‘Tis the Season to Make Aşure

As the onslaught of winter holidays are preparing to commence in the US, Turkey has a few unofficial holidays of their own.  While you may be spying colored leaf decor, pilgrim hats, and probably a few Christmas trees, in the states…in Turkey you will be seeing tons and tons of aşure!

asure2

Aşure (Ah-shur-eh), or Noah’s Pudding, is a dessert that I personally adore.  Sweetened with both sugar and fruit, aşure is a sure sign of the changing season. At least, it is right now.

Along with being a dessert, this is also the nickname of the Muslim month of Muharram (the first month on the islamic calendar- which operates by the moon phases).  For this reason, the months change over time- so in 10 years we may be preparing aşure around Easter rather than Christmas!

asure ingredients

  But I digress.

This dessert comes from the ubiquitous story of Noah (or Nuh) and the flood.  While Muslims and Christians don’t necessarily agree on how big the flood was, we can all agree that there was a guy on a boat for quite some time.  At the end of that time, there was only so many ingredients available to prepare much of anything.  With what remained, Noah prepared aşure.  There is a lot of significance to this month that you can search for on your own, I’m sticking to the dessert!

When one prepares aşure, they prepare A LOT.  That’s because you share your dessert with the whole neighborhood!  Invite over your closest neighbors, say some prayers, read a little Quran, then eat!  Later, load up a tepsi (tray) with as many bowls as you can and distribute them to the neighbors on your block.  More likely than not, you have some coming your way as well!  Just last week we visited Amca and his family, their aşure flavored with orange and clove felt like being back in the states again.DSCN3030

My favorite part of eating/making aşure is that everyone does it differently. While the base is pretty much the same, how people chose to flavor it can vary. Some people put figs and apricots, others put orange and apple.  Rose water? why not. Clove? Bring it on.  And the toppings sprinkled on top are always a treat! It literally took us one entire day to prepare the toppings.  Cracking, blanching, toasting, and pulverizing your own almonds and walnuts is not an easy task. Oh, but the reward…asure toppings

Without further ado, here is our recipe for aşure.  It makes a huge stock pot worth, so if you don’t plan on sharing with a dozen people- feel free to cut down the recipe.  Change it as you like!  We prepared the beans the day before.

Asure

Ingredients

1kg whole bulgur wheat

2c dried chickpeas

2c dried great northern beans

2c rice

1kg sugar

3 apples, peeled and diced

3 mandarine orange rinds, diced finely

1-2c raisins

2tsp cloves

1tbsp rose water

hot water

salt

toppings:

toasted sesame

toasted almonds, pulverized

toasted walnuts, pulverized

pomegranate seeds

toasted pine nuts

currants

cinnamon

Preparation

1.Soak the dried beans separately for several hours until ready to cook. Add a generous hand-full of salt to the water.

2. Wash the bulgur wheat very well*, then cook in a pressure cooker until done.

3. Remove the bulgur and place in a large stock pot. Cook the chickpeas in the pressure cooker until soft.

4. Cook the beans and rice separately in standard pots, until soft.

5. Put all of the legumes and grains, drained, in the same stock pot, add sugar. Meanwhile, boil the mandarin rind twice, removing any undesirable bitter flavors.

6. Fill stock pot with water until everything is submerged, plus two or three inches more.

7. Add the fruits/rind/clove and bring to a boil, letting everything mush together (its ugly but delicious). Add the rose water after boiling and stir it in.

8. Try and maintain a pourable consistency with hot water. Serve with garnish, hot.

AFIYET OLSUN!

*you know, go ahead and wash everything well.  EVERYTHING. Even the raisins.  Any residual color compounds can make your dessert ugly and discolored!

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Hillside adventure

Recently we were called by Hala to come out to the koy for a visit with the family.  We were enticed with the promise of sura (a type of food that you will see towards the end of this post), a trip to the family field.  This field is different than the one I told you about before, and it is also a lot more extensive.  Unfortunately, however, it has also been generally abandoned because fewer and fewer members of the family are taking on the challenges of farm life- and are migrating to the city.  Still, the place was beautiful.

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It was raining off and on that day, but that didn’t deter us!  I speak for myself, Anne was pretty put out by the rain and continuously dodged under trees whenever it got heavy.  This resulted in a LOT of mud and slick grass.  However, the nearby brook seemed to appreciate the refreshment.

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While Anne and a cousin hung back and picked fresh rose hip (an ingredient to Anne’s wellness tea), Baba, hubby and I went exploring on the hillside.  Much to our chagrin, there were no fruits left on the trees- a combination of the season coming to an end and also neighbors foraging from our empty fields.  Rude!

