought ‘perfect weather to make gumbo!’

I’ve made gumbo a couple times with chicken, shrimp and/or andouille sausage.  But how does one make gumbo in Turkey without andouille sausage? I decided to find out.

When you don’t have certain ingredients, you must be creative and improvise. I don’t exactly follow savory recipes anyway. I follow my own intuition and adjust ingredients here and there to my liking.

Gumbo requires a few key ingredients: a dark roux made from flour and fat, the “holy trinity” of green bell pepper, celery and onion and of course, patience. For the meat, I decided to use chicken and “sucuk”  – a spicy sausage similar to chorizo.  To replace the smokiness from the andouille sausage, I found a package of sliced “fume et 100% dana” – meaning smoked meat 100% veal.

When cooking the sucuk, a local friend suggested turning on my oven’s hood and opening as many windows as possible. It is very garlicky and heavily seasoned with allspice, cumin, red and black pepper and salt. The different smells permeate the air.  In the states, I normally would add a few chopped cloves of garlic when sautéing the onions, but my Turkish gumbo did not need it. In fact, I added very little salt and pepper while the gumbo was cooking because both meats seemed a little salty.

Local bamya
I also wanted to use okra, or “bamya,” in my gumbo.  The okra is beautiful here, with most being about the size of my pinky or smaller.  I’ve only used okra when making gumbo, but the “slimy” pods are used in various Turkish stews. If you can’t find fresh okra, I have used frozen during the winter months back in the states.

At the grocery store, I found imported red and green bell peppers from California for about 3 times the price as local peppers. Instead, I chose a local, pale green pepper called “biber dolma.” The labels next to most of the local produce said they were grown in Antalya, a region of southwestern Turkey bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

Finally, I had my ingredients. I went home and started the time consuming task of making my gumbo. By the time my husband came home from work, the gumbo was simmering gently on the stove. He said he immediately could smell the fragrance of gumbo wafting from the kitchen. That was certainly a good sign.

The end result was a tasty, slightly smoky gumbo bejeweled with chunks of okra, chicken, sucuk and veal. A little taste of New Orleans made with my own style.

We garnished our brown, velveteen gumbo with a dusting of ground file’ powder and a few drops of Tabasco on top.

Afiyet Olsun!

Total cooking and prep time: about 2 ½  hours
Serves about 8
(In the states, I’d recommend using a total weight of 1 ½ pounds of chicken and andouille sausage for the meats below.)
½             c.             All-purpose flour
½             c.             fat (I used 2 oz. butter and 2 oz. canola oil)
2              qts.        water or chicken stock
9              oz.          sucuk, chopped small
4              oz.          fume et, chopped small
12           oz.          chicken, chopped small
5              oz.          onion, diced small (approx. 2/3 cup)
5              oz.          green bell pepper, diced small (approx. 2/3 cup)
5              oz.          celery, diced small (approx.  2/3 cup)
6              oz.          okra, sliced ¼-inch thick
2              tsp.        Cajun spice such as “Slap Ya Mama”
1              T.            Worcestershire sauce
¼             c.             parsley, chopped finely
To taste                salt and black pepper

Optional: ¼         tsp.        ground file’ powder (Sprinkle this spice on top at the very end after removing the pot from the burner. File’ is made from ground, dried leaves of the sassafras tree and is used as a thickener.)

1.  Start with the roux, which is a mixture of flour and fat that, after slowly cooked is used to thicken sauces and soups such as this gumbo. Plan on at least 1 hour for this. Do not walk too far away from the stove. (I was nervous about burning the roux so I did it slow and steady. I chopped all my other ingredients during this time. However, if you use a heavy, cast iron skillet or Dutch oven and stir constantly over medium high heat, the roux may take you only 20 minutes to make, according to other recipes I researched.)

