Thursday, January 31, 2013

For some reason, I continue to crave Asian flavors in Istanbul.

Guess I’ve gotten over my pork craze since we have enough stocked up in our freezer. Now, trying to find/eat/make proper Asian cuisine has become my latest vice.

When you can’t have something, you want it even more.

When I lived in NYC, Chinese dim sum, Korean barbecue, Thai noodles and Vietnamese bánh mì were just a short subway ride away. In Istanbul, it’s not that easy to find some of these flavors – or so I thought. (By the way, we DO eat our fair of Turkish food. It’s just that we miss the authentic variety you usually find in large cities.)

Last weekend, we met two of our good Turkish friends at Pera Thai in the Beyoğlu neighborhood. Our friends plus several expats had recommended the restaurant, so we figured it deserved a fair chance. The restaurant, open since 2001, has been awarded a Thai Select Award by the Ministry of Commerce of the Royal Thai Government. Thus, we were expecting great things.

For appetizers, we chose the obvious: chicken satay. The chicken skewers were moist and the satay sauce was slightly spicy. Unfortunately, my photo was very blurry.

Next up, the four of us ordered two salads to share – Yum Neua Yang, a spicy grilled sirloin beef salad, and Yum Woon Sen, a spicy glass noodle salad with our choice of pork. I couldn’t believe the flavors I tasted – lime juice, cilantro, kafir lime leaves and chilies! These flavors are quite rare in Istanbul.
For entrees, my husband ordered Massaman Neua – beef served in a coconut milk curry with potatoes and roasted peanuts. I chose the Thai staple of chicken Pad Thai. I reasoned that if a Thai restaurant can’t do a decent Pad Thai, then it’s out of my favor. 
 Though I’ve never traveled to Thailand, I can honestly say Pera’s Pad Thai was just like the dishes I’ve had back in NYC. Highly recommended! I also had asked for the dish to be spicy.
The four of us finished off our Saturday night meal with mango-passion fruit sorbet and a gigantic scoop of tempura-battered Thai fried ice cream. The sorbet was a tad icy for me, and the fried ice cream was still frozen solid in the middle. I like it when you break open the crispy shell and the inside oozes out.

Of course, after eating a meal like this, we had to go dancing at a nearby small club that was spinning music from my favorite ‘80s and ‘90s.

Other restaurants in Istanbul may pretend to serve authentic Thai food, but I think Pera Thai is the only one that actually delivers.

Pera Thai – a short walk from the Şişhane metro station
Meşrutiyet Cad. No: 74
Beyoğlu, Istanbul
0212 245 5726

Monday, January 28, 2013

As soon as we entered our pazar in Beşiktaş, we saw them in a pile at one of the first tables.

I nearly shouted with joy. Kanlı portakal (blood oranges) are back in season!

I love blood orange season almost as much as I love nar (pomegranate) season. Lucky for me, both fruits are available around the same time every year. 
How could you resist walking by a stall selling these sunset-colored oranges?
In fact, blood oranges seem to have arrived slightly earlier than usual. I normally find them at the pazar in Istanbul from February through early April.

When a product first arrives at the pazar, the price is always higher. Only two stalls out of nearly 100 were selling blood oranges on Saturday. Thus, the price was set at 3 and 3.50 tl (about $2 USD) per kilo. Over the next several weeks, the price will decrease to 1 tl per kilo. Even regular oranges are 2 tl per kilo right now.

We made our rounds stocking up on fresh produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, mandalina, roka (arugula), onions, ginger Brussels sprouts and broccoli. 

Since we didn’t see any other stalls selling blood oranges, we returned to the entrance and purchased just one kilo of blood oranges. I’ll wait until the price decreases to buy more.

On Sundays at home in Istanbul, my husband turns into a juicing machine. I help rinse off and slice the fruit while hubby uses his manpower to operate our crank juicer. We find it easier to do all the fruit at once and store the juices in the fridge to drink throughout the week.

