Thursday, 18 December 2014

How to Make Your Own Mincemeat for Traditional Mince Pies in Turkey

Here in Istanbul there used to be a group for British women called Corona. We had a lot of fun with that group over the years but sadly it folded a few years ago.

I could never understand why there was always a panic as Christmas drew close to find people going to the UK so that they could bring back the ingredients to make mincemeat! I would think to myself: but surely Turkey has everything you could possibly need in terms of raisins and currants? Why would you want to bring that sort of thing back here? 

an abundance of dried fruits in Eminönü

I do remember however, that the currants available at that time were full of seeds so preparing them was indeed a job in itself.

Suet wasn't available either. Well, that means suet in neat little packets like Atora. Well, now I am older and wiser and have learned that suet is actually the fat around the kidneys of a cow. What you do if you live here is ask your friendly butcher to save it for you which he will be only too happy to do and probably at no charge. When you get it home, wash all traces of blood away, pat dry and freeze. When you need it, take it from the freezer and allow to thaw slightly so you can grate it. If you have never worked with 'real' suet, you'll be surprised at how white and odourless it is! It really does the trick.

I will be forever grateful to those dedicated Corona ladies at the IWI Christmas Bazaar as they would always have jars of homemade mincemeat (made with those UK ingredients!), puddings and cakes too for sale. I never made the latter as my mother would always make them herself in her own kitchen in Camberley and bring them on her lap on the plane. I was too busy teaching and looking after hearth and home to even dream of making these traditional goodies myself.

Times have changed in more than one way: those wonderful kuru yemiş shops sell every possible variation of currant under the sun it seems to me, including nice black currants with no seeds! You can now find imported mincemeat at the upmarket supermarkets eg Macro but at a price. And on a personal level, at last I have the time to make it myself.

the fruits of my labours: traditional mincemeat

So this morning I made a batch of mincemeat following friend Lesley's New Zealand recipe from the 1950s and it worked beautifully. The recipe comes from a hugely popular radio personality of the time called Aunt Daisy. Have you ever heard of her?

Here's the recipe as Lesley sent it to me:

Aunt Daisy's Mincemeat (Old Fashioned)


  • One cup each chopped currants/siyah kuru üzüm,raisins/sarı kuru üzüm, apples and suet/iç yağı, 1 lemon (grated rind and juice), 1 oz chopped candied peel/şekerli meyve, 1oz/50g chopped almonds/badem, a little nutmeg/hindistan cevizi and spice,  1 cup *brown sugar. Mix with a little brandy or rum, and keep in airtight jars.
  • Originally all the chopping would have been done by hand as kitchen appliances were virtually unknown in New Zealand. Now, give the dried fruit a brief zap in your food processor and grate the apple using the largest holes. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.

*if you don't have any soft brown sugar, simply add a little grape pekmez to regular white granulated sugar - it's widely available.

combining all ingredients for the mincemeat

There's still time before Christmas to make a batch or two so if you're looking for an easy mincemeat recipe to try, this is it!

Here are the links to earlier mince pie posts with an emphasis on the pastry rather than the mincemeat itself:


Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Speciality from Antakya: Lakmi Le Varka/Ground Beef with lots of Fresh Herbs & Baked in the Oven

The other day a friend of mine in the UK emailed me for suggestions for a good Turkish cookbook to buy as a Christmas present for her SIL.

So I actually stopped and reviewed my own selection. I have a lot both in English and Turkish, but I also refer to the internet and more often than not, find inspiration in other blogs via Pinterest. (I love Pinterest!). 

Often I get seduced by good food photography as with Didem Şenol's 'Aegean Flavours' or Refika Birgül's 'Cooking New Istanbul'. But there again, one firm faithful remains 'An American Cook in Turkey' which has no pictures at all! I guess it's more of a familiar old friend sitting there on my shelf as it must have been my very first cookbook when I came here all those years ago. I don't really cook from it any more as other options exist now.

