Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes with Ground Meat & Aromatic Basmati Rice – Biber ve Domates Dolmasi; Delicious & Gluten-free
Some of the food we eat has the ability to transport us to our childhood, have a special link to bond us with those precious memories. These stuffed peppers and tomatoes have such power on me; they are the delicious gateways to take me back home, right to my mother’s as well as my grandmother’s kitchen. Preparing the dolma is quite a grand ritual at home; cousins, sisters, whoever available, gather around a big table; filled with trays of vegetables and stuffing. Some prepare the vegetables, scooping the flesh out, some make the filling, and some do the stuffing. These all happen, of course, with constant flow of Turkish coffee and tea (cay) and catching up! We would then eagerly wait for the dolmas to be cooked; then me and my sister would eat the dolma with a dollop of plain yoghurt on top. We used to call them our “savory ice cream”; I am now trying this trick on my own children
We Turks love stuffing vegetables. The word dolma is used for the vegetables like aubergines, peppers, courgettes, tomatoes that can be stuffed. I like to save the scooped flesh of the tomatoes and use it in the sauce of the dolmas. Stuffed tomatoes are especially a staple of the summer season when tomatoes are abundant and at their peak. For a richer taste, you can also add red pepper paste, biber salcasi or tomato paste to the sauce.
This dish is made from wholegrain basmati rice and it is also gluten-free. Garlicky or plain yoghurt by the side complements the dolmas very well. We made these dolmas at my recent Turkish cookery class; it was a highlight for the participants and they were surprised how easy the dolmas were. I hope you enjoy them and can have a go too.
Preparation time: 40 minutes Cooking time: 45 minutes
3 medium size bell peppers – or 5-6 small bell peppers
4 medium tomatoes
6-8 cloves of garlic, crushed
For the filling:
110gr/4oz/ 1/2 cup ground beef/lamb or ground turkey
115gr/4oz/generous 1/2 cup wholegrain basmati rice, rinsed
2 medium onion, grated
Bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
10ml/1tbsp olive oil
10ml/2 tsp dried mint
10ml / 2 tsp ground black pepper
Salt to taste
For the sauce:
The flesh of the scooped tomatoes, finely chopped
15 ml/1 tbsp. olive oil
15ml/1 tbsp. red pepper paste or tomato paste – optional-
Red pepper flakes to serve – optional-
Bowl of plain (natural yoghurt) or garlicky yoghurt to serve
Put the ground meat in a large bowl and stir in the rest of the filling ingredients. Season and knead, until all blended well. The filling is ready.
Now, let’s prepare the vegetables. Cut the stalk ends of the peppers and save them aside (we will need them to cap the stuffed peppers later). Scoop out the seeds of the peppers.
Slice the tops of the tomatoes and save them aside. Using a spoon, scoop out the tomato flesh, chop them finely and reserve in a bowl. Take care not to pierce through the skin of the tomatoes.
Take a few spoonfuls of the filling and pack it into the vegetables, until they are about ¾ full. Take care not to overfill to the top, as the rice filling will need some space to expand. Place the stalk ends and tomato tops as lids.
Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in to a heavy pan. Place the stuffed vegetables upright, packed tightly, in the pan. For the sauce; combine the chopped tomato flesh with 1 tbsp. red pepper paste or tomato paste (if you are using, for a richer taste) and stir in to the pan. Then pour a couple of cups of water, until it covers just about the half of vegetables, season with salt and ground black pepper. Stir in the cloves of garlic and cover. Bring the liquid to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook gently for about 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the filling cooked.
Once cooked, I like to take their cap off and pour a little of the dolmas’ delicious sauce over each stuffed pepper and tomato before serving and put their cap back on. Serve hot with plain natural or garlic yoghurt by the side. You can also sprinkle red pepper flakes over the dolmas if you like.
Seasonal Samphire (or Sea Beans or Deniz Borulcesi) with Salmon in Cherry tomatoes, Olives and Anchovies & Turkey’s Open for Tourism; Let’s Hear from the Residents
Have you ever tried Samphire, or as we call in Turkey, deniz borulcesi? Samphire is in season at the moment and I was delighted to find this delicious sea vegetable at my local market, what a treat. Marsh Samphire, deniz borulcesi, is a succulent plant of the salicornia species, not a seaweed and it is a popular mezze ingredient in the Aegean & Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Samphire is also a fashionable sea vegetable in the UK at the moment; it has a short season (July to August) so make the most of it if you can. A reader kindly also informed me that samphire is called sea bean in the West Coast, US – and that makes perfect sense-. It pairs any grilled fish beautifully and samphire’s crisp texture and naturally salty, succulent taste is the taste of summer at the Aegean for me. Just one bite and I feel the sea breeze, the turquoise Aegean calling for me straight away..