2. Melt the fat over low heat. When warm and fluid, sprinkle the flour in a little at a time, stirring often with a wooden spoon.  The roux will change colors - from a blond to a peanut butter colored roux - as it cooks. About halfway through, I turned up the burner’s heat to medium high. I kept stirring mine until I developed a dark brown roux that had a nutty aroma.

3. Immediately, pour the roux into a shallow bowl and let cool to room temperature.

4. Next, sauté the sucuk about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and blot off extra grease with paper towels.
Here is the sucuk cooking.
5. Then, sauté the chicken and fume et together about 10 minutes, just to cook the chicken a bit. Then set aside for later.

6. Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock or water until hot. Slowly, whisk in the roux you made earlier. Leave this pot on low heat until you are ready for it in a few steps.

7. Sauté the okra for 3 to 5 minutes. (This is supposed to help reduce some of the Nickelodeon sliminess that okra exudes.) Set aside in a bowl.

Here is the "holy trinity."
8. Heat about 1 tablespoon of canola oil in an 8-quart stock pot. Add the celery, green pepper and onions together. Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Sweat the vegetables just to soften them. Do not brown. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula. Reserve for later.

9. To the stock pot, add the meats, okra, Worcestershire sauce, Cajun spices, parsley and cover with the reserved stock or water. Place a lid on the pot and bring it to a boil. Then, turn down the heat and let the gumbo simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.

10. Serve the gumbo over cooked white rice and with crusty bread, which you can use to soak up the juices.  Tableside, season with your favorite hot sauce and sprinkle with ground file if you so desire.

Gumbo even tastes better the next day.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Moving is never easy. I’ve moved six times since 2004. Turkey was my first international moving experience, and so far so good.

The “BIG” day went surprisingly well. It felt like we had an army of movers bringing in boxes and helping us unpack. I didn’t cook the first night as we were (and still are) living out of boxes.

However, I spent the following day organizing my kitchen and three bookshelves that house my cookbook collection and other fiction books. This project took several hours since I’m very particular on where I like my kitchen necessities located. Finally, I realized I needed to actually buy some food to stock up the pantry and to make dinner.

I decided to make a salad and cook pasta because it’s easy. I sautéed some diced chicken breasts and garlic, which I then added to the cooked penne pasta and finished with fresh basil. Season with salt, pepper and a little olive oil – Turkish of course!

My favorite go-to salad is the Turkish “Çoban Salatası,” which means Shepherd’s Salad. It’s a perfect combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, fresh herbs, lemon juice and olive oil. You see the salad on nearly every menu. We’ve tried it a dozen or so different times, and it seems like every restaurant has its particular version. I’ve created my own version too.

Çoban Salatası is very easy to make and tastes light and refreshing. It’s also a good way to use up any late summer tomatoes or cucumbers you have in your own garden or from the farmer’s market. Enjoy!

Ingredients (serves 4, or approximately 2 large portions for 2 people):
3-4 tomatoes, medium diced
2 small-sized cucumbers, halved, quartered and then sliced
¼ red onion, chopped small
½ bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
3 T. fresh dill, chopped
1-2 T. extra virgin olive oil,
juice from 1 lemon
salt and pepper.

In a bowl, mix the vegetables together with the parsley and dill. Simply, drizzle a little olive oil and lemon juice on top. Season the salad with salt and pepper.

Joy’s other options: Along with the parsley, you can add some fresh mint or basil. We also drizzle ours with “Nar Eksisi Sosu” – a tangy pomegranate syrup. Not traditional, but you can add fresh feta which is similar to the crumbly “beyaz peynir” (literally means white cheese) we use here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

At the end of Ramazan earlier this month, we celebrated our first “bayram” on the Çeşme Peninsula. The area, lapped by the turquoise blue waters of the Aegean Sea, lies about 1 hour west of Izmir, Turkey.

We heard the area was beautiful and was known for its long, sandy beaches and local seafood. We stayed in Dalyan, a small, quaint fishing village in Çeşme.

