Friday, April 29, 2011

The other day, I purchased some nice thick salmon fillets and wondered how I should prep them.

I used to make a soy sauce-maple syrup glaze I really enjoyed on broiled salmon. However, maple syrup is a precious commodity here so I don’t use it very often. In fact, the syrup bottle is stashed in the back of the fridge for those rare weekend mornings I’m craving American pancakes.

I still wanted to do an Asian-inspired marinade for the salmon, so I started looking through my Asian noodle, Thai and Bali cookbooks I have.

I found one Thai recipe for plah sah-mohn pao or grilled salmon with a chili-lime sauce that sounded perfect. I had to tweak the recipe a bit to use what I had on hand. No fish sauce, but I did buy some recently from a Macro Center here.

I love using Asian ingredients such as soy sauce, sesame oil, cilantro, chilies, coconut, curries and lime juice to create that yin and yang of flavors in a dish. I recently met a Thai woman who lives in my neighborhood, and I hope to take a cooking lesson or two from her to learn some more.

For the recipe, just mix the marinade ingredients together, let the salmon bathe in the marinade for awhile and then throw it in a hot oven to bake. It’s that simple.

Serve the salmon fillets on top of steamed rice or sesame-peanut noodles like I did.

Afiyet olsun!

Thai-Inspired Salmon
(Inspired by “Quick and Easy Thai” by Nancie McDermott)

3 T. garlic, chopped
3 T. fresh cilantro
1 ½ T. soy sauce
1 T. sesame oil
½ tsp. sugar
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 T. vegetable oil
1 sm. Turkish spicy green pepper or 1 serrano chili

4-6 salmon fillets (about 4 oz. each)

1. Using a food processor, combine the marinade ingredients together. Grind together until you achieve a paste-like consistency, adding a bit of water as needed to thin the marinade out a bit. Alternatively, finely chop the garlic, cilantro and chili and mix with the other ingredients in a bowl.
2. Place the salmon fillets in a small glass pan or bowl and toss to coat with the marinade. Let rest, covered, in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 425F/218 C.
4. To cook the fish, preheat a medium-sized metal skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the fillets, skin side down, and cook for 5 minutes.
5. Then, place the pan in the oven and continue cooking for about 5 more minutes, a bit longer depending on how thick your fillets are.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Of course, most regions in Turkey are known for a special cuisine, with those delicacies sometimes depending on the season.

And yes, Edirne has its own distinct culinary specialties. The one that most Turks practically swoon over is ciğer - fried liver. The city is filled with small restaurants selling nothing but this dish and maybe 1 or 2 other menu items if you are lucky. As quoted on Istanbul Eats, “the name Edirne is simply synonymous with liver.”

Now, I’m sure some of you might turn up your nose at offal, but not me, generally. I grew up in a Midwest home where fried liver and onions cooked in an ancient cast-iron skillet was the norm. This is still one of my dad’s favorite dishes.

In Edirne, the ciğer is thinly sliced, dredged in flour, dropped inside a cauldron full of boiling vegetable oil and then deep fried until crisp. The plate of liver is served on top a paper towel (to soak up the grease) and with a side dish of hot crunchy peppers and blazing hot sauce. We enjoyed our plate of ciğer at Edirne Ciğercisi Kemal Usta, located right outside the Ali Paşa Bazaar.
Fried liver is best shared!
Not for the faint of heart!
We had been told the ciğer is best eaten with ayran, a salty yogurt drink, because it’s helps suppress the fire raging on your palate from the hot sauce and fried peppers. And they were right! I’d also recommend eating the ciğer with the unlimited basket of fresh bread that arrives on your table.

The second culinary speciality of Edirne is badem ezmesi - the famous marzipan. This Turkish candy is made from almonds, water and sugar.

A small box of badem ezemsi sells for 8 TL.
Several stores sell this Turkish delight, but we purchased ours from one of the long-time establishments, Keçecizade.

