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Tag Archives | red pepper flakes

Aromatic Zahtar & Feta Cheese in Puff Pastry; Inspirations from Antakya

Antakya's 2,000 years old Long Market, Uzun Carsi; home to aromatic spices, copperware and endless food stalls.

Antakya’s 2,000 years old Long Market, Uzun Carsi; home to aromatic spices, copper ware and endless food stalls.

I got wildly excited when I spotted the Zatar (or Zahtar, Za’atar, Zatar or Dukkah) spice blend at my local Waitrose the other day. I grew up with this rich, pungent spice blend in Antakya, Antioch. 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.

Pungent, tangy zahtar or za'atar blend.

Pungent, tangy zahtar or za’atar blend; adds a lot of flavor  salads, dips and marinations.

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.

Spices galore at Uzun Carsi, Long Market - Antakya

Spices galore at Uzun Carsi, Long Market – Antakya

Home made Zahtar Blend:

The exotic Zahtar blend varies region to region. According to my mother, “There are 40 different herbs, spices and nuts in the zahtar mixture.” Maybe not all the 40, but here is my mother’s home made zahtar blend that covers the basic zahtar mixture that I grew up with. It is deliciously tangy, nutty and herby. This aromatic blend adds a lot of flavor when marinating meat, fish, poultry and vegetables. Zahtar blend is also wonderful in savory pastries and bread, as well as in dips:

1 tbsp. wild oregano or marjoram (or regular oregano, if the wild version not available)

1 tbsp. ground, cooked chickpeas

1 tbsp. sesame seeds

1 tbsp. ground sumac

½ tbsp. thyme

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground pistachio

1 tsp. salt (please adjust to your taste)

1 tsp. ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients and mix well; I love the different textures and aroma you get in the zahtar blend. Store za’atar or zahtar in a cool, dark place in a plastic zip bag or in an airtight container. When stored properly, za’atar can be used for a good couple of months.

 Pungent Zahtar with Feta Cheese in Puff Pastry:

Aromatic Zahtar with feta cheese and tomatoes on puff pastry.

Aromatic Zahtar with feta cheese and tomatoes on puff pastry.

Bakery, Ekmek Firini, at Long Market, Uzun Carsi, Antakya.

Bakery, Ekmek Firini, at Long Market, Uzun Carsi, Antakya; locals take their filling to the bakery to be baked over the stretched baker’s dough.

I used my aromatic Zahtar blend at this easy, delicious puff pastry with feta cheese. This is my mother’s recipe and she used to prepare this filling with zahtar and we would take it to the local bakery in Antakya’s 2,000 years old Uzun Carsi (Long Market) to bake for us. I remember being mesmerized by the smells, happy childhood days. The nutty, tangy zahtar flavors the feta wonderfully and natural yoghurt adds a lovely, creamy texture. I also like the little touch of heat through the red pepper flakes, pul biber.

Serves 4 -6

Preparation time: 15 – 20 minutes                                               Cooking time: 30 minutes

320 gr / 11 oz. puff pastry (350mmx 230mm)

15ml/ 1 tbsp. natural thick yoghurt (whole milk is preferred)

30 ml/ 2 tbsp. zahtar blend

½ tsp. Turkish red pepper flakes (pul biber) or chili flakes

200gr / 7 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

15 ml/ 1 tbsp. olive oil

8 – 10 cherry tomatoes, coarsely sliced

Preheat the oven to 180 C/ 350 F

If using frozen puff pastry, let the pastry thaw completely, either overnight in the refrigerator or for 45 minutes at room temperature, before using it. If you are using fresh puff pastry, take out from the fridge 10 minutes before using and remove from its carton. To prevent sticking, unroll the pastry on a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin.

Mix zahtar with the feta cheese and yoghurt.

Mix zahtar with the feta cheese and yoghurt.

Combine the crumbled (you can mash the cheese with a fork) feta cheese, yoghurt, olive oil, zahtar and red pepper flakes in a bowl and mix well. For a richer & spicier taste, you can also add ½ tablespoon red pepper paste, biber salcasi to the mixture.

