Thursday, March 29, 2012

Trying new foods is one of the joys of living and traveling in a foreign country.

I'll try just about anything once. However, I had to pass on the fish eyeballs my husband tried in Little India in Singapore.

I'm also not a fan of Işkembe Çorbası - Turkish tripe soup. Apparently, this traditional soup is good after you've had one too many drinks, but I'll stick to the tantuni vendors off of Istiklal Caddesi.

Last week, I tried boza while exploring the Vefa neighborhood in Istanbul. I'd recently heard more about this strange Turkish drink thanks to Claudia over at A Seasonal Cook in Turkey.

Boza is made from hulled millet that is cooked with water and sugar and then left to cool and ferment. At first, I thought the mixture looked a bit like egg nog, which I love.

The bozacı ladels the boza from a large marble vat into individual glasses. The drink is then dusted with a liberal dose of cinnamon and garnished with dried chickpeas.
This guy loved showing off the boza to us!
I wasn't sure if I would like boza, but I wanted to try it.

Tip: Use a spoon.

Boza is tangy and slightly sweet and has the consistency of applesauce. That's why you need a spoon. The dried chickpeas add an interesting crunch as you "eat" this drink.

Well, I finished about half my glass and left it on the old marble countertop in Vefa Bozacısı.
Boza is an unique Turkish drink!
My verdict: boza is okay, but I'm not sure I'd try it again.

If you are visiting the nearby Süleymaniye Mosque, then you definitely must stop by the famous Vefa Bozacısı, opened since 1876. Vefa, near the Aksaray bus stop, is a quaint, ramshackle of a neighborhood that's worth exploring on its own. I took so many interesting photos that day.

As Claudia says, "Liking (boza) isn't the point." It's about experiencing a Turkish tradition.

And that I enjoyed.

What foreign foods have you tried and not liked?
These two workers at Vefa Bozacısı were kind enough to pose for some more photos.
The Vefa sign on a nearby sports club building.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Since spring has arrived, I can't help but bake some of my favorite recipes with fresh herbs and even strawberries.

No fruit announces spring like strawberries do!

Yes, the strawberries are from the Antalya area greenhouses, but it's welcoming to see some color at the pazar.

So, I've decided to teach some spring-themed baking classes in April at my home. Learn to prepare an impressive spring brunch for your family and friends. I'll share several of my favorite spring recipes for a complete gourmet meal.

Spring Brunch Menu Class:
Strawberry-Mint Soda
Piped Almond Tea Cookies
Herbed Sablés
Individual Quiche with Seasonal Herbs and Kaşar Cheese
Strawberry Clafoutis - a rich French custard-like dessert
Here's a colorful version of my Piped Almond Tea Cookies dipped in chocolate and ground pistachios.
Class dates are:
Strawberry-Mint Soda
Tuesday, April 10, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Thursday, April 12, 7-10 p.m.

In the Spring Brunch Menu Class, you will learn how to make a classic French pâte brisée dough, which is used to make the Herbed Sablés and the crust for the quiche. Strawberries will appear in a simple fizzy soda and in a clafoutis dessert.

The class will be part hands-on and part demo in my kitchen here in Istanbul. Directions will be given upon reservation. The cost is 50 TL per person. Whatever treats we don't eat during the class, you will take home.
Herbed Sablés garnished with dill, parsley and sage.
But first, I'll end March by teaching a class with some of my sweet and savory favorites at the Istanbul Culinary Institute. This class will take place this Saturday, March 31, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., at the culinary school. Please contact the school to reserve a spot in this fun class!

Sweet and Savory Treats Class:
Cheddar Cheese Straws
Piped Almond Tea Cookies
Cinnamon and Sugar Biscuits
3-Herb Savory Biscuits
Crispy Cheddar Cheese Straws make a great snack or appetizer for a party.
Later in April, I am tentatively teaching two more classes at the school. Please watch the calendar for more details.

I would like to offer baking classes on a regular basis, so if you are interested please let me know. Minimum of four participants per class. I also am happy to arrange kid-friendly baking classes for after school.

Hope to see you soon at one of my baking classes!
Learn to make this Individual Quiche with Seasonal Herbs and Kaşar Cheese!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

After several weeks of depressingly dreary skies, bountiful rays of sunshine have returned to Istanbul.

With the sunshine and official beginning of spring, I've finally started seeing more signs of springtime life around the city.

People are flocking in droves to the outdoor cafes and seaside restaurants.