Once described as the poor man’s asparagus, the mash samphire is not only delicious but very nutritious too. It is rich in vitamins A, B2, B15, C,D, amino acids and more. Some supermarkets, like Waitrose in England also carry samphire next to the fish counter, so worth checking out. Samphire is also delicious especially with egg, broad beans, for a vegetarian option.
I prepared the samphire, deniz borulcesi, in a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil, garlic and lemon juice, like it is prepared in Turkey for a mezze spread; this dressing complemented the samphire beautifully next to our baked salmon with cherry tomatoes, olives and anchovies. Avoid using salt, as there is plenty natural salt here through anchovies and the samphire or sea beans. A very easy and delicious recipe, l hope you enjoy it too.
Preparation time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 30 minutes
4 salmon fillets
16-18 cherry tomatoes, halved
30ml/2 tablespoons olives, pitted and halved
3 small fillets of anchovies in olive oil (from the tin); drained
30ml/2 tablespoons olive oil
Ground black pepper to taste
Wedges of lemon to serve
For samphire (or sea beans or deniz borulcesi) & the dressing:
350g/12 oz. fresh samphire (deniz börülcesi)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
30ml/ 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4
Grease the baking tray with the olive oil and place the salmon fillets on it. Spread the cherry tomatoes, olives and the anchovy fillets over and around the salmon fillets. Season with ground black pepper. Place the tray in the preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes (please refer to cooking instructions at the packaging as cooking time may vary with the size or type of the fish), until the fish is cooked and the tomatoes starting to turn crisp at the edges.
Samphire with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice
While the salmon is in the oven, prepare the samphire. Trim to remove the tough woody parts of the lower stalks and give it a light wash to remove any grit. Steam the samphire over a pan of boiling water for a few minutes. Cool the samphire in iced water and set aside in a serving bowl.
Combine the olive oil, chopped garlic and the lemon juice in a bowl and drizzle this sauce over the samphire or deniz borulcesi, mix well.
All Travellers; Turkey is Open for Tourism – Let’s Hear from the Residents
I have been getting questions from folks planned or planning to go to Turkey, as we all witness and applaud the rise for humanity and hope for the best for this beautiful land and its kind hearted, brave citizens.
I have lived and travelled extensively in my homeland, Turkey over 30 years. Even though I live in England now. I go back often and look forward to visiting home at every opportunity; this is the land that I love. My parents, my sister and family, my friends live in Istanbul and different parts of Turkey. The life goes as normal, as every day the children go to school, folks go to their work, my dad goes to his favorite Sali Pazari, Tuesday market, to the bank and more.
This is the same with travels in Turkey too; my friends already tasted the blue turquoise sea (lucky them!) in Gocek, Bodrum, Ayvalik, Fethiye and my parents are going to their time share home in Bodrum next week; life carries on as normal there too.
Please also check out some amazing blogs on life and travels in Turkey, to get the first hand information. Turkey’s For Life , Turkish Travel Blog, Archers of Okcular, Back to Bodrum; all these wonderful blogs are residents in Turkey and reflect the life in these coastal resorts, popular holiday spots in Turkey from a local’s perspective and they all say the same thing; Turkey is Open for Tourism and look forward to having you! Please also check another great blog, Earth Laughs in Flowers for tips on holidays in Turkey and feel free to browse through their and Ozlem’s Turkish Table facebook page; where many fellow travelers kindly shared their recent positive holiday experiences in Turkey, so wonderful to hear.
For Istanbul; I also consulted my tour guide friend and he said all is normal in Old Istanbul and the rest of the city except the Taksim area, where the main protest is and some parts of Besiktas and Dolmabahce district and it is advised to avoid all the demonstrations.
Istanbul Culinary Backstreet (also resident in Istanbul) says that “Our daily walks continue in full spirit and we invite all of you to come visit Istanbul and help us safeguard the city’s soul, one bite at a time”. Do also please check out the resident and delicious blog A Seasonal Cook in Turkey for inspirations for a foodie feast in Istanbul; the owner of this wonderful blog, dear Claudia also does culinary walks in Istanbul. She actually did another culinary walk in Istanbul this past Saturday and says, “We had a culinary walk with 7 delightful Americans yesterday in Eminonu, it was all just fine.”
