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Fascinating Istanbul Continues;The Basilica Cistern, Delights in Sultanahmet & Glorious Antakya Cuisine at Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi, Taksim,Istanbul

Fascinating Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

One of the things I love about Istanbul, is the exposure of thousands of years of history. Indeed, Istanbul is a city where east meets west; at one side the ultra modern buildings, the other side, the centuries old Old Istanbul with Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern and many more. The east and west surprisingly blend in well, and you feel you are walking around an open air museum,  so breathtaking.

Sultanahmet in Old Istanbul has such amazing sites like the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, The Basilica Cistern and many more, all these wonderful pieces of history are within walking distance to one another. The area is also very child friendly; wonderful to see lots of children visiting the museums, feeding their curious minds. I took my 9 year old son to Sultanahmet in Old Istanbul; we took the underground (subway or Metro, as locals call it) from the European side of the city, Levent, all the way to Taksim and then to Karakoy, so efficient. Then we took the Tram from Karakoy to Sultanahmet; worked so well, and no hassle of traffic (and must say, even the journey itself was exciting for my son!).

The Basilica Cistern, Yerebatan Sarnici, Istanbul

My son is fascinated with the 6th century cathedral size Basilica Cistern, especially with the Medusa column. The Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul. I love the tranquility in there; you feel like you paused the time for a while, so peaceful.

 

Upside down Medusa pillar, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul.

The Medusa pillar was a highlight for my son, as he studied the Roman period  this year and read about the Medusa. He was eagerly telling me all about the snake hair and many legends behind it!

Roasted chestnuts and corn, popular streetfood in Istanbul

Soon, we were hungry (there’s always time for food at home!).  Street food, stalls selling Simit, sesame-encrusted bread rings, roasted chestnuts and corn are every where in Istanbul. They are great value and just hits the spot when you are out and about. We had our fair share of roasted chestnuts right outside of the Basilica Cistern, delicious.

Hafiz Mustafa in Sultanahmet carries a wide variety of Turkish delights, and has a wonderful cafe.

Well, we couldn’t just had the chestnuts, as my son spotted his favorite sweet, Lokum – Turkish Delights!  Hafiz Mustafa has been producing Turkish Delights since 1864 and this shop is a wonderful experience. The friendly staff showered my son with complementary Turkish delights, and the Literary Cafe inside the shop looked very inviting. Home made Turkish delights are surprisingly easier than you think and delicious, here is my recipe for Turkish delights, if you like to have a go.

Baklava, dried figs stuffed with walnuts – all so very inviting.

As expected, we had our fair share of the baklava. The dried figs here have been cut in half and stuffed with walnuts; they are then poached in syrup and cooked until soft, so very delicious. Figs and walnuts are also power food, very nutritious, and packed with antioksidants.

Glorious Antakya Cuisine In Taksim, Istanbul – Istanbul’da Bir Antakyali

Friendly staff at Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi, Taksim – Istanbul

My parents and my dear sister Oznur live in Istanbul and they are my eyes and ears. They kindly fill me in what’s the latest in the city, especially at the food front. As our roots go back to Antakya, ancient Antioch, they keep a close eye on especially the Southern Turkish food available in Istanbul. When my dad said that we have to try the newly opened Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi Restaurant in Taksim, the plan was made and my sister and my cousin Duygu made it there the next day.

Antakya has been a city of tolerance; Christians, Muslims and jews live happily and in peace there. This picture show the St Peter’s Chuch and the Habib-i Neccar Mosque in Antakya.

Antakya, ancient city of Antioch has been occupied by humans since the Calcolithic era (6th millennium BC), and hosted many civilizations ; the restaurant makes its name as of the Table of these Ancient Civilizations. Antakya has historical significance for Christianity as it was the place where the followers of Jesus Christ were called Christians for the first time. Antakya since then has been a city of tolerance; Christians, Muslims and Jews live happily and in peace together in Antakya. This picture at the restaurant show the St Peter’s Chuch and the Habib-i Neccar Mosque in Antakya.

Ismail Bey from Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi; so passionate about the history and cuisine of Antakya.

