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A Culinary Delight; Gaziantep Cuisine – Bulgur Meatballs with Squash and Chickpeas, in Yoghurt & Mint Sauce – Yogurtlu Bulgurlu Kofte, Gaziantep Usulu

Gaziantep Spices; photo source – Gaziantep Mutfagi 

Have you ever been to Gaziantep? Did you ever have a chance to sample its delicious cuisine reflecting a rich culinary heritage? The last time I have been to Gaziantep was a few years ago; the aromas, spices, the red pepper paste, dried peppers and aubergines adorning the markets.. all still fresh in my mind. With my roots going back to Antakya, I am familiar with these wonderful aromas and spices, and now delighted to get know this delicious cuisine a bit better, I hope you will feel the same way too.

Dried peppers, aubergine, okra features often in Gaziantep Cuisine

Gaziantep cuisine reflects a rich culinary heritage of various civilizations dating back to thousands years ago and with the regional flora and fauna, from Central Asia to Anatolia, the Balkans, Europe and Caucasus. During the festivities, the kitchens of Gaziantep produces the delicious and traditional Yuvarlama  -or Yuvalama in local dialect— ,Gaziantep’s favorite dish. On the three-day Bayram Festivities at the end of Ramadan, it is served in every home, rich or poor. Rolling the tiny ground rice dumplings is both easier and more enjoyable when family members and neighbors get together to share the work. The dish is accompanied by rice pilaf with vermicelli. Yuvarlama is a marvelous combination of different flavors and textures.

Yuvarlama or Yuvalama, Gaziantep’s favorite dish. Photo source: Gaziantep Mutfagi 

How about Gaziantep’s world famous baklava? Please have a look at the story of Gaziantep’s melt-in-the-mouth baklava and how it’s made, featured at Gaziantep Mutfagi . Gaziantep is a culinary delight, a feast for all senses, hope you make it there sometime.

Gaziantep’s famous baklava; source: http://www.gaziantepmutfagi.org, by Tuba Satana http://www.tubasatana.com

Now, a little bit of information on Gaziantep, one of the oldest settlements in the world and the sixth largest city of Turkey. Gaziantep, carrying the imprints of Chalcolithic and Neolithic ages, Hittite, Assyrian, Persian civilizations, Alexander the Great, Seleucid, Roman, Byzantine Empires, Islamic, Turkish-Islamic and Ottoman periods, is home to works of art belonging to all of these ages, civilizations, empires and states. Gaziantep is also the gateway of Silk Road opening to Anatolia; the road of tradesmen, wise men, ideas, religions and cultures, starting from China and leading to Europe.

Magnificent ruins of the ancient city of Zeugma, which has stayed buried beneath the pistachio groves for nearly two thousand years.Source: www.zeugmaweb.com

The traditions, rituals are an important part of Gaziantep’s culinary heritage and it is lovely to see that it is still a big part of the daily life in Gaziantep. The richness of traditional culture has given way to the emergence of a rich culinary culture. The events such as birth, marriage and death have important effect on the local culture, and this has caused the occurrence of an oral culture. For instance, among the catering activities carried out during birth events, kuymak (soft and mushy pilaf), which is believed to increase the amount of breast milk, and loğusa şerbeti (lit. puerpera juice); festive dishes such as Yuvarlama and many other special foods and drinks are some examples of the integration of traditional life style and culinary culture.

During my visit to Istanbul last summer, I was delighted to get a copy of the “Gunesin ve Atesin Tadi” – Taste of the Sun and Fire”; cookery book for the Gaziantep Kitchen. Very true to its title, Gaziantep Kitchen reflects a rich culinary heritage, takes its power from its rich soil, seasonal, sun kissed produce. Then, this seasonal produce, whether cooked on charcoal fire or in the bakeries, reflects the wonderful aromas of sun and the heat. This wonderful cookery book, edited by Aylin Oney Tan, contains Gaziantep’s regional recipes written by 5 local food historians. Gaziantep Chamber of Commerce has been a big part of this project and their website, Gaziantep Mutfagi, -Gaziantep Cuisine- is a very  valuable source into this rich, wonderful cuisine.  My heartfelt thanks to Ms Senay Copur from Gaziantep Chamber of Commerce, for letting me share the lovely photos and culinary heritage of Gaziantep. For more information, please visit Gaziantep Mutfagi,  aimed to promote the Gaziantep Cuisine. Also a big thank you the wonderful blog Aintab Sofrasi on Gaziantep Cuisine,  for letting me use their  Gaziantep market image.

