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Wholesome, Easy Turkish Food Ideas for Extraordinary Times

Merhaba Dear All,

Indeed extraordinary, uncertain times and I hope this post finds you all well. We are all doing our best, taking precautions, and making every effort to support family, friends and loved ones, in the growing rise  of Covid-19. We have been trying our best to help out especially the elderly and the vulnerable, helping with their food shopping, dropping meals to their door.

Many healthy experts say that one of the most important things we can do now is to boost our immune system with healthy eating. We are lucky as Turkish cuisine follows Mediterranean diet, based on seasonal produce, wholesome grains, legumes, flavouring naturally with olive oil, nuts, natural condiments. Just having a look at this sunny Turkish breakfast lifts my spirits and showcases how healthy Turkish food is. Please remember, there are over 100 healthy, wholesome, easy to make Turkish and Mediterranean recipes at my blog here, with free access to you all, I truly hope it inspires and brings comfort.

I have noted below a few pantry staples I always keep in hand; you can turn them into delicious, wholesome meals without breaking the bank. A dear reader, Sally, yesterday sent me a note, saying You remain by my side in troubled times with your inspirational, happy food”, which made my day. I have included recipe links from my cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table,  at this post, do hope they inspire you too. Please remember, times like this, we may not have an access to all the vegetables and grains but we will make the most of what we have, be creative and substitute when needed.

With this note, Happy coming Mother’s Day to all mothers celebrating, in good health and happiness; we may not be by the side of our dear mothers to protect their well being, but they will all be in our heart and thoughts; I will be drinking my mother’s favourite Turkish coffee for her across the ocean and will send a virtual hug. If you would like to gift my cookery book, signed copies of my cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table, is now 10 % off at this link, and it is delivered worldwide.

Eat a rainbow of vegetables

All health experts say eat colourful fruit and veg to boost immune system; Turkish cuisine is based on seasonal produce and we use a large variety of vegetables in our diet. As it is extraordinary times, please substitute with whatever veg you find in your recipes.

Special mention here for garlic; in ancient times, it was used as a medicine to treat a variety of medical conditions. it is highly nutritious, rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6 and manganese, great, fantastic value ingredient to boost your immune system. Another great pantry staple also worth a mention is canned tomatoes; they are not only great value but (just like fresh, in season ones) are low in calories and packed with vitamin C and fiber. Canned tomatoes (as opposed to fresh) are an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene, shown to help lower the risk of heart disease and various other ilnesses. Needless to say, we use plenty of garlic and tomatoes in all form in Turkish cuisine.

Baked prawns (or any small chunks of fish) casserole with mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, peppers – Karides Guvec

Turkish style shrimp casserole with vegetables, Karides Guvec

This is a very popular one pot dish served in fish restaurants at home and combines high nutrition with great taste. You can use small chunks of fish instead of prawns (in that case, please cook the fish in the vegetable sauce for 15 minutes, before further baking with the cheese additional 10 minutes. Always check the sea food packaging for advised cooking times). Or opt out fish and shellfish for a vegetarian option. Here is my recipe link; it is also at Ozlem’s Turkish Table cookery book, page 239.

Baked Turkish Meatballs with vegetables – Firinda Sebzeli Kofte – Great for freezing too!

A wonderful all in one pot dish to please the family – a great one for bulk cooking and freezing in portions. Again, use any veg you can get hold of; I add a can of cooked (and rinsed) chickpeas for extra nutrition and bulk it up too. If preferred, keep it vegetarian without the meatballs, and include cooked chickpeas or beans instead. Here is my recipe link, also at page 179 of Ozlem’s Turkish Table. You can serve with Cacik dip with cucumber and yoghurt – again, very healthy, full of gut friendly bacteria.

Aubergine, lentils and peppers cooked in olive oil – Mercimekli Mualla

We love aubergine / eggplant or as we call it, patlican, in Turkey. This delicious recipe is from my southern Turkish roots, from Antakya- dried mint, healthy olive oil, flavours lentils and veg so beautifully here. You can prep ahead of time and once cooked, it can be kept in the fridge for a good 2-3 days. It is also vegan and gluten free. Here’s my recipe link (also at page 151 of Ozlem’s Turkish Table) . You can make another version using courgette/ zucchini, equally delicious and wholesome, with my recipe here

Power of legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils), bulgur, whole grains

Legumes, whole grains, bulgur are an important part of Turkish diet and I am a huge fan of them. They are packed with goodness, convenient and great value. At times like this, always keep dried or canned version of legumes. I also love the nutty flavour of bulgur; it is wholesome and so versatile. Here are some ideas for you to turn them into delicious, nutritious meals:

Spicy bulgur and lentil soup – Ezo Gelin Corbasi

Spicy bulgur and lentil soup, Ezo Gelin Corbasi

One of our favourite soups of all times; such a tasty, wholesome, fantastic value soup, so easy to make. Make a big batch as it freezes very well, here is my recipe link (also at page 47 of Ozlem’s Turkish Table).  If you like to make it gluten free, use quinoa instead of bulgur – my recipe link is here for this gluten free version

Turkish bean salad with sumac spiced onions, tomatoes, olives – Fasulye Piyazi

This traditional beans salad, Fasulye Piyazi, is a meal in itself and turns the humble beans into an exciting and vibrant salad. Canned cannelini beans would work well here. You can flavour your red onions with the tangy sumac here and add a little heat with pul biber, Turkish red pepper flakes – so good, easy and wholesome. Here is my recipe link (also at page 90 of Ozlem’s Turkish Table)

Bulgur wheat salad with pomegranate molasses  – Kisir

Fun baking with children – try this delicious Gozleme!