As always wherever in the world you would go, please keep yourself up to date with the latest travel advice from the foreign office prior your travels. I wanted to share the latest information with you as I hear and I do hope it helps. Turkey offers one of the finest holiday experiences with its breathtaking coastline, amazing historical sites, friendly, hospitable people and the delicious Turkish cuisine; I truly hope you make it there and enjoy your time.
Best wishes for happy travels – and please have a glass of Cay, Turkish tea and that Simit, Sesame encrusted bread rings, for me!
It has been very hard being away from home at this troubled times at my beloved, beautiful homeland, Turkey. I am immensely proud of all the brave folks out there standing up right for their basic human rights; all mothers and sisters banging their pots and pans in their homes to raise their voice. The kind, generous citizens of Turkey deserve to have the right to live with dignity, to express how they feel in this beautiful land.
I am very saddened to hear the injured, the lost souls, simply heartbreaking. Our Turkish flags are up and on the rise in England, in full support for humanity.
I am hopeful; just like this new growth appeared in my garden, I feel the seeds of hope are up and coming. Our heart is with you, Turkey, as always – Kalbimiz Sizinle Turkiye.
Semolina Halva with Pine Nuts – Irmik Helvasi
This has been a long overdue post and I felt the need to share. The semolina halva is amongst the foods that is dear to my heart. I love the comforting Semolina (Irmik) halva and its inviting aroma takes me right back home.
Irmik Helvasi, Semolina halva is one of the most well known halvas in Turkey. Halva (helva) signifies good fortune and is made not only during religious festivals, but also events like moving houses. It is also traditional for a bereaved family to offer semolina halva to friends when a family member passes away.
Although Irmik helvasi, Semolina Halva, is made with such simple ingredients like semolina, butter, sugar and pine nuts, it requires skill to get it right and is regarded by some as a culinary masterpiece. The silky blend of buttery semolina with crunchy pine nuts offers such a wonderful blend of texture and taste; the dust of cinnamon over halva complements really well too.
Many versions of semolina halva are available in different cuisines; Turkish version of semolina halva uses coarse semolina, rather than the semolina flour. You can find coarse semolina in Turkish, Middle Eastern shops; even at shops specializing in Mediterranean cuisine. In the US, the online Turkish store Tulumba.com also carries coarse semolina.
I hope you enjoy this comforting, delicious semolina halva.
Adapted from Ghillie Basan’s The Complete Book of Turkish Cooking
110gr/4oz/1/2 cup butter
60ml/4 tbsp light olive oil
450gr/1 lb. /scant 2 ¾ cups coarse semolina – irmik –
45ml/3 tbsp pine nuts
900ml/1 ½ pints/ 3 ¾ cups milk – whole milk preferred-
335gr/12oz/1 ½ cup sugar
10 ml/ 2 tsp ground cinnamon to decorate
15ml/1 tbsp sautéed pine nuts to decorate – optional
Melt the butter and olive oil in a heavy pan, stir in the pine nuts and semolina and cook over a medium heat, stirring all the time, until lightly browned.
In the same time, warm the milk in a separate pan and stir in the sugar, mix well and let the sugar dissolve. Turn the heat off once the milk is hot (but not boiling) and sugar is dissolved.
Pour the milk & sugar mixture into semolina & pine nuts mixture and lover the heat. Mix well and cook over low heat until the milk has been absorbed; stirring continuously for about 10-15 minutes. Turn the heat off. Place a paper towel over the pan and cover with the lid, let the helva rest for about 10 minutes – the paper towel will absorb all the excess moisture-.
If you like, sauté 1 tablespoon pine nuts in a drizzle of olive oil for a few minutes. Spoon the semolina halva into individual bowls, and serve with a dust of cinnamon and a few sauteed pine nuts over them.
Gozleme; Anatolian Flat breads stuffed with Spinach, Onion and Feta Cheese – So Delicious and Easier than You Think!
“Can we learn how to make gozleme (Anatolian stuffed flat breads) at the next class?” asked one of my regular Turkish cooking class participants, few months ago. I greatly enjoy their requests, enthusiasm to learn more and have a go at them; that’s all I could hope for from the classes. “Sure, why not!” was reply; I was excited and my heart was set on tackling the much loved gozleme, Turkish flat breads with stuffing, the proper way. During my recent visit to Turkey, I got myself a proper non-stick oval gozleme pan to have a go at these delicious treats.
Having said that, the prospect of preparing Gozleme from scratch; preparing the dough and opening, stretching the dough as thin as sheets of paper was a little daunting at first. I call myself a cook more than a baker and greatly admire local ladies making it so effortlessly at home, in Turkey. Could I tackle it, I wondered. Thank goodness the sheer excitement of having a go at gozleme weighed much higher and I am so glad I tried. The sheets stretched beautifully and gozleme tasted heavenly. I owe a big thank you to David for the inspiration and that precious request!