It’s a messy job as juice splatters everywhere on our white kitchen counters. I often have to bleach out the blood-red nar spots.
Hubby juiced the blood oranges yesterday at home.
Yesterday, he juiced 4 kilos of nar, 3 kilos of oranges, 1.5 kilos of lemons and 1 kilo of blood oranges. Meanwhile, I used the lemon juice to make a batch of my ginger syrup so we can have homemade ginger ale at home. Maybe I'll also make some blood orange sodas this week.

Our fridge is always full of strange concoctions in glass jars such as limonata mix, strawberry vodka or candied lemon peels.
Left to right: blood orange juice, ginger syrup, limonata syrup, orange juice and fresh pomegranate juice.
This morning, I’m having a karışık glass of nar and portakal juice for breakfast. What’s your favorite winter fruit?

Friday, January 25, 2013

It’s been a long while since I made a proper Turkish güveç.

If you remember, a Turkish güveç is a casserole cooked in a special earthenware dish. In some ways, this Turkish dish is similar to the American casserole where you throw together some vegetables, meat, spices and perhaps a starch like potatoes or rice all in a pot. You let the pot slowly simmer to allow the meat to get tender and the juices to mingle.

The güveç is a perfect winter dish, but it’s one that’s also enjoyed all year round particularly during our visits to Cappadocia.

I don’t normally eat lamb, but I decided to try making a lamb güveç for my husband. This involved a trip down to my friendly butcher guys at Kardeşler Kasabı in Beşiktaş where I asked for kuzu boyun (lamb neck) as recommended from a friend.

Clearly, my butcher was not happy with that choice as he shook his head. “Az et. Ne yapıyorsunuz?” (Little meat. What are you making?)

I explained in Turkish that I wanted to make kuzu etli kuru fasülye güveç (lamb with white beans casserole).

My butcher went into the meat walk-in and came back out with kuzu kol (lamb shoulder) and told me this cut was much better.

Who am I to argue with my butcher? I think he’s a saint for putting up with this yabancı. I even brought them a batch of chocolate-mint cookies for New Year’s for being so kind to me all the time.

Well, you may not have an amusing scene with your butcher like I did, I promise this lamb güveç will melt in your mouth and warm your belly.

Afiyet olsun!
Turkish lamb & bean güveç  served in individual clay güveç dishes.
Turkish Lamb and Bean Güveç/(Kuzu Etli Kuru Fasülye Güveç)
(Adapted from The Sultan’s Kitchen” by Ozcan Ozan)
Serves: 6

2          oz.                   unsalted butter
1          T.                     Turkish olive oil
1          ea.                    large onion, diced
4-6       ea.                    garlic cloves, chopped
3          ea.                    carrots, medium diced
1          lg.                    potato, medium diced

1          kilo (2.2 #)       lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes (kuzu kol kuşbaşı)

1          400 g.              can of diced tomatoes
1          large can          white beans or 2 cups dried white beans soaked overnight, drained
1          T.                     tomato paste
1          tsp.                  ground cumin
1          tsp.                  pul biber (optional)
2          cups                 beef/lamb stock or water
2          cups                 green peppers, sliced (4-5 dolma biber)
TT                                salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.         In a large, heavy casserole dish, heat the butter and oil. Add the onions and garlic. Sweat the vegetables until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
2.         Next, add the carrots, potato and lamb. Cook for several minutes until the lamb is browned. (I added the lamb bones too for extra flavor.)
3.         Then, add the tomatoes, beans, tomato paste, spices, beef stock or water. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 45 minutes-1 hour. While cooking, check to see if you may need to add more liquid.
4.         If you used dried beans, the casserole will need about another hour to cook the beans until they are tender. If you want, you can transfer the pot to the oven and continue cooking at 350F/175C.
5.         Since I used canned beans, I just added the green peppers towards the end of the 1 hour and let cook for 5-10 minutes.     
6.         Serve the güveç with chopped parsley and rice pilaf on the side.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Over the weekend, we met up with friends to hang out over Turkish wine.

