Weather is turning cooler for most us and we look out for delicious, comfort food. Tahini and honey based helva or halva, is a delicious treat enjoyed in Turkey; I especially love the baked tahini halva served in kebab houses and restaurants at home, such a heavenly taste.
Helva, the Turkish name, derives from the Arabic ‘halva’ meaning ‘sweet confection’. Halva is a very popular candy in Turkey, Armenia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East served in cafes and kebab houses. Halva is made primarily with honey and tahini and there are many variations of it. In the old days they would grind oily sesame seeds into a paste (tahini) and then mix it with hot honey. Nowadays prepared tahini is widely available in Middle Eastern stores abroad and at online stores like Best Turkish Food. Aside from the plain version of this sweet and flaky sesame based confection, there are many popular variations of Halva including chocolate and pistachio. The Turkish food store in North Cheam (address: 565-567 London Road, SM3 9AG, North Cheam) in the U.K. also carries Halva in packs.
This nut-butter-based Halva is made from tahini/tahin (sesame paste) or other nut butters e.g. sunflower seed butter with primary ingredients of nut butter, glucose and sugar or honey. This halva has a dry, crumbly texture and keeps in the fridge well for a long time. You can slice the halva and have with crackers or toasted slice of bread; the taste is just wonderful.
I was inspired by dear fellow blogger, Claudia for this delicious recipe and slightly adapted with the addition of pine nuts. Please check her wonderful blog, A Seasonal Cook in Turkey, where Claudia uses the seasonal produce in Turkey for her delicious recipes.
Here I chose to bake the tahini halva in the oven with sautéed pine nuts over the top. This dessert takes only minutes to make and it is so delicious; great for sharing with friends and family. The sautéed pine nuts add a lovely additional flavor and texture; I hope you enjoy it.
350g precooked helva/halva- plain or with nuts
juice of half a lemon
100ml/4fl oz. whole milk
For sautéed pine nuts:
30ml/2 tbsp. pine nuts and drizzle of light olive oil
Ground cinnamon to serve
Plain crackers to serve
Preheat oven to 200C/400F
Mash the helva with a fork and then add the other ingredients. If you like, use an electric hand mixer to reach a smooth consistency which should become like ‘a loose hummus’. Pour into a large baking dish or 6 individual or small ovenproof dishes. Sprinkle with cinnamon and place in the hot oven for about 5 - 10 minutes, depending on how deep you filled the ramekins.
In the meantime, sauté the pine nuts in a drizzle of light olive oil for a few minutes in a pan, until they are golden.
Once the halva is baked, sprinkle the sautéed pine nuts over the halva and serve hot, with plain crackers by the side.
Firik or Freekeh is a super food and an ancient grain; I absolutely love its delicious, nutty taste, similar to pearl barley. Freekeh used to feature a lot at my grandmother’s table in Antakya, ancient Antioch, when I was a child. Cooked with bulgur and fresh butter, it always tasted so heavenly and the mesmerizing smells always greeted us. Freekeh is a real treat by itself and pairs with bulgur, vegetables, chickpeas and meat beautifully.
Firik, (as in Turkish) or Freekeh (sometimes spelled frikeh) or farik is a cereal food made from green wheat that goes through a roasting process in its production. Firik is a popular and ancient grain used Middle Eastern & Southern Turkish cuisine and also popular in Levantine, Egyptian, Arabian Peninsula and North African cuisine. The wheat is harvested while the grains are yellow and the seeds are still soft; it is then piled and sun-dried. The piles are then carefully set on fire so only the straw and chaff burn and not the seeds. It is the high moisture content of the seeds that prevents them from burning. The now roasted wheat undergoes further thrashing and sun-drying to make the flavor, texture, and color uniform. It is this thrashing or rubbing process of the grains that gives this food its name, farīk or “rubbed.” The seeds are now cracked into smaller pieces so they look like a green bulgur.
This delicious, ancient grain freekeh is a similar food made from barley and it is also mentioned in the Bible. Freekeh is also considered as a superfood, as in the category of the healthy grains such as quinoa and farro. Freekeh has at least four times as much fiber as some other comparable grains, consisting mostly of insoluble fiber. It also has a low glycemic index so is suitable for managing diabetes. You can get freekeh in Middle Eastern or specialty food stores abroad, though it is widely available in Turkey. Bulgur is now widely available in supermarkets, so great to see.
