Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Baghdad Cookery Book

A Baghdad Cookery Book
Muhammad b.al-Hasan b.Muhammad b.al-Karîm, Charles Perry (tr.) 

ISBN-10 1-903018-42-0 ISBN-13 978-1-903018-42-2 Published Dec 2005 127 pages; 187×138 mm; paperback; illustrations 

Kitâb al Tabîkh, composed by a thirteenth-century scribe we usually call al-Baghdadi, was long the only medieval Arabic cookery book known to the English-speaking world, thanks to A.J.Arberry’s path-breaking 1939 translation as ‘A Baghdad Cookery Book’ (reissued by Prospect Books in 2001 in Medieval Arab Cookery).

For centuries, it had been the favourite Arabic cookery book of the Turks. The original manuscript, formerly held in the library of the Aya Sofya Mosque, is still in Istanbul; it is now MS Ayasofya 3710 in the Süleymaniye Library. At some point a Turkish sultan commissioned very a handsome copy, now MS Oriental 5099 in the British Library in London. At a still later time, a total of about 260 recipes were added to Kitâb al Tabîkh's original 160 and the expanded edition was retitled Kitâb Wasf al-Atima al-Mutada (my translation of it also appears in Medieval Arab Cookery); three currently known copies of K.Wasf survive, all in Turkey – two of them in the library of the Topkapi Palace, showing the Turks’ high regard for this book. Finally, in the late fifteenth century Sirvâni made a Turkish translation of Kitâb al Tabîkh, to which he added some recipes current in his own day, the first Turkish cookery book.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Istanbul's Bosphorus feast boasts an international menu


Istanbul's Bosphorus feast boasts an international menu
Sakhr Al Makhadhi
Source
Jun 1, 2012 


If proof of a city's culinary prowess came from its Michelin rating, then Istanbul would be just a minnow. It was only last year that the city earned its first Michelin star. But this Spice Route hub has never needed outsiders to tell it how good it is. Locals have known for centuries that this is one of the world's tastiest food cities.


It's late at night and I don't have a reservation, but in a place like Istanbul, it really doesn't matter. My midnight food walk starts at Taksim Square, a meeting point, a traffic roundabout, and - for many visitors - a first taste of Istanbul. This is where buses from the airport arrive, and it used to be a bit of a backpacker haunt. Underneath florescent tubes in glass cabinets is the student meal of choice - the wet burger. If you like cheap meat in soggy bread, then this is the dish for you.


I have my eyes on something far more satisfying. But first, I need to brave the crowds on Istiklal Caddesi. This is Istanbul's main shopping street, and despite the late hour, it is heaving. I am shoulder to shoulder, being washed along in this great sea of people who seem to be going nowhere and doing nothing. Then I spot it - the unnamed tea shop halfway along the street. It is a struggle to get out of the traffic flow, but I manage and duck into the Formica-table dive and order a plate of kiymali. The chef chops up the huge spiral of flaky pastry filled with mince meat at super speed and brings it over with a sweet mint tea. It is greasy, crumbly, and incredibly filling. I'm not going to finish the plate, because this is only the first course.


As I reach the end of Istiklal, the crowds thin out before the cobbled street leads down to the Bosphorus. The Galata Bridge is a fish-lover's heaven. Seafood restaurants line the lower passageway across the water. Pick your fish from the displays outside and then take a table by the water. I'm in search of something even more simple, though: balik ekmek.


As I reach the other side of the bridge, I spot a neon-lit boat bobbing up and down by the water's edge. I walk up to the boat, hand over my cash, and a whole mackerel in fresh, crusty bread is thrown over to me. This is lively, street-side dining. Grab one of the tiny tables, squeeze some lemon juice on to the fresh fish, and then wait for one of the passing juice sellers to catch your eye.


For dessert, I walk behind the nearby Orient Express terminus, now sadly marred by a petrol station built right in front of it. It is here that I find Hafiz Mustafa, one of the city's oldest patisseries. It has been around since 1864, when it may have welcomed travellers stepping off the train from Paris. I head upstairs to the beautifully tiled tea room for their amazing dark chocolate-covered baklawa. Sugar doused in sugar, the perfect end to a night filled with food tastier than what I have eaten in some Michelin-starred restaurants.


The next morning, I am out early to grab a simit, a crunchy bagel, that is the Istanbullus' commuter breakfast of choice. I pick up my one lira breakfast from an old man selling his wares out of a beautiful antique red cart at one of the Bosphorus ports. At one time, the simit men of each neighbourhood would collect their bread from the local firin (bakery), and then cart it around the streets, plying for commuter trade, a bit like newspaper boys going on their morning rounds.


One of the most important was the Cihangir firin, hidden downhill from Istiklal Caddesi. But it fell into disrepair, and was bought by one of the city's most exciting chefs. Dilara Erbay is the woman behind one of Istanbul's most celebrated restaurants, Abracadabra. There were queues out of the door every evening. But Erbay was uncomfortable with the success. She wanted to go back to her hippie roots for her new project, so she moved into Cihangir, a boho neighbourhood of artist squats, workers' cafes and streetside fruit and veg stalls and set up Datli Maya.


All of her ingredients are bought locally. Today, she's serving an artichoke kofte. A few days earlier, she made octopus biryani. But it is the kebab that really grabs my attention. Freshly baked, doughy bread from the oven down below, tender lamb, and fresh vegetables. It's everything that late-night European snack that goes by the name of "kebab" is not. I follow this with pide, a flat bread covered in homemade goats cheese brought by one of the chefs from her hometown in south-eastern Turkey. It is washed down with the finest glass of lemonade I have tasted outside of Damascus. "I rebel against industrial production. I don't call myself a chef, it's an insult," she says with a laugh. "They're kitchen slaves, I'm not."


And if she's not a chef, then this is not a restaurant. At Datli Maya, to get to your table, you need to walk behind the oven, climb a tiny, winding set of stairs, and pass through the heart of the kitchen. It feels like you are eating in your friend's bedroom.


Every week, Erbay holds a themed food night. "Last week we had a whole stuffed baby goat, cooked in the oven for five hours," she says. "We put it on Facebook and the event sold out straight away."


Erbay keeps her prices low to make sure locals who rarely eat out can afford to take a place next to international, jetsetting fans of Istanbul's rebellious superstar chef.


You are more likely to find the rich kids eating further up the Bosphorus. Just down the road from the villas of Bebek is Arnavutkoy, the place where the Porsche drivers come to spend their money. This little cobble-street hamlet is known for its fine dining. So it is no surprise that Time Out magazine's best restaurant in Istanbul is here. What is surprising is that this year's winner, Antica Locanda, is an Italian eatery.


Chef Gian Carlo Talerico is something of a purist, and he says it's been a battle to convince Turks to stop asking for pizza. "Other Italian restaurants are Italian by name only, the pasta is overcooked. I make it al dente, some people don't like it, but that's the way it is," he says with a shrug. "I fight every single day."


The food was worth the arguments. The simple starter of boiled asparagus in butter and parmesan is delicate, and is served with the sweetest, lightest olive oil I have ever tasted. Talerico's special recipe of roasted and caramelised chicken breast in raspberry sauce is one of the highlights of the menu. But it is the bucatini, a Genoa penne served with a homemade pesto creme that is the best dish I have eaten in Istanbul. And yes, I am aware how controversial that statement will be in one of the world's great food cities.