The third specialty of Edirne is not edible, but they look like they could be. Vendors display boxes full of these colorfully decorated and scented soaps that look exactly like different fruits. 
You can find these at any of the small markets or bazaars. Most pieces sell for only 1 TL, but I’ve seen the same ones sold here in Istanbul for 4 TL each! You can also get a basket of “mixed fruits” for the bargain price of about 5 TL.

If you travel to Edirne, be sure to treat yourself to these three regional specialities.

Edirne Ciğercisi Kemal Usta, Mithatpaşa Mh., Ortakapı Caddesi 3

Keçecizade, Hükümet Cad. 5. As well as inside the Selimiye Mosque’s Çarşısı and several other locations in Edirne.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

While walking around Edirne, I was surprised by the number of old, stone bridges (köprü) – at least nine – that we crossed.

Some of the city’s bridges even were designed by the famed Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. (The Süleymaniye Camii in Istanbul is one of his famous works too.) However, we crossed over Sinan’s bridges during our morning run sans camera. In his lifetime, Sinan reportedly designed and built 81 mosques, 51 bridges, 35 hamam, 18 caravanserais, many aqueducts, hospitals and more. Amazing!

On Saturday afternoon, we walked in a southerly direction from our hotel and first crossed the Tunca (Ekmekcizade Ahmet Paşa) Köprüsü which is over the Tunca Nehri (River). The bridge, built between 1608-1613, was designed by architect Mimar Mehmet Ağa, who may have been one of Sinan’s students.
About 10 minutes later, we walked across the Meriç Köprüsü, which is one of the city’s “newer” bridges, with construction started in 1842 and completed in 1847. It measures 263 meters, 7 meters wide (barely enough room for 2 cars) and has 12 lancet stone arches.
On the other side of this bridge are several restaurants. We decided to enjoy a cold pint of Efes beer while we watched another Turkish sunset along the Meriç Nehri. The Emirgan Aile Çay Bahçesi, located on Karaağaç Yolu, was the perfect place to do just that.
If you don’t feel like walking back into town, there are several horse-drawn carriages. Of course, when we were ready to leave, none were available.

Another sight to explore while in Edirne is the Makedonya (Saat) Kulesi ve Kentsel Arkeoloji Parkı which translates to the Castle Macedonia (Clock) Tower and Urban Archaeological Park.

The only structure still standing here is one of the initial four towers of the ancient city walls built during the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrianus (117-138 AD). The tower is located near the Üç Şerefeli Camii. After conquering the Thracian tribes in this area, the emperor renamed this city Hadrianopolis.
The Makedonya (Saat) Kulesi in Edirne, Turkey.
Remains of an ancient pottery oven.
The area surrounding the tower includes some ancient ruins that have been excavated in recent years, but sadly are not being maintained very well. However, the area is still worth a visit!

Edirne is just a short car or bus-ride away from Istanbul, making it an easy weekend get-away.
How to get there by bus:
If you do not have a car, the easiest way to reach to Edirne is by intercity bus from Istanbul. Several bus companies, such as Metro Turizm and Ulusoy, run buses from Istanbul’s Esenler Otogar everyday to Edirne. The trip takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes. Here is a list of more Turkish bus companies.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Edirne is saturated with Ottoman history and is rightfully famed for its many mosques.

Considering its population size of approximately 130,000, Edirne seems to have a beautiful cami (mosque) every couple of blocks. Over the weekend, I think we walked by 12 mosques and went inside half of them to take photos. Since the city functioned as the Ottoman Empire’s capital for nearly a century (before Istanbul), many important masterpieces in Ottoman architecture were built here.