We greatly admired the passion of Ismail Bey from Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi for Antakya’s history and cuisine. The whole restaurant is full of pictures from Antakya; the Mozaic Museum, St Peter’s Church, the famous Long Market – Uzun Carsi and many more. Ibrahim Bey says they source 90 % of their ingredients from Antakya and proud to serve regional Antakya dishes in the restaurant. Another great thing about Istanbul; you can now taste a variety of regional cuisines, the city is such a melting pot.

 

Delicious mezzes of Antakya; Cevizli Biber (Walnuts with red pepper paste), hummus, patlicanli eksileme (smoked eggplant salad with dried mint) and many more

A huge tray of delicious mezzes of Antakya greeted us; Cevizli Biber (Walnuts with red pepper paste and olive oil), hummus, zathar salad, Zeytin ufeleme (olive salad with pomegranate molasses) and many more.

Smoked eggplant with vegetables, olive oil, dried mint & lemon dressing; delicious and refreshing.

 One of the mezzes that we enjoyed is Patlicanli Eksileme – Smoked Eggplant Salad with tomatoes, onions, parsley with olive oil, dried mint & lemon dressing. The sweet, smoky flavor of the eggplants here work so well with the vegetables and the dressing, here is the recipe if you’d like to try out.

Abagannuc; sauteed chunks of lamb over the bed of eggplant, tomato and pepper sauce

Then came Abagannuc;  sauteed chunks of lamb served over Abagannuc; the smoked eggplant, tomato and pepper sauce, just melted in the mouth.

Kagit Kebab of Antakya

Feast continued; this is Antakya’s Kagit Kebabi; Kebab baked in the oven in a special baking paper. I have vivid childhood memories of taking the ground meat mixture to my grandmother’s local bakery in Antakya, to cook this kebab for us (bakerys in Antakya also bakes many kebabs, casseroles and pastries for their customers). Ground meat, garlic, parsley, onion and spices in the mixture, another local specialty.

Candied walnuts, figs and pumkin – and of course Kunefe!

Now time for the sweets; this time came the wonderful candied walnuts, pumpkin and figs, along with Antakya’s famous kunefe.

The candied walnuts are a real speciality of Antakya, along with others; locals start making this dessert at the early months of summer, and its preparation can take up to a month.  Young walnuts are soaked in water for a long period so that their bitterness goes away. Once they are cooked, the walnuts again soaked in syrup for a long time, a real labor of love.

Antakya’s Kombe cookies; a great crumbly texture, with flavors of tahini, sesame seeds, cinnamon, wild oregano and more.

Ismail Bey kindly treated us to Antakya’s famous Kombe cookies, another regional specialty. It has a wonderful, crumbly texture and delicious flavors of tahini, sesame seeds, cinnamon, wild oregano and more. They were so good that I had to save one to take to my parents!

Menengic Kahvesi, another Southern Turkish specialty.

Have you ever tried Menegic coffee? It was my first time trying this aromatic, delicious coffee, another Southern Turkish Speciality. Menengic, or cetene or citlenbik, as locals call it, is Pistacia terebinthus, known commonly as terebinth and turpentine tree, is a species of Pistacia, and wildly grown in Southern Turkey, part of the national flora. Cooked with milk, you can certainly get the wonderful pistachio taste, a unique experience.

Locals in Southeastern Turkey also liberally incorporate menengic’s oil into home-made sweets (baklava, kadayif, halwa, cookies and more) as it counters sugar and gives an unworldly delicious taste. In addition, menengic’s oil is regarded very healthy and packed with goodness.

A delightful feast, Antakya style, with my sister and cousin in Taksim, Istanbul

We enjoyed a truly delightful feast, treasures of Antakya, with my sister and cousin in Taksim, Istanbul – so worth a visit.

I hope you enjoyed our adventure in the fascinating city of Istanbul and a taste of  Antakya available in Istanbul. As you can see, many of the mezzes and dishes here are so easy to make, healthy and delicious, I hope they inspire you to have a go.

There is more to share again soon! Until next time,

Afiyet Olsun,

Ozlem

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Turkish Yoghurt Soup with rice, mint and red pepper flakes; Yayla Corbasi

Delicious, ready to eat soups, casseroles, rice and meat courses at the Fehmi Esnaf Lokantasi, Kadikoy- Istanbul – “slowly cooked fast food”, that we Turks love to indulge.

