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From Pistachio Lamb Kebabs to Baklava; Our Turkish Feast in Austin, Texas

Greetings from Austin, Texas!

Getting the eggplants for our Turkish cooking class at Central Market - Austin; love the fresh produce there.

Getting the eggplants for our Turkish cooking class at Central Market – Austin; love the fresh produce there.

We had a delightful and full class of Turkish food lovers at my Turkish cooking class at the Central Market Cooking School, Austin, Texas. It was a very special time to reconnect with dear foodies who used to come to my classes there, as well as meeting new Turkish food lovers, I am grateful to be able to return to this wonderful cooking school and their company.

CM Chef Cindy and others kindly helped feed 40 Turkish food lovers at the class

CM Chef Cindy and others kindly helped feed 40 Turkish food lovers at the class

We had 40 -full class!- Turkish food lovers at the class and a small army of CM Chefs; Cindy, Giovanni and Kelly helped us get the our Turkish feast ready.

Talking about dried eggplants; we use them a lot especially in Southern Turkish cuisine

Talking about dried eggplants; we use them a lot especially in Southern Turkish cuisine

Turkish Cuisine is based on seasonality and we use a lot of fresh, seasonal produce. When a vegetable or fruit is not in season (like peppers, aubergines, okra etc) we dry them to use when they are not in season. Here we have been talking about dried eggplants and different recipes to use them in (stuffed dried eggplants are especially delicious).

Talking about Turkish culinary history and regional cuisines in Turkey during our class
Talking about Turkish culinary history and regional cuisines in Turkey during our class

Turks were Nomads who used to live a tribal life in Central Asia prior settling in today’s Turkey, and in those days, their diet was based on meat and dairy. Many folks found learning about the Turkish culinary history quite fascinating.

Here I would like to share our menu at my Turkish Cookery Class with Central Market, showcasing flavorful  Southern Turkish Cuisine. All these recipes are designed for you to be able to recreate easily at your home. I hope you can get to try and enjoy them :

Walnut, Olive Oil and Red Pepper Paste  Dip; Cevizli Biber

Cevizli Biber; Walnut and red pepper paste dip with olive oil.

Cevizli Biber; Walnut and red pepper paste dip with olive oil.

This is one of my favorite mezes of all time; it is very easy to make and very, very more-ish, you just can’t stop eating them. It is one of my mother’s recipes from her historic hometown Antakya (Antioch) and whenever I make it, I feel like I am home.

Prerparing the Walnut & Red Pepper Paste dip, Cevizli Biber, for the Class

Prerparing the Walnut & Red Pepper Paste dip, Cevizli Biber, for the Class

Tahini bread or pita bread would go really well with this delicious dip/spread. You can keep the dip covered in the fridge for 3-4 days. Middle Eastern stores or specialty stores usually carry the red pepper paste, so as Turkish online supermarket, Tulumba.com in the US.  If you like to make your own hot red pepper paste, here is my recipe.  Click here for the Walnut and red pepper paste with olive oil dip recipe.

Smoked eggplant salad with garlic yoghurt and mint – Patlicanli Yogurtlama

Smoked eggplant salad with garlic yoghurt and dried mint; Patlicanli Yogurtlama

Smoked eggplant salad with garlic yoghurt and dried mint; Patlicanli Yogurtlama

This is a lovely refreshing smoked eggplant salad again  from southern Turkey, Antakya, this time with garlic yoghurt and mint. It goes very well with grilled meats, or just with some nice crusty bread as an appetizer. This salad or mezze is perfect for hot summer days and can be kept in fridge for a couple of days. Here is the smoked eggplant with garlic and yoghurt recipe.

Lamb Kebabs with Pistachios on Flat Bread in Cherry & Tomato Sauce 

Pistachio lamb kebabs in cherry & tomato sauce; delicious treats for all

Pistachio lamb kebabs in cherry & tomato sauce; delicious treats for all

 

Making the pistachio lamb  kebabs with CM Chef Giovanni at Central Market Cooking School in Austin

Making the pistachio lamb kebabs with CM Chef Giovanni at Central Market Cooking School in Austin

These pistachio lamb kebabs in cherry and tomato sauce are easy to recreate in your home, delicious and look impressive. Children love them as well as the adults, so they are great for entertaining. Having pistachio nuts in kebabs is a Southern Turkish specialty; I love the rich nutty flavor the pistachios add to the kebabs. They kebabs are wonderful when chargrilled in summer time, but equally delicious grilled or baked in the oven. With flat breads as the base and roasted vegetables by the side, this succulent kebab is a real crowd pleaser, and can make any day special. Here is my recipe for the pistachio lamb kebabs.

