Thursday, June 30, 2011

These have to be one of my favorite street food snacks in Istanbul lately - taze badem (fresh almonds). An older Turkish gentleman sells these fresh and chilled almonds (look at the chunks of ice in the photo) near the iskele at Kabatas.

The flavor of these badem remind me of how almond milk tastes. A few weeks ago, the vendor even showed me how to eat them. You put an almond between your fingers and squeeze so the brown peel slips off and you're left with the milky white flesh to put in your mouth. Cok guzel!

Now, if only I could garnish them with a pinch of fleur de sel! :-)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Besides an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy snacks are hard to come by here.

Honestly, I would really rather have ice cream, especially since summer has brought warmer days. However, I’ve been trying to watch what I eat and so far I’ve lost seven pounds. Yeah!

I couldn’t find any low-calorie ice cream or frozen treats at the grocery store. That’s when I decided I needed to make my own.

A quick search on the Internet provided a variety of healthy frozen treat recipes. I finally decided to defrost my leftover kanlı portakal (blood orange) juice and make a version of these popsicles.

Surprisingly, I had brought along my plastic popsicle kit that’s only been used once in the last 3+ years. (For some reason, I think I will use all these kitchen must-have gadgets and then I don’t.) If you do not have molds like these, you can easily use small paper cups and natural craft sticks instead. For DIY popsicle tips, please click here.

I was trying to see if there’s a Turkish word for popsicle, and this is what I found buzlu şeker (which directly translates as icy sugar). If anyone knows if this is correct, please let me know.

When the outside temperature is too much to bear and you want something cold, sweet and healthy to eat, try my recipe below. It’s not as instantly gratifying as running out to the ice cream truck to buy a frozen snack, but it is better for you.

You could substitute different fruit juices according to what you like. Also, if you want a creamier version, use whole natural yogurt such as Greek yogurt or Turkish süzme yoghurt.

Afiyet Olsun!
Blood Orange-Vanilla Popsicles
Only 42 calories per popsicle!

½ each vanilla bean pod, scraped
8 oz. low-fat yogurt (I used 1% Danone Light Yogurt)
8 oz. blood orange or other fruit juice
splash vanilla extract
1 T. granulated sugar

1. Place all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk together until ingredients are thoroughly combined.
2. Using a funnel, carefully pour the mixture into the plastic popsicle molds, leaving about ½-inch gap at the top. (They will expand slightly.)
3. Place in freezer for several hours until frozen solid.
4. To remove from molds, you may need to run them under warm water. Then, carefully pull out the popsicle and eat.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

(Updated May 2016)
Aspendos - Have you ever wanted to watch a live performance in an ancient theater like people did during the Hellenistic and Roman periods?

Well, every summer, with varying dates, the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism sponsors live opera and opera and ballet shows in the ancient historical city of Aspendos, located about 40 km northeast of Antalya near the village of Belkis. We visited this wonderful site in May 2011 during our stay in Antalya. In September 2016, the 23rd Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival will give seven performances.
Aspendos: a view of the theater from up top.
This is the "tunnel" people would have used to walk through to get to their seats.

This unique historical theater, which has survived for more than 2000 years, is the first thing you see when walk into Aspendos. We walked up to the top so we could get a good view. Sound definitely carries in here and the acoustics are amazing. The theater has a 10,000-person capacity so you can only imagine what performances were like here back in the day.
Such detailed work! A view of the front of the theater from inside.
According to the site’s history, Aspendos became a cultural center of the Hellenistic and Roman periods and achieved its heyday in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. The ruins that you see here in this region date back to that age. The traces of Aspendos belonging to the age prior to the Roman period have not been uncovered yet.
I think these were part of the ruins of an ancient church.
More ruins at Aspendos.
A view of the Turkish farmland and mountains that surround Aspendos.
Even if you can’t make the theater performances, Aspendos is definitely worth a look if you are near Antalya. I think the theater here, the stadium in Aphrodisias and the Temple of Apollo in Side are some of my favorite ruins so far in Turkey.

To learn more about the history of Aspendos, please click here.
And if you're lucky, at the end of the day, you will get to ride a camel in the
parking lot just like I did. Cost: 10 TL.
For more information about Aspendos ticket sales, please check the official website for the 23rd Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival. Performance dates are between September 3-15th in 2016.

Monday, June 27, 2011

When I finally found dried black beans here in Istanbul, I was ecstatic.

Black beans are not a traditional Turkish item, so stores just don’t seem to carry them. But when you do find “foreign” food items and spices, it’s like discovering a pile of culinary gold in Istanbul. It's only taken me 10 months to stumble upon these beans.

I immediately had visions of black beans cooked with Latin American spices and flavors.

