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Flatbreads with feta, zahtar and red pepper paste; Biberli Ekmek

Turkish flat breads with crumbled feta, hot pepper paste, zahtar and sesame seeds, Biberli Ekmek

Turkish flat breads with crumbled feta, hot pepper paste, zahtar and sesame seeds, Biberli Ekmek

This delicious flat bread with spicy red pepper paste, biber salcasi, feta cheese and za’atar or zahtar spice blend is a specialty from the Antakya cuisine and brings special memories back. I remember my grandmother and mum preparing the delicious topping at home and we children would take it to the local bakery, firin, to be baked over flat breads. They always smelled mesmerizing and we couldn’t wait to have a bite (or two).

Aromatic and pungent zahtar or za'atar blend

Aromatic and pungent zahtar or za’atar blend

Fresh Zahter or Zahtar is a popular herb grown in southern part of Turkey, especially around Kilis and Antakya in spring. Fresh zahter looks more like summer savory, or a crossing of marjoram, oregano and thyme. This herb is wonderful on salads like this Zeytin Ufeleme, Olive salad with pomegranate molasses and zahtar. Za’atar is also the name given to the exotic blend of herbs, spices and nuts, widely used in Southern Turkish as well as Middle Eastern cooking. At my home town, Antakya, zahtar blend is a rich mixture of dried zahter, sesame seeds, crushed cooked chickpeas, cumin, nigella seeds, sea salt, sumac and many more. It has a lovely, pungent, nutty taste and flavors salads, meat, and vegetables beautifully. In Antakya, locals simply dip their bread to a bowl of olive oil than to this zahtar blend for a delicious breakfast. I now see wholesome zahtar available even in supermarkets these days, you can also make your own zahter or za’atar blend, here’s my recipe.

Spread the topping over the flat bread and let the dough rise for 30 minutes.

Spread the topping over the flat bread and let the dough rise for 30 minutes.

These delicious and healthy flat breads also feature Antakya’s much loved olive oil, Turkish hot pepper paste, biber salcasi and crumbled feta cheese, cokelek. Combined with zahtar, sesame seeds and cumin, it makes a scrumptious, wholesome and fragrant topping for the flat breads. There is a delicious heat from red pepper paste, biber salcasi, a staple in Antakya cuisine and in my kitchen, which add so much flavor. You can make your own red pepper paste, biber salcasi with my recipe; it really is worth the effort. If not, you can add red pepper flakes, mixed with tomato paste instead.

Delicious flat breads with crumbled feta, red pepper paste, sesame seeds and spices; Biberli Ekmek

Delicious flat breads with crumbled feta, red pepper paste, sesame seeds and spices; Biberli Ekmek

I hope you enjoy Biberli Ekmek; it is delicious served as a mezze (try with hummus, muhammara, cevizli biber – red pepper paste and walnut dip or with cacik, yoghurt dip with cucumbers and dried mint), accompanies tea time, soups and main courses so well.

Afiyet Olsun,

Ozlem

5.0 from 2 reviews
Flatbreads with feta, zahtar and red pepper paste; Biberli Ekmek
 