The trouble is that Arnavutkoy is a 30-minute taxi ride out of town. It is unlikely to be discovered by tourists reluctant to stray far from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The area with the most tourist sites, Sultanahmet, is foodie-hell. It is populated by tourist-trap restaurants serving set "tourist menus". These are thrust into your face by over-eager staff standing on the street. The one exception is Karakol, hidden inside the Topkapi Palace. And unlike the nearby restaurants, Karakol seems determined to stop me getting in.


"You'll have to get past the armed guards," Hilmi Akcay, assistant manager of the Karakol Restaurant tells me cryptically. "Call me if you have any problems." It sounds more like a message to a spy than an invitation to dinner.


Nervously, I walk into the deserted Topkapi Palace grounds after closing time. "Stop," a guard orders me. "The palace is closed." When I give him Akcay's details he reluctantly lets me through. After three and a half years of hard work, this former Ottoman police station was converted from an abandoned building into an elegant eatery. And fittingly, they're serving the type of food that would have been on the menu back then. "When people think about Turkish cuisine, it's all about kebabs," says Akcay. "Our owner found dishes from the original Ottoman recipe books."


It is the cheese sea bass that is the winner for me. Caught fresh from the Bosphorus, it's cooked with shrimp and tomato sauce and served with melted local feta. Alongside ancient dishes like that is, unfortunately, a range of dull mezzes because tourists are unadventurous, apparently. There aren't many tourists around, though: the place is deadly quiet. Maybe they were scared off by the guards.


At the Istanbul Culinary Institute, the atmosphere is very different. Chefs are shouting across the open-plan kitchen and the evening cookery class is about to begin. In addition to hosting amateur classes for visitors who have fallen in love with the local cuisine, the Institute is home to one of the city's best chef schools.


Even if you don't want to get your hands dirty, this place is an education in local food. The à la carte changes every month, and the set menu every day. "It's a very busy menu for a restaurant like ours but we want our students to practise with as many dishes as possible," says founder Hande Bozdogan.


"This is an apprenticeship restaurant but some of the stuff you find here is maybe better than what you can find in a top level restaurant," she says. The result is a crowd of local diners who are in search of some of the city's best food, rather than Istanbul's most showy surroundings.


And just maybe, this chef school will earn the city a few more much-deserved Michelin stars.


If you go


The flight Return flights on Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) from Abu Dhabi to Istanbul cost from Dh1,830, including 
taxes


The stay The new A’jia Hotel (www.ajiahotel.com; 00 90 216 413 9300), right by the water’s edge, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus is a lovely white-washed Ottoman mansion. Double rooms cost from €275 (Dh1,300)


The restaurants 
The set menu at Datli Maya (www.datlimaya.com; 00 90 212 292 9056) costs 20TL (Dh40). 
Main courses at Antica Locanda  (www.anticalocanda.com.tr; 00 90 212 287 9745) are 32TL-50TL (Dh64-Dh100). 
Dinner for two at Karakol (www.karakolrestaurant.com; 00 90 212 514 9494) costs around 150TL (Dh300). 
You can eat for 50TL (Dh100) per person at the Istanbul Culinary Institute (www.istanbulculinary.com; 00 90 212 251 2214), with one-to-one cookery classes from 480TL (Dh961)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Is This the Next Paris?


Mavi Boncuk |  

Is This the Next Paris?

Over the past decade, Istanbul—the mesmerizing ancient capital that straddles two continents—has boomed, restoring itself to the global stage as a portal to Asia and the new Middle East. 


Alan Richman wanders the streets, bazaars, and waterways, and discovers a city and a dining scene poised to conquer the world 


BY ALAN RICHMAN | PHOTOGRAPHS BY JULIEN CAPMEIL 
February 2012 



Left: Istanbul glimmering at dusk, as seen from the terrace of the restaurant Leb-i Derya. Right: Eggplant salad, simple and elegant, from the restaurant Borsa. 


Where do you wish to dine when night descends?
Paris, perhaps. Not an unreasonable idea, although that means subsequently returning to a hotel room smaller than a Devil's Island prison cell and the next morning awakening to a city whose residents wish you were not so annoyingly different from them.
Let me suggest Istanbul, the most engaging city I know. Turkey isn't what it once was, when the Ottoman Empire grabbed a wedge of Europe, a huge chunk of Asia, and a northerly slice of Africa. But it is undergoing a revival, reasserting itself. Name your nation—Syria, Iran, Israel, even the European Union. Turkey's leaders seem happy to tell the whole lot where to get off.
Not coincidentally, dining in Istanbul gets better all the time. It's not yet ideal. Modern culinary trends clash with Ottoman-era dishes. Islamic prohibitions against pork and bloody rare meat rankle. Yet Istanbul is proof that power and prosperity are precursors to a flourishing cuisine.
No city I know offers more wonderful settings in which to dine. From the rooftop restaurants, which are in abundance, you can look down on edifices that are undeniably heart-wrenching yet remarkably vibrant: Ottoman Empire palaces, soaring mosques, all of them illuminated first by the setting sun, then by floodlights, and finally, and most appropriately, by a crescent moon.
Or you might prefer a table situated along a cobblestone passageway in Sultanahmet, the heart of the old city. I have a preference for the restaurant Balıkçı Sabahattin, where alley cats beg for scraps of your grilled sea bass and white-shirted waiters chase them away with spritzes of bottled water, inflicting momentary terror. (The cats recover swiftly and return.)
I also appreciate a well-set outdoor table only a few feet from the banks of the Bosporus, a strait more impressive than Paris's moody Seine. At Feriye Lokantası you might see small dolphins on a pleasure trip from the Black Sea leap into the air for their own amusement as well as yours. (A confession: I've never observed this, but the woman seated across from me swore she did, and our waiter said that on warm nights, after work, he sometimes went for a dip with them.)
You've heard the expression "location, location, location." Istanbul has it like no other city. Geographically, it is partly in Europe and partly in Asia, a beneficial accident that Turkey leverages to the maximum. Over the course of centuries, everything flowed into Istanbul, especially food. But it has always been the water and the nearness of it that elevates and distinguishes the city.
The allure of the Bosporus is immeasurable. It divides the continents. It connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. And it is more majestic than whatever river lazily flows through whatever city you have until now adored.
Might that be Rome? Lovely place, but to be honest, dead. Rome has a nice history. Istanbul has a more textured one. First it was the focal point of the Roman Empire, then the Byzantine Empire, and finally the Ottoman Empire—pretty much the Triple Crown of sovereignty—and it remains filled with irresistible bits of kingdoms past. Rome has the Coliseum, of course, but it's a skeleton. Istanbul has the Hagia Sophia. It's been burned, looted, disfigured. It looks prehistoric. It feels omnipotent. It has all those mosaics. And it boasts a rather sweet snack bar within its walled grounds.




A quiet moment amid the many cafés and bars that line
Nevizade Street.


Istanbul was founded around 660 b.c. as Byzantium. It became the capital of the Roman Empire by decree of Constantine the Great in the fourth century, grew into the most glorious city in the world under Emperor Justinian, was sacked by crusaders in the thirteenth century, and fell to Turks in the fifteenth.


I came along a mere quarter century ago, yet even then the city seemed to exist in the past. Cars passed over the Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosporus, by means of a pontoon bridge built in 1912. Politically, the country had to tolerate a cadre of army generals who occasionally imposed military rule, maybe to stop communism or maybe just to show that they could.