Irises and tulips are peeping up in the parks.

Grass, what little there is here and there, is turning green.

And trees are blossoming.
Springtime in Istanbul
Today, I was out shooting some photos with the Photography Club of Istanbul in the Vefa neighborhood. I snapped a few photos of these lovely budding trees, so I thought I'd share them with you. Hopefully, I'll have some more photos to share soon. (Claudia, if you are reading, I tried Vefa boza for the first time!)

Spring makes me happy! What about you?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My first time cooking with taze bakla (fresh fava beans) was disappointing here in Istanbul.

Similar to those moments when I spot a beautiful dessert or pastry at a pastane, but when I eat it, the dessert is dry, crumbly, too sweet and just plain not good.

At first, I was ecstatic to try the taze bakla I bought at the Saturday pazar in Beşiktaş. These fuzzy green bean-like pods were definitely fresh and a sign of spring! I'm awfully tired of seeing all the root vegetables at the pazar in Istanbul.

But shelling these small bakla is just like shelling spring peas! Maybe even worse!

Each pod contained 4 or 5 miniscule fava beans. So I only yielded 60 grams (about half a cup) out of the half kilo I purchased.

Well, at least I had a delicious plan for these prized fava beans.

My lettuce vendor had thrown in a bunch of spring garlic (yeni sarımsak (new garlic) as he referred to it) that smelled sweet and sharp. This was a real treat as spring garlic is only around for a few weeks. (See: last year's Spring Garlic Soup recipe.)
Fava beans and a bunch of spring garlic, which could be mistaken for scallions. 
So the fresh fava beans and spring garlic make for a simple, spring-flavored pasta. For once, my recipe only contains a handful of ingredients and is just a bit of this and that.

I also added some leftover Italian mortadella from our Bologna trip that was begging to be used. Hey, my love of pork won me over.
Who could resist a bite of this garlicky pasta with loads of Parmesan cheese, mortadella
 and basil?
Afiyet Olsun!

Fava Bean, Spring Garlic Pasta (Bakla ve Makarna)

1-2       T.                                 olive oil
300      g.         (10.5 oz.)         package of fresh pasta like fettuccine
Handful                                   taze bakla (fresh fava beans)
1                      bunch              spring garlic, chopped
To taste                                   salt and pepper
As needed                               Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Handful                                   fresh basil, julienned
Optional:         handful of diced mortadella or some pancetta

In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Drop in the fresh pasta and fava beans. Cook until al dente - about 3 minutes. Strain immediately, but save some of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the olive oil. Sauté the spring garlic and pork, if using, for a few minutes.

Then, in the large pot used for the pasta, combine the spring garlic, pork, pasta, fava beans and some of the pasta water. Throw in a knob of butter for some added richness. Season with salt and pepper. Stir and taste again. Add more pasta water as needed to make a light sauce.

Garnish the pasta with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and basil. (I couldn't resist trying a giant forkful of the pasta right out of the pot!)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Look how the vendor uses cay glasses to show off the blood orange juice!

Every Saturday, I have a culinary adventure at my local pazar in Istanbul.

Lately, I've been enchanted by the gigantic piles of blood oranges. And they are so cheap! One week we bought smaller ones - perfect for juicing - for only 5TL for 5 kilos. This week, they cost 10TL (about $6 USD) for 5 kilos (about 11 pounds).

Once we get home, I wash and cut the blood oranges in half. Hubby juices every single one. Our white kitchen counter is full of fuchsia splotches! Thank goodness for Domestos!

Our 5 kilos yields about 2 liters of fresh blood orange juice. Delicious at breakfast time!

What seasonal produce have you been enjoying lately in Turkey or wherever you may be?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Coconut, lemongrass, peanuts and chilies are the main flavors you will taste in these Balinese-style kebabs; or should I say - chicken sate.

Today, I decided to finally dig into some of the exotic ingredients I brought back from our Bali trip in November. We had taken a delightful day-long cooking Balinese cooking class at the traditional home of Wayan and Puspa, owners of Paon Bali Cooking Classes. The food was fresh and full of the sassy Asian flavors that I enjoy so much! I highly recommend this couple's cooking class - they welcomed us into their home in Bali.
Taken in Bali: Wayan grilled our freshly-made chicken sate over the coconut husks.
Time to make my own Turklish version of the chicken sate in we made in Bali!

