Turkey 402: Tips from a Turkish Kitchen 

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these Turkey lessons posts… So I thought I’d bring yall some tips and tricks that I’ve picked up since I’ve gotten here that you can use in the kitchen.  The kitchen is my second home, and often where I feel most comfortable.  Making the transition from the US to Turkey was actually really hard for me when it came to cooking, as you probably saw in past posts.  The salt wasn’t as salty.  Propane heats differently than electric.  Spices here taste a bit different.

But with the struggles came little “hacks” that can be used internationally!

I wish I knew these when I was still in the US…

Olive oil as an air-tight lid

Did you know that a thin layer of olive oil can make your pastes and cheeses (like ricotta) stretch for very near eternity? Since oil seals out air, it can keep mold and spoilage bacteria from growing at refrigerator temperatures.  However, that doesn’t mean you can leave a layer on and let it sit in your fridge untouched for a millenia.  Anaerobic (not needing air) organisms can still grow, meaning it’s important to still use your product and break that seal every now and again.

For example, I buy huge cans of tomato paste (that’s just how they come here… And they also have no salt here either!!) and it’ll grow mold in a few weeks.  Yeah,  I use it every two or three days, but there’s like 5 cups in that can and I use max 1tbsp at a time.  Using oil as a seal is great in this case.  Lor is another place I use this trick (check out my Turkish cheese post for details).

Putting spices and garlic last

Whenever I look at recipes I usually see people sautéing onion and garlic together at the beginning of a recipe.  But did you know if you throw in that garlic last, you get a much stronger flavor? The punch of garlic can cook out of your food, so what I’ve seen (and do) is to grate your garlic (or mash in a mortar) directly into the pan, turn off the heat,  and cover.  The residual heat will make the garlic cook to softness without losing the flavor.  Also add your spices towards the end so they keep their strength!

Sugar and tomatoes

Where you have tomatoes (particularly konserve or canned tomstoes), you have a bit of sourness.  Add a sprinkle of sugar to cut it down.  Also, as my mother in law says, wherever you see tomatoes and olive oil cooked together (without meat), and some sugar to bring the dish to the next level.

Dry your lemon rind.

Squeezed the hell out of your lemon? Wait,  don’t toss the rind! Leave it in the refrigerator or a cool dry place to let it dry out.  The beauty (and medicinal properties ) of a lemon is in the oil trapped in the rind.  Dried lemon is great to add to tea. If you don’t want to dry it, you can also use the leftover rind to shine your pots and remove those multi colored water stains.

Olive oil+lemon+garlic= God’s dressing

When you’re staring down the barrel of dinner and you have no idea what to do- you can boil/steam (or sometimes fry) ANY VEGETABLE and dress it with this combo and have a successful dish. Cauliflower? Yes.  Broccoli? Yes.  Celery? Yes. Whatever börülce is in English? Yes.  Squash? Fried, but still yes.  Potatoes? Yes.  Accommodate  your resident vegan/vegetarian when they show up for a visit (yes, you. You know who you are! ).  Plus, garlic.  Do you even need a reason?!

When in doubt, stew it out.

You saw this on my last recipe post.  Before I learned the great secret of sulu (stewed) everything, I would struggle to plan for dinner.  What do I need to buy? Oh no I forgot something! I don’t have time for that… Never fear.  Stewing suits all veggies and you have only a few ingredients.  Onions, peppers, oil, tomato paste, your veg and spices of choice.  I like a little tomato and carrot too, but if you’re hurting you don’t even have to do that.  Eggplant? Stew it.  Potatoes? Stew it.  Peas? Stew it.  Green beans? Stew it.  Okra? Do you even have to ask?… And if you are feeling fancy, add a little meat.  Never worry about dinner again.

Don’t dump the water!

Noodle water, dolma water, hell, even whey from making cheese or yogurt can ALL be used to make soup.  Never waste cups of water/juice again! You get the benefits from starch, oil, and/or flavorings (depending on what you’re using) to make a soup that recycles every bit of waste from your kitchen. And it tastes even better than using plain water in your soup recipe! While you are at it, recycle that leftover rice that no one is eating in soup as well!

Do you have any kitchen tips/tricks/hacks that you want to share? Leave them in the comments below!

Turkey 101: A crash course

I was browsing blogs the other day, reading about people who have or who are going to Turkey.  I remember myself when I was getting ready to go- I was so excited, full of wonder and expectation at what this exotic location held for me.  Fortunately for me, though,  I had a Turkish boyfriend (if you haven’t read my about section- that boyfriend is now my husband lol!) who prepped me on how to not stand out as a tourist in Turkey, and what behaviors could result in miscommunication with the locals.  I can’t imagine the hassle I would have dealt with if not for his advice.

