Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One phrase I’ve heard recently here in Turkey is: “Go for the history, but stay for the food.”

This statement couldn’t be more accurate.

I’ve had a blast exploring the lively streets of Istanbul searching for new food to try. Yesterday, for a mid-afternoon snack I tried a different type of borek. This one was more like a flaky flatbread pastry filled with the typical Turkish feta-like cheese.

Warm bread filled with cheese – what’s not to enjoy?

As I’ve told some close friends back home, I want to eat my way across Turkey. I also want to learn how to cook traditional foods.

I recently found some Turkish recipes for güveç which is a casserole cooked in an earthenware dish. My recipe searches yielded several results for ones made with chicken, beef, lamb, seafood and/or vegetables.

A little history excerpted from “The Oxford Companion to Food” by Alan Davidson:

“Gyuvech is the Bulgarian name for a kind of earthenware casserole or the dish cooked in it. The name comes from the Turkish word güveç, which has the same meaning. The casserole is fairly shallow with a large surface area allowing for maximum evaporation. It comes round or oval and lidless…These vessels are found all over the Balkans are used for cooking almost anything of a savoury nature, including fish as well as meat, poultry, and game dishes.”

I have seen small, round clay güveç dishes sold in some shops, but I haven’t actually seen this dish on any restaurant menus yet. I decided to use my large Le Creuset pot we received as a wedding gift to make my own version of a güveç made with chicken and sucuk.

I’d compare the güveç to the American crock pot dish. It’s an opportunity to throw together some vegetables, meat, spices and perhaps a starch like potatoes or rice. Let the pot slowly simmer to allow the meat to get tender and the juices to mingle. A little while later you have a pot of aromatic goodness!

My first-time güveç tasted full of spices and spiciness from the sucuk. Leftovers had even more of a kick. The bulgur (which could be substituted with long-grain rice) soaked up the meat juices. The dates added a hint of sweetness. 

All in all – it was a good combination.

Making a güveç is a great way to use up some of this season’s hearty vegetables. Try experimenting with different combinations and let me know how it turns out.

Afiyet Olsun!

Chicken Güveç with Dates and Sucuk
(Adapted from “Turquoise: A chef’s travels in Turkey” by Greg and Lucy Malouf)
Serves: 6

2          oz.       unsalted butter
1          T.         olive oil
2          ea.        red onions, cut into thick slices
4          ea.        garlic cloves, sliced
4          ea.        long, green chilies, seeded and diced
1          tsp.      ground cumin
1          tsp.      ground cinnamon

2          ea.        tomatoes, seeded and diced
2          ea.        carrots, peeled and sliced
2          oz.       coarse bulgur, washed
12-16   oz.       chicken stock
1          ea.        cinnamon stick
3          ea.        star anise
Several sprigs  fresh thyme

TT                    salt and black pepper
1          T.         olive oil
2.5       lbs.       chicken legs and thighs, with bones and skin
2          oz.       sucuk, sliced (could try substituting Spanish chorizo)
6          ea.        dates, seeded and cut into quarters

1.         Preheat the oven to 400 F/205 C.
2.         In a large, heavy casserole dish, heat the butter and oil. Add the onions, garlic, chilies, cumin and cinnamon. Sweat the vegetables until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
3.         Next, add the tomatoes, carrots, bulgur, chicken stock (adding more later if needed), cinnamon stick, star anise and thyme. Bring to a boil. Then, lower the heat, cover, and gently simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat for a few minutes.

4.         Meanwhile, pat the chicken dry and season lightly with salt and pepper.
5.         In a second pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and brown the chicken lightly on all sides. Add the sucuk and fry until golden brown. Remove the meat from the pan. Discard the oil.
6.         Transfer the chicken and sucuk to the casserole dish and tuck in the dates. Cover the dish with a lid or aluminum foil and cook for about 20 minutes.
7.         Remove the dish from the oven. Taste the bulgur and stock and adjust seasonings as needed.
8.         Portion the güveç into individual bowls and serve immediately.

Monday, October 25, 2010

As autumn settles in, the bounty of fruit at the pazars shifts from mounds of fresh figs to piles of dark crimson plums.