The army was in command on that first trip, in the mid-1980s. When I argued with a taxi driver who had overcharged me, we took our dispute to the highest court of appeals, a soldier with an automatic weapon standing guard on a street corner. He ruled in my favor, and that began my love affair with Istanbul. I fell hard for çöp şiş, roughly translated as "garbage kebab," which consists of skewered lamb scraps and lamb fat, cooked over an open fire. Çöp şiş has remained the only two words of Turkish I know. On that trip I also ate the most perfect street food of my life, deep-fried mussels cooked in a monstrous wok, slipped into soft bread much like a miniature Parker House roll, then slathered with homemade walnut-studded tartar sauce.
Even now I search for those mussels. They continue to elude me.
Today, Turkey insists on recognition as an international leader, and it's hard to say such influence isn't deserved. While I was passing through Egypt in September, the prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdo˘gan, flew into Cairo. He was greeted with the reverence and passion that John Kennedy once attracted. I later met the general manager of Cairo's Kempinski Nile Hotel, who said of the ongoing Egyptian revolution, "If we follow Turkey, we will look like Turkey in ten years. If we don't follow Turkey, in eight months we will look like Palestine."



Lamb shank, ready to be devoured, at Borsa.


The woman, days away from her wedding, wore a tank top with the message SEXY LITTLE BRIDE. Istanbul might be a Muslim city, but clearly ayatollahs aren't running the place. She, her fiancé, a few of their friends, and I were riding up the Bosporus in a restored wooden powerboat, nibbling catered mezes brought on board and drinking rakı, the anise-flavored spirit. They'd invited me for a ride, to be followed by dinner, and they were arguing with pleasure over possible venues. "A few more glasses of rakı and he won't care," I overheard one of them say about me.


As our boat glided past the hundreds of mansions known as yalı that sell for $10 million to $20 million and line the Bosporus, I realized I would not have another chance to dine with people of such affluence. So I selected the restaurant that nicely represented their lifestyle: Borsa, which has a branch at Istinye Park, a mall of high-end brands including Ladurée, the Paris macaron shop.


Eating, I have always believed, is the perfect and perhaps only way for an outsider with limited time to gain knowledge of a foreign country. Rarely has anyone been so thoroughly an outsider: I neither speak nor read Turkish, and I have no friends there. I do know something about Turkish cuisine, though. It's not quite one of the best in the world, but it's close.


That prosperity and stability are essential for a food culture to thrive is inarguable. Look around the region: Israel, which once had the least interesting restaurants on earth, is developing a promising Mediterranean diet entirely its own; Lebanon, historically celebrated for its table, is just starting to restore its culinary reputation after thirty years of war and neglect. Egypt is a disaster politically and economically, and the food there is tragically bad


Turkish dishes are immensely likable for their unrivaled freshness and elegant simplicity. Significantly, countries with first-rate cuisines almost always boast long histories of infatuation with food, and that's certainly true of the Ottoman Turks. Proof can be seen in the paintings of the gaily dressed and overfed sultans and harem women of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. They might well have been the inspiration for the balloons that now float over holiday parades.


There is, however, that high-level culinary dissonance. The modern version of fine dining in Istanbul is straightforward, whereas the palace cooking of the Ottoman Empire was more elaborate. Much of this heritage disappeared in the 1920s, when Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, replaced Ottoman script with a variation of the Latin alphabet. This rendered thousands of recipes handed down from the Ottoman Empire unintelligible, lost in translation. When I first visited Istanbul, the cooking felt repressed. I liked the fish, the vegetables, and the çöp şiş. Not much else impressed me.


Today chefs, restaurateurs, and cookbook authors are attempting to revive the Ottoman-era recipes, most of which are too convoluted for my palate. The best dish I've tasted is breast of chicken stuffed with pistachio-flecked basmati rice and placed on a bed of spinach, the way it's stylishly served at Feriye Lokantası, the dolphin-friendly establishment on the banks of the Bosporus.



Tomato salad topped with walnuts at Borsa.


The meze that we were eating on the powerboat is an essential staple of the Turkish table. It is not, as commonly thought, simply a collection of miscellaneous starters; it is a way of life that incorporates eating, drinking, and socializing. The meze wasn't brought on board because we had to be fed; it was there to promote hospitality and make me feel welcome, which it did.


Kebabs are almost as significant. They are pervasive, but to nonbelievers like me they possess a fatal flaw: Islamic law forbids eating meat that is not drained of blood, and I didn't have a kebab in Turkey prepared any way but well-done. However, I did notice observance of the religious prohibition against pork starting to crumble. The House Hotel Ni¸santa¸sı, where I stayed, served a strapping if imperfect version of eggs Benedict—I imagined the chef shaking with fear as the bacon crisped in his pan.


At Borsa we were seated outdoors, on a deck, under an oversize umbrella, at a huge table covered with a white tablecloth. It was very classy and cool, much like the Hamptons. Yet the food could not have been more traditional.


The first dish was a salad of walnuts, tomatoes, onions, red peppers, and pomegranate juice that I was told originated in the agricultural area near Incirlik Air Base, a NATO facility that my hosts portrayed as an American air base. In Turkey, America remains a fairly neutral presence, as it is not elsewhere in the Middle East. (Diplomatic note: Turkey proudly considers itself an independent political and geographical entity, not a mere component of the Middle East.)



Just a small bit of the daily catch from the Black Sea, as 
sold at one of the local markets.