Soups, -“Corba” in Turkish-, form a very important part of Turkish diet; almost every dinner, especially in cooler months, start with soup in Turkish households. In rural Anatolia, it is very common for this yoghurt soup or the hearty red lentil soup to be eaten as breakfast, for a substantial meal, throughout the year. You see soup stalls in every town, village and city in Turkey.

Yayla corbasi; yoghurt with rice soup, flavoured with dried mint and red pepper flakes

This simple but delicious yoghurt based soup, Yayla Corbasi, originates back to Anatolia’s earliest settlers and nomadic herdsman, and it is one of the most popular soups in Turkey, flavored with dried mint and paprika flakes. Traditionally long grain white rice and butter is used in the recipe, here in this version, I used whole grain basmati rice and used olive oil and butter half and half during our class recently. For gluten-free version, please use gluten and wheat free plain white flour blend.

Yayla Corbasi, ready to eat!

Yayla Corbasi is another good example of how you can add flavor through spices. The mild, plain taste of yoghurt is magically transformed with the red pepper flakes and dried mint infused butter/olive oil, to a different, delicious and refreshing level. I hope you can give it a go sometime.

Fancy more soup? How about Ezo Gelin Corbasi – Daughter-in-law’s spicy lentils and bulgur soup with quinoa or this Tomato and vegetables soup with orzo – Sebzeli seriye corbasi ? They are ready in a short time and can certainly warm you up.

Serves 4-6

Preparation time: 10 minutes               Cooking time: 40 minutes

1.2 litres/2pints/5 cups water (you can also use vegetable stock or for non-vegetarian version, meat/chicken stock if you’d like)

150gr/6oz/1 cup whole grain basmati rice, rinsed

30ml/2 tbsp. olive oil

500gr/1 ¼ lb./2 ¼  cups plain, thick and creamy yoghurt (brand Fage works well)

15ml/1 tbsp. plain flour (for gluten-free version, please use gluten and wheat free plain white flour blend)

2 egg yolk

15 ml/1 tbsp. dried mint

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

For the dried mint & paprika flakes sauce:

30ml/2 tbsp unsalted butter (you can use olive oil instead of butter, if you prefer)

½ tbsp paprika flakes – you can use more for a spicier flavor!-

½ tbsp dried mint

Whole grain basmati rice worked well in the yoghurt soup. Gluten and wheat free plain white flour blend replaced the plain flour really well too.

Bring the water to the boil in a heavy saucepan and add the rice. Stir well and simmer for about 20-25 minutes or until the rice is tender and has released its starch to thicken the soup. Remove from the heat.

The flour and egg yolks stabilize the yoghurt and keep it from curdling.

Meanwhile in a bowl, combine the yoghurt, flour, egg yolk and beat until smooth (the flour and egg yolks stabilize the yoghurt and keep it from curdling). From the pan, take a cupful of hot stock and whisk it into the mixture. Return the thickened egg mixture to the soup pan, stir in the dried mint and season with salt and ground black pepper. Stir well and simmer gently for another 10 minutes, or until the soup has a creamy consistency.

Dried mint adds a wonderful, refreshing flavor to this yoghurt based soup, Yayla Corbasi.

To make the dried mint and paprika flakes sauce, melt the butter gently in a separate pan on a low heat. Stir in the dried mint and paprika flakes, stir and cook on a very low heat (so that the spices don’t burn) for about 30 seconds, until the spices start to sizzle. Whisk this sauce into the soup.

This dried mint and red pepper flakes infused sauce will transform the taste of our yoghurt based sauce; you can use olive oil instead of butter, if you like.

Serve hot with a sprinkle of extra paprika flakes for a spicier flavor, if you like.

Yayla Corbasi; yoghurt soup with whole grain rice, dried mint and red pepper flakes, ready!

Afiyet Olsun,

Ozlem

Note: If you can’t get strained yoghurt, you can make it yourself. Here is Ghillie Basan’s tip for making strained yoghurt: Line a sieve (strainer) with a piece of muslin and spoon creamy, natural yoghurt into it. Allow the excess liquid to drip through the muslin, then transfer the yoghurt from the sieve to a bowl.

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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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