Next stop, I paid a visit to my favorite butcher shop, Atlas Kasabı, to order 1 kilo of kontrfile yağsız kıyma (lean ground beef).

At home, I selected several spices I thought would go well together with the black beans and beef. 
Front row, left to right: cumin and Janissary spice.
Back row, left to right: ground ancho chili powder, ground guajillo powder and  Black & Red spice.
I’d recently bought a bunch of spices from my friends at the Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian Bazaar or Spice Bazaar). Here are some photos I took at the bazaar:
Spices galore!
Sumac is often mixed in with kofte or used to garnish salads and soups.
High quality spices and dried teas can be found at this family-owned spice shop
in the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul.
Once the main ingredients were blended with a few vegetables, the end result was a spicy, low-fat bowl of chili-like goodness. My husband couldn't believe this tasty dish could be low-fat and full of such flavor!
Garnish each bowl with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and crushed red pepper.
If you can’t locate some of these spices in the recipe below, I would recommend using a combination of your favorite ground chili pepper spices and cumin.

Afiyet olsun!

Where to shop:
  • Macro Center: Abdi Ipekci Cad. No: 24/26, Nişantaşı, Istanbul (Look for Sezon Siyah Fasulye in a black box next to the other dried beans and bulgur.)
  • Great spices and dried teas - Ucuzcular Baharat, Mısır Çarşısı, No. 51, Eminönü, Istanbul
Joy’s Spicy Black Bean and Ground Beef One-Pot Recipe
Serves: 4

200 g. siyah fasulye (dried black beans)

500 g. kontrfile yağsız kıyma (lean ground beef)
2 ea. medium onions, diced small
1 whole head, fresh garlic, diced small
150 g. (about 3) red peppers, thinly sliced
150 g. (about 3) green peppers, thinly sliced
1 T. ground cumin
1 T. Janissary spice (a well-seasoned blend with hints of cumin and pul biber)
1 tsp. ground ancho chili powder
1 tsp. ground guajillo chili powder
1 tsp. Penzeys Black and Red Spice
2 T. tomato paste
1 qt. hot water
TT salt

1. Soak the beans overnight in water. Or in a medium-sized bowl, cover the dried beans with hot water. Let sit out at room temperature for at least 1 hour before using. Strain.
2. In a large pot, brown the ground beef. Then, add the onions, garlic and peppers. Cook for several minutes until the vegetables soften.
3. Then, add the spices, black beans, tomato paste and cover with hot water. Add more water as needed during the cooking process. Cover the pot with a lid and let cook for at least 30 minutes. Test the beans to see whether they are well cooked; continue cooking if necessary. Season with salt.
4. Serve the chili in individual bowls and garnish with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A handful of frambuaz from the pazar in Istanbul.
We just returned from our weekly Saturday excursion to the pazar in Beşiktaş. I was thrilled to purchase bir paket frambuaz (1 packet of raspberries)!

A few days ago I saw some at a large supermarket, but they cost 49 TL for 1 kilo. Yikes! This paket was only 7 TL.

These red berries are perfectly sweet and ripe so they won't last long. Nope, these frambuaz are going straight from my hand into my mouth.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Aphrodisias - Standing in the middle of this ancient stone stadium I almost felt like I was on a live set of the movie Gladiator.

Of course, actor Russel Crowe in his iron-clad gladiator outfit was nowhere in sight. (Sigh!) However, I was standing in this massive ancient stadium (stadyum) dating back to the 1st century A.D.
Here is the tunnel entrance where I imagine the gladiators would have entered into the stadium.
Located at the north end of the city, the marble stadium is probably the best preserved and largest of its type in the Mediterranean. It’s certainly the biggest one we’ve seen out of all the ruins in Turkey so far.

This imposing stadium is 270 meters or 885 feet in length. In comparison, the average length of an American football field, plus end zones, only is about 110 meters or 360 feet. That’s a huge difference!
The stadium had 30 tiers of seating that could accommodate 30,000 people. In its heyday, I can only imagine all the residents and people from surrounding areas gathering to watch the games here.
Hubby standing on top of some of the seats in the stadium.
According to the site’s sign, the stadium first housed traditional Greek athletic contests such as foot races, long-jumping, wrestling, discus and javelin throwing. Later, the stadium was used for gladiatorial combats, circuses and wild-beast fights. About 400 A.D., the east end of the building was converted into an arena specifically designed for Roman-style entertainments of this kind.
Jason with his mom and dad on the playing field of the stadium.
The stadium has survived many games, battles and probably several earthquakes in its lifetime, but still possesses an impressive aura. Definitely worth a look!

You can read more specific details about the stadium here.

Here is a short video I shot to help convey the stadium’s size. (My first attempt at video, mind you). My Turkish Joys: YouTube

Thursday, June 23, 2011

When my pastry class was cancelled the other day, I decided to invite my friends to my home instead.