Our second course, lahmacun (also known as Turkish pizza), consisted of herbs and chopped lamb atop flatbread; I ate it often on this trip, but no version was nearly as savory and crunchy as Borsa's. Baked eggplant, cooked with onions, tomatoes, and green peppers, was smoky and sweet and so spectacular my eyes watered with happiness, but I pretty much had the identical reaction to every variation on eggplant in Istanbul. Next came a peasant dish native to farmers near the Black Sea; it was made from corn flour, cheese, and yogurt. Turks are addicted to yogurt.
About when I was starting to think this dinner might be memorable, out came the overcooked meats. It probably says a lot about my despair when I say that the most tempting meat dish was the Roasted Bony Lamb Shank, which was, at least, tender.
The people dining with me were not looking toward Islam for relief from corporeal woes. So when we chatted about the possibility of a religious revolution and subsequent rule by Islamic law occurring in Turkey, they insisted it could not happen. "It is a great question, one we talk about all the time," one of them said. I pointed out that they were outnumbered by millions of other potential voters, the rural poor who have moved to Istanbul. "Turkey simply cannot be a country like Iran," one of them added. "Turks do not know Islam as a political model."
They noted that the language of Turkey is not Arabic. They pointed to the intense consumer culture in their country. So many malls. So many Starbucks. So many reasons not to embrace radical Islam. One woman told me that young Turks had become seduced by the idea of walking around carrying their coffee in take-out cups. Junk food, an American export, apparently helps, too. "Junk food is kind of joyful in Turkey," she added. A few days later, happy to check it out, I had the so-called Ottoman Meal at Burger Turk. The lamb patty was average, the slices of tomato in my sandwich excellent, and the fellow at the counter tried mightily to upgrade me to a one-liter Coke. The reputation of Americans for consuming vast quantities of sweetened beverages apparently has spread worldwide.
Since I first started traveling to Istanbul, my favorite restaurant has remained Balıkçı Sabahattin, located in that cobblestone passageway in the old city. The restaurant is easily found by asking directions from almost anyone, since the locals all know of it. They will direct you there after insisting they know a fish restaurant just as good that costs much less. They are mistaken; no grilled fish in Istanbul is better.
The restaurant, I was told, now accommodates about 200 diners, although I have no idea where. I've always eaten at one of the tables that line the alley. It's not quite level, but the slant isn't so dramatic that your stuffed grape leaves will roll off your plate. Overhead is a grape arbor. Alongside the tables are potted fig trees. Other pots hold radishes, garlic bulbs, even watermelons. The tables are oversize, the waiters attired rather formally. Have the meze, in particular the smoked eggplant, which is miraculous, and the whole snapper on the bone, masterfully grilled. The snapper is even better than the fillet of sea bass, which everybody but me prefers.
The first days of my visit to Istanbul came during Ramadan, and two women took me with them to break their fast at Hamdi, a well-regarded kebab restaurant. An American who joined us said she was uneasy at the notion of attending a dinner to celebrate religious traditions she perceived as alien. She was edgy as we entered—"intimidated," she later admitted.
Our table was on the top floor, which is partially outdoors and was entirely filled with those breaking the fast. My personal concern was less spiritual than hers: Smoking was permitted in the space, since it was technically open to the night air. A license to smoke is not to be taken lightly in Turkey. Indeed, the fellow sitting at the table closest to me didn't put out his cigarette during the meal; actually, he rarely took it from his mouth.
I had braced myself for lessons in orthodoxy, but they did not materialize. One of the women, a 33-year-old lecturer in international relations, explained how the Westernization that has defined Turkey for the past quarter century was in the process of ending as her country became more independent from the United States and Europe and more involved strategically throughout the region. Her friend, less academically inclined, regaled us with stories of the Turkish obsession with yogurt. She admitted that she had badly upset her hosts in Italy by putting yogurt on her pasta.
The view from our table included well-lit mosques displaying proverbs written out in lights and strung between minarets. It's a religious indulgence the secular government permits only during Ramadan. The uneasy American admired these expressions of devoutness, sensing their spirituality. The sayings closest to us read "There is no God but Allah" and "Love each other and be loved."




The 400-year-old Blue Mosque. (Unlike the grounds of 
the city's other architectural marvel, the Hagia Sophia, 
it has no snack bar.)
We ate a huge multicourse meal in ninety minutes, making us one of the slowest groups in the room. Turks eat fast, and in this case with good reason: They were starving. The lecturer offered a more nuanced explanation: "In Istanbul, life is fast; we cannot spend the time. Here is not like Spain, Greece, and Italy." After we left the restaurant, the now dazzled American woman said, "There was something so spiritual about the dinner, all of us together, like we were in a church. And we ate at the moment of sunset, which was uplifting, joyful. I was shocked to feel so in touch."
As is my nature, I had paid too much attention to the culinary and not enough to the ceremonial aspects of our meal. I am not unaffected by Islam. I might not even be neutral. But I never feel anything but happiness while in Turkey, and I considered the illuminated expressions of brotherhood to be sincere. It's the overcooked kebabs that got to me.
At Hamdi, I only liked the ones containing chopped meat. The chunks of skewered lamb or veal were barely palatable, whereas the kebabs made with ground veal and lamb were marginally juicy, like a well-prepared meat loaf. I particularly liked those that had a combination of the two meats and were accented with pistachios or spiced with a mix of sweet peppers, paprika, and black pepper. Other than the American woman's wholehearted approval of Islamic ritual, nothing about the meal surprised me more.
···
Istanbul isn't just one city but a metropolis of water, connected by ferries to islands and—if you plan wisely—multiple food opportunities. I made two such voyages. One took several hours and brought me to the island of Burgazada in the Sea of Marmara. The other was brief, an excursion across the Bosporus to the Asian side of Istanbul and the district of Kadıköy. The trip had much in common with a subway ride through Manhattan. The machines dispensing tokens rejected my bills, and I desperately begged change in coins from passersby. And the ferry was inhabited by hawkers not much different from those who haunt New York's transit system. On this trip, I was educated in vegetable peelers. The hawkers energetically sent potato skins flying.



Fresh grouper at Mikla, simply prepared.


After reaching Kadıköy, I happened by chance to wander into a long, narrow market street while in search of the restaurant Çiya, known for its authentic rustic dishes. The street, unfettered by signage, turned out to be Güne¸slibahçe, where the restaurant is located. On sale here were eggs with yolks as golden as the threads on a sultan's caftan—each vendor had a few eggs cracked open and displayed in their shells. I also encountered baked skulls, hot, fragrant, and steaming. I caught the eye of a butcher and nodded, my way of asking what they were. He said what I expected, only more colorfully. "Baaaa," he bleated. I also stopped at a baklava shop, where I bought a small sack of those preposterously sweet and luscious pastries—Güne¸slibahçe Street seemed to have everything. Turkish baklava is the finest confection to emerge from the holy trinity of nuts, phyllo, and honey. Still, it's sweet, insanely so. If you wish your baklava less sweet, head for Beirut.
The mezes at Çiya were basic, flavorsome, and sold by weight. The hot dishes were served steam-table-style, but they were ambitious enough that I'm certain they would have been wonderful if made to order. I pointed to a concoction that turned out to be rice, chicken, and almonds stuffed into a pastry shell, baked in a cup, then turned over onto a plate, in essence a poultry upside-down cake. It was cold. It would have been superb had it been warm.
My second journey, the one to Burgazada, was to meet a married couple introduced to me by friends in New York. She is a Turk. He is an American. They had picked this island for our rendezvous because of its serenity, which is not insignificant in Istanbul, thought to have a population approaching 17 million. My only mistake was taking the trip on a busy Friday, when the ferry was packed and I had to protect my standing-room spot next to the rail against all challengers, at one point using my leg to block a small boy trying to squirm into my territory. (Hey, I'm from New York.)
Our lunch was at the restaurant Yasemin, where we sat a few feet from the Sea of Marmara and ate grilled octopus mixed with stuffed green olives; fried clams the equal of those I've had in Ipswich; and sensationally crunchy torpedo-shaped börek with a cheese filling. I'd been seeking these since my arrival. Börek (fried pastries) are a Turkish staple that are stuffed with any number of fillings, but Yasemin's were precisely the kind I find most satisfying. With them we drank a soda called Muslim Up, which is simultaneously intended to combat Western imperialism and to promote Palestinian causes. It made me belch.
The woman advanced a theory, not original to her, that the salvation of Islamic relations with the Western world was possible, thanks to economics. I was reminded of something the lecturer at Hamdi restaurant had said: "If China can have communist capitalism, why can't Turkey develop Islamic capitalism?"
She told me that young Muslims wished to prosper in business and use the money to aid their community. "So many want mansions as well as turning the world Islamic," she said. She claimed that this market-driven neo-Islamic movement coincided with the compassionate conservatism of America's Republican Party. I assured her she was wrong, since America's Republicans don't want to share their wealth with anyone.
We were finishing a sea bream, grilled to such succulence I had lost track of everything except the wonder of fish, when the owner of the restaurant asked if we'd like coffee or tea. "Coffee," I said. "Very well," he replied, "but you will not make your ferry back if you have coffee. If you want to wait for the next boat, I'll be happy to give you coffee." I ran for the boat. I really don't think much of boiled Turkish coffee anyway. (Yes, the coffee in Paris is better.)
Back on the European side, I went to visit the only person I knew in Istanbul, a carpet dealer with a small shop behind the Blue Mosque. On previous visits, I would be followed everywhere by men shilling for carpet dealers. They would offer to guide me to the only honest salesman in the city, who happened to be their brother or their uncle. On this trip, it didn't happen, not once.