Baklava with Pistachios and Walnuts – Fistikli ve Cevizli Baklava 

Home made baklava with walnuts and pistachios

Home made baklava with walnuts and pistachios

An Ottoman legacy, baklava is one of the greatest creations from the pastry chefs at the Topkapi Palace. Generally, baklava is enjoyed as a mid-morning sweet snack with a cup of Turkish coffee, or as a mid-afternoon treat with a glass of tea or after lunch or dinner. There is no bad time for a good piece of baklava! The real thing shouldn’t be very sweet and heavy; on the contrary it should be light enough to tempt you to eat a small plateful. Making baklava at home is surprisingly easier than you think; and I like the fact that you can adjust the sweetness of the syrup to your taste. Here is my baklava recipe, if you’d like to have a go.

Deliciously Frothy Turkish Coffee,Turk Kahvesi – More Than a Drink

Delicious frothy, aromatic Turkish Coffee, Turk Kahvesi

Delicious frothy, aromatic Turkish Coffee, Turk Kahvesi

 

Making Turkish coffee for 40 participants at the class; we had a small production line!:)

Making Turkish coffee for 40 participants at the class; we had a small production line!:)

Have you ever tried the deliciously frothy Turkish coffee? It is one of the most popular traditional drinks at home in Turkey and I love the whole ritual, the experience of it. In Turkish, we have a saying “Bir fincan kahvenin kirk yil hatiri vardir” which means “The memory of a good cup of  Turkish coffee lasts 40 years”. Turkish coffee is a drink of friendship; you are offered this traditional, aromatic drink wherever you go in Turkey; when visiting friends and family, in the shops, while waiting in the bank, in hairdressers.. We take time to pause and enjoy this special drink with a friend or family or sometimes simply reflect with every precious sip. A glass of water and Turkish Delights by the side complete the Turkish coffee ritual. Here is step by step instructions for how to make Turkish coffee at home.

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As always, it is the people what makes a place special. I was very grateful to have the company of dear friends, Turkish food lovers and enthusiasts at the class. Thank you all for your company and making me feel at home!

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John, Nancy, and Ozlem 8_2_2013

I hope these recipes and photos may inspire to have a go and try these delicious, easy recipes. Let me know if you have any questions, it is always good to hear from you and I would be delighted to help out.

Afiyet Olsun!

Ozlem

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Baklava 101 from the Masters & Tips to Make the Real Thing at Home

baklava with pistachios, walnuts - even with chocolate!

baklava with pistachios, walnuts – even with chocolate!

Baklava remains as one of the most popular desserts for most of us and we were delighted to have a chance to observe how the real thing is made during our culinary tour in Istanbul, back in April. Our destination was Gulluoglu Baklava in Karakoy, the master of baklava makers since 1800’s.

The irresistable baklava; we will have a go at it during my CM Turkish cooking class

The irresistable baklava; we will have a go at it during my CM Turkish cooking class on 2nd August

What impresses me is the love and passion the Gulluoglu family have for their product and thrive to make each and every baklava an unforgettable experience. “Hear the crack”, says the 6th generation baklava maker Murat, from the Gulluoglu family, as he divides the piece of baklava with his fork while we tour around the production line; “that cracking sound is the sign of freshness, a sign of the finest baklava; a must for us. Good baklava leaves a heavenly taste in your mouth; it shouldn’t be very sweet and heavy; on the contrary it should be light enough to tempt you to eat a small plateful.”

Hundred years of tradition; baklava masters, ustas, perfecting their art.

Hundred years of tradition; baklava masters, ustas, perfecting their art.

Karakoy Gulluoglu runs baklava demonstration sessions at their factory in Karakoy and watching the ustas, masters of baklava in action, is an unforgettable experience. When I say Masters, I mean it; each of the Ustas, Masters, spend 8-10 years at each phase of baklava making to perfect it; rolling the dough; turning the dough into the paper thin sheets of pastry, making the syrup, baking at the right heat..

Clouds of flour worked in baklava dough to make the paper thin sheets of pastry

Clouds of flour worked in baklava dough to make the paper thin sheets of pastry

The very first thing that greets you here is the clouds of flour in the air to make that paper thin sheets of pastry for baklava, all “opened”, stretched by hand with an oklava, rolling pin.

Each sheet of baklava pastry is so thin that you can read the newpaper behind it

Each sheet of baklava pastry is so thin that you can read the newpaper behind it

Once the pastry is paper thin (2mm width), the Ustas, masters, start layering them on a buttered tray. The hand rolled pastry is so thin that you can read the newspaper article behind the pastry sheet.

Paper thin sheets of pastries piled to go on a well buttered tray

Paper thin sheets of pastries piled to go on a well buttered tray

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Emerald colored finest Gaziantep pistachios spread generously on the baklava sheet.

The baklava master layers 20 sheets of pastry ( and sprinkles melted butter on every 4 sheets) then generously spreads finely crushed Gaziantep pistachios – finest and only type used at baklava here-  (or at some cases walnuts) on the 20th layer.