First, you will need one recipe of the Balinese Spice Paste I made awhile back for my Balinese-Inspired Chicken Noodle Soup. I did have some candlenuts on hand so I used them in place of the blanched almonds I used before.
Candlenuts look a bit like a large hazelnut or a macadamia nut.
Next, you need some ground chicken, so that required a trip to my friends at Kardeşler Kasabı in Beşiktaş. My kasap guy asked me if I was making adana kebab. I said, "Belki." (Maybe.) I didn't want to try and explain that I was making an Asian-style kebab.

Hopefully, you also can find some lemongrass, but the rest of the ingredients are usually found here in Istanbul. If you are back in the U.S. or elsewhere, you probably will have an easier time finding these ingredients. 

You'll need to set aside some time for prepping all the ingredients, molding the kebabs and cooking, but I think delicious food is always worth it! Guess who also made homemade vanilla ice cream this afternoon?

Afiyet Olsun! 
Balinese-Style Chicken Kebabs with Peanut Sauce made at my home in Istanbul.
For a good butcher and a specialty foods shop, check out these two places in Istanbul:
·                     Kolaylar Manav, Arnavutköy (You often can buy lemongrass here.)
·                     Kardeşler Kasabı, Gazi Refik Sok. No: 3 Türkali Mh., Beşiktaş

Balinese-Style Chicken "Kebabs" with Peanut Sauce
Yields: 15 kebabs/sate approx. 40 grams (1.4 oz.) each

500      g.                                 minced chicken
40        g.         (1/2 c.)             dried coconut flakes
2          T.                                 Balinese Spice Paste
1          T.                                 palm sugar or sub brown sugar
1          T.                                 fried shallots or freshly diced if you don't have time
1          ea.                                juice and the zest of a lime
To taste                                   salt and pepper
15        ea.                                bamboo or kebab sticks (thicker than skewers)
In a large bowl, mix together the chicken, coconut, spice paste, sugar, shallots, lime juice and zest, salt and pepper with gloved hands. Mix thoroughly.
Take about 2 tablespoons (or weigh out 40 grams for each portion) of the mixture and form a ball. Mold the ball onto the end of the stick, flattening out as you go. Repeat the process to make about 15 sticks.
I actually made a double batch of these because we are having friends over for dinner tonight.
Grill the sticks over an outdoor grill until golden brown, turning once. Alternatively, use an indoor grill or grill pan, like I did, to cook the chicken kebabs/sate, until golden brown on both sides, about 7-8 minutes.

Serve with the peanut sauce below as an appetizer or with steamed rice for a main course.

Balinese-Style Peanut Sauce (Base Sate)
250      g.         (1 1/2 c.)          unsalted peanuts, roasted until golden brown
5          ea.                                cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2          ea.                                Turkish aci peppers (hot peppers)
50        g.         (-1/2 c.)            ginger, roughly chopped
4-5       T.                                 kecap manis, Indonesian sweet soy sauce
2          T.                                 palm sugar or brown sugar
Pinch                                       salt
juice                                         of 1/2 a lime
240      ml.       (1 c.)                water, plus more if needed
To make the sauce, place all the ingredients (except the water) in a food processor. Blend until you form a fine paste. Alternatively, use a large stone mortar to grind the ingredients into a fine paste.

Then, thin out the paste with water until you reach the thickness you want of the peanut sauce. Slightly heat the sauce. Sate sauces are always served warm in Bali.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Konya - If you are a meat lover, then Konya is THE place for you!

Every meal we ate here last weekend revolved around meat, more meat and tasty pide-like bread. A heavy meal like this paired rather well with the chilly winter weather we still are experiencing in Turkey.

Since food is always a highlight of our Turkey trips, I thought I'd give you a rundown of what we ate and some of our favorites in Konya.