The meze spread at Balıkçı Sabahattin, featuring eggplant salad.


The mystery deepened when the dealer near the Blue Mosque seemed less pleased to see me than in the old days. He said he was thinking of closing down because people like me had stopped buying. He was selling no more than one carpet a month to Americans. I was my usual helpful self. I explained to him that we Americans were no longer buying rugs for our homes because we no longer had homes; they were all in foreclosure.
That night I visited the most highly publicized restaurant in the city, 360 Istanbul, which is located atop a once grand apartment building and offers this promise on its website: "Coupled with an ingeniously engineered and extensive wine menu, you can rest assured that we will have the perfect combination of wine and dish to achieve a gastronomic orgasm." You won't find semisexual stimulation like that in many Muslim countries. I ordered a drink called the Sultan's Aphrodisiac—note the continuation of the theme—so sweet it should have been named the Sultan's Diabetic Coma.
Our table was a good one. From it I could see the Topkapı Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the ferry docks, everything that makes Istanbul unparalleled. The menu consisted of a little of this and a little of that, dishes from a multitude of countries. I had a zucchini-flower dolma so heavy I wasn't certain our flimsy table could bear its weight, underdone noncrispy Crispy Duck Spring Rolls, carpaccio-topped pizza with a crust so soggy it might as well not have been cooked, and then, finally, Short Rib of Beef "Love Me Tender." The meat was caramelized on the inside yet magically crunchy on the outside, the only succulent beef I ate in Istanbul. With menus as haphazard as this one, the odds are decent that one dish might turn out to be delicious, but the chances are not good that you can guess which one it will be.
Such a collection of global comfort food is, I fear, becoming a worldwide restaurant trend. I think of it as neo-Continental cuisine, familiar food intended to appeal to tourists distrustful of the food in the countries they're visiting. In essence, it's bar food that's moved up in class.
Much more promising to me was the presence of a genuine celebrity chef in Istanbul. Mehmet Gürs has a Turkish father and a Finnish-Swedish mother and grew up in both Istanbul and Stockholm. I knew he was the real thing when I phoned his restaurant, Mikla, located on the eighteenth floor of the Marmara Pera Hotel, and learned he was away at a Scandinavian food conference with other celebrity chefs.
Mikla was the loftiest restaurant I tried, by any definition. Gürs has labeled his cooking the "new Anatolian cuisine," Anatolia being the major land mass of Turkey. It turned out to be among the best in Istanbul. And the top-of-the-mountain views from the restaurant were exceeded only by those offered at the restaurant's small chic bar located one floor above. With scenic outlooks, every floor counts.
My table—this was the only restaurant where I'd identified myself beforehand—was the most spectacular in the house. It was glass-enclosed and reminded me of an infinity swimming pool or a flying carpet. It seemed to hover unsupported in space. I ate raw grouper, bright and cool, sliced thin and topped with chopped Kalamata olives, chives, lemon juice, and olive oil, a thoroughly modern and vivid Scandinavian-Mediterranean preparation; mild anchovies encased fossil-style in crisps, reminiscent of a dish from Copenhagen's Noma; grilled grouper with all manner of vegetables, eight or nine of them, each cooked separately and differently, a triumph of kitchen technique and effort; and slow-cooked lamb shoulder, possibly prepared sous vide, accompanied by an exotic pesto. Elements of it were familiar—I'd tasted pomegranate molasses, a Middle East staple, before. But prunes? This was prune pesto spiked with pomegranate molasses, something entirely new.
I asked Gürs's assistant for the number of the table where I dined so I could request it on my next visit, but she said it was like an unlisted telephone number, not given out. I did not despair. In Istanbul, you need not dine at an uninteresting table, because you can always find a restaurant that will offer you a wonderful one.


Alan Richman is a GQ correspondent.









Monday, August 31, 2009

The Heat of the Matter

Source: http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s/2009/05/heat-of-the-matter-turkish-peppers

The Heat of the Matter | Originally Published May 2009

In a sun-soaked valley in southern turkey, hospitality still rules and chile peppers are a constant presence in people’s lives.
I
t’s dusk in Şanlıurfa, 30 miles from the Syrian border in south-central Turkey. From our hotel terrace, we watch birds glide through the apricot-gold light that slants onto the building below, a shrine to the birthplace of Abraham. The first notes of the call to prayer float up to us, a single voice becoming a syncopated cacophony as a dozen muezzins from other mosques join in. This moment, I think, is why I love Turkey. Okay, maybe this moment and the food. In fact, I could swear I detect on the breeze the slightly harsh, sweetly vegetal aroma of the peppers that brought me here.

These are not just any peppers. They are, you might say, an obsession. And obsessions are unpredictable. Sometimes one springs full-blown into your consciousness; at other times, it grows slowly, almost unnoticed, until a friend says to you, “Do you have to put those Turkish peppers on everything?”

Well, just about.

In every café and kebab joint in Turkey, you will find Urfa and Maras, two dried, flaked red chile peppers, set out on the table. Urfa, named for the city, now called Şanlıurfa, near which it is grown, is a deep oxblood red, with an earthy, rather smoky flavor that contains, oddly, an echo of tobacco. Cherry-red Maras, which takes its name from the nearby town of Kahramanmaraş, has a brighter flavor, brash and fruity but with a very faint edge of bitterness. With both, the complex initial taste is followed by a mild, slow-building heat that lingers tantalizingly in the mouth. Added to a dish, these peppers deepen and broaden all the other flavors. Leave them out, and the food seems somehow flatter.

Over the course of several visits to Istanbul and coastal Turkey, I had become addicted. Back home, I found myself tossing the peppers into stews, rubbing them onto chops before putting them on the grill, and generally making them part of my daily cooking routine. A little pinch of Maras in that vinaigrette? Sure. A sprinkling of Urfa on the poached eggs? Why not?

After a while, though, even that wasn’t enough. As with artisanal products from all over the world, these peppers taste of the sun, air, and soil where they were grown. What is it, I wondered, about that place that gives them their unique character? I wanted to get to know the culinary equivalent of the peppers’ families. I needed to go to the source.

“We live always with this pepper; it is the constant in our lives,” says Ömer Aksoy, a representative of pepper producer Harran İsot, plucking a perfectly red Urfa from a low-growing plant. “The first batch we pick green and eat raw; the last ones, just before the rains begin, are the hottest—those are for flavoring.” In the morning, he explains, young children will clean a couple of peppers, take them to the fırın (communal oven), put them on the side to roast, then bring them home and eat them for breakfast, slathered with butter. But his personal favorite way to eat the fresh peppers is in a condiment called salça, which he translates as “pepper marmalade.” A classic folk product, it’s made differently in each region. Although there are mass-produced versions in some places, here it is made by hand, exactly the way it has been made for centuries, and only for use in the home. The villagers, he explains, like to spread it on bread and sprinkle it with ground hazelnuts or walnuts as a snack, or top it with a couple of fresh eggs for breakfast.

