Muslims around the world will be celebrating the Feast of Sacrifice, Kurban Bayrami or Eid al-Adha as of 24th September in 2015. I have many happy memories celebrating this special event with the family back in Turkey. This is the time family and friends get together to share their food and charity is at the top of the list. Food is shared with friends, family and contribution to charity and sharing the food with the poor and needy is what makes Kurban Bayrami special. Visiting family and friends is another highlight; we children would wear our best frocks and visit the elderly to pay our respects (and spoilt with delicious sweets).
As always, food takes the center stage and here are some ideas for you to prepare your festive Kurban Bayrami or Eid al-Adha table. Most of the dishes here can be prepared ahead of time and makes it easy for entertaining for any festivity or gathering.
Soups, “Corba” in Turkish, form a very important part of Turkish diet; almost every dinner, especially in cooler months, start with a soup in Turkish households and Bayram table is no exception. This simple but delicious yoghurt based soup, Yayla Corbasi, originates back to Anatolia’s earliest settlers and nomadic herdsman. It is one of the most popular soups in Turkey, flavored with dried mint and paprika flakes and would make a perfect start to any festive meal.
My mother would start preparing for the Bayram feast from weeks well ahead of time. She would make the Oruk ,baked bulgur shells with walnuts & ground meat, even a month or so ago, as it can keep freezer very well. Cevizli Biber, the Walnut & red pepper paste dip is one of my favorite mezes of all time; it is very easy to make and very, very more-ish, you just can’t stop eating it.. You can keep the dip covered in the fridge for 3-4 days and it gets better the next day! How about this Roasted Eggplant salad, Patlicanli Eksileme? This is a wonderful, refreshing salad can be served as part of a “mezze” – appetizer- or can accompany grilled meats and vegetables.
Spinach and Cheese Pie- Ispanakli, Peynirli Borek, a winner for all
Boreks, Stuffed savory pastries has a special place in Turkish cuisine; they are an essential part of the festivities or gatherings. This wonderful spinach and cheese pie has to be one of the most deliciously pleasing and easy borek around. I use the filo pastry sheets for this recipe and it works well. If frozen, you need to defrost them overnight in the fridge and leave at room temperature about 2 hours before using. I combine the feta cheese with mozzarella in this recipe to make it moister. You can serve this pie as an appetizer; they are also delicious at afternoon tea time with cay, tea aside.
Imam Bayildi, Eggplants cooked in olive oil with vegetables, would also make a delicious, refreshing vegetarian course at the festive tables. The aubergines are gently poached in this dish with a generous mixture of onions, tomatoes and garlic. This dish is in the category of Vegetables cooked in olive oil, Zeytinyaglis in Turkish cuisine, where the vegetables are poached in olive oil and little water and served either cold or room temperature with a slice of lemon aside.
A Festive Dish, Mevlubi; Layers of Eggplants, Potatoes, Meat and Rice
Another signature dish from my mother’s table, Mevlubi; this special dish makes an appearance in every special occasion on my parent’s table and it is fit for festivities. I love that succulent meat, eggplant, potato all cooked together and their flavor enhance one another. As you can cook ahead of time, this wonderful all in one dish makes an impressive main course and you get to spend more time with your company. For maximum results, please cook on low heat, and let Mevlubi rest for minimum 30 minutes prior serving.
Pistachio lamb kebabs are easy to recreate in your home, delicious and look impressive. Children love them as well as the adults, so they are great for entertaining. Having pistachio nuts in kebabs is a Southern Turkish specialty; I love the rich nutty flavor the pistachios add to the kebabs. With flat breads as the base and roasted vegetables by the side, this succulent kebab is a real crowd pleaser, and can make any day special.
Yoghurt has a special place in Turkish cuisine; some of the finest yoghurt in the world is made in Turkey and is included in some way at most family meal times. This simple but very delicious Turkish mezze, Sauteed carrots in garlic yoghut is a favorite with us and complements these pistachio kebabs very well.
An Ottoman legacy, baklava is one of the greatest creations from the pastry chefs at the Topkapi Palace. Generally, baklava is enjoyed as a mid-morning sweet snack with a cup of Turkish coffee, or as a mid-afternoon treat with a glass of tea or after lunch or dinner and it is fit for festivities! The real thing shouldn’t be very sweet and heavy; on the contrary it should be light enough to tempt you to eat a small plateful. Hope you enjoy my version of baklava which is a little less sweet and more fragrant. Using filo pastry sheets, making baklava is much easier than you think.
This glorious syrup soaked, cheese filled pastry strands, Kunefe, is one of the signature dishes of my hometown, Antakya and a very festive dessert. Tel kadayif is a dough, pushed through a sieve to form delicate strands, which looks like vermicelli and when soaked in butter and baked, resembles golden shredded wheat. It is the basis for many desserts but this is the most impressive. The hot cheese should ooze out giving an interesting contrast to the syrup soaked, crunchy casing. Any unsalted cheese which melts easily can be used – fresh mozzarella works well. I also like to add a little clotted cream; my mother would add the wonderfully thick cream we get in Turkey, called Kaymak. Kunefe can be baked in one big pan or smaller ones as individual portions.
How about this delicious, light and fragrant milk pudding with mastic gum for a sweet treat? In Turkey, mastic gum is used in milky desserts, ice cream (a very delicious experience). Originally liquid, mastic gum is sold as hard small translucent lumps and melted in hot milk while making dessert. Any berry or plum compote would also go well with this pudding.
Mutlu Bayramlar to all celebrating. I hope these delicious food may inspire and be enjoyed during any festivities, gatherings with family and friends.