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Flavoring with Spices & Inspirations from my Turkish Cooking Class (Stuffed Eggplants, Baklava and more!)

We had a delightful day of cooking and sharing Turkish food last Saturday. Wonderful, enthusiastic participants joined my Turkish cooking class in Surrey (for the folks in Texas; I so look forward to coming back to teach at Central Market Cooking School, hope soon!), and we had a day of Turkish feast 🙂 It was so wonderful to share Turkish cuisine, traditions, history, and I was humbled, delighted to get such positive feedback.

Here we are, dear friend Sadaf and I, dressed with dried eggplants and peppers (we dry them at home, to use when they are not in season. They are wonderful when stuffed and baked), just before the class 🙂

I have been getting a lot of questions on spices; their usage and where to get them. It is wonderful to see folks interested in spices and wanting to learn more. Spices are very important in Turkish cuisine, as we add wonderful flavors to the dishes through the artful use of spices, and very healthy too.

During the cooking class, we used cumin, red pepper flakes and mint; three spices that we use at Turkish cooking often.  Take cumin; its pungent aroma lingers  and it is warm and slightly sweet. Combined with chickpeas and tahini, cumin is the spice that makes hummus taste like hummus. Urfa or Aleppo chillies 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 marinated meats. Mint is a very common herb used in Turkish cooking. We like to mix it with cubed cucumbers, yoghurt 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.

Malatya Pazari, my favorite spice shop in Spice Market, Istanbul

Middle eastern or specialty food stores should carry these spices, also Central Market and Whole Foods Market as well as Waitrose and Sainsbury’s in England carry a good selection. You can also get good quality spices on line through Kalustyans and Tulumba

During the class we had a go with the sweet Turkish treat, baklava. It is very easy to make with fillo pastry sheets and you can adjust how much butter and syrup you put on. My version is less sweet and more fragrant with the addition of lemon juice, it is a lovely treat, if you’d like to have a go.

Buttered layers of fillo sheets with walnuts, ready to go to the oven

Karniyarik; Stuffed eggplants with ground meat and vegetables

And here is karniyarik; stuffed eggplant with ground meat and vegetables we prepared; eggplant is our national vegetable (actually fruit, as it has seeds in it) and the flesh become wonderfully meaty and sweet once cooked. There are a few tricks to it; you need to salt the eggplant halves (salt will help the moisture come out of the eggplant) and drain all the bitter juices. Served with plain rice and yoghurt by the side, Karniyarik, stuffed eggplants is a wonderful treat.

Wonderful, enthusiastic participants of the Turkish Cooking Class

Sadaf and Nadia, who were in the class said they already made the hummus, got the red pepper paste and bulgur for the bulgur wheat salad and Nadia already made the baklava using the fillo pastry sheets. So wonderful to see the recipes come alive and enjoyed, no better compliment; many thank yous, ladies!:)

I hope the photos and recipes inspire you to have a go too; please let me know if you have any questions, I would be very happy to help.

Afiyet Olsun!




3 Responses to Flavoring with Spices & Inspirations from my Turkish Cooking Class (Stuffed Eggplants, Baklava and more!)

  1. Peri February 28, 2012 at 3:18 am #

    Congratulations, Ozlem:) So good to see you back in your element conducting cooking classes. They are so wonderful and informative. Hope to see you back in Texas soon for a cooking class…

    And you know how much I love to read about spices, we share a love for cumin and mint and red chilly. Very informative.

    Love and good wishes, Peri.

    • Ozlem February 28, 2012 at 10:15 am #

      Many thanks Peri! It was wonderful to start teaching again, with wonderful, enthusiastic participants. We do share a love of spice, and your wonderful use of spice always inspire me, keep them coming! xxx Ozlem

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