My friend had already purchased 'Sultan's Kitchen' by Özcan Ozan but her husband, who is Turkish, had had a flip through and didn't think the recipes were particularly authentic and I tend to agree. On the other hand, I really recommend 'Secrets of the Turkish Kitchen' by Angie Mitchell and have just about cooked my way through the entire book! 

If you're looking for a nice-looking book with lots of good photographs, how about anything by Ghillie Basan, or there's a book that I would like myself called 'Turkey Recipes and Tales from the Road' by Leanne Kitchen? I have only seen these books but other friends recommend them highly.

Anyway, one of my own books came to light in the search: 'Antakya - Antioch - City & Cuisine' by Jale Balcı. Now, this is an attractive cookbook with not only recipes but also lovely pictures and information about that city. The recipes however, like in many Turkish cookbooks written or translated into English, aren't precise enough eg no cooking times given in this one.

But one recipe caught my eye: this large oven-baked kofte that matched the ingredients I had to hand. 

what I particularly liked was the abundance of herbs in this recipe
mixing everything together
all ready for the oven

So here it is: Lakmi Le Varka, the Arabic name for what is simply translated as 'meat in paper'! Which it isn't: it's merely cooked ON a sheet of kitchen paper but there you go!


Serves 4-6

500g/1lb ground beef
1 bunch parsley (150g), trimmed and washed
½ bunch (75g) fresh mint/nane, trimmed and washed
1 red pepper, stalk and seeds removed, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic
Pinch ground cumin/kimyon - if you like it, use more: I did!
Seasoning to taste
tomato and green pepper slices to decorate, optional


  • Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F.
  • Put the parsley, mint, red pepper, and garlic into the bowl of a food processor and finely chop. Using your hands, place this in a separate bowl and mix this well with the meat until combined. Add the cumin and seasoning.
  • Line an oven try with kitchen paper and spread the meat out evenly into a circular shape in the centre. Add the tomato and green pepper slices to decorate if using.
  • Cook until done - approximately 30 minutes or until nicely browned.

Lakmi Le Varka/Ground Beef with lots of fresh herbs and baked in the oven

Afiyet olsun!

It worked out extremely well: tasty and moist! I'll be making this one again!

Friday, 5 December 2014

Sahlep: A Wonderful Turkish Winter Beverage: December '14

I originally wrote this post in the winter of 2011. That's quite some time ago so I thought I'd give it a little airing as it's one of my favourites. Not that it's been resting unnoticed as it's had more than 7000 pageviews in the interim. 

It's winter time again and it's certainly time for sahlep. It's a delicious warming drink and I highly recommend it - the real thing, of course!


Sahlep is very special, very Turkish and its season is limited. You can only find it in the winter months, officially between October and April.

sahlep served with a piece of lokum on the side

What is sahlep (or salep)?
It is a hot milky drink made improbably enough from the flour obtained by grinding the dried tubers of the orchid genus ORCHIS found in Kahramanmaraş province in the south of Turkey, and also the Black Sea provinces especially Kastamonu.

Sahlep was a popular beverage throughout the Ottoman Empire when it was sold in the streets from large copper jugs over braziers with the customers warming themselves at the same time around that brazier. What a wonderful picture that conjures up.

Traditionally it has the reputation here for curing digestive problems and gum disease as well as increasing resistance against coughs and colds. Due to the shape of the tubers, aprodisiac qualities have also been attributed to it!
In fact sahlep was even popular in England in the 17th and 18th Centuries when it was called ‘saloop’ and served with bread and butter! The powder was thickened with water and flavoured with orange flower or rose water. Nowadays it is made with milk topped with cinnamon and what a lovely warming  hot drink it is. 