Spread the zahtar & feta filling over the puff pastry.

Spread the zahtar & feta filling over the puff pastry.

Grease a baking tray with 1 tbsp. olive oil and place the puff pastry sheet. Spread the zahtar & feta mixture evenly over the top and decorate with the sliced tomatoes. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the pastry starts to turn golden and cooked thoroughly.

Puff pastry with zahtar and feta, ready to enjoy.

Puff pastry with zahtar and feta, ready to enjoy.

Serve the pastry warm immediately. This simple but delicious Shepherds Salad of Cucumbers, Tomatoes and peppers, Coban Salata, complements this pastry well.

Puff pastry with Zahtar, feta and tomatoes

Puff pastry with Zahtar, feta and tomatoes

Afiyet Olsun,


Ozlem’s Turkish Table at the Mommypage

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Mum and family friendly website Mommypage recently featured a wonderful interview with Ozlem’s Turkish Table;  check out to learn more about Turkish cuisine and how to make delicious and family friendly Turkish recipes from the Circassian Chicken with Walnuts to Tray kebab with roasted vegetables, from filo pastry rolls with feta to homemade baklava and more! There are also wonderful tips for all the family at Mommypage, worth checking out.

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Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes with Ground Meat and Rice – Dolma


Stuffed peppers and tomatoes in ground meat, onion and aromatic rice; domates ve biber dolmasi – delicious and also gluten-free

Some of the food we eat has the ability to transport us to our childhood, have a special link to bond us with those precious memories. These stuffed peppers and tomatoes have such power on me; they are the delicious gateways to take me back home, right to my mother’s as well as my grandmother’s kitchen. Preparing the dolma is quite a grand ritual at home; cousins, sisters, whoever available, gather around a big table; filled with trays of vegetables and stuffing. Some prepare the vegetables, scooping the flesh out, some make the filling, and some do the stuffing. These all happen, of course, with constant flow of Turkish coffee and tea (cay) and catching up! We would then eagerly wait for the dolmas to be cooked; then me and my sister would eat the dolma with a dollop of plain yoghurt on top. We used to call them our “savory ice cream”; I am now trying this trick on my own children 🙂

A dollop of plain or garlicky yoghurt over the dolmas is delicious

A dollop of plain or garlicky yoghurt over the dolmas is delicious

We Turks love stuffing vegetables. The word dolma is used for the vegetables like aubergines, peppers, courgettes, tomatoes that can be stuffed. I like to save the scooped flesh of the tomatoes and use it in the sauce of the dolmas. Stuffed tomatoes are especially a staple of the summer season when tomatoes are abundant and at their peak. For a richer taste, you can also add red pepper paste, biber salcasi or tomato paste to the sauce. This dish is made from wholegrain basmati rice and it is also gluten-free.

I am passionate about our traditional, home cooked all in one pot stews, casseroles, dolmas; not only healthy and delicious, you can make these ahead of time and fantastic for a family meal. In my hometown Antakya, wholesome bulgur is also used instead of rice in the filling for dolma; varieties of stuffed peppers and tomatoes as well as other traditional Turkish stews and casseroles are included in my cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table , Recipes from My Homeland– you can order a signed copy for worldwide delivery at this link, including USA and Canada

Hope you enjoy these dolmas, Afiyet Olsun,


Serves 6-8

Preparation time: 40 minutes                        Cooking time: 45 minutes

3 medium size bell peppers – or 5-6 small bell peppers

4 medium tomatoes

6-8 cloves of garlic, crushed

For the filling:

110gr/4oz/ 1/2 cup ground beef/lamb or ground turkey

115gr/4oz/generous 1/2 cup wholegrain basmati rice, rinsed

2 medium onion, grated

Bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

10ml/1tbsp olive oil

10ml/2 tsp dried mint

10ml / 2 tsp ground black pepper

Salt to taste

For the sauce:

The flesh of the scooped tomatoes, finely chopped

15 ml/1 tbsp. olive oil

15ml/1 tbsp. red pepper paste or tomato paste – optional-


Red pepper flakes to serve – optional-

Bowl of plain (natural yoghurt) or garlicky yoghurt to serve


Filling ingredients for the dolmas; dried mint and parsley add a delicious, refreshing flavour

Filling ingredients for the dolmas; dried mint and parsley add a delicious, refreshing flavour

Put the ground meat in a large bowl and stir in the rest of the filling ingredients. Season and knead, until all blended well. The filling is ready.