Social Interaction

1.  Don’t look passers-by in the eye if they are the opposite sex:  I know this sounds sexist and whatnot, but it is true.  If a woman looks a man in the eye (particularly if they are foreign), or a man looks at a woman in the eye upon passing- they will think you are sexually interested in them.  This isn’t necessarily how every individual feels, but it is a hard and fast rule to keep you out of trouble.

2. Don’t make small talk:  If you are trying to pass the time in a crowd or a line while waiting, don’t make small talk.  While in America making small talk is considered polite, in Turkey it can be considered flirting if you are speaking with a stranger.

3. Don’t speak too much English in a crowded market:  Not because people are going to hurt you or be angry, but because you will get bombarded with vendors trying to sell you something.  For some reason they think tourists have a lot of money to spend…

4.  If your host/friend insist on something, say yes:  This is so common with offering food in particular.  If someone insists you eat more food or go somewhere with them (if you know them ONLY! Don’t do this with strangers), it is rude to decline more than two or three times.  It means they really really want you to if they continually insist.

5. Greetings:  When greeting the same sex, it isn’t strange to do a cheek-to-cheek kiss, especially if that person is family or you expect them to become close to you.  Also, kissing the top of the hand of an elder and touching their hand to your head is a great sign of respect, usually reserved for immediate family (mum/dad) and grandparents…but sometimes it is extended to some aunts and uncles- particularly if they are elderly.

Out and about 

1.  BRING TOILET PAPER:  Wherever you are going, bring a bit of toilet paper with you!  Not every location you will visit provides it.  The custom in a turkish toilet is to clean your places with water…so you may find a spicket, but not toilet paper

2.  Toilets aren’t free…: Oh yeah, and toilets aren’t free to use either- not even public ones. Bring a hand-full of 1 lira and 50 kurus coins wherever you go.

3.  Carry wet-wipes and deoderant:  So, AC isn’t exactly the norm in Turkey- and you are definitely going to get hot.  I learned from my mother-in-law to carry baby wipes/ wet wipes and a little spray deoderant around in my bag to freshen up when needed.

4.  Be modest:  It honestly depends on the town, but I found that wearing modest attire (such as knee length shorts and tshirts) helps prevent unwanted attention.  Not like all Turks are pervs, but if you limit your shorty-shorts to beach towns you appear more like a local rather than a tourist.  I mean, now I am a hijabi so it doesn’t matter for me- but still.

In The Home

1.  Remove your shoes:  When entering someone’s home, remove your shoes.  This is a cultural/religious tradition carried over from the Ottoman times, and it helps keep the house clean!  When you are a guest you may receive “house shoes” upon your arrival.  A lot of the time they are just regular shoes…but don’t wear them outside!

2. Say goodbye to daily showers:  This one took a LOT of getting used to.  Religiously speaking, you only require a shower for two reasons (although more is encouraged of course), because you are a woman who finished their time of the month, or because some kind of sexual deed occurred (even a sexual dream).  Even though you may not be religious, and even your host may not be religious, this assumption is fairly ingrained in the culture.  Even in the US, my husband cocks an eyebrow when I shower every morning…and he KNOWS that I do that, particularly during the summer, because we hijabis get sweaty easily so we need to shower frequently.  So yeah…just go ahead and let go of your daily showers. I know it hurts, but…when in Turkey.

Well, that’s all the time I have at the moment, I hope these tips help you… More over, some people may not experience Turkey how I did and these tips may seem silly or demeaning in some cases- but that is the Turkey I know.  Let me reiterate that I love the country and the culture, but it is only polite to adapt to your surroundings rather than impose your culture on other people.  It can save you a lot of headaches.

Iyi ve rahat seyahatlar ❤

Girl so cheesy…!

Last Christmas my hubby bought me a cheese making kit for making mozzarella and ricotta (ricotta is basically lor).  While making ricotta was as easy as ever, I had a few issues when trying to make the mozzarella.  Simply put, my curds would not stick together! After several tries, however, I did succeed.

I don’t know, maybe I’m a weirdo, but I love adhering to some of the traditional roles of a house wife.  I love to cook, especially baking breads from scratch, making yogurt and pasta (makarna), making cheese… gardening is also a great joy of mine, although at the moment I am confined to planters on a balcony…I desperately want to learn to sew… and on another note, painting and art is another great passion of mine, and I look forward to being a stay-at-home mom in the future, inshallah.  Not to say that the “progressive” career woman should be shamed, of course not.  I used to think that was the path for me, but with time and experience I learned that, regardless of the job I was in, I did not feel fulfilled.  It’s a personal thing, I guess, and I- as a progressive and a feminist- think that women should do whatever they enjoy…be it career oriented or family oriented.

Anyway, back to the cheese.

cheese  Between the trouble shooting guide and my own food science background, I was able to figure out what had gone wrong during the various times my mozzarella was unsuccessful.  I hope any cheese makers out there find this helpful.