Between jumping between cow pies and trying not to fall down a hill, I really had a work out!  those hills that seem so beautiful from far away are really no joke to climb up- especially when the glass is slick!  Fortunately, I made it through our hillside adventure without falling down.

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We came across a well, which had a huge frog floating inside.  I was really intrigued by the depth and width of it, since most wells in the US tend to be much smaller.  I’m still not sure what purpose this well served, since there was a tulumba (water pump) nearby…

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While leaving the well, Baba saw a few ayva (quince) trees, which he went to inspect.  Hubby and I hung back eating kuzu kulagi (lambs ear- a sour tasting leaf that looks kind of like spinach).  I heard a crunch in the woods nearby, and expressed my concern about a fiend being up to no good.

It’s just a bird, don’t worry about it

But it wasn’t a bird. And it was worse than a fiendish neighbor.  It was a wild boar.  And, no joke, it was the size of a donkey.  It crashed through the brush- thankfully in the opposite direction of us.  It looked at first like a dog…but then I though it might have been a bear.  It made it half way up the hill before I was able to shout.

DOMUZ!

I apologize for the lack of picture- I was too busy getting the heck out of there to take one.  Instead, I offer this lovely scene that reminds me of the ending of Gladiator.

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Well, that was enough excitement for me.  On the way out of the field I picked plenty of stray blackberries that didn’t realize summer was over.  We headed back to Hala’s house and waited patiently for our extra special dinner!

Sura is kind of like Thanksgiving turkey…except instead of turkey it is lamb, and instead of stuffing it’s rice.  So I guess it’s nothing like Thanksgiving turkey, except that it is typically served on holidays!  Instead of having this delicacy on bayram we had it now.  Sura is cooked in a large stone oven- which is first heated, the food put inside, then sealed with mud.  Sura usually takes around 10hrs to cook.

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And was it a feast or what?  Our meal started with lentil soup and a side of homemade pickles, which was closely followed by the much anticipated sura!  The meat was so moist and tender I couldn’t believe how much I was enjoying it.  No condiments necessary!  I think it is safe to say I prefer this to turkey any day.

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Even though we were nearly stuffed to bursting, the next course was keskek (a lamb porridge), yogurt noodles, and finally rice pudding for dessert.  You can see what keskek (keshkek) looks like below. It may not be pretty, but it’s good!

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We had a fantastic day and sat with the family until the sun went down, drinking coffee and laughing at jokes that I mostly didn’t understand.  Hey, they fed me though- no complaints here!

Turkish…stuffing?

Today was an incredibly busy day!  We cleaned the pantry, shelf by shelf, prepared sardines for tomorrow, and generally cleaned the house (we’re talking pulling out the couches and everything…which I guess isn’t such a big deal when your floors are wood).  Another exciting part about today was trying a brand new Turkish food!

Between spending my summer four years ago in Turkey, and grabbing recipes from various Turkish food websites, I’ve had a fairly representative taste of Turkish cuisine!  However, today I had something totally different- something called ekmek karıştırması.  That basically means something like “stirred bread”.  While it may not be something mind blowingly different, it was very welcome in another way.  With Thanksgiving coming up in just over a month, I find myself looking for things that remind me of home.  This little dish reminds me of Thanksgiving day dressing/stuffing- with a Turkish twist!  Plus, I’m always down for a way to get rid of stale bread.

Picture

Ingredients

1 medium onion,  diced

1 large carrot,  diced

4 eggs

4 tbsp margerine

3-4 loaves stale bread

Salt

Cumin

Black pepper

Mint

Olive oil

Preparation

Put diced onion and carrot in a large pot with the olive oil.  Cook until soft

Add eggs,  whole.  Let the white fully cook while leaving the yolk undisturbed (not critical,  I just like to make sure the white is well cooked)

Add the margarine and mix the eggs together.  Cook the yolk fully.  At this point it should look like scrambled eggs.

Moisten the stale bread with water, squeezing it like a sponge.  It should no longer be hard.  Pull the bread apart into approximately ping pong ball sized pieces or smaller,  adding it to the pot.

Mix the bread into the veggie/egg mixture along with your desired amount of salt. The mixture should be somewhat dry.  Mix the pot occasionally,  you want the bread to get slightly crispy and brown.

Once your bread pieces are partially golden brown and crispy,  partially soft, remove from the heat and add spices as desired.