Top 7 Good Eats in Konya:
1. Etliekmek - This is a local and larger variation of the traditional Turkish lahmacun. Flat bread is baked with ground meat, tomatoes, peppers and onion. We first tried this tasty bread/meal at Damla and then again for lunch at Şifa Lokantası. One order can easily be split between two people and goes well with a hot bowl of soup.
2. Pişmaniye - This is literally referred to as floss candy and looks like a fluffy ball of yarn. I'd say it closely resembles a Turkish version of American cotton candy. We bought two boxes to share with our friends here in Istanbul.
3. Fırın Kebab - (oven-cooked meat) My husband enjoyed these melt-in-your-mouth chunks of lamb served with soft pide bread at Konya Mevlevi Sofrası.
4. Candies - Konya is known for its candies. We saw at least two large sugar factories located outside of the city. One of my favorite candies, and perhaps one of the oddest, is called cezerye. This sweet falls into the Turkish Delight family and is made from reduced carrot juice, az sugar and hazelnuts, then coated with shredded coconut. This fruit roll-up concoction is my new favorite treat!
A Bergamot-flavored after-dinner mint candy from Konya.
5.  Hurma - (Dates) Since Konya is considered a more religious city, you will see several shops devoted to carrying just dates - or dates and candy. Dates are the fruit with which the Prophet Mohammed used to break his fasts. We bought a small bag of dates, which will probably end up in some baked treat, such as Grandma's Oatmeal-Date Bars.
6. Tirit - This rich dish is described as Konya's special bread with bouillon, yogurt, onion, butter and sumac. It's traditionally served at weddings and is very delicious!
 7.  Tavuk Suyu - This is no ordinary chicken soup! This tomato-broth based soup with shredded chicken and vermicelli noodles was the perfect anecdote to a day spent sightseeing in the cold. I think I could eat this soup every day!
We tried the tavuk suyu at both Damla and Şifa Lokantası in Konya.
If you happen to visit Konya, these are the foods I recommend trying and taking home what you can so your friends can sample them too.

Afiyet olsun!

Restaurants in Konya:
Damla,  Pürçüklü Mahallesi, Türbe Caddesi No:53, Konya

Şifa Lokantası, Mevlâna Caddesi No. 29, Konya

Konya Mevlevi Sofrası, near the Mevlana Museum, Konya

Monday, March 12, 2012

Konya - Located in the Central Anatolia region of Turkey, about 700 km southeast of Istanbul, Konya is certainly a bit quieter and more conservative compared to where I live.

But it's full of a rich history and things to see - the Selçuk era historical monuments, nearby Hittite excavations and, of course, home to the Whirling Dervishes and a shrine to Sufi leader Rumi.

We flew to Konya late Friday night to spend the weekend exploring this city's history and treasures. We had a great time with another couple living as expats in Istanbul. I took 163 photos and have only begun looking through them this afternoon.
Saturday's sunrise in Konya - taken from the Dedeman Hotel.
Stay tuned for more information and photos from Konya this week!

Definitely another place to add to your travel itinerary in Turkey.
It was amazing to see the snow-covered Taurus Mountains surrounding Konya.
Long wagons like this one were filled with tennis shoes and other goods.
A view of Konya from the top of Alaettin Hill.
The mosque and the mountains in Konya.

Friday, March 9, 2012

I'm dreaming of spring with this vibrant green veggie dish.
I'm just loving this Romanesco Broccoli, so I'm trying to use it as often as I can here in my Istanbul kitchen.
Today, I wanted to use up my leftover Romanesco Broccoli or yeşil karnabahar (green cauliflower) as it's known at the pazar in Beşiktaş. (See also: Cooking Green Romanesco Cauliflower from the Pazar.)

What I tossed together is actually one of my easiest recipes yet! Honest!

If you can't find this sexy Romanesco broccoli near you, feel free to substitute normal cauliflower. But otherwise, you can make this "salad" with common ingredients - flat leaf parsley, capers, Turkish green olives, beyaz peynir or crumbled feta and olive oil.

Just steam this broccoli-cauliflower cousin for about 5 minutes until al dente. Then toss together with the remaining ingredients.

After I took the photos for this post, I helped myself to the salad right out of the bowl. But I think it would be lovely paired with some grilled lamb chops. What do you think?

Afiyet olsun!

Romanesco Broccoli with Turkish Olives
Serves: 4-6
1          lb.        (450-500 g.)    Romanesco broccoli*, trimmed into bite-size pieces
1/2       bunch                          flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/2       c.                                 Turkish green olives, pitted, roughly chopped (or measure a generous handful like I did)
2          T.                                 capers, rinsed
To taste                                   beyaz peynir or crumbled feta
To taste                                   freshly ground black pepper
As needed                               Turkish olive oil (from our Cunda Adası trip)
Pinch                                       sea salt (You won't need much since the capers and olives are already salty.)
Fill a large pot with about 1/2-inch (1.5 cm.) of water and pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Add the Romanesco broccoli and continue to cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

Immediately, strain the vegetables and run under cold water to stop the cooking process.

In a large bowl, toss the vegetables with the parsley, green olives, capers, cheese and black pepper. Drizzle olive oil over it all and toss again. Taste and season accordingly.

*          White cauliflower can be substituted for the Romanesco broccoli.