We Turks love these stuffed flat breads, gozleme. Turks were originated from Central Asia, where they drifted towards Anatolia gradually and made their home. They have been making these stuffed flat breads since then. Gozleme is a much loved Turkish street food and a special part of the delicious Turkish breakfast. These popular snacks are cooked quickly on a hot griddle and can be filled with various fillings. Some of my favorite fillings are mashed potatoes, cheese and parsley; spinach and cheese, and ground meat and onions. And they go down very well with a glass of cay, Turkish tea or ayran, traditional Turkish yoghurt drink.
Have you ever had or made gozleme? What is your favorite filling? I would love to hear from you. As you will see here, making gozleme is much easier than you think and it is very rewarding. All you need is a little encouragement and perhaps “a request” that you can’t resist, as was in my case; I hope you can give it a go.
In the filling in this recipe I added a little Turkish red pepper paste, biber salcasi to the filling for a spicier version; it flavored the spinach and onion really well. If you would like a milder taste, simply omit the red pepper paste (or the pepper flakes).
Makes about 5 Gozleme
3 cups plain flour
8g sachet instant dried yeast
Pinch of salt
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. plain natural yoghurt (preferably whole milk)
1 ¼ cups water
For the filling:
200gr/7 oz. baby spinach leaves
1 onion, finely chopped
5ml/1 teaspoon Turkish red pepper flakes or 2 tsp. Turkish red pepper paste (optional)
230gr/8oz feta cheese
15ml/1 tbsp. olive oil
Non-stick pan or griddle to cook the Gozleme
Combine about 300 ml warm water, yeast and salt in a small bowl, stir and cover. Stand in a warm place for 5 minutes or until bubbles form on the surface.
Sift the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in the yeast mixture, olive oil, yoghurt and the water. Using your hand, draw in the flour from the sides and work the mixture into a dough. Knead thoroughly to form a soft dough. Divide the dough into 5 pieces, knead them and roll into balls. Place the balls on a floured surface, cover with a damp cloth and leave them to rest for about 30 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Chop the washed spinach leaves roughly. Knead the onions, spinach, olive oil and if you are using, red pepper paste (or red pepper flakes) with your hands for a few minute or so – that will soften the onions and blend the flavors well -. Stir in the feta cheese and combine well.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out each of the balls of the dough with a rolling pin into thin, flat rounds, about 40cm/16in diameter. Sprinkle a little flour as you roll the dough so that the dough won’t stick. Roll until you achieve a thin sheet of a flat round.
Fold the left and right sides of the dough in a way for the edges to meet in the middle. Spread about 2 ½ tablespoon filling into the middle part of this flat sheet. Then fold the top and bottom edges over the filling, making sure all the filling is safely covered. Press edges together well to seal. Repeat the same procedure for the rest of the dough balls.
Heat a griddle or a non-stick pan, and brush one side of the gozleme with a little olive oil and place on the pan to cook for about 2 -3 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush the uncooked side with a little olive oil and then flip it over. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, until golden brown.
Brush both cooked sides of gozleme with a little olive oil -this will keep the gozleme moist. Cook the rest of the gozleme the same way.
You can either roll the Gozleme to serve, or you can cut in halves or quarters. Ayran Turkish yoghurt drink or Turkish tea, cay would go really well next to Gozleme.
Warm Hummus with Sauteed Pastrami (Pastirma) And an Emotional & Poignant Moment at Dardanelles, Gallipoli
Have you ever tried hummus warmed up? In Turkey, especially in the South, hummus is served warm with sautéed Turkish sucuk (sausage) – or pastirma (pastrami) or with sautéed pine nuts over the top. I strongly suggest you to try hummus this way, as I feel you may be pleasantly surprised and maybe converted to eat hummus warm as many of my friends have done.
Please adjust the recipe according to your taste, as some like it garlicky, some with more tahini and others may prefer it more lemony. In my recent Turkish cooking class, I added the sautéed pastrami, pastirma, over warm hummus, as it is served in traditional kebab houses in Turkey. Pastirma is a dried cured beef coated with spices and has a delicious, rich flavor. The hummus and the spice coated pastrami has complemented each other so beautifully here. If you can’t get Turkish pastrami, you can use the Italian pastrami or your favorite cured meat or grilled meat.