1.  Temperature

Basically, if your milk gets too hot when you are initially heating it, then your curds will be loose.  Temperature is one of the parameters used to denature the milk proteins, allowing them to clump up together and fall out of suspension.  For ricotta it doesn’t matter if it gets a little too toasty in that milk matrix…but for mozzarella, you need to hit that exact temperature, no more, no less.

2.  Time

Time goes hand-in-hand with temperature.  Basically, if you don’t let the initial temperature rise go slowly, you are likely to overshoot the temperature before your thermometer can catch up, or scald the milk at the bottom of the pan while the rest is still too cool.  Keep your burner at medium low.  It may take a while, but it is worth it in the end.

Also, don’t forget to let everything rest appropriately.  After adding the rennet, after cutting the curds, after stirring them, etc.  Follow the directions, and if anything, add MORE time.  Rome wasn’t built in a day…

3. Stretching

I guess this is kind of temperature also…when the time comes to immerse your curds in a water bath/ microwave to melt the curds and stretch them- you are doing just that…melting them!  I see time and time again that people get anxious and don’t let their curds get hot enough at this point.  I like to use a colander-like spoon (I don’t know what it is called- it is wide, flat, and has holes instead of slots), spreading the curds out fairly evenly instead of leaving them in a clump, then submersing the mass into the water bath.  They should look like a melty mass before you pull them back out.  When you stretch them, it should be so hot you almost scald your fingers… hey, wear gloves.
Also, don’t over-stretch the curds.  As soon as they look shiney (maybe three or four turns in the water bath, four or five stretches each time), round it off and throw the mozzarella balls into the ice bath. Over stretching results in a dry and rubbery cheese.

Good luck cheesy people!

Summer heat

I’ve been wearing the hijab since February, so this is my first summer of complete covering.  I’ve been scouring the web for ways to beat the heat-  which is very intense here.  It’s been climbing to mid 90s as of late, and it’s only May…  here I will highlight the bits and pieces that I have collected from other sisters, and also things that I have found myself.

1.  Choose your fabrics carefully

Let’s face it, some fabrics just aren’t going to work.  Some tend to retain moisture or not let it pass, aka, breathe. One fabric you should DEFINITELY avoid (in my experience) is polyester.  This can be incredibly hard since polyester has taken over the textile industry.  But maybe it works for you, but I know for me- I sweat like crazy!

Fabrics that I personally ADORE are: rayon, cotton, and viscose. In that order.  I know you see cotton and say “YES! NATURAL!”, but be wary- the thickness is very important!   Additionally, nylon is fantastic for swimming attire. Also, if you google breathable fabrics you will see that acrylic is listed- but I’ve found that it doesn’t breath for me at all- I bought a fun ombre scarf that was acrylic- and boy do I get sweaty!

2. Denim jackets

Denim/ jean jackets are a MUST have staple for the summer hijabi wardrobe.  I know, I know, it seems they could make you hotter- but being cotton, it DOES breath.  Additionally, you don’t see pit stains in these bad boys!  My go-to cover up is a denim jacket!  Be sure it’s fairly loose, however, to insure a good breeze.

3.  Tanktops and low cut shirts

WAIT!  WAIT! Just hear me out!!

When coupled with a cover-up (thin cardigan or denim jacket) and a properly wrapped scarf (and LOTS of safety pins for securing it to your shirt),  these open clothes are perfect for catching the breeze and allowing evaporation of your persperation.  But you have to be careful and apply plenty of safety pins to keep everything in check!  I end up using more pins for my clothes/scarf attachment rather than for attaching my scarf to my head! But it is SO worth it!

4.Sport headbands

A good 4″-5″ headband is a GREAT alternative to an underscarf on a hot day- allowing for more air to pass over your scalp.  Using berretts (hair clips) to secure the band to your head will keep it in place all day, while still being able to secure your scarf to your head.  Additionally, dont be afraid to stick a pin into your hair tie in your bun, it works just as well as sticking it in an underscarf!  (I also suggest using mousse or hair spray to help slick back your baby hairs when using this technique.)

5. Linen pants and maxi skirts/ dresses

  Linen pants are a miraculous joy that jumped out and surprised me.  I was looking for some loose and flowing pants at a thrift shop and was having no luck.  However,  a relaxed, wide legged olive colored linen trouser was hanging on the rack.  Well, I needed SOMETHING, so I tried it on….and fell in LOVE!  I LOVE LINEN!  This is a STAPLE.  For days that the wind is too strong for a dress, wide legged linen trousers allow for the cool passage of the breaze on your legs but the coverage is still there, and it isn’t see-through.

Maxi skirts and dresses speak for themselves.  They are very comfortabole and modest.  Be sure to wear a slip, though, I have yet to find a maxi skirt/dress that isn’t a little transparent.

Inshallah this helps sisters as much as it helps me.

#hijabiproblems