The Usta, master cuts the sheets first horizontally and poured melted butter over them

The Usta, master cuts the sheets first horizontally and poured melted butter over them

Once the next 20 layers of sheets added on top, the master, usta cuts the sheets first horizontally and pours melted butter over them – cutting helps the butter to penetrate every level. He then cuts vertically and splashes another dose of melted butter all around. The baklava is now ready to be baked in the oven at 165 C – 330 F.

We also had a go at baklava with clotted cream and pistachios; kaymakli, fistikli bohca baklava

We also had a go at baklava with clotted cream and pistachios; kaymakli, fistikli  gelin bohcasi

We also had a go at baklava pockets with clotted cream and pistachios; kaymakli, fistikli  gelin bohcasi, another amazing treat.

Having a go at fistikli gelin bohcasi; baklava pockets with thick clotted cream, kaymak, and pistachios

Having a go at fistikli gelin bohcasi; baklava pockets with thick clotted cream, kaymak, and pistachios

While baklava was baked in the oven, the syrup is prepared, consisting of pure cane sugar, lemon juice and water. In Turkey,  there is no honey added in to the baklava syrup.

In the traditional baklava syrup in Turkey, there are pure cane sugar, lemon juice and water – no honey in it-

In the traditional baklava syrup in Turkey, there are pure cane sugar, lemon juice and water – no honey in it-

Once cooked, the hot syrup is poured over the relatively cooler baklava, and then baklava tray goes back to the oven for another 5 minutes or so to soak up the syrup. After this, the baklava is rested at a cool area.

Syrup poured on baklava; now ready to go back to the oven again
Syrup poured on baklava; now ready to go back to the oven again

 And here is the real thing; wonderful, melt in the mouth delicious baklava. It is so light that you feel like eating ta plateful! I hope you get a chance to try the baklava in Turkey.

Fistikli ve cevizli baklava; baklava with pistachios and walnuts - what a treat

Fistikli ve cevizli baklava; baklava with pistachios and walnuts – what a treat

History of Baklava – Baklava Parade during the Ottomans

There are many theories as to the origin of baklava; but there is one thing for sure, that baklava was perfected at the Topkapi Palace Kitchens during the Ottoman Period and it was the Sultans’ favorite dessert. The importance of baklava at the Palace was not only because it was accepted as the token of wealth and sophistication ( as in the mansion houses) but also because it was a State tradition. The baklava parade that started at the end of the 17th century or at the beginning of the 18th century is example of this tradition.
When soldiers were getting their trimonthly pay from the Sultan, they were offered a big feast and on the 15th day of Ramadan they were treated to baklava. On the 15th day of Ramadan when the Sultan visited Hırka-i Serif (the cloak of Prophet Mohammed kept in Topkapı Palace) as a Caliph , baklava from the palace was sent to the Sultan’s Janissary soldiers. It was one tray of baklava for ten soldiers. The delivery of baklava to the soldiers and carrying the baklava to the barracks had then became an imposing parade.

Round tray baklava, cut in triangular slices

Round tray baklava, cut in triangular slices

Testing the Baklava

Here are some of the tests the masters, ustas at Gulluoglu carries out for a perfect baklava:

Hearing Test 
When you place a fork into a baklava you should hear a rustling sound. This means that the thin layers of dough are really thin and baklava is well cooked. The thinner the layers of dough the better the baklava.
Smelling test
When you lift to your mouth, you must smell the butter and the nut or peanut used as a filling. A good baklava should have fine ingredients.
Tasting test 
You can feel the good baklava in your mouth. Good baklava leaves a heavenly taste in your mouth and does not hurt the stomach.

My home made baklava with walnuts; delicious and easier than you think

My home made baklava with walnuts; delicious and easier than you think

I hope all these inspire you; would you like to have a go at making baklava at home? I make it with filo pastry sheets; it is easier than you think and very satisfying. My version is a little less sweeter and fragrant with a touch of lemon taste, here is the recipe  if you would like to have a go. The real thing shouldn’t be very sweet and heavy; on the contrary it should be light enough to tempt you to eat a small plateful. I think this version achieves that.

Enjoying boreks and baklavas in Gulluoglu Karakoy, Istanbul

Enjoying boreks and baklavas in Gulluoglu Karakoy, Istanbul

I will be demonstrating how to make baklava at my next Turkish Cookery class, at Central Market Cooking School, Austin – Texas on 2nd August.

The Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet Camii, Istanbul
The Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet Camii, Istanbul

9th July marks the start of the holy month of Ramadan this year; best wishes to all observing Ramadan; Ramazaniniz Mubarek Olsun. Baklava is one of the traditional desserts enjoyed during Ramadan, I hope you enjoy this special treat and have a chance to make it at home.

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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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