This warm hummus would make a wonderful appetizer to share with friends and family and goes so well with grilled vegetables or meat by the side. For a vegetarian option, you can serve the warm hummus with red pepper flakes infused olive oil, this one is so delicious too. Both these options may also be wonderful addition for the Mother’s Day spread, if you are celebrating. Pita bread is the perfect accompaniment – hope you enjoy it.
Preparation time – 15 minutes (add 1 hour if used dried chickpeas and soaking overnight)
225gr/8oz dried chickpeas or garbanzo beans, soaked in water overnight or for at least 6 hours or equivalent amount of precooked chickpeas in can
5ml /1 teaspoon salt – please adjust according to your taste-
60ml/4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
30ml/2 tablespoons water
2 garlic cloves, crushed – optional-
Juice of 1 lemon
30ml/2 tablespoon tahini (sesame paste)
5ml/1 teaspoon ground cumin
30ml/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
110gr/4oz Turkish Pastirma, chopped in 1″ strips (or your choice of any Pastrami or sausage)
Slices of pita bread to serve
If using dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drain the chickpeas and transfer them to a pan with plenty of cold water. Bring to boil and boil for a few minutes. Then lower the heat and partially cover the pan, Simmer the chickpeas for 1 hour, until they are soft and easy to mash.
If precooked chickpeas are used, drain the juice and give them a little wash in a colander. Put the precooked (or cooked) chickpeas in a food processor and blitz them together with the extra virgin olive oil, water, lemon juice, garlic and tahini. If it appears thick and difficult to blend, add a little more olive oil or water. Season with salt and mix in the cumin and red pepper flakes (if desired). Process until you achieve a soft, smooth paste. Refrigerate until required.
Just before serving, add a splash of olive oil and heat the hummus in a pan for a couple of minutes. In a separate pan, sauté the strips of pastrami in olive oil. Place the warm hummus in a plate with the sautéed meat over the top, scattering some ground cumin and red pepper flakes over. Serve immediately with slices of pita or flat bread by the side.
Strolling Through the Battlefields of Gallipoli – Dardanelles
Our culinary and cultural tour to Turkey has almost come to an end; going to Gallipoli and visiting the battlefields near the Dardanelles has been a highlight to many folks and did provide a reflective, emotional moment.
Gallipoli, Gelibolu is a peninsula in North-west Turkey, close to Istanbul. The Gallipoli Peninsula is the site of extensive First World War battlefields and memorials on the north bank of the Dardanelles Strait. You can take the ferry from Canakkale to go to Gallipoli like we did, it is easy and convenient.
While on the ferry, all of a sudden we saw a group of locals gathered at the deck, singing Canakkale Turkusu, Gallipoli Folk Song whole heartedly. I remembered singing this folk song as a child, it was a surreal and an emotional moment, we all joined in.
The impressive Gallipoli Kabatepe Museum (or Gallipoli War Museum) was recently opened and so well worth a visit. It has 11 gallery rooms, each equipped with advanced high-tech simulation equipment and the technology allows visitors to choose their presentation language and interact with the display. The centre houses an extensive collection of historic items relating to the renowned World War I campaign and we have been told that the simulations are so real.
Gallipoli Kabatepe Museum hosts numerous relics from the campaign including weapons, uniforms, ammunition, letters written by soldiers to their families, photographs, and private belongings such as shaving tools, cocoa tins and cutlery. A very poignant and emotional moment to view and get so near to each piece.
We then drove up to the Ariburnu Cemetery, at the beautiful Ariburnu Beach. The Ariburnu Cemetery is situated on the north edge of ANZAC Cove by the shore where the Anzacs first landed on 25 April 1915. We were told that 253 Allied soldiers rest in the cemetery; it was very emotional visiting the graves. It is such a peaceful spot and may all those souls rest in peace.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the extraordinary leader and founder of today’s Turkey, wrote a tribute to the ANZACs who lost their lives at Gallipoli. This wonderful tribute inscribed in English on the monolith are the famous words Mustafa Kemal Ataturk delivered in 1934 to the first Australians, New Zealanders and the British to visit the Gallipoli battlefields. I absolutely loved and embraced it:
Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives…
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly Country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons front far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land
They have become our sons as well
Just as we have been reflecting on what we’ve seen on Ariburnu Cemetery, our dear driver, Mehmet Bey excited came forward to show the wild greens he just picked up by the side road’ “Ozlem Hanim” he said “ these are the best Sarmasik (Wild Ivy) you can get. I will sauté with garlic and crack my eggs into it tonight, delicious!” Being from the Aegean region, I know how much Mehmet Bey loves the fresh, wild greens – food managed to bring similes to face again.
And off we set towards Istanbul, looking forward to the buzz of the city and that baklava class..