Sounds good to me. “Can we get ahold of some?” I ask. After a quick cellphone call, he says, “They will be making it today in Yaylak, a village not far from here. Let’s go.”

Driving to the village through the barren landscape of the Bozova Valley, we stop to watch Urfa peppers being harvested in a small field. Because they ripen at different rates, there are three or four separate pickings each season, which means the process cannot be mechanized—or at least, no machine has yet been developed that can search a plant and select only the ripe peppers. So, like many fruit and vegetable crops all over the world, the Maras are picked primarily by migrant workers, most of whom live in temporary huts adjoining the fields. Moving slowly across the rows, bent over, carefully plucking the red specimens and placing them in large white sacks, the workers are friendly but businesslike, eager to fill as many sacks as possible in the relative cool of the morning.

Except for the tractor idling at the side of the field, we could be back in the early days of the Ottoman Empire. But, as in modernizing countries everywhere, technology is very likely to be making changes, and very soon.

This had become clear to me on the previous day in Kahramanmaraş. The day began with a tour of a plant where the peppers, after being picked, sorted, stemmed, and dried—either the old-fashioned way, out in the sun, or in specially designed commercial ovens—are chopped and ground. The resulting small flakes may then be mixed with up to 30 percent seeds, as well as some salt and oil. The highest quality, however, is mixed with only a tiny amount of salt and oil and sold (or used personally) as is. Urfa peppers, I learned later, are also briefly fermented after drying, which gives them their dark color and smoky flavor.

Then we went out to see the Maras peppers in the field. Strolling through the rather haphazard rows, a grower explained the timeless appeal of his product. “This dry climate, which has just enough rain, is ideal for them,” he said proudly. “That, and the soil, give them their flavor. People have grown them in other places, but they don’t taste the same.”

Just then a man dressed in a short-sleeved white shirt and gray pants walked briskly across the field to join us. Kemal Belpınar turned out to be from a local branch of the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture, and he excitedly told me about possible future projects: increasing the crop by using hybrid seeds from Spain; starting the peppers in the richer soil of Adana and transplanting them here; perhaps even adopting a method pioneered by the Israelis of treating the peppers with chemicals so they all ripen simultaneously and therefore can be picked by machine.

Despite my efforts to appear approving, I think he saw the dismay in my face. To me, it seems like they are starting down a path—standardization, mechanization, selecting and growing plants for ease of harvesting and shipping rather than for flavor—that we in the United States went down long ago and are now trying to reverse.

But there is no evidence of this trend in Yaylak. As we drive into the village, we see no other cars, only donkey-drawn carts. Indeed, the sole mechanical device immediately in evidence is a kind of oversize meat grinder set up on the porch of a tiny store. This, it seems, is for making salça.

I ask what preparation is necessary before the peppers are dumped into the grinder. After a long, muttered conversation among several of the men, we are led into an interior courtyard. There, a group of women (noticeably absent from the small crowd that has gathered in front of the store) sit around a cloth spread out on the dirt. Grabbing peppers from piles behind them, they split them open with a whack of a wooden mallet, clear out the seeds with their fingers, then rip the peppers in half and toss them into blue plastic buckets. Visibly uneasy in our presence, they nevertheless work with the grace and fluidity born of repeating the same motions they have made tens of thousands of times before.

When the buckets are full, the men take them around to the front of the building, where a boy of about 16 switches on the grinder. He begins to dump in the peppers, and almost instantly my lungs are seared with fumes so harsh that even when I walk 20 feet away, I can’t stop coughing. It’s like the vegetable equivalent of tear gas. The boy, meanwhile, calmly feeds bucket after bucket of peppers into the maw of the grinder, not so much as blinking at the fumes.

The next step on the road to salça will be to add a bit of olive oil to the puréed peppers, then spread the mixture out in large round metal pans on the rooftops, where it will dry and thicken in the sun over several days as it is scraped and turned. “It is the sun that gives our peppers their sweetness and that dries the paste,” says Aksoy. Finally, salt and extra-virgin olive oil are stirred in, and the coarse paste is ready to eat.

I am promised a taste, but first there is another stop. “They are going to slaughter a lamb for you in Hacılar,” Aksoy announces. Only strenuous protests manage to persuade him to call and dissuade our hosts. But when we arrive, after a stroll through another field of drying peppers, we are ushered into the home of a village elder. There, in a large room layered with thick carpets and lined with pillows, the boys of the family lay out a feast: fresh-killed chicken, its flavor astonishingly deep and clean; rice pilaf larded with currants and pine nuts; still-warm whole-wheat flatbread with an amazing texture, at once grainy and tender; thick homemade yogurt studded with cucumber from the garden outside the door; çoban salatası, the classic “shepherd’s salad,” here flavored with sweet-sour pomegranate molasses; a huge platter of sweet green grapes; the salted yogurt drink known as ayran; and, of course, tea. It is only after we begin eating that we remember that this is Ramadan, and none of our hosts are able to share so much as a glass of water along with us. Yet they urge us to eat. “We like people with an appetite,” says one of the man’s sons.

It is an incredible meal, and an equally inspiring setting. I ask Aksoy about the room, much fancier than the rest of the dwelling. “It is the misafirhane, the guest chamber,” he replies. “This is where peace is created. When a guest comes, they give everything they have.”

After we leave the room and start to say good-bye, another boy comes to us with a small bowl of salça. I take a dab and put it in my mouth. There is no heat, just an unusually sweet and pure version of the Maras’s bright flavor, with a slightly musky, vegetal undertone. In a second, though, the heat blooms, not just in the back of my throat but throughout my mouth. It’s not intense, but it’s strong enough to make me laugh. The villagers gathered around all laugh, too, an expression of shared pleasure but also of pride. This is perhaps the best gift they could have given—my obsession has been justified.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Keşkek-Wedding Pulse



Kashkak, keşkek, kashkeg, kishkak, kashkek, etc. is a sort of meat and wheat or barley stew found in Turkish cuisine. The word kashkak is a Persian diminutive of kashk, to which it is related. It is documented in Iran and Greater Syria as early as the 15th century, but is no longer eaten there. Keşkek is a wedding breakfast for Anatolia in Turkey.

Keşkek is called "Haşıl" in Northeast and Middle Anatolia regions in Turkey. It is a common meal frequently consumed during religious festivals, weddings or funerals.

Bibliography

Françoise Aubaile-Sallenave, "Al-Kishk: the past and present of a complex culinary practice", in Sami Zubaida and Richard Tapper, A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East, London and New York, 1994 and 2000, ISBN 1-86064-603-4.

Ingredients

* 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
* 1/4 tablespoon salt
* 3 tablespoons margarine
* 2 large onions
* 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
* 1000 gr. mutton neck
* 1000 gr. soft, white wheat

Directions

355 cal (6 servings)

Soak wheat in cold water and allow to stand for 8 hours. Put the wheat, the mutton neck cut into 4-5 pieces, and enough water to cover, into a saucepan, and boil till the wheat and meat become tender. Strain the necks and bone them. After straining the wheat, add the meat and salt and blend well with a wooden spoon. Dice the onions and saute in sunflower oil till golden. Drain the onions and add to the meat and wheat, adn blend with a wooden spoon till the mixture becomes pasty. Top with melted butter and cinnamon before serving.

