Thursday, November 29, 2012

Every now and then, I still find an odd looking fruit or vegetable at the pazar, and wonder 'what the heck is this?' 

Last week, I discovered a mountainous pile of salmon-colored mushrooms with a bizarre blue and green marking on their caps. Only one stall at the pazar had these, and every Turkish woman seemed to be pushing everyone over to buy their share.

Of course, that meant I had to get pushy in order to get my hands on these strange mushrooms too. They must be good, right?

I grabbed a plastic bag, stood my ground, and started collecting my half kilo of mushrooms. I paid my 7.50 tl ($4.00 USD) and still wondered what the heck I had just purchased.

Once home, we did some research online and found the mushrooms are called çintar mantarı in Turkish (Lactarius deliciosus in Latin or Saffron Milk Cap in English). These mushrooms are often found in the forested regions of Turkey such as the Izmir province and down by Fethiye and Antalya.
Here you can see the strange blue-green markings on the mushroom caps.
I don't know why I've never noticed these at the markets before. This weekend, the mushrooms might be gone. You never know.

Well, the çintar mantarı are a very dirty mushroom, I soaked them in the sink and then scrubbed the dirt off from the outside. Then, I layed them out on a towel to dry for awhile.
A pile of cleaned çintar mantarı.
As far as cooking, I took a simple approach with the çintar since they seemed very meaty, similar to a portabella mushroom. I simply sautéed with Turkish olive oil (from Cunda Adası), added lots of chopped garlic, followed by salt, pepper and a generous spoonful of pul biber.

The mushrooms served as a side dish with roasted chicken one night and then as a splendid topping to my Curried Cauliflower Soup another night.

However, you want to eat them, enjoy the seasonal çintar mantarı while you can!

Afiyet olsun

Sautéed Çıntar Mantarı

500      g.         çintar mantarı, washed, dried and chopped into medium-sized chunks
2          T.         Turkish olive oil
6-8       ea.        Cloves, garlic, roughly chopped
To taste           salt and freshly ground pepper
1          tsp.      pul biber (Or simply add to taste if you like it spicy.)

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil.

When the oil is heated, add the mushrooms and garlic. Cook this mixture for about 8-10 minutes to soften the mushrooms. They take a little bit longer since they are a meatier mushroom.

Add the seasonings. Cook for two minutes. Taste and then adjust the seasonings as you would like.

These mushrooms also would make a delicious topping to a grilled steak!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Every month, Istanbul seems to host 20 different art shows or exhibits.

Unfortunately, we don't take advantage of these art offerings as often as we should or we would like. Sometimes an exhibit I had wanted to see will end before I remember to go and see it.

But yesterday afternoon, we made it to a new exhibit that opened on the 15th at the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University's Tophane-i Amire Culture & Arts Center, located by the Tophane tramway stop. This exhibit, The Colours of Dunhuang - The Magical Door Opening to the Silk Road, features historical artifacts and paintings from the ancient Dunhuang Caves in the Gansu province of northern China. It's also the first time the exhibit, which is noted for its distinctive Buddhist elements, is being shown in Europe!

We both knew nothing about this area, but I can tell you after seeing this exhibit, I definitely want to visit China!
This 14-meter Buddha can be found in one of the Dunhuang Caves in China. From the sign: "The Buddha is lying on his right, which is one of the standard sleeping poses of a monk or nun."  
A little background: the ancient Chinese city of Dunhuang was once a major trade hub on the Silk Road linking the two countries of China and Turkey together. Precious silk fabrics and ceramics were brought from China back to Turkey. (I don't recall reading what the Turks traded with them though.)

The exhibit features the famous, sacred Mogao Caves near Dunhuang - a total of 812 have been discovered. Starting in the 4th century, the caves were used as a place of meditation by monks. Later, the caves became a place of worship and pilgrimage for the public. Family members or neighbors would pitch in in order to have a cave built for themselves. These caves were elaborately painted and decorated with intricate statues; and you can see some of the replications at this exhibit.
Built during 705-781 AD, this cave is considered one of the most outstanding caves in all of China. It showcases the Buddhism beliefs, incorporated with the royal architecture.
"The Heavenly King" is a mural found in Mogao Cave no. 15, which dates to 781-845 AD.

It was interesting to admire the artwork and learn about a new place. However, some of the ancient artwork was quite morbid and revolved around violent deaths. Not really my cup of tea!

I didn't really understand this one. One such odd painting was "The Hungry Tigress" where the tigress prepares to eat the prince which sacrificed himself to her to save his people.

One of the highlights of the day was seeing a traditional Chinese music and dance performance by traditionally dressed young Chinese women. Through this Wednesday, you can catch this lively performance at 3 and 6 p.m.

Young and old Turks watched as performers played traditional music and danced.
The Colours of Dunhuang allows you to travel back in time to an area in China you might not have ever heard of, if you're like us.

The exhibit is definitely worth checking out! 

The Tophane exhibit is open now through January 7. Cost is 10 tl for adults; 5 for students.
As you exit the Tophane-i Amire Culture & Arts Center, you are greeted with an amazing view of the Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque across the street.
Meanwhile, Topkapı Palace also is hosting an exhibition called the “Treasures of Ancient China,” which features 5,000-year-old Chinese relics including four soldier statues from the world –famous Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses. The four terra cotta soldiers on display have never been taken out of China. The exhibition is part of the ongoing Chinese Culture Year in Turkey. This exhibit is open until February 23, 2013. 
The paintings and sculptures from the ancient Dunhuang Caves from the Gansu province of China, which is famous for being the site of some of the finest examples of Buddhist art, will be on display. Exhibited in Europe for the first time, the culture and art center is working alongside the Chinese Ministry of Culture to bring these extraordinary pieces to the Istanbul audience. 

Read More: The Colours of Dunhuang- The Magical Door Opening to the Silk Road in Istanbul