Gunesin ve Atesin Tadi Cookery Book; a great resource on Gaziantep Cuisine.

Stews with yoghurt has a special place in Gaziantep kitchen; one of the richest regional cuisines in Turkey, with the use of yoghurt in their dishes. I recently had a go and re-created Gaziantep’s Stew with bulgur meatballs, in yoghurt and mint sauce – Yogurtlu, bulgurlu kofte -. The traditional recipe also has lamb in it, in my version I omitted the extra meat and added the seasonal squash to  the dish – It is also common to add seasonal vegetables to these yoghurt based stews in Gaziantep kitchen. The chickpeas worked really well in the stew too; not only very healthy, but brought a different texture and wonderful flavor. The dish turned out to be a very satisfying  and substantial meal yet surprisingly light, just as described.

Bulgur meatballs with squash and chickpeas in yoghurt and mint sauce, my variation of Gaziantep’s delicious yogurtlu, bulgurlu kofte.

This recipe calls for fine bulgur wheat. If you can’t get the fine bulgur, perhaps you may blitz the coarse bulgur a couple of times to get the finer version. My bulgur meatballs weren’t as tiny as the traditional ones – and I greatly admire skillful locals making those gorgeous chickpea sized balls in almost no time-, but still very tasty and impressed the family. Next time, I look forward to trying this dish with the chunks of lamb in it. I hope you can give a go to this satisfying, delicious dish.

Bulgur meatballs with squash and chickpeas, in yoghurt & mint sauce

Serves 8-10

1 cup dried chickpeas (or 1 can of 400 gr/14 oz chickpeas, drained and rinsed)

1 squash, cut in small chunks

3 cups strained yogurt –( thick and creamy yoghurt, brand Fage works well)

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

For the bulgur meatballs:

4 cups fine bulgur

600 g lean minced (ground) meat

1 onion, finely chopped

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground red pepper flakes

¼ teaspoon black pepper

For the dried mint sauce:

1  tablespoon dried mint

2 tablespoons butter

 If you are using dried chickpeas, soak them in plenty of cold water overnight. Drain the chickpeas, put them in a pan with plenty of cold water. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and partially cover the pan. Simmer the chickpeas for about 45 minutes or until tender. Drain the chickpeas in a colander and set them aside.  If you are using a can of cooked chickpeas, simply drain its juice and wash the chickpeas in a colander, leave them aside.

Bulgur meatballs mixture; if you can’t get the fine bulgur, you may blitz the coarse bulgur a couple of times to get the finer version.

To make the bulgur meatballs, combine the chopped onion, bulgur, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and 1 cup of water and put through the food processor twice. Add the ground meat to the mixture and put through the food processor again (it is also possible to knead the mixture by hand, but that requires extra time and effort). Add the egg to the mixture and knead by hand until it is as smooth as bread dough. Prepare the bulgur balls by dipping your hand in water, taking a tiny lump of dough the size of a chickpea and rolling into a ball.

Traditionally, these bulgur meatballs are made to the size of a chickpea – I greatly admire locals making those tiny balls in almost no time – mine came out bigger than that, though still very tasty.

Pour half a liter of water into a heavy pan and bring to the boil. Balance a strainer on top of the pan and place the bulgur balls inside. Cover with a lid and steam for 15 minutes. Remove and place in a large shallow dish to cool.

 Beat the egg and the strained yogurt in a saucepan, place over a low heat and stir constantly in the same direction

To prepare the yoghurt sauce, add 5-6 cups of water and bring to the boil and stir in the chunks of squash, season with salt and pepper. Cook the squash for 15-20 minutes, until it starts to get tender. Beat the egg and the strained yogurt (brand Fage works well as it is) in a saucepan, place over a low heat and stir constantly in the same direction. Occasionally add a tablespoonful of the hot water and once the yogurt comes to the boil, combine it with the hot water in the pan.

Just before serving add the bulgur balls and the chickpeas to the mixture and heat through. Do not add the balls before this stage or they will soften and lose their flavor. Check the seasoning and add salt and ground black pepper to your taste.

Bulgur meatballs with squash and chickpeas, in yoghurt & mint sauce; a very satisfying, delicious meal yet surprisingly light.

For the dried mint sauce; melt the butter in a small pan. Remove from the heat, add the dried mint and drizzle over the serving dish. Serve immediately.

