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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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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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Let’s have a go at Turkish Cuisine; Sultan’s Delight, Zucchini Fritters, Kunefe (Kadayifi); Easier than You Think!

“Thank you for the wonderful Turkish cooking class; I learned so much about the Turkish cuisine, and couldn’t believe how easy it is to cook delicious, healthy food”; this has been one of the comments at my recent Turkish cooking class. It is always a pleasure to see participants’ enjoying the class and realize how easy to make Turkish dishes, using fresh ingredients.

It is a pleasure and lots of fun sharing Turkish cuisine, recipes, traditions at the cookery classes

Well, I have a new Turkish cookery class coming up on Saturday, 20th October, and I wanted to share what we will be up to.  The classes are friendly, informal with step by step demonstration of the recipes, and packed with useful information on where to source ingredients,  substitution ( when needed) and on Turkish cuisine and culture. If you are in the area and would like to join us, please contact me. If not, I hope the recipes may still inspire you to have a go to treat yourself, family and friends; they are delicious and easier than you think! Here is our menu for the class:

Zucchini (Courgette) Fritters flavored with Feta and Dill – Mucver. This appetizer is a wonderful way to flavor the zucchini; dill and feta really goes well with the zucchini. An important tip here is to squeeze out any excess water of the grated zucchini with a paper/tea towel. This will prevent the fritters to get soggy.  You can enjoy mucver  warm or you can make it in advance, and serve as a cold meze. It is truly delicious with garlic infused yoghurt by the side.

Zucchini fritters are utterly delicious; garlicky yoghurt would complement them well.

Sultan’s Delight –  Ragout With Pureed Eggplant And Béchamel Sauce – Hunkar Begendi

Hunkar Begendi; delicious ragout on a bed of smoked eggplant puree; for a vegetarian option, you can serve the puree with grilled vegetables.

This Ottoman classic is served with smoky tasting eggplant with cheese in a béchamel sauce. When Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, visited Topkapi Palace – Istanbul as a guest of the Sultan, she admired the puree so much that she sent her chef to Topkapi Palace to learn the technique. Once you’ve mastered the eggplant puree, it goes well with any grilled meat or vegetables.

Smoking the eggplants is an important step to make the Hunkar Begendi, Sultan's Delight.

Important tip; if you cook the eggplants on stove top or burner, you get a wonderful smoky flavor for the eggplants. As an alternative, you can also bake the eggplants in the oven – make sure to prick the eggplants before baking.

Hunkar Begendi is one of the landmarks of our cuisine and very popular at home. It is great for entertaining; looks very inviting and the marriage of the eggplant & béchamel sauce with the ragout is divine. For a vegetarian option, why not serving the puree with Fried Aubergine (Eggplant), Courgette (Zucchini) and Peppers with Tomato Sauce; Saksuka ? 

Kunefe – Kadayifi

Syrup soaked delicate pastry strands with cheese; kunefe is an ultimate treat.

This dessert is one of the signature dishes of my hometown, Antakya (please click here for more delicious recipes and photos from Antakya). I can still remember getting the freshly baked Tel Kadayif (pastry strands) from the local bakery, watching the delicate strands forming from the huge sieve. And I can still visualize my grandmother cooking Kunefe in her stone oven in her garden, and, we, her grandchildren excitedly waiting for any leftovers of the butter soaked pastry strands….glorious days .

Tel kadayif is a dough, pushed through a sieve to form delicate strands, which looks like vermicelli. In Antakya, there are specialty shops like this, making the fresh pastry strands for kunefe.

Tel kadayif is a dough, pushed through a sieve to form delicate strands, which looks like vermicelli and when soaked in butter and baked, resembles golden shredded wheat. It is the basis for many desserts but this is the most impressive. The hot cheese should ooze out giving an interesting contrast to the syrup soaked, crunchy casing. Any unsalted cheese which melts easily can be used – mozzarella works well too. It can be baked in one big pan or smaller ones as individual portions.

Kunefe recipe will be in the blog shortly.

We will finish the class with the aromatic Turkish coffee, Turkish way. Always a wonderful experience.

Turkish coffee; delicious way to end a Turkish meal.

Have you ever made any of these dishes? Could I tempt you to have a go?:) I would be more than happy to help you along the way and answer your questions, just let me know. I bet yours will be more delicious than mine:)

My late grandmother's 450 year old stone house in Antakya; the house has been a very happy place to cook and enjoy delicious food, and an inspiration for us to keep the recipes, traditions alive.

Happy Cooking, Afiyet Olsun!

Ozlem

 

 

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