Scoop out the seeds of the peppers; save the flesh of the tomatoes

Scoop out the seeds of the peppers; save the caps of the peppers and tomatoes.

Now, let’s prepare the vegetables. Cut the stalk ends of the peppers and save them aside (we will need them to cap the stuffed peppers later). Scoop out the seeds of the peppers.

Save the flesh of the tomatoes to go at the sauce of the dolmas

Save the flesh of the tomatoes to go at the sauce of the dolmas, stuffed peppers and tomatoes.

Slice the tops of the tomatoes and save them aside. Using a spoon, scoop out the tomato flesh, chop them finely and reserve in a bowl. Take care not to pierce through the skin of the tomatoes.

Stuff the tomatoes and peppers with the filling until they are about ¾ full.

Stuff the tomatoes and peppers with the filling until they are about ¾ full.

Take a few spoonfuls of the filling and pack it into the vegetables, until they are about ¾ full. Take care not to overfill to the top, as the rice filling will need some space to expand. Place the stalk ends and tomato tops as lids.

Once cooked, pour a little of the dolmas’ delicious sauce over each stuffed pepper, tomato before serving.

Once cooked, pour a little of the dolmas’ delicious sauce over each stuffed pepper, tomato before serving.

Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in to a heavy pan.  Place the stuffed vegetables upright, packed tightly, in the pan. For the sauce; combine the chopped tomato flesh with 1 tbsp. red pepper paste or tomato paste (if you are using, for a richer taste) and stir in to the pan. Then pour a couple of cups of water around the stuffed vegetables, until it covers just about the half of vegetables. Season with salt and ground black pepper. Stir in the cloves of garlic and cover. Bring the liquid to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook gently for about 45 – 50 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the filling cooked.

Domates ve biber dolmasi; stuffed tomatoes and peppers; delicious & gluten-free

Domates ve biber dolmasi; stuffed tomatoes and peppers; delicious & gluten-free

Once cooked, I like to take their cap off and pour a little of the dolmas’ delicious sauce over each stuffed pepper and tomato before serving and put their cap back on. Serve hot with plain natural or garlic yoghurt by the side. You can also  sprinkle red pepper flakes over the dolmas if you like.

Afiyet Olsun,


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Vegetable & Chickpea Soup with a Delicious Twist- Try sautéed Turkish spicy sausage, Sucuk on top! & Istanbul Calling in February!

Vegetables and chickpea soup with sauteed spicy Turkish cured beef sausage slices on top; a delicious twist.

I love a good, hearty soup in winter. With some crusty bread by the side, it can be a meal on its own for me.

Yoghurt soup with bulgur balls, Gaziantep's yuvalama, served at Kiva restaurant, Istanbul.

Soups, -“Corba” in Turkish-, form a very important part of Turkish diet; almost every dinner, especially in cooler months, start with soup in Turkish households. In rural Anatolia, it is also common for this Yayla Corbasi, yoghurt & rice soup with dried mint and red pepper flakes or Mercimek Corbasi, the hearty and delicious lentil soup to be eaten as breakfast, for a substantial meal, throughout the year. You see soup stalls in every town, village and city in Turkey.

Vegetables soup; sebze corbasi; chickpeas add a wonderful texture and taste, and also make the soup more substantial.

We have all been feeling a little under the weather last week and I made this simple, but delicious soup, using the vegetables I had in the fridge. Potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic, celery all work wonders when brought together with a drizzle of olive oil, a good quality can of chopped tomatoes and a squeeze of lemon. The chickpeas also add a wonderful texture and taste, as well as making the soup more substantial. Here again spices take special credit; 1-2 teaspoonful of red pepper flakes will add a lot of flavor naturally to the soup (and the research says red pepper flakes do help you to lose weight! 🙂

Sliced Turkish cured beef sausage, sucuk ; wonderful when sauteed in olive oil.