The plums are plentiful so I bought 6 perfectly ripe plums the other day. I knew I wanted to make some kind of tart with them.

I’m sure you are bound to find plums at your local farmer’s markets back in the states as well. It’s the perfect time to make a plum cobbler, crisp, tarte tatin, jam or whatever your heart desires.

For my tart, I decided to use hazelnuts and Meyer Lemon juice and zest for extra pizzazz. I made a creamy filling based on these ingredients and topped it with the sliced plums. While baking, the plums sink into the filling a little bit.

It’s a great fall dessert that’s even better to share with friends. I shared mine with a group of ladies I’ve met here because we were celebrating one of the gal’s birthdays. I made one 8-inch tart for the group and a personal sized 4-inch tart for the birthday gal.

Happy Birthday Sema!

Afiyet Olsun!

Sweet Tart Dough
(Adapted from “Dolce Italiano” by Gina DePalma)
Makes one 10-inch tart shell

2 1/3    c.         All-purpose flour
1/3       c.         sugar
½         tsp.      salt
½         tsp.      baking powder
1          ea.        zest of a Meyer Lemon, finely grated
1 ½      sticks or 6 oz. unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
1          lg.        egg
1          lg.        egg yolk
½         tsp.      vanilla extract
¼         c.         or 2 oz. heavy cream

1. Put the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and lemon zest into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.
2. Add the butter to the dry ingredients and pulse to process together until it is a sandy consistency.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, vanilla and heavy cream. Add these ingredients to the food processor and pulse a few times until the dough comes together.
4. Remove the dough from the food processor and work it together with your hands. Form the dough into a flat disk, wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 1 to 2 hours.
5. Then, on a floured surface, roll out the tart dough into an 11-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. Carefully, roll up the dough onto your rolling pin. Press the dough into the metal tart pan and up the sides. Then trim the top of the tart so it is flush with the top of the pan.
6. Place the tart shell in the freezer to chill while you make the filling.
7. Roll up the dough scraps. Flatten into a disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and freeze. Reserve to make another tart shell.

Hazelnut Creamy Filling
4-6       ea.        plums, sliced about 1/2-inch thick
1          T.         freshly squeezed Meyer Lemon juice
¼         c.         sugar
½         stick or 2 oz. unsalted butter, soft
¼         c.         powdered sugar
1          T.         honey
1          ea.        zest of a Meyer Lemon, finely grated
2          ea.        large egg yolks
½         tsp.      vanilla extract
¼         c. or 1.25 oz. hazelnuts, toasted and finely ground
Garnish            with powdered sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C.
2. Place the sliced plums in a bowl and cover with the sugar and lemon juice, tossing together to coat the plums evenly. Set aside while you make the filling.
3. In the bowl of a food processor, cream together the butter, powdered sugar, honey and zest.
4. Then, slowly add the egg yolks into the bowl, one at a time, pulsing together until combined.
5. Lastly, add the vanilla and hazelnuts, pulsing together until full combined.
6. Remove the tart shell from the freezer. Spread the creamy filling evenly on the bottom of the tart shell using an offset spatula or the back of a large spoon.
7. Arrange the sliced plums on top of the filling in a circular pattern. You may not need all the plums. Just use enough to make the tart look full.
8. Bake the tart for about 30 minutes, or until the top is an even golden brown. The plums will look soft and will sink into the filling a bit.
9. Allow the tart to cool on a wire rack before carefully removing the sides of the tart pan.

The tart can be served at room temperature or slightly warm. If you want to gild the lily, serve a dollop of whipped cream with the tart.

Friday, October 22, 2010

This past weekend, we took our first drive up to the Black Sea.

We selected the small village of Kilyos, about 35 km or 22 miles north of the Galata Bridge, as our final destination. This northern suburb of Istanbul faces the deep waters of the Black Sea and apparently is a popular getaway spot during the summer. 

In less than 45 minutes, we had traveled from the city center through the Belgrade Forest and arrived at Kilyos, also known as Kumköy which means sandy village in Turkish. Our location here is perfect because we are able to see different parts of the world that we have never seen before.
Upperview of the Black Sea
The weather finally cooperated. The rain stopped. The slightly overcast skies let the sun peak through now and again. It was a beautiful day to retreat from the city.

