Chickpeas for Dessert and Other Tangents in Turkish Cuisine

We’ll start with dessert here. Actually, we’ll start by noting that if you want to learn about Turkish cuisine overall and not just the oddball recipes I’m about to highlight, there’s a new cookbook called Eat Istanbul by Andy Harris and David Loftus. Also, Anthony Bourdain recently featured Istanbul in his Parts Unknown series (and people who know more about television than I do can probably figure out how to watch it).

And now, we’ll start with dessert.

Baklava, nuts and layered phyllo sheets and honey sauce, is the most famous Turkish dessert. I use Alton Brown’s recipe, and I recommend investing in rosewater if you don’t have it to complete the dish (it’s for sale at Hunger Mountain Coop and one bottle will last you a while. . . yet not go unused, there are many desserts where a sprinkling of rosewater isn’t amiss, meringues, puddings, fruit pie filling, and macaroons to begin with). 

But we aren’t here just to learn about baklava, there’s also the relevant phenomenon of chickpeas in dessert. I realized that now I’ve had three weeks with a chickpea based dessert somewhere on the menu:

  • Shembra Kolo – Candy coated roast chickpeas, described in this article on Ethiopian desserts.
  • Besan Ladoo – An Indian cookie made from gram flour (aka chickpea flour)
  • Ashure or Noah’s Ark Pudding – a Turkish pudding, also with chickpeas. I made it with barley because I wanted it to be gluten free, but after consulting with a friend who lives in Istanbul and was passing through town last week, I believe I should have used wheatberries because they’re closer to the Turkish barley (or at least use whole barley, not pearled barley). 

I think we can agree that chickpeas are sweets in many parts of the world. 


Another odd dessert item: sherbet powder. Okay, I took a long and winding road from Turkey to get to this classic British sweet, but it did begin somewhere around there with “serbet” or the Arabic “sharbat”, which is a sweet concentrate of fruit and flower petals used to create refreshing beverages. That evolved into a powder which eventually evolved into what we know as Pixie Sticks. But we’ll halt a few steps before Pixie Sticks with this basic recipe from A Field Guide to Candy – put 4 Tb confectioners sugar, 2 Tb citric acid powder (it’s in the bulk herb section at the Coop) and 1 Tb baking soda into a food processor and whir to a fine powder. Now, add this powder to juices in a generous spoonful and they’ll fizz and have an enhanced sweet-sour taste. I personally recommend mixing cider and rum and Sherbet Powder for an unusual fall cocktail. 

Moving away from dessert, here’s another long and winding road from Turkey tale: eggplant meatballs. There’s both eggplant and meat (unlike the vegetarian meatball recipe that will follow). This recipe began with lamb kofte, on the menu this past week. It goes to this recipe for delicious Tunisian meatballs.  It continues on to me having a lot of leftover eggplant. I peeled said eggplant, and pureed it (raw) then cooked that down with a little olive oil and salt over medium-low heat until it was close to a paste. Then I replaced a generous third (or scant half, I was eyeballing it) of the meat in the Tunisian meatball recipe with an equivalent volume of eggplant and instead of the bread in milk routine, I used 2 cups of bread crumbs. Then, I served it over linguine with parmesan cheese and chopped toasted almonds.  

No, that recipe was not on the menu, it was a weekend thing, but of the various meatball manifestations I liked it the best. 

Here’s a great vegetarian kofte option. I followed the Serious Eats black bean burger recipe, but instead of black beans used chickpeas (you have to bake them a little longer) and instead of panko crumbs I used crushed Ritz crackers. Then, I fashioned them into meatball sized patties. The sauce was simple: sauteed onions with diced tomatoes, tahini, and za’atar spice. 


Last item on the topic of starting with a traditional Turkish recipe then zinging off to something else. I made lamb mantis – like raviolis, with yogurt and paprika butter – using the recipe from Eat Istanbul for the Thursday dinner. However, if you’re making lamb mantis just to have a tasty dish and not necessarily to be Turkish about it, you’d be well served to look up the version in Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton. I can’t find a recipe online, so it would involve a copy of the book, but it’s a book worthing looking at. The short version is that she cuts up wonton wrappers, fills them with tiny bits of ground lamb, toasts them, cooks them in beef broth from a can, and adds yogurt. You fill dozens and dozens of tiny wrappers which takes forever, but it’s the only real labor in the dish so if you exert a smidge of patience for just that step (I was listening to an Elin Hilderbrand book on CD when I tried it) it’s bearable. 

I’ll leave you with what was the most popular dish this week: spinach-cheese pides. Here is a basic recipe. I sprinkled cheddar cheese over the top of mine. I also had leftover garlic that had been poached for 3 minutes, then simmered with red pepper flakes, balsamic vinegar, and maple syrup until it was disintegrating, that I mushed in with oil and drizzled over the pastries until it ran out. If you ordered after I ran out and didn’t get that, I apologize – it wasn’t Turkish, it was me using up toppings I didn’t want to throw away. I think I’ll keep garlic drizzle around as a matter of course from now on. 

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