The city’s oldest mosque, with construction started in 1403 by Emir Süleyman, is the Eski Camii (Old Mosque). The mosque was completed during the reign of  his brother Çelebi Sultan Mehmet in 1414. What’s interesting is that the mosque is roofed with nine domes after the Ulu Cami (Grand Mosque) style.
A rearview of the Eski Camii and 3 of its 9 domes at dusk in Edirne.
The mosque’s walls also are decorated with huge-scale calligraphy inscriptions of quotes from the Koran and names of the Muslim prophets.
Here you can see some of the calligraphy inscriptions on the walls.
However, the most magnificent mosque that welcomes you into Edirne is the Selimiye Camii, designed by the famed Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan at the age of 80. 
A view of the Selimiye Camii in the distance as we drove out of Edirne on Sunday.
Constructed for Sultan Selim II between 1569 and 1575, the mosque is smaller but more elegant than Sinan’s Süleymaniye Camii (1557) (the second largest mosque in İstanbul), and it's said that Sinan himself considered this his finest work. The mosque complex was built in Kavak Square, the highest place in the city, covering an area of 22,000 square meters.
What’s impressive is the enormous, lofty dome of the Selimiye Camii measuring 31.28 meters in diameter and reaching 43.28 meters above the floor. (The dome is comparable to the dimensions of the Hagia Sophia’s dome in Istanbul.) The dome is built on arches instead of supporting semi-domes - each spanning six meters.

Here you can see some of the intricate details found in the Selimiye Camii.
Located nearby is the Üç Şerefeli Camii, which means “three balconies” in Turkish. This mosque was built in1438-1447 by order of Sultan Murat II and combines early and classical Ottoman styles. 

The painted dome inside the Üç Şerefeli Camii. 
What makes this mosque unique is that one of the four minarets was built higher than the others measuring 67.62 meters.
One of the uniquely patterned minarets.
If you walk east from the city’s square, following Talat Paşa Caddesi, you will pass several more mosques. One of these is the Defterdar Mustafa Paşa Camii, also designed by Sinan circa 1569-1576. In 1752, an earthquake caused the dome to collapse, and the mosque was covered with a wooden roof until after 1953 when repairs finally were made. Outside of this mosque, a Turkish gentleman tried talking to us about the mosque. We understood that Sinan was the architect and he pointed us down the road to see some more mosques on our map.

It’s easy to spend the afternoon or the weekend like we did strolling through Edirne and admiring the city’s rich architecture. I was completely awe-struck knowing these landmarks have survived such a tumultuous history and have been restored/repaired throughout the years.

Edirne is an easy 2.5 hour drive west of Istanbul. I believe there also are tour buses from Istanbul to Edirne. If you have time to get outside of the city, I highly recommend this historic city as a great weekend getaway.

For Edirne city maps and information in English, stop by the Turizm Danışma at the intersection of the main street of Londra Asfaltı and the sidestreet of Maarif Cad.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Edirne - We heard what sounded like a band playing on a nearby street so we followed the music.

Sure enough, around the corner, a petite Turkish woman was leading a parade through the city streets of Edirne.
We knew Saturday, April 23, marked an important holiday in the Turkish calendar called International Children's Day,  a day that honors all children as the country’s future generation. We later learned April 23 also marks the anniversary of the inauguration of Turkey’s National Assembly, which took place on April 23, 1920, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. 

Turkey officially celebrated Grand National Assembly Day on April 23 and held a children’s week starting on that day, from 1923 to 1934. The Turkish government then combined the two events into National Sovereignty and Children’s Day, known as Ulusal Egemenlik ve Çocuk Bayramı, in 1935.
A statue honoring President Ataturk in the main square of Edirne.
The city’s streets were lined with red Turkish flags everywhere - that should of been a clear indication that a celebration would be happening. However, we had only arrived in Edirne a few hours earlier and didn’t know what to expect.
We stood along the sidelines of a cobble-stone sidewalk and watched the parade. The exuberant crowd of people were singing, waving flags and carrying torches throughout the streets. Even though I didn’t understand what they were singing, I couldn’t help but smile and clap my hands along with everyone else.

I guess the next time we are in an unfamiliar town we’ll recognize the abundance of Turkish flags and know we could be in for a celebration.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

We are currently in Edirne, Turkey, for the weekend. This historic city, formerly known as Adrianople, is located about 2.5 hours west of Istanbul. This photo is of the Selimiye Camii built in the 1500s by Mimar Sinan. Amazing!
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(Apparently, my cell phone Blogger application isn't working with the photos. I'll have to try reloading it.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

I haven’t learned many traditional Turkish recipes yet, and I realized one of the reasons why is that many dishes take time - often lots of time - to prepare.