I cooked my firik, freekeh here with bulgur, onions, eggplants (aubergine) and chunks of meat. The delicious nutty texture of the grains worked so well with the vegetables. Addition of any meat of your choice is lovely though just with the grains and vegetables itself, this meal would be a delicious vegetarian feast. Chickpeas would go well in this dish too. Turkish hot pepper paste, biber salcasi, gives a wonderful, rich flavor to this dish; you can make your own red pepper paste too, here is my recipe if you like to make your own. You can also add some heat and flavor with the Turkish red pepper flakes, pul biber.
Preparation time: 25 minutes Cooking time: 30 -35 minutes
350gr/12oz/2 cups coarse bulgur, rinsed and drained
225gr/8oz/ generous 1 cup firik or freekeh, rinsed and drained
1 large eggplant (aubergine), diced
2 medium onions, finely diced
450gr/ 1 lb. small chunks of beef, chicken or lamb (optional)
15 ml/ 1 tbsp. Turkish red pepper paste (biber salcasi)
15 ml/1 tbsp. tomato puree
60ml/2 fl. oz./ ¼ cup olive oil
3 pints/ 6 cup hot water
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes, pul biber to serve
First prepare the eggplants (aubergines). Peel the eggplants lengthways in stripes using a vegetable peeler or a small sharp knife. Cut the eggplant in quarters and then slice into bite size pieces. Layer the eggplant pieces on a tray and sprinkle salt over them, leave them aside for 15 minutes (salt will help the moisture and bitter juices come out of the eggplant). After 15 minutes, dry the eggplants with kitchen or paper towel thoroughly.
Heat the 2 tbsp. olive oil in a heavy pan and sauté the onions until soft and they begin to color. Add the pieces of meat, stir and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Toss in the diced eggplants and the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil. Stir and sauté over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, until they start to color and soften. Then stir in the red pepper paste and tomato paste and combine well with the vegetables and the meat. Season with salt and ground black pepper.
Now add the bulgur and freekeh to the pan and mix well. Pour in the hot water, stir and bring it to the boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer on low to medium heat for about 20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat, cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel and place the lid on firmly. Rest the pilaf for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Serve the bulgur and frekeeh pilaf hot with Turkish red pepper flakes, pul biber sprinkled over, if you like. Refreshing Cacik Dip of diced cucumbers and dried mint with yoghurt complements this bulgur & freekeh pilaf very well.
I hope you enjoy this delicious, ancient food, packed with goodness; Afiyet Olsun,
Have you ever tried the baked prawns with tomato, mushroom, peppers, onions and garlic – Karides Guvec, in Turkey? This popular all-in-one pot dish is served in fish restaurants in Turkey as a starter hot mezze and simply irresistible. Raki, Turkish spirit, is a popular and traditional drink to accompany Karides Guvec and seafood in Turkey.
Traditionally, prawns are cooked here with plenty of vegetables in a one big earthenware pot (or in smaller individual ones), called guvec, which delivers a wonderful flavor. But no worries if you don’t have one; a ramekin dish or a glass baking dish also works very well too. The marriage of baked tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, peppers and garlic in olive oil with prawns is heavenly; all you need is some crusty bread to mop up the delicious juices and a green salad a side. You can serve this easy baked prawns as a starter or as a main course with some plain rice aside; great for sharing with friends and family.
It is Thanksgiving coming up this Thursday for the folks in the US. I have a lot of fond memories of gathering around the Thanksgiving table with our friends when we lived in the US; a special time to be thankful. My best wishes for Thanksgiving if you are celebrating and I hope this may be a delightful course to share for any gathering.
Preparation time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 35 minutes
225gr/ 8oz fresh raw king prawns, shelled, cleaned and pat dried
225gr/ 8oz chestnut or white mushrooms, wiped cleaned, halved and sliced
1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 green bell pepper (or 2 sivri biber, pointy pepper, if you can get), seeded, quartered and thinly sliced
2 bay leaves (optional)
400gr/14 oz. good quality 1 can of chopped tomatoes
120gr/4 oz. grated cheddar (kasar) or mozzarella, if you prefer a milder taste
3 tbsp./45ml olive oil
2 fl oz./ ¼ cup water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
10 ml/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, Turkish pul biber
Handful of chopped flat leaf parsley, for garnish
Slices of fresh, crusty bread or Turkish flat breads, pide to serve
Shepherd Salad of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, Coban Salata to serve
Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F
Heat the olive oil in a wide, heavy pan over medium heat. Stir in the onion, peppers and mushrooms and cook for about 4-5 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the garlic, season with salt (mushrooms especially require generous seasoning) black pepper and red pepper flakes, pul biber. Stir and cook over medium heat for another 4-5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, bay leaves and ¼ cups water, combine well. Simmer over medium to low heat for about 10 minutes, until you get a nice chunky sauce. Check the seasoning of your sauce and add more salt or spices to your taste.