Normally served with ayran or cacık

Afiyet olsun!

Cacık

This recipe is incredibly simple but so refreshing. Yogurt is a staple in Turkey- which is made even more evident by the large plastic tubs they sell it in.  They ain’t havin’ none of that little cup stuff like in the states! Typically yogurt is plain- and you dress it up however you like.  Drinking/ eating yogurt as a savory, salty product rather than sweet took a lot of getting used to when it was introduced to me 4 years ago, but now it is my preferred method of consumption!

Ayran is incredibly popular in Turkey.  Ayran is simply watered down, salty yogurt.  Another step up from this is cacık, which you may recognize as tzatsiki in greek restaurants in the US.  Don’t be surprised when many foods we know as greek pop up in Turkish cuisine.  These countries share a deeply intertwined history, and their common foods indicate this.

Here is a quick recipe for cacık, which can be served as a cold soup or beverage. I did not include any ratios because they are completely up to the person making it.  Some people like theirs thick, lightly salted, with only a little cucumber.  Others like it thin, salty, and swimming with cucumber.  We usually do the latter.

cacikmint

Ingredients

Yogurt

Cold water

Salt

Cucumber, grated

Mint, chopped

Garlic, mashed (optional: for soup)

Preparation

Put salt, cucumber, yogurt and (optional) garlic into a large bowl and mix well.

Thin out yogurt to desired consistently by pouring in cold water slowly, mixing all the while.

Once yogurt is at desired consistency, serve in bowls or glasses and garnish with mint.

This goes incredibly well with meat dishes

Afiyet olsun!

Anne’s fried kofte

Bügün farklı bir köfte yaptık

Today we made a different kind of köfte than I’m used to.  Four years ago I had prepared a fırında (baked) köfte with Anne, and I basically stuck with that method of preparation in the US.  But this time- we made köfte for frying.

I have no complaints!  Being a southerner, I cannot say no to fried food!  This köfte was incredibly tasty- and the cooked tomatoes made a deliciously sweet garnish on top.  We prepared this köfte with potatoes as a hearty dinner the last night my friend was staying with us.  I asked Anne to help me write down the ratios so you can impress your own guests with this mouth watering dish!

kofte

Ingredients

5 potatoes, peeled and sliced

1 medium onion, grated

3 tomatoes, chunked

2 slices stale crumbled bread

1lb ground beef

1 egg

1 bunch chopped parsley

2tsp dried thyme

Salt, as desired

Black pepper, as desired

1tsp apple cider vinegar

2tsp Cumin

1tsp flour

Sunflower or canola oil, for frying

1tsp olive oil, for dabbing

Preparation

Place meat, grated onion, crumbled bread, egg, flour, and spices (including vinegar) in a large bowl and mix well.  Treat the mixture like dough, kneading it thoroughly.  Form a large ball out of the mixture and throw it forcefully into the bowl.  Do this several times until the mixture is soft and homogenous

Put a dollop of oil and a little vinegar into a small dish to wet your fingers as you form the köfte.  Pinch off ping pong ball sized balls of meat and pat them into oval patties, and flatten with your hands.  Keep them at approcimately at one finger thickness.  It is very important to make the köfte all the same size, so they can cook together.

Heat your drying oil in a deep pan with a flat bottom. Cut potatoes at medium thickness and fry them in one layer in the pan. Remove the potatoes when soft and golden brown, letting them rest with a sprinkle of salt on a serving dish.

After all potatoes are done, fry your köfte.  Put them side by side in the pan and flip them when the fried side is a dark coffee brown, and slightly crunchy.  Place köfte as desired with potatoes on the serving dish.

Lastly, dump the tomatoes in the remaining oil.  Add salt and don’t be shy. Cook until the tomatoes become a sauce.  Use this sauce as garnish for the köfte when serving.

Serve with pilaf and cacık or ayran (cacık recipe coming soon!)

Afiyet olsun!

Turkey 201a: Kahvaltı part 1

Kahvaltı is the Turkish word for breakfast.  No, I didn’t name this post kahvaltı because it is a turkish word and I wanted to be clever. No. I named this post as such because Turkish breakfasts deserve their own word.  They are in no way comparable to any American breakfast I have ever had, outside of those served by Turkish Americans.  Here is a small sampling of things that you may find at kahvaltı, but this is in no way everything!  This morning our breakfast was actually very basic, and I hope to include additional breakfast items in a second installment, Turkey 201b: Kahvaltı part 2 in the future.

