Here are most commonly used spices and herbs:
Cumin : The pungent aroma of cumin lingers and is warm and slightly sweet. Combined with chickpeas and tahini, cumin is the spice that makes hummus taste like hummus. Cumin is wonderful on lamb and beef; with chickpeas, lentils, cabbage, savory apple preparations, eggplant and cooked tomato; or combined with spices like dried mint, paprika, cilantro (coriander) and saffron. It’s also perfect with garlic or fennel.
Urfa Chilies : Urfa chilies are dark red or purple-black and come from southeastern Turkey, where my roots are from. They are very exciting to work with and my favorite chili pepper. They are simultaneously bitter like coffee or chocolate and sweet like molasses, and they lend a wonderful, deep, smoky aroma to sauces. Its heat is moderate but meaningful. I use Urfa chilies in tomato based sauces, on grilled vegetables and marinted meats. They are available at www.kalustyans.com and at www.formaggiokitchen.com
Zahter : A very popular spice in southern Turkish cooking, the fresh version of zahter looks more like summer savory, or a crossing of marjoram, oregano and thyme. At my home town, Antakya, dried zahter is a rich mixture of crushed zahter, susame seeds, crushed cooked chicpeas, cumin, nigella seeds, seasalt, sumac and many more. It is a real treat, and the locals not only used it for chicken and meat marination, but they also like to have their breakfast with this mixture. They simply dip their bread into olive oil, then to zahter, a fascinating treat.
Sumac : Sumac is usually sold coarsely ground and slightly moist. Its aroma is fruity and its flavor is tangy and somewhat salty, as sumac processors use salt to preserve it. Powdered sumac adds a beautiful purple color and a bright, lemony flavor to a dish. Infact, you can season food with sumac as you would with lemon or vinegar. Sumac is excellent sprinkled on grilled fish, on chicken before roasting, on avocados, or in salads with cucumbers and tomatoes. I simply love it tossed with sliced raw onion and eaten with grilled meat or Turkish meatballs.
Mint : Mint is a very common herb used in Turkish cooking. We like to mix it with cubed cucumbers, yoghut and water for a refreshing accompaniment, “Cacik”, served with meat courses. It is also commonly used in salads, lemonades and stuffed grapevine leaves. Mint pairs very well with lamb too.
Parsley : Flat (also called Italian) parsley is one of the most common used herbs in Turkish cooking, since it complements most flavors, adding a bright, clean, green and almost citrusy taste to food, yet never dominating it. It is the star of many salads, including the wheat and vegatable salad tabouleh, and complements most stews, soups and meat dishes.
Where to get some Turkish cooking ingredients…
Below are some stores and websites I have found useful for getting Turkish cooking ingredients,
– Phonecia Bakery (in Austin and San Antonio), Sarah’s Deli in Austin, Ali Baba in San Antonio, Tas Organic Deli in Waterloo / London: They carry a wide range of Middle Eastern and Turkish cooking ingredients. You can also find Turkish coffee, Turkish Delight and Ohanyan’s Bastirma – Turkish dried cured beef – when in stock.
– www.tohum.com: This website specializes in organic hand crafted artisan foods from Turkey. Their specialties include organic tahini, heirloom chickpeas and sun-dried red pepper paste.
– www.tulumba.com: You can order online many food items from Turkey, as well as Turkish accessories, books, CDs etc.
– www.kalustyans.com: This New York based company offers a wide range of different spices and Middle Eastern food items.
– www.penzeys.com : This website carries a wide selection of Turkish spices including Aleppo pepper, cumin, Turkish oregano and many more. They have a great store in Houston too.
This thin, crispy Turkish pizza, Lahmacun is a very popular lunch time snack, sold in street stalls as well as in restaurants at home. We Turks also love to have it as a take away food; a wonderful, healthy alternative to fast food, the children love them too. Lemon is liberally squeezed over and then it is rolled up with sliced tomatoes, onion and parsley salad, piyaz. Flour Tortillas work very well as a mini lahmacun base if you can’t get around making your own dough.
Serves 4 – 6
Preparation time – 45 minutes (add 1 hour rest for dough if you choose to make it)
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
6 pieces of Flour Tortillas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
225 gr / 8 oz ground lean lamb – or ground beef, if you prefer; you can also use half & half with ground lamb & beef-
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon paprika flakes
Juice of 1 lemon
Piyaz (Sliced tomatoes, onion and parsley salad with herbs) ingredients:
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground sumac – optional-
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon paprika flakes – optional –
Preheat oven to 200 C / 400 F
Making 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.
Preparing the lahmacun topping:
Lightly soften the onions in the butter and olive oil. Add the chopped tomato and cook until the liquid has been absorbed. Add salt to taste and set aside to cool. Put the meat 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.
If you are making the dough; 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.
If you are using fresh flour tortillas as a base, spread a thin layer of the meat mixture over the Flour Tortillas and leave to rest for a couple of minutes. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until brown and crispy.
For the piyaz; work sumac and the salt into the onion slices with your hands really well. Combine with the chopped tomatoes, parsley and paprika flakes. Wisk together the extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice and pour over the piyaz. Season with salt (if needed) and freshly ground black pepper.
Serve lahmacun immediately with the piyaz, with lemon wedges to squeeze over by the side.