Afiyet Olsun,

Ozlem

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My Mother's Arab Kebab; from Historic Antakya (Antioch)

Arab Kebab- or Arap Kebabi, as we say in Turkish – is a juicy, delicious specialty made in the homes in Antakya, Southern part of Turkey, where my roots are from. This kebab is also so easy to make; I remember my mother making in almost no time, with delicious aromas coming from the kitchen, and how we used to dip our potato and bulgur patties to its delicious sauce.  Antakya  is a city rich in history and traditions; I greatly admire that folks from different religions and backgrounds live and trade happily there over many centuries. This kebab is a heritage passed from the Arab community living in Antakya region.

Juicy, delicious Arab Kebab; make sure to cook a few potatoes in its delicious sauce and make potato&bulgur patties; they go so well with this kebab.

There is abundance of onion in this kebab, which makes it so delicious (and healthy too). I love the natural sweetness the onions bring out to the dish. There are no eggplants (aubergines) in the traditional Arab Kebab, though I like to add on my version. Again, the sweet, almost meaty texture of the eggplant goes so well in the kebab – you can simply take the eggplant out for the traditional Arab Kebab. We also like to add red pepper paste to this kebab, for a richer, spicier flavor. You can find red pepper paste in the Middle Eastern stores or Tulumba.com or Marketurk online stores. You can also make your own red pepper paste; here is my recipe if you would like to have a go.

Turkish red pepper paste – Biber Salcasi; an essential ingredient especially for the Southern Turkish Cooking.

The potato & bulgur patties with onion and parsley go so well with Arab Kebab. We like to add a few potatoes to the kebab to cook, so that they can soak up this wonderful sauce. We then use these deliciously flavored cooked potatoes in our bulgur & potato patties. Dipping the patties to the sauce of Arab Kebab is just heavenly.

These potato and bulgur patties are also wonderful when dipped into olive oil and pomegranate sauce.

You can make the Arab Kebab ahead of time and give a gentle heat just before serving.  The left overs can also be frozen successfully.

Serves 4-6

Preparation time: 30 minutes             Cooking time: 35 – 40 minutes

 

500 gr/1 1/4 lb/ 2 cups lean ground beef or lamb

3-4 medium onions, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 medium size eggplant, finely diced

1 green bell (or pointy) pepper, finely chopped

400gr/14oz can of good quality chopped tomatoes

15ml/1 tbsp red pepper paste – optional-

30ml/ 2 tbsp olive oil

12oz/ 1 1/2 cup hot water

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

5-10ml/1-2 tsp red pepper flakes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3-4 medium potatoes skinned and halved (to be used for the potato & bulgur patties)

 

Sprinkle salt over the eggplants; salt will help the moisture to come out of them.

Cut each eggplant length wise and then about 3-4 in cubes, lay them on a wide flat tray and generously season with salt. This will help the moisture to come out of the eggplants. Leave for about 15 minutes. Drain the water that came out of the eggplants and squeeze them with a paper towel to extract the excess water.

Heat the oil in a large wide pan and sauté the onions for a couple of minutes until they start to soften. Stir in the ground meat and sauté for another couple of minutes. Add the eggplants, garlic, green pepper and cook for further 4-5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, red pepper paste and the hot water, giving a good stir. Stir in the potatoes to the mixture. Season with salt, ground black pepper and red pepper flakes, combine well.

Arab Kebab has a wonderful sauce to dip the bulgur & potato patties or your bread in.

Cover the pan and gently simmer for about 30 minutes, until all the ingredients cooked and the sauce thickened. Stir in the chopped parsley and combine well, the Arab Kebab is ready. The end result should have a good amount of juice/liquid, as we would like to dip the potato & bulgur patties this sauce. Take the cooked potatoes out to be used in the potato & bulgur patties.

Arab Kebab with onions, garlic, peppers, aubergines in rich tomato sauce; enjoy!

Have you ever tried this kebab or any variation of it? I would love to hear from you 🙂

Afiyet Olsun,
Ozlem

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Casserole of Turkish Meatballs with Aubergine, Potatoes, Tomatoes and Peppers – Sebzeli Firin Kofte

There is a concept of “lokanta” restaurants at home, where slowly cooked and ready to eat casseroles of meatballs and vegetables, vegetables cooked in olive oil, stuffed vegetables and many more are displayed on serving trays. The idea is you get a chance to eat freshly cooked  “home style” dinners in a restaurant in no time; you simply pick up your tray and fill in your plate with these scrumptious food and they are very good value too. There is no waiting, and you can have a healthy, delicious meal within 30 minutes. Please check out my previous post Slow Cooked Turkish Fast Food for more delicious, affordable and healthy ways of eating out in Turkey.