The forest is just beginning to show signs of autumnal bliss. The 5,500 hectares of woods are home to Istanbul University's department of forestry as well as rural communities and recently luxury housing and private schools. Along the sides of the road, we saw several groups of people carrying buckets and blankets and collecting nuts from the woods.

Speaking of the road, it’s a very winding stretch of pavement. Of course, my husband likes to think he’s driving on a race track and take the curves faster than I would like. Great fun!

When we arrived in Kilyos, we found an otopark. We walked on the beach, which unfortunately was strewn with a lot of litter, but you still could appreciate the beauty of the chilly Black Sea.
Seashells along the seashore.
Located near the water, there are several hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and small cafes. The area was fairly quiet, but then started to fill up with more people by 1 p.m.

For lunch, we ate at a restaurant, which I forgot the name of, that had outdoor seating and a great view of the water. We had a yogurt-dill dip and stuffed grape leaves for mezzes.

Then, we shared a Çoban Salatası and a levrek (sea bass) as our main meal. For dessert, we tried Kabak Tatlisi, a traditional Turkish dessert of pumpkin poached in a sugar syrup and garnished with walnuts. It was a delightful meal and a great day out of the city!
A different version of the Çoban Salatası 
This weekend, we are hosting our first U.S. visitors to Istanbul. I’m excited to show off our new city! Stay tuned for more Turkish adventures.
The Kilyos mosque

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

When the weather starts to turn chilly, I make soup.

Taking a large stockpot, I just sauté some veggies, chicken or beef, cover with stock and let the pot simmer.

Making soup also is a good excuse to clean out the fridge, which is what happened to me the other day. We had a bunch of different vegetables. I didn’t want to waste them. But, if I didn’t do something soon, they would end growing fuzzy mold in the bottom of my fridge.

Soup was the easy answer.

I thought of the Latin flavors the kitchen staff at my previous restaurant used to make family meal. This meal is eaten an hour or so before customers start arriving. It’s a time to take a quick break - if you aren’t in the weeds - share in staff camaraderie and fill up your belly to make it through the next several chaotic hours.

In Baltimore, Md., I worked with several Spanish guys in the kitchen. It was always fun to talk to them in Spanish…albeit a broken language on my part, which I had learned in college and from my time spent in the back of the house. Often, my amigos would take turns making family meal. It was amazing what they would throw together. Suddenly, you would be happily slurping down a spicy rice bowl filled with cilantro, cumin, jalapenos, chunks of meat and various vegetable scraps. It was good!

My soup reminded me of my amigos back in the states. I was resourceful and used what I had to yield an aromatic and a lil' spicy soup for dinner.

This soup recipe easily can be adapted to what you have on hand at home. Don’t let the long ingredient list stop you. Just adjust the flavors and vegetables to your liking.

Afiyet Olsun!

Spicy Autumnal Soup
2          T.         vegetable oil
1 ½      #          beef stew meat or “büyük dana kuşabaşı
2          T.         All-purpose flour

2-3       T.         vegetable oil
1          ea.        medium yellow onion, ¼-inch diced
2-3       ea.        carrots, peeled, ¼-inch diced
3-4       ea.        garlic cloves, chopped small
2          ea.        green pepper, ¼-inch diced

½         tsp.      cumin, ground
½         tsp.      chili powder
¼         tsp.      ancho chili powder
¼         tsp.      chipotle powder
¼         tsp.      cayenne powder
1          ea.        bay leaf

2          ea.        tomatoes, seeded, ½-inch diced
3          ea.        medium-sized potatoes, ½-inch diced
1          sm.       celery root, peeled, ½-inch diced
1          ea.        Japanese eggplant, ½-inch diced
4          ea.        roasted, seeded, peeled, Turkish red peppers, ½-inch diced
3          c.         water
1          T.         bouillon beef powder
(Substitute beef stock for the water and bouillon mixture)
6          oz.       dry red wine