Before beginning, I want to stress that kahvaltı can vary dramatically by location, and by season!  For example, when fresh tomatoes are hard to find in January, you may find a tomato sauce food instead.  In the eastern side of Turkey, eating a lot of meat at breakfast is much more common than in the western region, where fresh fruits and vegetables reign.  So, if I don’t mention something here, that’s simply because my experience has been limited to the Aegean during the summer…but that will change soon inşallah!

tea

çay

The first item of discussion is the ubiquitous çay (ch-ai), which can be found on any Turkish table throughout the day.  Much like coffee or orange juice in the US, this drink must accompany breakfast.  Preparing tea in Turkey is not necessarily an easy task.  Utilizing a çaydanlık (which I posted on instagram), a certain ratio of a variety of black teas are added to the top and slightly dampened, while the bottom container comes to a boil.  The hot water is added to the moistened tea leaves and steeped for as long as the drinker desires.  The tea I made, seen above, is actually kind of light…but I really liked it! SO THERE!  Drink your tea plain, with sugar, or with a candy in your mouth.

cheese

 Peynir

Another common item found on the table when you get up is peynir (pay-neer), cheese.  There are a metric ton of different types of cheeses in Turkey (you think I’m being hyperbolic, but I am serious), and any number of them can find their way to the breakfast table.   Not to be confused with indian cheese paneer, the name peynir applies to all cheeses, and you have to qualify which one you are talking about.

tomato

Taze sebzeler

In my experience I’ve always found a chopped assortment of taze sebzeler (tah-zey seb-zey-lehr), fresh vegetables, drowned in olive oil and salt when I woke up for breakfast.  Tomatoes are always present, but sometimes you will find peppers and/or cucumbers.  At least something on the table isn’t fattening haha!

bread

Ekmek

If you are at all familiar with a Turkish kitchen, you know that ekmek (ehk-mek), bread, is never very far away when it comes to meal time.  Much like cheese, there are many types of bread, depending on what you are eating.  Sandwich breads, dipping breads, wrapping breads…but here you see a standard bread that visited the toasting press before serving.

egg

Yumurta

Most of the time you will find yumurta (you-murt-ah), egg, in some shape or form.  Today we kept it simple and boiled it, but you can also prepare a scrambled Turkish omelette (menemen), scrambled egg with yogurt (çilbur), or even plain fried eggs.  It is all up to the cook.

kaymak (1)

Kaymak

The sky opens up, a light shines down, angels sing…and there lies kaymak (kai-mahk).  Yes, if you think that is sweet cream, it is.  Soft and supple, this super fattening delight is worth every calorie.  I try to only eat it once, like, ever in my life, because when I get started I can’t stop.  Dip your bread in it and go to town.  I can’t even describe in words the glory that is kaymak.

There are many other things that can be served at breakfast, such as olives (zeytin), jams (reçel) a variety of savory pastries (börek), beef sausages (sucuk, sosis), and others.  I hope to share them with you soon.

In Turkey, breakfast is KING!

  Where are you in the world, and what did you have for breakfast?

From farm to fork

One thing I really love about Turkey, is that the process of obtaining food is rather direct compared to the US food system.  Farmers markets are gaining popularity in America, but they are still not considered the norm.  However, going to the pazar to purchase your veggies and fruits is quite common in Turkey.  For this reason you get fresher, more tasty produce, as I talked about before.  However, the issue of seasonality does come into play.  For that reason, my mother-in-law (whom I shall call anne, the turkish word for mom) has been teaching me methods and techniques in order to conserve the summer’s bounty for winter.

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For example,  I spent one entire afternoon stringing up peppers and eggplants to dry outside in the Mediterranean sun.  While I’m not sure what the peppers will be used for, I am familiar with the hollowed out eggplant shell, which will become dolma (spiced rice stuffed veggie) in the winter.  I also helped with making tomato sauce, and will soon learn the art of making tomato paste and tarhana (a specialty soup, made and dried for the winter).

I hope to have some recipes and instructions for you soon, inshallah!

PSA: The truth about the food you eat

I was discussing a bit of food related news that a friend of mine was concerned about… and as far as I could tell, her worries were unfounded based on the information given.  This led to a bit of a rant about consumers and food information.  I think it is a good public service announcement, so I am posting it here:

Brought to you by your local(ish?) Master of Food Science 😉 (with a minor in Soil and Water Science):

I think a huge issue with consumers’ knowledge about food is that different industries try to twist the story- making you go one way or the other. Non-scientific magazines publish stories that are being summarized by someone not in that field of study- so they are going to assume the conclusions given by the authors of the science journal are right. But you have to be able to look at the studies conducted critically-

How did they do this study?