Stir in the fresh, raw prawns to the sauce and mix well. Spoon this mixture into individual or a one big earthenware pot or ramekin dish or any baking dish you have. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top and bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes or until the prawns are just cooked through and the cheese is nicely golden brown on top.
Garnish with chopped parsley over the top and serve hot with slices of crusty bread or Turkish flat breads, pide by the side. Refreshing Shepherd’s Salad of sliced onions, cucumbers and tomatoes, Coban Salata, complements this dish beautifully.
We have just moved in to our new home; very exciting yet also busy with packing and settling in. I gathered a few of my favorite recipes here that can be easily prepared, yet delicious and wholesome – I know I will be turning to them and knowing I have good food ready to enjoy & serve will give me peace of mind, at the end of a busy day. These dishes can also be prepared ahead of time or can be cooked all in one pot. I hope these also may inspire you for wholesome and easy meals; look forward to sharing new recipes from our new home soon!
What do you cook when you are loaded with boxes and busy unpacking? Well, this delicious scrambled egg and vegetables is packed with flavour, it is nutritious and gets ready in minutes. Menemen is one of my homeland’s favorite brunch item, and a great street food. There are many versions of it – garlic, onion, any choice of cheese, spinach would go well too. Served with nice crusty bread and a little garlic yoghurt by the side, this dish can make a wonderful light supper or a substantial lunch option.
How about this melt-in-the mouth Izmir Kofte; Casserole of meatballs, peppers, onions and potato? This is a popular meatball and vegetable casserole (not only with the children but with the adults too!) that can either be cooked on the stove top or baked in the oven. It makes a complete and hearty main course served with plain white rice or a slice of crusty bread. Delicious, easy meal; you can add as much red pepper flakes as you would like for a spicier flavor.
Zucchini, kabak in Turkish, are very versatile, used in many dishes and their flowers are perfect for stuffing. This surprisingly easy and wonderful vegetarian fritters, Mucver, are fantastic accompanied by garlic infused yoghurt or a leafy salad and crusty bread. You can enjoy them as a meze/appetizer for supper or light lunch dish. The bite size versions would be a great party / finger food too. They are also wonderful served next day as a cold snack. They are easy to make and delightful. Here is my Mucver recipe, if you’d like to give it a go.
Often confused with cracked wheat, bulgur wheat is a grain made from cooked whole wheat berries, which have had the bran removed, and is then dried in the sun and crushed. As it has already been cooked, it requires little cooking to reconstitute itself. It is available coarsely and finely ground. For pilaf, the coarser type is used, to create a nutty and delicious dish, which is a meal in itself and served with yoghurt. Bulgur has been a major staple in many rural areas in Turkey; during the Ottoman Period, the rice was a very precious commodity that only the rich could afford. This made the bulgur a very popular option and healthy one too. It is reach in fiber and provides good source of protein. I love this delicious and wholesome bulgur pilaf with vegetables; you get a complete, satisfying meal in no time. You can serve Cacik dip, yoghurt with cucumbers and dried mint as a side for a refreshing accompaniment.
We have a whole section in Turkish cuisine called “Vegetables cooked in Olive Oil”, Zeytinyaglilar, where we cook vegetables in olive oil and serve them either cold or at room temperature. Once cooked, it is important for the dish to cool down in its pan and rest, allowing all the flavors to blend. Usually served with a wedge of lemon, this style of cooking is very healthy, tasty and refreshing. This traditional recipe, Patlicanli Mercimekli Mualla, is from Antakya, Southern part of Turkey, where my roots are from. The amazing flavors of green lentils, olive oil, eggplant and dried mint blend so well and take me back to Antakya immediately. Again, all-in-one-pot, delicious vegetarian meal you can prepare ahead of time.