I hope you enjoy Biberli Ekmek; Turkish flat breads with crumbled feta, red pepper paste, sesame seeds, spices and zahtar blend. This easy recipe from Antakya, southern Turkey also showcases region's wonderful olive oil and crumbled feta, cokelek. Delicious and wholesome; try as a mezze (try with Hummus, Muhammara – red pepper paste and walnut dip or with Cacik, yoghurt dip with cucumbers and dried mint), or at tea time, with soups and main courses.
Author:
Recipe type: Turkish flat breads with spicy feta cheese topping
Cuisine: Turkish Regional Cuisine - Antakya Cuisine
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • For the dough:
  • 3 cups/16 oz./ 1 lb. plain flour
  • 1 sachet (7 gr ) dried yeast
  • 5 ml/ 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup / 4 fl. oz. luke warm milk
  • ¾ cup/ 5 fl. oz. luke warm water
  • ⅓ cup / 3 fl. oz. olive oil
  • For the topping:
  • 200 gr/ 7 oz. crumbled feta cheese or cokelek
  • 30 ml/ 2 tbsp. Turkish hot pepper paste, biber salcasi
  • 15 ml / 1 tbsp. concentrated tomato paste
  • 10 ml/ 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 45 ml/ 3 tbsp. sesame seeds
  • 30 ml / 2 tbsp. zahtar or za’atar
  • 30 ml/ 2 tbsp. olive oil
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C / 350 F
  2. Prepare the topping first. Combine the crumbled feta (or cokelek), red pepper paste, tomato paste all the spices, sesame seeds and olive oil. Knead with your hands to blend them well to form a smooth paste. Set the topping aside.
  3. Now let’s make the dough. Combine the flour, dried yeast and salt in a large bowl.
  4. Stir in the warm milk, warm water and olive oil and knead for 3 minutes to form a soft dough. If it gets sticky, drizzle a little extra olive oil in your hand to shape the dough, it really helps.
  5. Grease a baking tray with 1 tbsp. olive oil and spread the dough as a thin flat bread base, reaching all the edges (about ¼ cm, 0.9”).
  6. Spread the topping evenly over the flat bread.
  7. Leave the flat bread with topping on at a warm spot to rise for 30 minutes.
  8. Once the dough's risen, bake in the preheated oven (180 C / 350 F) for 18 – 20 minutes.
  9. Let the baked flat bread with spicy feta cheese topping, Biberli Ekmek to cool down for 15 minutes.
  10. Slice and serve as part of a mezze spread or with tea, Turkish cay.
 

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Baked Zucchini (courgette) halves with vegetables and chickpeas (garbanzo beans) -Nohutlu Kabak Dolmasi

I previously made the delicious stuffed zucchini halves with ground meat, vegetables and chickpeas or garbanzo beans, inspired by my home town, Antioch’s (Antakya) cuisine. I was asked for a vegetarian version of this dish during my Turkish cookery class past Saturday and there came this delicious dish. The meaty mushrooms, onions, peppers made a scrumptious filling and worked so well with chickpeas. With a touch of heat by the Turkish hot pepper paste, biber salcasi & Turkish red pepper flakes and the refreshing dried mint, we had an at least equally delicious vegetarian stuffed zucchini that we all very much enjoyed.

Stuffed zucchini with onions, mushrooms, pepper and chickpeas, in tomato sauce

Stuffed zucchini with onions, mushrooms, pepper and chickpeas, in tomato sauce

I also used a little pomegranate molasses, nar eksisi, to add a delicious sweet & sour taste to the zucchini halves. Pomegranate molasses is used a lot especially in Southern Turkish cuisine in salad dressings like in this Gavurdagi Salad of tomatoes, onions and walnuts or in bulgur wheat salad, kisir; a little bit of it adds a great punch.

You can prepare this healthy dish ahead of time and the leftovers freeze beautifully. Please save the flesh of the zucchini or courgettes that you scooped out. They are delicious & wholesome cooked with onions, tomatoes & dried mint in this bulgur pilaf .

Serves 4-6

Preparation time: 20 minutes                                                Cooking time: 50-55 minutes

3 chunky zucchini/courgette

200gr/7oz chestnut mushrooms, wiped clean and finely chopped

1 green bell pepper, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped

200gr/7oz (1/2 can of) chopped tomatoes

200gr/7oz (1/2 can of) cooked chickpeas, rinsed

15ml/1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses, nar eksisi (optional)

30ml/2tablespoons olive oil

240ml/8fl oz./ 1cup water

15ml/1 tbsp. tomato paste

5 ml / 1 tsp. Turkish red pepper paste – optional-

10ml/2 tsp. dried mint

5ml/1 tsp. red pepper flakes

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

To serve:

120ml/8fl oz. plain yoghurt

1-2 garlic cloves, crushed with salt and finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4

carefully scoop out some of the flesh to create a cavity that is large enough to stuff

Carefully scoop out some of the flesh to create a cavity that is large enough to stuff

Cut the zucchini in half and then in lengthways. Using a dessert spoon, carefully scoop out some of the flesh to create a cavity that is large enough to stuff the filling (Please save the flesh of the zucchini that you scooped out. They are delicious cooked in bulgur pilaf). Mix 2 tbsp. water with the pomegranate molasses (if using) and wash the inside of the courgettes with this mixture; this adds a delicious sweet & sour taste to the zucchini.

Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) combined with vegetables make a delicious filling

Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) combined with vegetables make a delicious filling

Heat the oil in a heavy pan. Stir in the onions and garlic and cook until light golden. Add the mushrooms, bell pepper and hot pepper paste (if using). Season with salt and pepper and sauté for about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and the cooked chickpeas, mix well. Add the red pepper flakes and the dried mint, combine well. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes. Turn the heat off; the filling is ready.

Take a spoonful of the filling and stuff the zucchini halves.

Take a spoonful of the filling and stuff the zucchini halves.

Grease a baking tray with 1 tbsp. olive oil and place the scooped zucchini. Take a spoonful of the filling and stuff the zucchini halves, taking care not to over fill them. Dilute the tomato paste with the water and pour on the tray. Cover and bake in the oven for about 25-30 minutes. After this, uncover and bake for a further 10 minutes for a lightly brown finish.

While the zucchini halves are baking, prepare your garlic yoghurt. In a bowl, mix the plain yoghurt with the chopped garlic. Serve the stuffed zucchini hot, with the garlic yoghurt by the side. You can make this wonderful bulgur pilaf using the flesh of the zucchini we scooped out; they complement each very nicely and you get a complete meal.

Baked zucchini halves with vegetables & chickpeas; great with garlic yoghurt aside

Baked zucchini halves with vegetables & chickpeas; great with garlic yoghurt aside

Afiyet Olsun,

Ozlem

Istanbul is Calling!

Turkish tea, Cay, Simit and Istanbul's Bosphorus; a heavenly combination

Turkish tea, Cay, Simit and Istanbul’s Bosphorus; a heavenly combination

Indeed Istanbul is calling and I can hardly wait! I will be in Istanbul next week, the city that makes my heart beats fast, a feast to all senses. Greatly looking forward to seeing family, friends and feeling the beat of this fascinating city.

The very atmospheric Spice Market, Misir Carsisi, Istanbul - feast to all senses

The very atmospheric Spice Market, Misir Carsisi, Istanbul – feast to all senses

I also very much look forward to sharing delicious Turkish cuisine with food lovers at my Turkish cookery class on Wednesday, 19th February at the Istanbul Culinary Institute. I will be in touch soon with delicious memories from home!

With my best wishes, Selamlar,

Ozlem

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Homemade Oruk, version of Kibbeh or Baked Icli Kofte, from Antakya

Oruk, baked icli kofte, a version of kibbeh; these bulgur balls with walnut and ground meat stuffing are a real treat.

Oruk, baked icli kofte, a version of kibbeh; these bulgur balls with walnut and ground meat stuffing are a real treat.

Oruk, or (Sam Orugu as they are also referred) the baked oval bulgur balls with delicious ground meat and walnuts filling, is a very popular dish at my hometown, Antakya (Antioch). It is a very special dish that turns up at my mother’s table at every festive event and family gatherings.

Antakya’s Oruk is a version of the delicious Kibbeh, which is considered to be the national dish of Lebanon. A very popular dish, kibbeh has variations in the Middle East, Cyprus (where it is called koupes) and Turkey.  I suppose the difference between them is the spices & some ingredients used (for instance, there is allspice and pine nuts in Kibbeh), as well as the cooking method (Oruk is baked whereas Kibbeh is generally fried). There is also the Turkish Icli Kofte; this one is similar to Oruk, but rather than being baked, icli kofte is first boiled in water then sautéed in oil. If you have made any of these, I would love to hear your experience and perhaps stories behind them.

Whenever we go back to Turkey, oruk welcomes us at the first night of our visit, along with mother’s other specialty dishes like Mevlubi; the layers of rice with eggplants, meat, onion or potatoes, Cevizli Biber; walnut & red pepper paste dip or this delicious yoghurt based soup with bulgur balls in it. Surrounded by this special food and the company, we always know that we are back home.