With children now off school, you may enjoy making this delicious Gozleme, Anatolian flat breads with fillings with them. Any veg in hand can make a filling – left over mashed potato, sauteed leeks, mushrooms, peppers.. etc. Great activity with kids, learning a new skill and very satisfying, here is my recipe link here (also at Ozlem’s Turkish Table, page 113)

Flavouring through spices, naturally

You can add so much flavour to your dishes, naturally, through spices, they have a lot of health benefits too. For instance, it is the warm, pungent cumin simply transforms hummus, when combined with tahini. You can also prepare a red pepper flakes infused olive oil and drizzle over hummus – it is a delicious, wholesome dip you can easily make at home, using a can of precooked chickpeas, my recipe is here if you like.

How about this Leafy greens with onions, peppers and pine nuts, an inspiration from my home town, Antakya? Any greens would work – kale, Swiss chard, spinach all work. A sprinkle of pul biber, Turkish red pepper flakes adds a delicious heat to this lovely recipe. You can make it a substantial meal with adding bulgur to it (and hot water). My recipe is at this link here if you’d like to give a go (also at page 153 of Ozlem’s Turkish Table)

Dried fruit and nuts

Baked dried apricots with walnuts, from Ozlem’s Turkish Table

We consume a lot of nuts – almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts and more – and dried fruit (dried apricots, figs etc) in Turkish cuisine. They are packed with nutrition, goodness and make a wholesome snack. If you’d like a healthy dessert, why not try this Baked dried apricots with walnuts; it is so easy to make, healthy and delicious. My recipe link is here (also at page 271 of Ozlem’s Turkish Table)

 

Finishing off here with my favourite drink, as well as my mother’s, Turkish coffee, Turk kahvesi, more than a drink for us, as it always evokes special memories.  Even if we are away from one another, staying at our homes, love of good food and sharing connects us all and brings happy memories. The rituals of Turkish coffee, that is staying in the moment, slowing down and enjoying every sip thinking of loved ones, is very suitable for the current times. May you enjoy yours and hope it brings comfort.

My very best wishes to you all, please stay well and Afiyet Olsun,

Ozlem

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Zucchini Stuffed with ground meat and chickpeas -Nohutlu Sih-el Mahsi



Zucchini (courgettes) stuffed with ground meat, onions and chickpeas; Kabakli Sih el mahsi

Zucchini (courgettes) stuffed with ground meat, onions and chickpeas; Kabakli, nohutlu Sih el mahsi

This is a wonderful dish from Antakya (Antioch), where my roots are from, and an exciting way to cook zucchini. It is also known as Sih-el Mahsi, originates from Syria and higlights the Arabic influence on Antakya cuisine. Traditionally, the locals in Antakya would stuff the zucchini as a whole and they would lightly brown them before cooking with the sauce. I prefer cutting the zucchini in half and lengthways and baking them; healthy, delicious and pretty to have on the plate. You can prepare this dish ahead of time and the leftovers freeze beautifully. Please save the flesh of the zucchini that you scooped out. They are delicious cooked in bulgur pilaf with zucchini.

I am passionate about healthy, delicious Turkish cuisine with a rich culinary heritage. My cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table, Recipes from My Homeland, focuses on southern Turkish cuisine with authentic, regional recipes like this one, from my hometown Antakya. I hope to pass the legacy of this rich culinary heritage to the next generation with my book; Signed copies of Ozlem’s Turkish Table cookery book is available at this link, for a limited period and delivered worldwide.

How wonderful to share the food with friends and family. Living abroad and changing locations often, cooking and sharing food have been my salvation and a wonderful way of meeting new folks, making new friends. I hope you enjoy the recipes with friends and family and give yourself and everyone the gift of good food.

Serves 4-6
Preparation time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 50-55 minutes

3 chunky zucchini/courgette
250gr/9oz ground (minced) lean beef or lamb
1 onion, finely chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped
200gr/7oz (1/2 can of) chopped tomatoes
200gr/7oz (1/2 can of) cooked chickpeas, rinsed

30ml/2 tbsp. pomegranate molasses, nar eksisi
30ml/2tablespoons olive oil
120ml/4fl oz/ 1/2 cup water
15ml/1tablespoon tomato paste
5ml/1teaspoon dried mint
5ml/1 teaspoon 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 180F/350C/Gas 4

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 (Please save the flesh of the zucchini that you scooped out. They are delicious cooked in bulgur pilaf).

Mix 1 tbsp. water with the pomegranate molasses and wash the inside of the courgettes with this mixture. Add the leftover of this delicious juice to filling mixture.

Heat the oil in a heavy pan. Stir in the onions and garlic and cook until light golden. Add the ground (minced) meat and sauté for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, left over pomegranate molasses sauce and the cooked chickpeas, mix well. Add the red pepper flakes and the dried mint, combine well. The filling is ready.

Place the zucchini in a greased baking tray. Take a spoonful of the filling and stuff the zucchini quarters. Take 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 30 minutes. After this, uncover and bake for a further 10-15 minutes for a lightly browned finish.

In a bowl, mix the plain yoghurt and the garlic. Serve the stuffed zucchini hot, with the garlic yoghurt by the side. You can make a wonderful bulgur pilaf with zucchini using the flesh of the zucchini we scooped out; it complements this zucchini dish very nicely.

Afiyet Olsun,

Ozlem

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