Kashkek is a traditional Turkish dish which is still served, especially at wedding feasts, in many regions in Anatolis, and more recently, in luxurous restaurants which serve Turkish specialities and have included kashkek on their menues.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lamb Kebabs with Eggplant | Kösk Kebabi

Lamb Kebabs with Eggplant | Kösk Kebabi

SERVES 4

This is an adaptation of a dish we were served at Kösk, a restaurant in Konya.

3⁄4 lb. boneless leg of lamb, cut into 2⁄3" cubes
1 1⁄2 oz. lamb fat, preferably tail fat, cut into 2⁄3" cubes
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. coarse salt, plus more to taste
5 slender, pale purple eggplants (about 1 1⁄4 lbs.)
1⁄4 cup butter
1 large green pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, cored, peeled, and finely chopped
1⁄3 cup lamb stock (see Panfried Lamb Kebabs with Bulgar Pilav, step 1)
1⁄2 cup cilantro leaves

1. Toss together lamb, fat, and oil in a shallow dish. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Drain, transfer to a bowl; discard oil. Add salt; toss to combine. Thread 1 piece fat between every 4–6 pieces lamb onto six 15"–20" metal skewers; set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 400°. Arrange eggplant on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast until soft, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly; remove and discard skin. Transfer flesh to a medium bowl; mash smooth with a fork.

3. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add peppers and cook until softened, 8–10 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, 8–10 minutes. Add eggplant and salt to taste; stir to combine. Transfer to a serving platter. Preheat a grill to medium. Grill kebabs, turning and basting with stock occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Slide meat and fat off onto eggplant mixture. Garnish with cilantro.

This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #95

Lamb and Yogurt Soup | Tutmaç Çorbasi

Lamb and Yogurt Soup | Tutmaç Çorbasi

SERVES 4 – 6

When adding the yogurt mixture to this soup, we were taught to stir it in only one direction, a technique used to prevent curdling.

FOR THE PASTA:
2⁄3 cup flour
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1 egg
2 1⁄2 cups vegetable oil

FOR THE CROUTONS:
1⁄2 cup flour
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 egg

FOR THE MEAT AND BROTH:
1⁄2 lb. boneless leg of lamb,
cut into 1⁄2" pieces
Salt
1 tbsp. clarified butter
1 cup thick strained yogurt
2 tbsp. flour
1 egg
3 cloves garlic
3 tbsp. butter
2 tsp. dried peppermint

1. For the pasta: Put flour, salt, egg, and 1 tbsp. water into a medium bowl; mix to form a dough. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and pliant, 8–10 minutes. Halve dough, cover with a damp towel, and let rest for 20 minutes. Roll each piece of dough into an 8" × 12" rectangle. Cut each rectangle into small 1⁄2" pasta squares and let dry, uncovered, until no longer sticky, about 45 minutes.

2. Heat oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, fry pasta squares, turning often, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer pasta to a paper towel–lined plate; let cool. Reserve skillet with remaining oil.

3. For the croutons: Put flour, salt, and egg into a medium bowl; mix to form a dough. Transfer to a lightly floured surface, divide into 4 pieces, and shape into 4 long 1⁄4"-wide ropes. Cut each rope crosswise into 1⁄4" pieces. (Sprinkle with a little flour to keep from sticking.) Reheat reserved oil in skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, fry dough pieces, turning often, until golden brown, about 1 1⁄2 minutes. Transfer croutons to a paper towel–lined plate and let cool.

4. For the meat and broth: Put 2 1⁄2 cups water into a medium pot; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add lamb, return to a boil, and skim off and discard any foam on surface. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until tender, about 1 hour. Remove from heat and stir in 1⁄2 tsp. salt; set aside.

5. Put 3 1⁄3 cups water, clarified butter, and 1 tsp. salt into a medium pot; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add fried pasta, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and discard liquid.

6. Whisk together yogurt, flour, egg, and 1 cup water in a medium bowl. Mash garlic and 1⁄2 tsp. salt to a paste in a mortar with a pestle; add to yogurt mixture. Bring meat and broth back to a simmer over medium heat. Slowly pour yogurt mixture into broth while stirring gently in one direction, then add drained pasta. Bring soup to a boil and cook for 15–20 seconds. Remove from heat; let bubbles subside. Repeat process until soup is slightly thicker than maple syrup, 3–4 times more. Season with salt to taste; transfer to a large serving bowl. Heat butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add mint, swirl to combine, then pour over soup. Garnish with some croutons; serve any that remain on the side.

This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #95

Panfried Lamb Kebabs with Bulgur Pilav | Tava Kebapli Bulgur Pilavi

Panfried Lamb Kebabs with Bulgur Pilav | Tava Kebapli Bulgur Pilavi

SERVES 4

You can also use the stock made in step 1 to baste the Lamb Kebabs With Eggplant.

4 1⁄2 lbs. lamb bones
1 medium onion, cut into sixths
1 carrot, cut into 1" chunks
1 tbsp. rice
3 black peppercorns
Salt
1 1⁄2 cups fine bulgur
1⁄2 cup plus 6 tbsp. clarified butter
1 1⁄4-lb. piece boneless leg of lamb (from the largest end),
tendons, sinew, and fat removed and discarded, cut
crosswise into 1⁄2" slices
Ground cinnamon

1. Put bones and 10 cups water into a large pot and bring to a boil. Skim off and discard any foam from surface. Add onions, carrots, rice, and peppercorns, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 1 hour. Season lamb stock with salt to taste; strain through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Discard solids.

2. Bring 2 cups of the lamb stock to a boil in a small pot over medium-high heat. Season with salt to taste, add bulgur, reduce heat to medium, and cook, covered, for 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook for 5 minutes. Uncover, drizzle with 1⁄2 cup butter; reduce heat to low. Cook, covered, until all liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork, cover, and keep warm.

3. Pound lamb slices one at a time between 2 pieces of plastic wrap with a meat mallet, to a thickness of 1⁄8". Heat 2 tbsp. butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté 3 slices lamb until golden brown, 2–4 minutes per side. Wipe out skillet and repeat twice with remaining butter and lamb. Sprinkle with cinnamon and salt. Serve with Rose Petal Salad with Parsley and Mint, if you like.

This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #95

Rose Petal Salad with Parsley and Mint | Gül Yaprakli Marul Salatasi

Rose Petal Salad with Parsley and Mint | Gül Yaprakli Marul Salatasi

SERVES 4 – 6

We use only petals from organically grown roses for this fresh, tangy salad, sometimes tossing in some wild radish leaves, if they're available.

1 medium-size organic rose
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Salt
1 bunch of parsley
1 bunch of mint
1 head of romaine lettuce

1. Gently pull the petals off rose, then cut off and discard the white bases from the petals and set the petals aside.

2. Put oil, lemon juice, and salt to taste into a large bowl and whisk until well combined. Pick the leaves off parsley and mint and put them into the bowl of dressing.

3. Trim and pull the leaves off lettuce. Wash and dry the leaves, thickly slice them, and transfer them to the bowl of dressing and herbs. Toss to coat well and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with rose petals and serve immediately with the Panfried Lamb Kebabs With Bulgur Pilav, if you like.

This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #95

Almond Halvah | Badem Helvasi

Almond Halvah | Badem Helvasi

SERVES 4

This is an adaptation of a recipe we enjoyed while visiting Turkey.