Oruk or baked icli kofte, a version of kibbeh

Antakya’s Oruk or baked icli kofte, a version of kibbeh

I have been getting requests from readers on how to make oruk or baked icli kofte. Making oruk is a grand event at home; I grew up watching my grandmother and mother making this special treat with family and friends gathered around a big table in Antakya. Some would make the filling, some to prepare the bulgur dough and some to do the stuffing. Since there were no food processors around in those days, they would ground the meat and bulgur with hand held machines. There were lots of kneading and mixing involved and since they would make vast amounts to share and it would almost take a day for this feast to get ready. A lot of effort, but well worth it.

Taray baked Sini Orugu is easier to make and equally delicious.

Tray baked Sini Orugu is easier to make and equally delicious.

A few tips here to ease the process. I suggest you to prepare the filling a day in advance, if you have a limited time. The filling anyway needs to be cool and this really helps with spreading the work. A few readers emailed to say that their bulgur dough couldn’t stay intact. Semolina is the key here; it works great as the binding agent in the bulgur dough. You also need to have water aside and continuously wet your hands while shaping the dough. Ground meat that goes in the bulgur dough needs to be extra lean and double ground (you may ask your butcher to do this for you or you can pulse the ground meat in your food processor a few times). You may also prepare the easier Sini Oruk; tray baked bulgur spread with ground meat and stuffing in the middle. They are both very special treats at the end, quite a sacred food for me and worth all the effort.

If you are an oruk, icli kofte or kibbeh fan, I hope you would give it a go and make these delicious treats at home. Yes, it does take a bit of a time & effort, but it is totally worth it; a very rewarding, satisfying experience and makes any day special. The leftovers also freeze beautifully.

Serves 12 -14 generously

For the filling:

250gr/9oz ground beef (medium fat)

100gr/4oz shelled walnuts, finely crushed to small pieces (but not ground, needs to have a bite to it)

3 medium onions finely grated

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

30ml/2tbsp. olive oil

10ml/2tsp. ground black pepper

10ml/2tsp. red pepper flakes/ pul biber

Salt to taste (at least 2 tsp. recommended)

For the bulgur dough:

450gr/1lb. fine bulgur, koftelik bulgur (if you can only get coarse bulgur, you can pulse it a few times in food processor)

12fl.oz/ 1 ½ cup warm water to wet the bulgur and another 1 cup warm water to knead bulgur

167gr/ 1 cup semolina

4 fl.oz./½ cup warm water for semolina

250gr/9oz extra lean (double) ground beef

60ml/4 tbsp. Turkish hot pepper paste, biber salcasi

15ml/3tsp. ground cumin

10ml/2tsp. red pepper flakes/ pul biber

Salt to taste (bear in mind that the pepper paste is quite salty too)

Bowl of cold water for shaping the oval balls

Grease a small baking tray for the oval balls and a 32cm/12” round baking dish (or equivalent size) for tray bake oruk

Preheat the oven to 160 C/320F/Gas Mark 3

Oruk, icli kofte filling with ground meat, onions, walnut and spices.

Oruk, icli kofte filling with ground meat, onions, walnut and spices.

First make the filling, as it needs to cool down (to save time & spread the work, you can also prepare the filling a day in advance and keep in the fridge, covered). Heat the oil in a heavy pan and stir in the medium fat ground beef. Sauté and stir the meat, breaking the lumps into smaller pieces, over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes, until all the juice evaporated. Add the grated onion, salt, ground black pepper and red pepper flakes and sauté for another 5–8 minutes until onions softened and begin to color. Then add the finely crushed walnuts and the chopped parsley, mix well and turn the heat off. Leave aside to cool down (This really is a delicious filling, we couldn’t help having a few tea spoonfuls, it would also make a great pasta sauce).

Now, let’s make the bulgur dough. Place the fine bulgur in a large mixing bowl (big enough for you to be able to knead). Stir in the red pepper paste, cumin, salt and red pepper flakes and using your hands, mix them all well. Then slowly pour the 1 ½ cup warm water all over it.  Again using your hands, give the bulgur mixture a good mix and make sure all bulgur is wet. Let it rest and absorb the water for 10 minutes. In the meantime, place the semolina in a separate bowl and stir in the ½ cup warm water over it. Using your hands, knead and turn the semolina mixture into a soft dough. Semolina is important here as it helps binding the bulgur dough.