It's been a long while since we partook in the Şarap Fridays at Sultanahmet's Four Seasons Hotel. This is great deal if you want to try some different Turkish wines in a luxurious setting from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday nights during the winter months.

We almost didn't get a table because we hadn't made reservations in advance, and the hotel was busy. But the kind manager took pity on us after seeing my sad puppy dog face and set up a table for us in the "Blue Room." I give the hotel five gold stars for the excellent customer service they provided us throughout the night!

On our way to the Four Seasons, we walked by the Blue Mosque and were greeted with a colorful surprise! Now, there's a brightly-lit fountain installed in the park between the Ayasofya and the Blue Mosque. Every 30 seconds or so, the fountain lights change from bright blue to green, fushia, orange, yellow and red.
It's a lovely display! This area has been under construction for several months, and it looks like the work right here by the fountain is finally done.

I took a couple photos with my cell phone, but I wish I had our good camera with us. Guess we'll have to RSVP soon for another wine night at the Four Seasons!

For your own fun Turkish wine and cheese night, you must make reservations by calling 0212 402 3156. Cost is 45 TL per person for the wine flight and open cheese buffet. There's a Turkish wine rep on hand to talk about the wines too.
A night-time view of the courtyard garden at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sultanahmet. It's hard to believe this fancy hotel used to be a prison during the Ottoman Empire!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Once we were settled in the Seabird plane, the pilot took us up the Golden Horn a bit so he’d have enough runway for take-off.

He smoothly maneuvered the small plane around. Quickly, we found ourselves gazing down at the Golden Horn and Suleymaniye Mosque as we lifted off into the air.
The Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul as we flew by in the Seabird plane.
 The Old City of Istanbul flashed by us, and I was ready with our camera. As you can see from the photos below, we flew over the Blue Mosque, Ayasofya, Nuru Osmaniye Mosque and even a portion of the Grand Bazaar.
Flying over the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, October 2012.
Flying over the Ayasofya in Istanbul, October 2012.
I found it easiest to use the camera’s sports setting so I could take numerous photos in a row and worry about deleting them later. Some of them turned out a bit fuzzy, but overall I was happy with the photos documenting our first seaplane experience and capturing my favorite city on film.

On our return flight from the Turkish island of Bozcaada, we flew closer to the Asian side so we saw parts of Kadıköy, the Fenerbahçe Stadium, Haydarpaşa Train Station and the main Istanbul port.
Flying past the Haydarpaşa Train Station & Kadıköy Iskelesi in Istanbul.
Then, the pilot turned the plane toward the Golden Horn and we continued past the Galata Bridge, Galata Tower and the Beyoğlu neighborhood.
Aerial photo of the Golden Horn & Beyoğlu neighborhood in Istanbul.
Suddenly, the murky waters of the Golden Horn splashed under the plane, and we had landed. The landings were so smooth you really couldn’t tell you had landed except you heard the sound of the water.

Being in a small plane like this gives you a whole different perspective on Istanbul. You see the diverse contrast of old and new Istanbul merging together like some kind of giant puzzle. I was able to see my favorite historic sites as a whole rather than just pieces or the front façade at one time.

I hope you enjoy these aerial photos of Istanbul. Which photo is your favorite?

Next week: Exploring Beautiful Bozcaada  

Here's the main Istanbul port where boats are loaded and unloaded as well as the Bosphorus Bridge in the background.
Flying Seabird over the Fenerbahçe Stadium in Istanbul.
Another view of the Blue Mosque with the Marmara Sea in Istanbul.
Flying over the Nuru Osmaniye Camii and Grand Bazaar area in Istanbul.
Flying over the Galata Bridge and surrounding neighborhood in Istanbul.
An interesting overhead shot of the Galata Bridge from the Seabird plane in Istanbul.
Notice all the Turkish flags displayed to celebrate the bayram holiday in Istanbul.
The initial takeoff along the Golden Horn in the Seabird plane in Istanbul.