I was really disappointed there weren’t enough people signed up for my class at the Istanbul Culinary Institute. Luckily, I knew three of the gals and immediately asked if they’d want to meet during the afternoon instead.

A resounding yes!

So Monday morning, I printed out my recipes, measured and prepped all the ingredients and organized the kitchen for us. It was just like being back in my professional kitchens. I’m so happy I brought my 10-piece glass bowl set with me. I use it all the time to organize my ingredients!

I had a great time talking, laughing and sharing my knowledge with these friends. We all come from different backgrounds and places - the Midwest, Oklahoma, Ohio and the Congo - and are here for different reasons, which involve our husbands, of course.

They all agreed that the recipes were fairly easy! Exactly! That’s what I always try to point out to people. Anyone can cook or bake once you take the time to do it.

My friend and fellow blogger, Sheryl, at The Altered Passport, is offering up a challenge for those in the U.S. to make my recipe below. Please click over to her blog to read more and see all the photos she took from our fun afternoon.

I think I would like to host more pastry and baking classes like this one in my home this fall. Any locals interested?

Afiyet olsun!
Photo of a plain Turkish-NY style cheesecake topped with my homemade
cherry compote. Two of the recipes I taught my friends.

Joy’s No-Bake Cheesecake
Yields: about 8 individual glasses or 1 - 8 or 10 inch-round cheesecake (We used colorful, stemless wine glasses in my class.)

125 g. biscuit cookies, finely ground (I used Eti Finger Bisküvi) or graham cracker crumbs
75 g. brown sugar (Tip: I make my own brown sugar by mixing in a bit of üzüm pekmezi with white granulated sugar.)
pinch     ground cinnamon
75 g.         butter, melted

450 g.         cream cheese (krem peynir), at room temperature
10 ml.         (2 tsp.) lemon juice

475 ml.         heavy whipping cream (krema)
75 g.          granulated sugar
Splash vanilla extract (If you had a vanilla bean, you could also add that here too.)

Optional:         Top the cake with homemade fruit compote or canned pie filling before placing in fridge.

1.     In a small bowl, stir together the biscuit crumbs, brown sugar and cinnamon. Add melted butter and mix well. Press into the bottom of an 8 or 10-inch springform pan or distribute into individual glasses. Chill until firm. Omit this step if you are placing in glasses. (Optional: you also can bake this crust for about 7-8 minutes for a crispier crust.)
2.     In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese and lemon juice until smooth.
3.     In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream and vanilla very stiff, gradually adding the sugar. Then add to the cream cheese mixture and carefully mix together so as not to deflate the whipped heavy cream. You should get no lumps this way.
4.     Pour into the chilled crust, and top with fruit filling. Or add the cheesecake filling into the glasses and top with the cherry compote. Chill several hours or overnight. Just before serving, remove the sides of the springform pan, so you can slice it.
(As you can see from Sheryl’s photos, we didn’t wait for the cheesecake to chill. We consumed immediately!)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Aphrodisias - You could easily spend a couple hours admiring the archaeological ruins at this ancient site located in the Denizli province in western Turkey.

In this post, I’m only going to focus on the temple. We took 100 photos at this site alone, so I have many I’d like to share with you in other posts.
Jason stood by the columns so we'd have a reference for the columns' impressive height.
Construction of the Temple of Aphrodite began in the late first century B.C. Zoilos, a leading (rich) citizen who also paid for the construction of the agora and theater, sponsored the initial construction. In the 2nd century A.D., the temple was enclosed in an elaborate colonnaded courtyard.
I really like this photo. The marble on these 2 columns was quite unique compared
to the rest used on the site.
One of Aphrodisias’s most important monuments, the temple (tapınak) provided an impressive home for the cult of their divine ancestress, Aphrodite. We all know Aphrodite as the Greek goddess of love as well as beauty, fertility, sea and sexuality. One can only imagine what this amazing marble temple looked like in its glory days when people came to worship this goddess.
These marble columns were huge! Can you imagine how many people were needed to
construct this temple back in the day?

Around 500 A.D., the temple was converted for use as the city’s cathedral - much larger than the pagan temple it replaced. The conversion was an enormous undertaking, in which the columns of the front and back of the temple were moved from their original positions and used to extend the side colonnades, creating two long rows of 19 columns each. One has to assume these are some of the columns that are still standing today. (Source: NYU projects.)
Possibly during the Seljuk raids of the late 12th century A.D., the church was damaged or destroyed, and fell out of use. The city is thought to have been ultimately abandoned by the 13th century.

Aphrodisias Admission: 8 TL

Location: 38 km northwest of Tavas. About 1 ½ hours away from Pamukkale.
Odd prehistoric-looking flower blooming next to one of the fallen columns in the temple.