What are the controls?

Did they consider all the variables?

Are they influencing results by the choice of material?

Are they reporting in a biased manner?

Do I agree with their conclusions?

Were these meat patties cooked appropriately, or am I gonna die? :/
Were these meat patties cooked appropriately, or am I gonna die? :/

You will often find that scientists want to inflate their research- “I found that ___ causes cancer!!” when that isn’t the case, they found something that maybe might encourage cancer a little bit when the moon is full and you just hiked a mile in the snow on a Tuesday… We need to spread knowledge, not fear, and the food industry and government regulators need to find a better way to disseminate the truth, not misinformation.

Furthermore, the average lay-person doesn’t know this.  They often can’t critique a study the way that scientists can.  Even then, different areas of research can look at the same results in a different way.  For example, if a pure microbiologist looks at my masters thesis work, their conclusions will be different from mine.

Lastly, you need to have a strong handle on the perspectives of public health scientists vs. industry scientists.  A PH specialist may tell you that a 0.001% of illness is too much of a risk- that can translate to…I’m making up a number here, 1,000 people in the US getting a mild illness, maybe.  The chance of those people getting dangerously ill is 10% if they have a liver disease, and the chance of death is 1% under the same conditions.  An industry professional may say that this risk is ok, because you can’t completely annihilate risk, but a public health professional may say NO! Too much risk!

But will the people with liver disease even eat your product, when it is told that they should be mindful?  Who knows! WHO KNOWS! That’s why it is so complicated, and some articles may scream from the rooftops that something is dangerous/ bad for you… but they may not include all of the parameters.

So, in the end…

knowledge over fear.

Muhallebi (pudding)

Today I tried making one of my husband’s favorite desserts, muhallebi! Muhallebi is a simple pudding that is light and delicious for these hot summer days. Mashallah, the dessert came out perfectly the first time! Let me share it with you!

nom nom nom
nom nom nom
Ingredients:
  • 2c milk
  • 2tbsp rice flour
  • 1/2c sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla
Preparation:
  1.  Mix rice flour and sugar together in a dry pot until fully incorporated
  2. Pour in 1/2c of milk, turn pot on to medium-high and whisk thoroughly,  making sure to dissolve all the granular bits.
  3. As the temperature increases add milk in 1/2c increments and whisk continuously.  Add the vanilla.
  4. Whisk and boil until the bubbles leave craters in the mixture.
  5. Pour into a pyrex dish and cool in the fridge for a few hours or until it sets.
  6. Serve with cinnamon and walnuts (or any crushed nut)
Afiyet olsun!

Turkish BBQ/ Mangal

Highs in the 70’s, clear blue skies, and the beginning of spring break…This calls for only one thing.

MANGAL!

Mangal (also known as turkish style bbq) is a right of passage for anyone involved in turkish culture. It is the highlight of the spring/summer season and is, definitely, a must. My day has become a little more bright (if that is possible on this sunny day) just knowing mangal will happen! And the best part is that it is SO easy!

Without further ado, the recipe:

  • Deboned chicken (thighs or flattened or butterflied breasts)
  • Olive oil
  • cumin
  • salt
  • paprika
  • chili powder (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Cut the fat from the chicken and save it for greasing the grill
  2. Dredge the chicken (now flattened/ thin) in olive oil until it is all coated
  3. Mix the salt and spices together on a plate (use chili powder if you like your chicken spicy). Make a lovely pile, don’t be stingy! (Usually my ratio is about 1:3:2:1alt:cumin:paprika:chili but I eye ball it)
  4. Place the chicken in the spices so they stick to it. Rub the spices all over the chicken with your hands (the chicken will now be tinted red)

Now it is ready for the grill!

Even the act of grilling mangal is a little different than the traditional american style. For instance, you don’t use charcoal at all when you grill mangal, simply wood. However, we usually put a few briquets to get the fire started with the wood bundle. You should wait until the wood begins to ash before you throw on the mangal.

As the fire is burning, use the fat from the trimmed chicken to grease the grill. This will keep your chicken from sticking and pulling apart.

Cook the mangal on both sides until it is done.

Typically when we cook mangal, we will also throw some onion slices, cubanelle peppers (mild), and sometimes mushrooms on the grill as well.

Mangal is more than a meal, it is an EVENT!   Have a turkish-styled BBQ on your porch, at your friends house, or even the lake!

Afiyet olsun 🙂