But I couldn’t stop there. Once in a while, I do crave our spicy Turkish sausage, Sucuk. Shaped like a horseshoe, Sucuk is a cured sausage made with lamb or beef, and flavored with garlic and spices; I love its spicy taste with cumin notes in it (and sucuk is one of the highlights of the Turkish Breakfast!). I decided to add some sautéed sliced Turkish sausage over my vegetable soup. This delicious addition made the soup even more exciting, with all my taste buds having one great feast! I hope you can get Turkish sausage, sucuk, if not, the Spanish chorizo sausage would work well in this soup too. This version is not a traditional Turkish soup; I have experimented using sauteed Turkish sausage here and delighted to see that it worked well.

Here is the recipe for the soup – you can enjoy the vegetarian version or have a go at the one with spicy sausages, sucuk. We had both versions depending on our mood and very much we enjoyed them.

Serves 4

Preparation time: 25 minutes                        Cooking time: 35-40 minutes

2 medium potatoes, cut in small chunks

2 onions, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, cut in small chunks

4-6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 celery sticks, cut in small chunks

Juice of 1 lemon

30ml/2 tbsp olive oil

400gr/14oz can of Italian chopped tomatoes

400gr/14oz can of cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans) drained and rinsed

1.75lt/3pints/7 ½ cups water (or chicken stock, if you prefer)

Handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

15ml/ 1tbsp red pepper flakes

For sautéed Sucuk, Turkish cured beef/lamb sausage:

75gr /3oz Turkish cured sausage, Sucuk, quartered and sliced

15 ml, 1 tbsp olive oil

Wedges of lemon to serve

Crusty bread to serve

Heat the olive oil in a deep heavy pan and stir in the onion; sauté for a few minutes until they begin to color. Then add the rest of the vegetables, toss in and cook for 2-3 minutes. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes, and combine well.

Stir in the chopped tomatoes and pour in the water (or stock) and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and partially cover the pan with a lid and simmer for about 25-30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Vegetable Soup with Chickpeas – Nohutlu Sebze Corbasi

Add the chopped parsley, (drained and rinsed) cooked chickpeas and the lemon juice, combine well. Check the seasoning and add more salt, ground black pepper and red pepper flakes according to your taste, turn the heat off. Your vegetable soup with chickpeas ready; serve hot with plenty crusty bread and a wedge of lemon by the side for extra zing.

Sauteed spicy Turkish sausage, Sucuk; adds a lot of flavor to the soup.

If you like to spice up your soup a little more and add a delicious twist, sauté the sliced sucuk, Turkish cured sausage, in a separate pan with a little olive oil for a few minutes. Once they start to change color and sizzle, they are ready.

Vegetable and chickpeas soup with sauteed Turkish cured sausage, sucuk.

Ladle the hot soup into individual serving bowls and stir in the sautéed Turkish sausages over the top. Serve immediately with wedges of lemon and crusty bread by the side.

Sucuklu Kuru Fasulye; delicious Turkish bean stew with spicy Turkish sausage.

More ideas using Sucuk? How about our traditional Bean Stew with Sausages – Sucuklu Kuru Fasulye?  – Such a delicious, wholesome meal; make sure you have plenty of crusty bread near you to mop up all the juices!

Afiyet Olsun,


Istanbul Calling! Ozlem’s Turkish Table Cookery Class at the Istanbul Culinary Institute on February 18th 2013 

I will be teaching at the Istanbul Culinary Institute on 18th February, 2013.

I am so very excited to be going back home, Istanbul; can’t wait to take in all the sights, smells and taste in mid-February! I will be returning to the wonderful Istanbul Culinary Institute to teach a Southern Turkish style cookery class on Monday, February 18th. If you are in Istanbul and would like to join us, please take a look at the class details here.

Look forward to many more cay, Turkish tea by the Bosphorus, Istanbul!

I can’t wait to go back to my homeland and look forward sharing what I will see and taste in Istanbul with you here – stay tuned! : )

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