1. In a large bowl or in a sealed plastic bag, mix the beef with the flour to coat.
2. Heat the first amount of oil in a 6 to 8-quart stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the meat and cook until well browned, turning the pieces to color all sides. Remove from the pot.
3. Add the remaining oil in the same pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, garlic and green pepper, sautéing until the vegetables start to sweat and become soft.
4. Next, add the spices. Stir for one minute.
5. Add the tomatoes, potatoes, celery root, eggplant and red peppers. Stir to cook for a few minutes. Then add the meat. Cover the soup base with the water, bouillon beef powder and red wine.
6. Bring the soup to a slight boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot with a lid and simmer gently for about 1 to 1 ½ hours, until the beef is tender. Stir occasionally.
7. Ladle the soup into bowls. Garnish with cilantro or chopped green onions. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cooking for a special occasion is one of my favorite things to do.

I enjoy making something from scratch for friends and family members. I’m happy to see the delighted looks on their faces. That makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Last Thursday, it was my husband’s birthday. I knew I wanted to make him a chocolate cake. I also wanted to try making osso buco for the first time – to pay homage to his Italian roots.

For inspiration, I turned to Italian super chef Mario Batali. I’ve enjoyed eating at several of his restaurants in New York, and I own two of his cookbooks. Yet, I’ve never cooked any of Batali’s recipes.

I selected two recipes in Batali’s “Simple Italian Food” cookbook. The first item to make was Osso Buco with a Toasted Pine Nut Gremolata. The second item was Risotto Milanese – a rich saffron risotto finished with butter and parmesan cheese.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find any veal shanks to make the osso buco, so I settled for “bonfile” – beef tenderloin filets instead. I went to my local butcher shop, Atlas Kasabi, in Nişantaşı and ordered about 1 pound of tenderloin. The butcher trimmed the beef and then took most of the scraps and ground them. I’ve never seen that done before. So I went home with steak filets and some very nice ground beef. Sweet!

Now, onto the risotto.

Although risotto takes time to make, it isn’t difficult. You must continually stir the risotto while it’s cooking, wait for the chicken stock to absorb into the Arborio rice grains and then add more stock. Stir again. Repeat. This labor intensive technique results in a dish that is ultra creamy while the grains remain somewhat separate and a tad al dente.

Saffron isn’t always easy to find. Luckily, I bought a small tin of Iranian saffron at the Egyptian Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. In the U.S., you may find saffron at a gourmet grocery store; or you can order the spice from Penzeys Spices, a U.S. spice company that I highly recommend.

The yellow-orange threads of saffron are harvested and hand-picked from a small purple crocus. Thus this aromatic spice is expensive. But a little bit goes a long way and certainly made the risotto dish tasty.

After the risotto starts cooking, I’d recommend making the gremolata – an Italian garnish traditionally made from minced parsley, lemon zest and garlic. Set aside. Then, cut and season the beef filets.

Although the meal took me several hours to prepare, I was happy to enjoy a lovely dinner at home with my husband. Plus, this entire meal – with a bottle of red wine - would have cost us nearly four times as much if we had eaten out at a restaurant.

Happy Birthday again, honey!

Risotto Milanese
(adapted from “Simple Italian Food”)

¼         c.         olive oil
1          ea.        medium yellow onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
1          tsp.      saffron threads
2          c.         Arborio rice (approx. 420 grams)
4          c.         chicken stock (approx. 1 liter)
4-6       T.         unsalted butter
½         c.         grated Parmesan cheese (more to taste)
TT                    salt and pepper

1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the saffron and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Then, add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Adding the saffron threads to the rice.
3. Add a 4-ounce ladle of the stock and cook. Continually stir this mixture until the liquid is absorbed. Add more stock. Stir again. Repeat this procedure until all the stock is fully absorbed.
4. Cook the rice until it is tender and creamy, but a tad al dente, about 20-30 minutes. (I ended up adding a bit more stock to my risotto because it didn’t taste tender enough. Just taste a bite of your risotto and adjust accordingly.)
5. Lastly, stir in the butter and cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin with Pine Nut Gremolata
2          ea.        4 to 5 ounce beef tenderloin filets, cut 1-inch thick
1          T.         butter
TT                    kosher salt and pepper

