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 better.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. I hope you can give a go to this satisfying, delicious dish.
My roots go back to ancient Antioch, Antakya and I am passionate about southern Turkish cuisine, rich in culinary heritage. I aimed to showcase regional specialities as well as classic Turkish recipes at my cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table, Recipes from My Homeland. Signed copies are now 25 % Off at this link and delivered worldwide including the US.
Bulgur meatballs with squash and chickpeas, in yoghurt & mint sauce
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
1 teaspoon salt
For the bulgur meatballs:
4 cups fine bulgur
600 g lean minced (ground) meat
1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground Pul biber or red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon ground 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.
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 small cherry and rolling into a ball.
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.
To prepare the yoghurt sauce, add 5-6 cups of water in to a medium to large pan and bring to the boil. Stir in the chunks of squash, season with salt and pepper. Cook the squash for 15-20 minutes, until it starts to get tender. Leave the pan aside.
Beat the egg and the strained yogurt in a bowl. Pour into a saucepan and warm over over a low heat, stirring 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, where squash is cooked.
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. Check the seasoning and add salt and ground black pepper to your taste.
For the dried mint sauce; melt the butter in a small pan. Remove from the heat, add the dried mint and drizzle over the squash and bulgur balls with yoghurt sauce. Serve immediately.