A quick word about Turkish cuisine – I’m using the words for these dishes that are familiar to me, which I understand to be the “English” version of their names (even though they might look unfamiliar and probably began as Greek or Lebanese or some such). I bring this up because I’m still confused by the Turkish dish “Su Boregi” – given to me in Turkish and connected in English recipe sources to dishes that don’t seem at all to be what was described by the person living in Turkey. It’s a mysterious item that I eventually interpreted as a spinach lasagna using homemade noodles that one wraps in a phyllo pastry enclosure before baking. One day I will visit Istanbul and figure out what’s going on. In the meantime, chastened, I decided to stick with the words I recognized and not try to get all Turkish in my dish titles.
Dolmas, Labneh, Lavash
The first step in a Turkish dinner is buying dolma, stuffed grape leaves. I say the first step is buying them because I’ve yet to find a place near where I live that sells the grape leaves by themselves, and the two people I know around here who have managed to acquire un-stuffed leaves said “don’t even think of doing it yourself that would be dumb.” And these are people who are willing to do things like make cabbage rolls and moussaka, so I trust them when they say “no”. I’d serve the stuffed grape leaves alongside fresh grapes, were it me, because I love grapes. I would add labneh (yogurt strained to make a cheese) and lavash crackers. Furthermore, I would make the crackers myself because I just saved all that time on the grape leaf stuffing.
While we’re flush with the time saving graces of pre-made dolma I should also put in a plug here for manti. They are minimally spiced lamb dumplings, folded up into wonton wrappers. Here is a recipe from Food52 – I recommend including the extra chicken broth cooking step. I serve mine on top of butterleaf lettuce (thus making them healthy because it’s a salad) with whole milk yogurt and a drizzle of harissa olive oil (which I make by whisking harissa paste in olive oil). If you have a copy of the cookbook Prune you can make their version of lamb manti – in miniature. If you have company you want to avoid, hole yourself up with these babies and a good show on Netflix to half-watch while you fold. They use 1/4 of a wonton wrapper for each. Tiny.
The manti-salad concoction works well as a dish on a buffet or as a lunch. Another dish of similar heft is the Pide – kind of like a pizza that got partway to being a calzone then stopped. This recipe offers a basic starting point. I used a mixture of both feta cheese and cheddar cheese (in a 2:1 ratio). I also drizzled the top with balsamic-maple poached garlic, the recipe for which is found halfway through this Bon Appetit recipe for a goat cheese tart.
Chickpea Kofte with Tahini-Za’atar Sauce
As I’m enumerating the components of what I consider a Turkish meal, I’m realizing I serve my Turkish meals tapas style, with small servings of items that could be hearty lunches. Here’s another one: Chickpea Kofte with Tahini-Za’atar sauce.
The chickpea kofte are in actuality the Food Lab’s black bean burger recipe with chickpeas instead of black beans, and formed into small meatball sized patties instead of full burger sized. It’s a pain in the butt recipe to make but very delicious and easier than falafel.
The sauce is easy. Ingredients are:
- 3 Tb olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 28 oz tomato puree
- 1 Tb tomato paste
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half (but not the kind with lots of added thickeners and stabilizers because that’s icky)
- 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 Tb za’atar spice blend
- 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and gently cook the garlic until fragrant. Whisk in the tomato puree, paste, and tahini and cook over low heat about 5 minutes (you’re just trying in get the garlic flavor spread into this base), whisk in remaining ingredients and cook until warmed through. Adjust salt and pepper as needed.
These kofte are good on cous cous, or in a soft pita – which I make by using my naan recipe, but rolling the dough thicker (at least 1/4 inch thick) and allowing the flattened breads to rise for 15 minutes before putting them in the hot skillet.
Another kofte I make is very au currant at the moment of this blog posting (and likely not at all when you’re reading it): lamb-eggplant. Have you heard of the Blended Burger Project (TM)? It’s a “movement” in support of hamburgers that use chopped mushroom to displace some of the meat. That seems incredibly narrow. Perhaps someone from a mushroom production lobby funded something that led to the (TM) and mushroom requirement. Or someone read about the importance of precision in marketing. Throwing random mushed up vegetables into hamburgers, and meatballs, was something I thought of as a time honored tradition when produce begins to go bad in the fridge. Now it’s a mushroom-focused movement.
In my most recent Turkish cooking excursion, I ended up with a batch of eggplant that I just could not make taste good for the Fainting Imam (stuffed eggplant) dish I had on the menu. My solution was to peel a large eggplant, puree it in the food processor (raw), then cook it down with olive oil and a little salt over medium heat until it was thoroughly cooked and had released most of its water. Then I used it to replace a generous third / scant half of the meat in this Tunisian meatball recipe. Then I called it Turkish.
A final dish for the table before dessert: Watermelon Tabbouleh. I never like tabbouleh until I learned to could be made with watermelon.
Baklava, Kazandibi, Dates
Now, for dessert, baklava is usually the way to go and the recipe I use comes from Alton Brown do not skip the rose water. Another delicious Turkish dessert I learned is Kazandibi – this recipe describes it as a rice pudding but it’s really more like an inverted creme brulee. Medjool Dates also work as a simple dessert, with little shots of buttermilk to drink with them (I promise that tastes good).
Portions of this blog post originally appeared on the Hel’s Kitchen Menu Notes blog as “Chickpeas for Dessert and Other Tangents in Turkish Cuisine“