1. Season both sides of the filets with salt and pepper. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes on a cutting board before cooking.
2.  In a medium-high heat pan, melt the butter. Add the filets.
3. Cook for about 4 minutes per side to yield a medium rare filet.
4. Remove the filets from the pan. Place on a cutting board, lightly covering the filets with a piece of aluminum foil.
5. Let the filets rest at least 5 minutes before serving.
6. To serve, place a generous spoonful of the risotto in the middle of a plate. Then, place the filet on top. Garnish the filet with the gremolata. Enjoy with a glass of dry red wine!

¼        c.         Italian parsley, finely chopped
¼         c.         pine nuts, toasted golden brown
1          ea.        lemon zest, finely grated

Mix the above ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Top off the evening with dessert. I made a flourless dark chocolate cake with a bourbon ganache glaze.

Serve a slice of the cake with ice cream. I bought dulce de leche ice cream at the store. Chocolate and caramel make a perfect pair!

Friday, October 15, 2010

This week I got lucky.

I found a fish monger at my neighborhood store that spoke a little English. I was able to tell him that I wanted to cook the fish whole in the oven so he wouldn’t cut off its little head. Perfect!

I selected an average size “levrek” – Turkish for sea bass. My fish weighed about 750 grams or 26 ounces, so a little over 1 ½ pounds. You can find this popular fish on nearly every menu here.

After a little research online, I found one reason why sea bass is so popular. According to the Istanbul Exporter's Association, Turkey’s annual fishery production is approximately 800,000 tons, including fresh water production. Since 1990 to 2007, the farming-based production of seafood increased from 1 percent to 18 percent. The country’s fish farms specialize in cultivating sea bass, gilt head bream and rainbow trout.

The sea bream, known locally as “sinarit,” is almost as popular as the sea bass. Both are reasonably priced so they are widely available at the markets.

Often, fish is served simply with lemon wedges, olive oil and maybe some greens or a few potatoes. There’s no reason to make it complicated.

I thought roasting a whole fish would be difficult, but it wasn’t. Rub the fish down with good extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper and liberally fill the baking tray and the fish with Meyer lemon slices and herbs.

Exactly what kind of herbs you want to use are up to you. Normally, I have a ton of parsley on hand so I decided to use that. But thyme, tarragon, rosemary, dill or mint would be excellent additions. Just remember the phrase - Keep It Simple (Stupid) - an acronym we used when we were teenagers.

Meyer lemons are a bit sweeter and less acidic than that of regular lemons. Also, the skin tends to be smoother than common commercial lemons. To me, Meyer lemons have an amazing floral-like essence. I love them. I love to use them in desserts such as a Meyer lemon curd tart too. My husband sometimes uses them in my weekend martinis.

Meyer lemons usually appear in higher-end U.S. grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, during the winter months. If they aren’t available yet, regular lemons will work as well.

Afiyet Olsun!

 Whole Roasted Fish with Meyer Lemons and Herbs
Whole fish such as sea bass or sea bream, scaled and gutted (plan on about 1 ½ lbs. per 2 people)
2-3       lemons, preferably Meyer lemons if available, sliced thinly
Herbs of your choice: parsley, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, dill and mint.
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Place several lemon slices in the middle of an aluminum foil- lined sheet tray. Lay the fish on top of the lemons.
2. Season the inside of the fish with salt, pepper and olive oil. Then, place a few lemon slices and a little of the herbs inside.
3. Scatter the remaining lemon slices and herbs over the fish. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Place tray inside the preheated oven, and roast until the fish is cooked through, about 20-30 minutes. (One of my cookbooks recommended 10 minutes per inch thickness of fish. Just test the fish carefully with a fork to see if it is cooked through.)
5. Remove the tray from the oven. Allow the fish to rest for a few minutes. Then, try your best to filet the fish and remove the bones. (This step apparently is going to take me some practice.)
6. If you’d like, serve the fish with lightly sautéed mushrooms - cooked in a little butter, salt and pepper.

Local sea bass served with mushrooms, chopped parsley and lemons.