Have the ½ cup warm water bowl next to you and start kneading the bulgur mixture for about 5 minutes. Wet your hands continuously while kneading. Stir in the semolina dough into this bulgur mixture and wetting your hands, knead for another 5 minutes, you will see that the dough is getting more elastic and binding together.  Add the double ground extra lean beef to the mixture (you can use your food processor for the meat) and again with wetting your hands, knead for 10 minutes, until you get a smooth, elastic dough.

Spoon the filling into the bulgur shell

Spoon the filling into the bulgur shell

Now, have a bowl of cold water aside to shape the oval bulgur balls; to avoid sticking bulgur dough into your hands and for the balls to stay intact. Wet your hands with the cold water and take a small tangerine size bulgur dough into your palm. Roll it into an oval shape and then using your thumb, hollow out an opening in the middle.  Shape the ball into a thin-walled (about ¼”-thick) oval with an opening at one end by molding ball around finger, gradually tapering closed end. Mend any cracks in the shell with a moistened finger. Fill the bulgur shell with about 1½ tbsp. of the filling.

Pinch the edges of the bulgur ball to seal

Pinch the edges of the bulgur ball to seal and roll into an oval shape.

Moisten edges of opening, then pinch the edges of the ball to seal. Wet your hands and gently form the stuffed bulgur ball into the shape of an oval with slightly pointy edges. Place it on an oiled tray. Repeat the same shaping with remaining filling and bulgur dough. (I made 5 oruk, oval stuffed bulgur balls and a baked sini oruk, in  32cm / about 12” round baking dish. Alternatively,  you can make about 18 oval oruk balls if you like). Place all the finished oval bulgur balls in a well-oiled baking tray and coat them all with olive oil.

Sini Oruk is another type of baked icli kofte and this tray baked version is much easier. To make it, divide the remaining your bulgur dough into two. Grease a (preferably) round baking dish of 32” diameter with 2 tbsp. olive oil. Wetting your hands with cold water, spread a thin layer of half of the bulgur dough onto the oiled baking dish. Make sure the spread stays intact; wet your hands and seal any broken parts. Spread the ground meat and walnut filling evenly over the bulgur dough spread, press gently.

 

Place the stretched bulgur dough onto the filling over the round baking dish and bind all together.

Place the stretched bulgur dough onto the filling over the round baking dish and bind all together.

Grease a chopping board or a work surface with 1 tbsp. olive oil. Take a handful of the remaining bulgur dough and spread with your hands to form a thin layer (about 1/3cm). Place this stretched bulgur dough onto the filling over the round baking dish. Continue until you finish the dough and the top layer is covered, like a patchwork. Wet your hands and bind all the loose ends. (We need to prepare the top layer on another oiled surface so that we won’t press too hard over the filling and break it into parts.). Oil the top layer of the bulgur spread, with about 2 tbsp. olive oil and cut into diamond or triangle shaped slices.

Oruk, baked icli kofte and tray baked sini oruk; both equally delicious

Oruk, baked icli kofte and tray baked sini oruk; both equally delicious

Bake both the oval shaped oruk and the tray bake sini oruk in the preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes, until crispy and golden brown at top. Bulgur absorbs olive oil quickly, so coat both oval bulgur balls and the tray bake with extra olive oil towards the end, so they won’t crack.

You can serve the Sam oruk, oval bulgur balls warm. For the tray bake sini oruk, it is best to wait for about 10-15 minutes to cool down so that they won’t break apart. Cooling and refreshing Cacik dip of yoghurt with cucumber and dried mint complements this delicious treat very well.

Delicious, crispy oruk with ground meat and walnuts filling

Delicious, crispy oruk with ground meat and walnuts filling

Afiyet Olsun,

Ozlem

A visual feast of Antakya (Antioch) 

I wanted to finish this oruk, baked icli kofte post with a visual feast of  Antakya, Ancient Antioch, a cradle of many civilizations; a hope you can make it to my homeland sometime.

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