Pre-cooked delicious casseroles, pilaffs, vegetables cooked in olive oil; all ready to eat

This week’s recipe is an all-in-one pot popular meatball and vegetable casserole (not only with the children but with the adults too!), one of the many you can experience at lokantas, in Turkey. It is delicious, healthy and you can easily re-create at home. The casserole can either be cooked on the stove top or baked in the oven, and you can bake ahead of time. It makes a complete and hearty main course served with plain rice or with my recent bulgur pilaf with sautéed almonds. I like to add a variety of seasonal vegetables to my meatballs casserole; zucchini (courgettes) and peas work well here too. You can add as much red pepper flakes as you would like for a spicier flavor.

Casserole of Turkish meatballs and vegetables; a favorite for all

We use red pepper paste, biber salcasi, a lot especially at the Southern Turkey; this concentrated paste of spicy red peppers from home gives a wonderfully rich and spicy flavor to the dishes. You can get red pepper paste in most Middle Eastern or specialty stores these days. If you would like to have a go on making your own, here is my red pepper paste recipe.

Turkish red pepper paste, biber salcasi; you can make at home too.

I usually double this casserole recipe and freeze half the portion, as it freezes very well.

Serves 4-6

Preparation time – 30 minutes          Cooking time – 40-45 minutes

For the kofte (meatballs):

450 gr /1 lb ground lamb, beef or mixture

1 medium onion, grated

2 slices of stale bread, soaked in water and squeezed dry

1 egg, beaten

1 bunch finely chopped Italian parsley

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

A bowl of water for kneading kofte / wetting hands

 And the rest:

450 gr / 1 lb medium potatoes, sliced like thin apple quadrants

1 green, red or yellow bell pepper, deseeded and sliced

1 medium carrot, coarsely sliced

1 aubergine, cut in half lengthways and sliced

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

400 gr /14 oz (1 can of) chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon red pepper paste -optional-

1 tablespoon olive oil

240 ml / 1 cup water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

 

Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F

 

Ingredients for the Turkish meatballs

Discard the crusts of the bread, soak in the water and squeeze dry. Then crumble them into a large bowl. Add all the kofte, meatballs ingredients except the meat and knead well. This will soften the onions and enable the spices to blend in the mixture evenly. Add the ground meat and knead well again until the mixture resembles soft dough. With wet hands take a piece the size of a large walnut and roll into a large finger shape about 1 inch thick. Continue until all the mixture is used. The meatballs can now be covered and stored in the fridge until required.

Salt helps the moisture to come out of the eggplants; make sure you drain these bitter juices

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the eggplant (aubergine) lengthways in stripes like a zebra. Slice the eggplant lengthways, about ½ inch thick. Then cut each slice into three parts. Sprinkle some salt over them and leave for about 15 minutes. Squeeze out their moisture with paper towel.

Coat the vegetables with olive oil, red pepper paste or with tomato paste and red pepper flakes

In an oven dish, spread the vegetables. I like to coat the vegetables with the red pepper paste, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix the vegetables and make sure they all get this lovely coating (if you like a milder taste, you can replace the red pepper paste with concentrated tomato paste, and add more red pepper flakes for a spicy flavor). Place the meatballs between the vegetables. Add the chopped tomatoes and water, mix well. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and the sauce has thickened.

Baked Turkish meatballs with eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes; an all in one delicious dish

Baked Turkish meatballs with eggplants, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes; an all in one delicious dish

Serve hot, with plain rice or bulgur pilaf with almonds by the side.

Have you ever tried our traditional drink Ayran? Ayran is a mixture of plain natural yoghurt, water and a pinch of salt blended together. To make ayran, blend 2 cups of plain yoghurt with 3/4 cup water with a pinch of salt, for about 20 seconds. You will see a nice thick foam and bubbles formed at the top. Serve in water glasses with a few ice cubes in them. Ayran is a popular drink at home, especially with kebabs and casseroles, and it would go well with this casserole too.

Wonderfully foamy and bubbly Ayran; our traditional drink with kebabs and casseroles.

Have you ever tried Ayran? Have you had any experience at eating in lokantas in Turkey?  I would love to hear from you, please share with us, thank you.

Afiyet Olsun!

Ozlem

 

 

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