What do you cook when you have limited time? Well, this bean and vegetable salad, fasulye piyazi, can be ready in a flash, it is very delicious and healthy. At home, traditionally we serve fasulye piyazi with grilled meatballs, koftes. There are traditional restaurants, lokantas, at home that solely serve Turkish style meatballs, fasulye piyaz and pickled cucumber and peppers. This salad is also a great alternative for lunch, served with some nice crusty bread or in can be a part of a meze spread. I would happily have this salad with some nice bread aside for a light supper.
One of Turkey’s most prolific fruits is the apricot. Because of their abundance, some of the yearly harvest is allowed to dry in the hot summer sun in order to be enjoyed all year round. Malatya, a city in southeast Turkey, is particularly famous for excellent dried apricots which are exported throughout the world. Apricots are great snacks; they are packed with fiber, antioxidants and their naturally rich, wonderful flavor is icing on the cake. This delicious & easy baked dried apricots with walnuts dessert is great for sharing with friends and family or just indulging yourself.
For me, nothing more relaxing than taking a break with a nice cup of Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee, Turk kahvesi is one of the most popular traditional drinks at home in Turkey and I love the whole ritual, the experience of it. In Turkish, we have a saying “Bir fincan kahvenin kirk yil hatiri vardir” which means “The memory of a good cup of Turkish coffee lasts 40 years”. Turkish coffee is a drink of friendship; you are offered this traditional, aromatic drink wherever you go in Turkey; when visiting friends and family, in the shops, while waiting in the bank, in hairdressers.. We take time to pause and enjoy this special drink with a friend or family or sometimes simply reflect with every precious sip. A glass of water and Turkish Delights, Lokum by the side complete the Turkish coffee ritual. And I always look forward to putting the feet up and enjoy a sip of Turkish coffee at then end of a busy day.
This thin, delicious Turkish pizza called lahmacun is the ultimate street food in Turkey that we all love. A very popular lunch time snack, lahmacun is sold in street stalls as well as in restaurants at home. In Kebab houses, mini lahmacuns are served as an appetizer that I just can’t get enough. We Turks also love to have it as a take away food, a great, healthy alternative to fast food and the children love them too. Lemon is liberally squeezed over and then it is rolled up with sliced tomatoes, onion and parsley salad, piyaz.
Lahmacun, thin Turkish pizza with ground lamb topping is one of our favorites and can also be served as a main dish paired with wine. I am often asked which wine pairs with Turkish food best. Since lamb is the main ingredient here, the best wine to match it with is red. M&S Wine expert Belinda Kleinig says, “Chateau Tour d’Auron is a really supple Merlot, which is a perfect partner to cook with lamb leg steak.” The wine’s fresh taste of raspberries, crab apples, plums, and apple complement the lamb’s flavor very well; could be a lovely match for lahmacun.
Here is my lahmacun recipe; hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Serves 4 – 6
Preparation time – 45 minutes (+1 hour rest for the dough) Cooking time – 20 minutes
5 ml/ 1 teaspoon active dried yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
150 ml/ 2/3 cup lukewarm water
350 gr/3 cups strong white bread flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mild olive oil
15ml/1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped or grated
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
225gr / 8oz ground lean lamb
15ml/1 tablespoon tomato paste
5ml/1 teaspoon paprika flakes
Juice of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 200 C / 400 F
First make the dough. Place the sugar and the yeast in a small bowl with half the lukewarm water. Set aside for about 15 minutes until frothy.
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl, make a well in the middle and add the creamed yeast and the rest of the lukewarm water. Using your hand, draw in the flour and work with the mixture to dough, adding more water if necessary.
Turn the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic. Drip a few drops of olive oil into the base of the bowl and roll the dough in it. This will help the dough not to dry up. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and leave in a warm place for about 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
While the dough gets ready, prepare the topping. Lightly soften the onions in the olive oil. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook until the liquid has been absorbed. Add salt to taste and set aside to cool. Put the ground lamb in a bowl and add the tomato paste, parsley, paprika flakes, lemon juice, cooked onions and tomato. Season with salt and pepper and work this mixture into a paste with your hands. Cover and keep in the refrigerator until you are ready to use.
Once the dough doubled in size, punch down the risen dough, knead it on a lightly floured surface and divide into 6 pieces. Roll each piece into a thin flat round, stretching the dough with your hands as you roll. Oil the baking sheets and place the dough rounds on them and spread a thin layer of the meat mixture covering the edges too. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the meat is nicely cooked.
Serve lahmacun hot, with lemon wedges to squeeze over by the side.