Not that I don’t have plenty of time on my hands and often spend it in the kitchen.

Take for example, kabak dolmasi (stuffed squash) requires the time-consuming process of hollowing out each squash, making the filling, stuffing the squash and then cooking them.

The other day I finally decided to give the recipe a go at home, especially when I decided to use these cute, spherical squashes I often see at the pazar.
I treated these squashes almost as if I were hollowing out a pumpkin for Halloween. Take a paring knife and cut around the stem, remove stem/lid and then use a spoon to remove most of the insides so you create a vessel of sorts for the filling. This process takes time.

The traditional Turkish way to make this dolma is to use the pale green kabak that looks similar to a zucchini. And of course, you could substitute the dark-green zucchinis you usually find in North America, Italy, Germany, etc.

Although this dish does take time to prepare, it is delicious. I just told hubby don’t expect to have it too often for dinner.

Afiyet olsun!
Kabak Dolmasi: Stuffed Squash
Adapted from “A Taste of Turkish Cuisine” by Nur Ilkin and Sheilah Kaufman

6-8          round                 kabak (or about 10 small-medium zucchini)
1         lb.         (500 g.)      ground beef
1         ea.                        large onion, diced small
6         ea.                        garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼         c.         (50 g.) long-grain rice, uncooked
2 T. fresh parsley or dill, finely chopped                
2 T. tomato paste
To Taste salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 ea. medium tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
As needed fresh yogurt

1. If using zucchini, cut each one in half and scoop out most of the inside, leaving a ¼-inch shell. If using the round squash, core out as described above.
2. In a large bowl, combine the meat, onion, garlic, rice, herbs, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Mix well and knead with your hands (as if you were making meatloaf). Let the mixture rest for about 10 minutes so the flavors can mingle.
3. Stuff the squash with the meat mixture.
4. Place the squash in a large saucepan or stockpot. Sprinkle the tomatoes over the squash and drizzle each one with a little olive oil.
5. Add about 1 to 1 ½ cups (240-355 ml.) of water to the pot. Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat and then let simmer, covered with a lid, approximately 20 to 25 minutes. You want the squash to be tender but not falling apart. Remove from the heat and let rest for a few minutes before serving.
6. Garnish each serving with fresh yogurt.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Today the brisk wind was gusting more than 15 mph.

I definitely was cold, and I had forgotten my wool hat at home. It’s supposed to be mid-April, but it almost feels like winter has returned.

As soon as I reached home, I decided I was going to enjoy a glass of Turkish çay to warm up my chilled bones. Turks seem to drink tea morning, afternoon and night. The guy trying to sell you a Turkish rug or silver jewelry will you offer you tea while you browse. Drinking çay is tightly woven into the fabric of life here.

I like çay and happily will drink it, but I haven’t taken to the tradition like Turks do.

Another tradition I’ve noticed is when I pass a cafe or a pastane people often are leisurely enjoying the afternoon with a glass of çay and something sweet. Today, I also decided to do that at home.

I stopped at one of my favorite baklavacı, Güllüoğlu, to grab a snack. Güllüoğlu, with several locations in Istanbul, is probably the city’s most well-known baklavacı selling several varieties of the phyllo dough-layered delicacy. The original Güllüoğlu shop is located in Karaköy, a commercial neighborhood in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. The original is separately owned from the other Güllüoğlu in the city, and you can if tell the difference in the packaging as the Karaköy Güllüoğlu has the Galata Tower in its logo.

Once home, I brewed my Turkish çay, opened my box of pistachio baklava and sat down to read a book. (I’m completely engrossed in “Under the Dome” by Stephen King right now.)
I indulged in 2 glasses of çay and 1 and a half pieces of the heavenly baklava, feeling that slight crunch of the countless layers of impossibly thin phyllo pastry and the gooey syrup while I ate.

Buttery pastry, pistachios and a sugary syrup - what else could a girl need on a cold afternoon?

Afiyet olsun!