However the sahlep powder is amazingly expensive. I tracked it down when I was in Kadıköy, an old traditional area right on my doorstep. It is only sold in shops that sell Turkish coffee and at what a price! 250 TL per kilo! This is almost £88 or $137 per kilo. Extortionate.

sahlep powder on sale at Mehmet Efendi's in Kadıköy

But this reflects the fact that so many orchid tubers are used to produce this powder. In fact the decline in the population of wild orchids has resulted in a ban on the exportation of true sahlep.
So much of the sahlep you may see around contains artificial flavourings. It is available commercially in packets from supermarkets but contains preservatives.  I doubt very much that you will be able to obtain it abroad. Here you can buy a steaming cup on the ferries that cross the Bosphorus but I don’t think it will be the authentic sahlep. It’ll be a nice enough milky drink thickened probably with cornstarch and sprinkled with cinnamon on top but it won’t be made from ground orchids.

the traditional sahlep urn with çaydanlıks behind for tea

But I was on a mission when I was in Kadıköy: I asked first of all in Mehmet Efendi where I could actually drink the gerçek sahlep ie the genuine article, and was directed to a little café round the corner. I found it. It only serves Turkish coffee, çay, and sahlep! Just my kind of place. I loved it: Yavuz Bey Kurukahveci right in the heart of the çarşi as the local market area is known, a concentration of  amazing little shops in a criss-cross of tiny streets. Absolutely worth the visit.

I took his picture .....

You can also find the real sahlep at traditional milk pudding shops throughout Istanbul like Sütiş,Zeynel and Saray Muhallebecisi. They are all great. You can find sahlep powder in the Spice Bazaar/Mısır Çarşısı in Istanbul and probably other traditional places.

.... he took mine

Here is an authentic recipe for sahlep:

Serves 2

1 tsp sahlep powder

2 tsp sugar

Pinch of cinnamon/tarçin (pron: tar/chin) OR a cinnamon stick

1 ½ cups  cold milk

Cinnamon for dusting

  •     Place all ingredients in a pan. Bring gently to the boil, whisking continuously, for 2 – 3 minutes. It will gradually thicken.
  •     Pour  into two cups and dust with cinnamon. Serve immediately.

go to Yavuz Bey Kurukahveci in Kadıköy to have a delicious sahlep

Afiyet olsun!
You might also like:

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Monthly Market Update: What's in and What's not in the Turkish Pazars

November - December 2014: Istanbul

The weather has taken a long time to turn but turn it has and this cold, wet weather seems to be telling us that winter is really here. 

But we can't really complain: if you go along to your local market or manav, most of the fruit and vegetables are still there with some seasonal additions. However, it's the choice of fish that has changed since last month:


Here are the biggest seasonal changes which are reflected in the city's fish markets.  You can still find palamut/bonito,fish of the month last month, but now is the time for hamsi or anchovies which are swimming down from the Black Sea - Kara Deniz - in their multitudes. Just look at this sight:

Karaköy Fish Market yesterday afternoon!
Of course they are at their best fried,  like this:

he's also frying some squid
Also look out for bluefish or lüfer, sole/dil,  and mackerel/uskumru.


Now is the time when the citrus family begins to steal the show. Grapefruits have started and the oranges/portakal here are second to none. Mandarines or mandalina have been around since last month but officially come into their own in December. Eat those oranges while you can! Also buy the smaller ones to squeeze for their juice.

The other winter fruits that you shouldn't miss are:
  • quince/ayva
  • persimmons/ Trabzon Hurması
  • and pomegranates/nar.

huge and beautiful
these pomegranates were very red in colour: sometimes they are quite pale simply because they come
from a different region.


I've been waiting for Jerusalem artichokes to make their appearance but so far, none. However, cabbages, celeriac (celery root), cauliflower, leeks and spinach are everywhere as are all the wonderful lettuces and greens such as rocket and my favourite marul.

a sea of green

The mushroom season has started too: have you noticed the çintar mantarı? They look rather scary despite their bright orange colour: it's that rather suspicious green that looks like mould that does it, but in fact, they are perfectly edible and very tasty too!

Eat the seasonal foods and enjoy the abundant local markets!

Friday, 28 November 2014

Sultan's Kofte with Semolina/İrmikli Sultan Köftesi

Köfte are almost synonymous with Turkey, wouldn't you say?

Sultan Köftesi: just the thing with a light salad

Think of the varieties then add all the regional specialities. Endless!