1⁄2 cup high-protein all-purpose flour, such as King Arthur
1⁄2 cup whole wheat flour
3 tbsp. blanched almond halves, toasted
1⁄4 tsp. salt
8 tbsp. butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. rose water

1. Stir together flours, 2 1⁄2 tbsp. of the almonds, and salt in a medium bowl. Melt butter in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture darkens slightly and looks moist, about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, put sugar and 1 2⁄3 cups water into a small pot; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Allow syrup to boil for 2 minutes; remove from heat. Add syrup to flour–almond mixture and stir until well combined (the result should look like cookie dough). Cover pot and cook over low heat for 8 minutes. Uncover pot, transfer mixture to a serving plate, and smooth into a 7"–8" round with the back of a spoon. With a large soup spoon, press indentations around the edges of the almond halvah to form a decorative pattern, then sprinkle with rose water. Gently press the remaining almonds into the center of the halvah in a radiating flower pattern. Serve, warm or at room temperature, in scoops with Turkish Coffee, if you like.

This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #95

Turkish Herb and Spice Mix | Baharat Karisimi

Turkish Herb and Spice Mix | Baharat Karisimi

MAKES 2 TBSP.

Seasoning mixtures of this kind are common in kitchens throughout Turkey. Use this spice mix in the recipe for the Marinated Grilled Lamb Loin Skewers.

1 1⁄2 tsp. dried winter savory
1 tbsp. pickling spice
1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1⁄2 tsp. dried mint leaves, crumbled
1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1. In a spice mill, grind together to a fine powder dried winter savory, pickling spice, ground cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, crumbled dried mint leaves, ground cumin, and freshly ground black pepper. Store away from direct sunlight in a small airtight container for up to 3 months.

This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #27

Friday, November 14, 2008

Baklava Diplomacy


Baklava Diplomacy

01.15.08
Turkish baklava

Turkish baklava

Nadir Güllü is known in Turkey as the King of Baklava. The shop down the street from his factory in the Karakoy section of Istanbul sells a royal selection of extraordinary pastries, including chestnut, chocolate, and walnut baklavas along with the traditional pistachio. These honeyed delicacies bear about as much resemblance to those overly sweet and soggy confections sold in U.S. supermarkets as does Beluga caviar to lumpfish roe.

Güllü is a fifth-generation baklava maker, from a family originally hailing from Gaziantep in south central Turkey, the center of pistachio cultivation. A long-dead ancestor learned the art of baklava-making from a master baker in Damascus.

Today, Güllü’s factory is the largest baklava producer in the world, creating more than 55 different kinds of baklava and related phyllo pastries such as kunefe and burmali kadayif. The factory is kept more sterile than most surgical operating rooms, and it takes a seven-year apprenticeship to become a master phyllo roller. Each sheet of phyllo is thin enough to perform a puppet show behind it; forty sheets make a single tray of baklava.

Güllü takes his role seriously, saying that he practices “baklava diplomacy,” forging alliances with suppliers in Greece, Israel, and elsewhere. He demonstrated to me how one should use all the senses when tasting his baklava: First plunge a fork into the top to hear that satisfying kssshh! sound that comes from fresh, crisply baked phyllo that is saturated with syrup but not sodden. Then there is the odor of pistachio, baked pastry, and (depending on the type of pastry) rose water. Finally there is the texture in the mouth: enhanced by a liberal slathering of rich, whipped sheep’s-milk butter, the whole confection is then rolled in freshly ground pistachio nuts to give added crunch and flavor.

Not planning a trip to Turkey soon? The next best thing to a visit to Karaköy Güllüoglü is to order the frozen pastries and phyllo from the company’s outlet in Brooklyn: Gollugo Baklava.

Photographs by Tony Eprile

Street Food


Street Food: Istanbul

Originally Published May 2005
Great food abounds on the streets of this culture-bridging city. Hunting for the perfect trash kebab, John Willoughby tries it all.

Normally a sane driver, at least by Turkish standards, Ihsan abruptly jerked the wheel to the right and swerved across three lanes of traffic on the busy Bosporus highway. I was seized by the sudden, horrible fear that I was about to die, not for love or patriotism or even money, but for a kebab. And a trash kebab, at that.

It’s not as if we hadn’t already had kebabs. Lots of kebabs. Really great kebabs. And even this skewered plenitude was only the beginning of what we had eaten on the streets of this always surprising city. In fact, the variety and quality of the food there echoes the magnificence of Istanbul’s not-so-distant Ottoman past, when eating was such an obsession that many of the 1,300 cooks in Topkapi Palace spent their entire professional lives perfecting a single dish.

Fittingly, it is in the warren of narrow streets outside the mammoth Grand Bazaar, in the historic Sultanahmet district, that Istanbul’s street-food scene reaches its zenith. That very afternoon, wandering among the bustling crowds dressed in everything from full-length black robes to business suits, Ihsan and I had stood in a long, snaking line outside a minuscule shop to take away the best doner kebab I have ever tasted. I thought I was satisfied, but about 20 feet later Ihsan stopped at a glass-topped cart for a stuffed mussel, nested in its shell over a mound of subtly spiced rice. As I ate my third, I noticed a woman sitting on the street behind me selling something I’d never seen before: long, translucent, bumpy, sausagelike shapes. They turned out to be an Ottoman sweet—ropes made of paper-thin grape “leather” that had been thickly stuffed with toasted walnut halves.

We kept strolling, meandering, sampling. We tried kokoreç, a pleasingly fatty snack of lamb intestines fashioned into coils, grilled over charcoal, then chopped up and seasoned with dried oregano and the ever-present Maras pepper. Next came a sandwich of ground lamb cooked on a wide, round, black metal griddle. In one narrow alley, we came upon my absolute favorite, çig kofte, the hand-fashioned “cigars” of heavily spiced raw ground veal served on a leaf of romaine lettuce with a squeeze of lemon and a scallion. Even after that, I couldn’t resist a piece of pide bread simply grilled and skimmed with butter.

When we finally emerged onto a main artery near the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, I couldn’t even look at the grilled corn and chestnuts on offer. But Ihsan said, “Well, it’s after nine. The cöp şiş stand should be opening about now,” and we took off on that fateful drive to the Asian side.

As it turned out, Istanbul’s drivers are unusually adept at avoidance tactics, and we made it safely to the curbside, where Ihsan hopped out of the car to embrace Ercan, the tall, thin Turk presiding over the brazier. As they laughed and hugged, I inspected the skewers laid out over the glowing coals: There were cubes of lamb interspersed with small chunks of mutton fat, spicy sucuk sausage alternating with aged kaşar cheese, long skewers of diminutive lamb livers.

This being Istanbul, where kebabs are practically a religion, this variety had its own very specific provenance. “We call them cöp şiş, ‘trash kebab,’” said Ihsan. “The style is from southeastern Anatolia, and they’re called trash because they started out as little pieces of whatever was left over from restaurants at the end of the day’s service. The stands still only open late at night.”

A few minutes later, we were headed back to the curb, a cold beer in one hand, and in the other, a sheet of thin flatbread wrapped around grilled lamb sprinkled with a sort of tomato relish. I took a bite: The deeply seared lamb, with its faint echoes of smoke and gaminess, was buoyed by the juicy brightness of tomato, the gentle bite of onions, oregano’s earthiness, and the complex, slightly chalky heat of Maras and Urfa peppers. Like the best street food everywhere, it was straightforward, robust, instantly addictive. “Now that,” said Ihsan with a sigh, “is a kebab.”