View of Illica Beach near Dalyan

While reading one of the hotel’s magazines, I’d seen pictures of octopus hanging on what looked like a clothes-line. I couldn’t wait to try it! I’ve only had “ahtapot” a handful of times in the states, so I was extremely excited to taste it directly from the source. 

At the Çeşme Marina, we dined on octopus pieces sautéed in butter, chopped garlic and spicy red pepper flakes. The octopus, which has a similar texture like scallops, was tender and delicious.

During our last night along the coast, we experienced an outstanding dining experience at Cevat'ın Yeri Dalyan Fish Restaurant, located near a deep water inlet surrounded by sailboats and fishing boats. We hadn’t even looked at a menu when our server asked if we wanted to select a fresh fish from the case to eat tonight. Of course!


My husband followed inside the restaurant where he had a chance to inspect the day’s catch. This allows you to select the exact size and type of fish you want. You pay for the fish according to its weight in kilograms, and the kitchen prepares it for you. He selected a local, small fish, whose name is unknown because our server spoke rapidly in Turkish each time I asked.


When my husband finally returned to the table, he told me he was urged to select the mezzes – small appetizers - after choosing the fish. Now, I was a bit disappointed. I still prefer to see a menu, even if I can’t understand all the words. I probably know more culinary words in Turkish than anything else yet.

From a multi-level display case full of meat and vegetarian options, he selected two small plates of red and green peppers stuffed with a fresh cheese and herb mixture. I also asked if the restaurant had an octopus menu item. The server brought us an octopus salad, which was served cold with olive oil and lemon juice. The dish was good, but I enjoyed the spicier version better.

Left to right: Ahtapot, Coban Salatasi, green and red stuffed peppers

The restaurant had a lively atmosphere especially since most of the patrons were crowded around two televisions watching the FIBA semi-finals between Turkey and Serbia.

When the grilled fish arrived, our gregarious server deboned it tableside and served us two portions. The fish often is drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. The entree was a light, healthy way to end a sun-filled day.

Hopefully, I’ll soon be back in the kitchen and can prepare a fresh fish or even “ahtapot” for us.

Local fish simply grilled.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pork – it may be the other white meat in the U.S., but it’s not widely available in Turkey.

When you do find pork products, it’s often a little pricey. For example, a 120 gram package of skinny bacon at a nearby gourmet grocery store costs 22.50 lira (approximately 4 ounces for $15).

Oh how I miss it. Grilled pork chops, pulled BBQ pork on buns, Kansas City-style BBQ sauce on falling-off-the-bones pork ribs, slowly roasted pork shanks, pork belly sandwiches - that’s what I miss from the U.S.
This weekend I craved bacon.

One of my favorite things on the weekends used to be bacon and eggs. Just simple over easy eggs, a couple strips of crispy bacon and whole wheat toast. Plus, I missed that my husband would make this once-a-week breakfast treat for me.

So craving bacon, I knew of a charming cafe in Nişantaşı where last month I devoured a crispy bacon and grilled aubergine sandwich for lunch.

Delicatessen serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The cafe reminds me a little bit of Balthazar in Soho in New York City, especially since it offers croissants served with Nutella.

After perusing the menu, I ordered the Eggs Benedict with Prosciutto cotto. My husband wanted the sahanda yumurta with sucuk – basically sunny side up eggs with a spicy sausage, similar to Spanish chorizo – and a bloody Mary.
Sahanda yumurta ve sucuk
Our brunch arrived. Mine was a large, slice of wheat bread topped with the Prosciutto cotto, two perfectly poached eggs and a very rich Hollandaise. Mmmmm. Next time, I’ll try and ask for a bottle of Tabasco to cut down on the sauce’s acidity a bit. My husband’s dish was good too, and it was the first time we tried the spicy sucuk.

Eggs Benedict ve Prosciutto cotto

We didn’t eat bacon that day, but it was close enough for me.