For my last cooking class, there was a request for a 'different' köfte. I happened to see my madly popular blogger friend Oya from Oya's Cuisine the very next day. She is such a keen cook and hostess extraordinaire that I asked her what she suggested.

All summer long she has been giving cooking classes down in Bodrum so I know she has experience of the kind of recipes that are popular with participants. 

Sultan's Kofte

Sure enough: without hesitation, she came up with these Sultan meatballs. What makes them special? the fact that there is no bread in these little wonders. Instead, they're held together with the semolina as well as the usual egg. Also, they include a most unusual herb, basil, along with the expected parsley. Until fairly recently, it wasn't available and even now, will not be a herb that the average housewife will have at the top of her shopping list.

all the ingredients for the köfte

Actually, we found the taste of the basil very muted to the extent of being almost not there! Next time I'll increase the *amount and decrease the parsley.

These kofte are supposed to be fried in a centimetre of oil but for me, this is just too much. I prefer barely a spoon in the pan and then cooking gently to ensure the kofte gets cooked through and through.


500g mince meat/kıyma: beef, lamb or a combination
1 onion, finely grated
1/4 cup semolina/irmik
1 tbsp tomato paste/domates salçası
1 egg
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda/karbonat
1 tbsp cumin/kimyon
1 - *3 tbsp basil/fesleğen, finely chopped
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
cooking oil for frying


  • Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well together with your hands. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge to 'rest' for 5-6 hours. NB we didn't have so much time to spare in the cooking class and left the mixture to one side for a couple of hours only. They were fine.
  • Remove from the fridge, wet your hands to avoid the mixture sticking to them, and shape into flattish ovals.
  • Heat the oil in a pan and gently cook until browned. Turn once. Check to make sure the middle is cooked through! Serve hot.

Afiyet olsun!

Why not have them for supper tonight?

Monday, 24 November 2014

Mediterranean Tarts with Bulgur/Bulgurla Akdeniz Tartları

A soon as I saw the pictures of these tarts, I knew I would love them. I then read the recipes and loved them even further.

The pastry is made with the köftelik bulgur or fine-grain bulgur wheat. The amount makes enough for two tarts, one with olives, green and black, and the other with leeks, cheese and a scattering of sunflower seeds. For me, these ingredients - and the photos -  were enough to seduce me.

the uncooked green and black olive tart sprinkled with dried thyme
the cooked leek and cheese tart. this one with pine nuts not sunflower seeds

Where did I see these recipes?

In one of the cookbooks that comes from Refika'nın Mutfağı or Refika's Kitchen: it's called *Bulgurun Halleri/Ways with Bulgur by Nursen Doğan whom I've actually had the pleasure of meeting at Refika's. 

I have already made these tarts several times now and I'm on a roll. Those in my most recent cooking class know that I was planning on making them for a dinner party on Saturday night - and I did!

Mediterranean Tarts with Bulgur


for the pastry (enough for 2 tarts)

1 cup fine-grain bulgur wheat NB you are not going to cook this, soaking will be enough
1½ cups whole wheat flour/tam buğday unu
1 cup hot water
1 egg
125g butter, softened at room temperature and cut into small pieces
1 tsp salt


  • Place the bulgur in a bowl and cover with the hot water. Wait 15 minutes. Put the flour along with the butter in a separate bowl. Add the salt, bulgur and egg and knead together well. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and wrap each in cling film. Place in the fridge to rest for 1 hour. I had to leave mine like this for 2 days the first time and it still rolled beautifully once it had come back to room temperature.
  • Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
  • Grease two tart or quiche tins (I didn't do this) and roll out the bulgur pastry to line them. TIP you will find it a bit sticky so do what I did: roll it out on some cling film covered with a second layer of cling film so that it does not stick either to the kitchen surface OR the rolling pin. You can use your fingers to push the pastry into any stray areas that need it. Prick the base all over with a fork. NB this is important otherwise it will rise during baking!  Bake for 20 minutes in the pre-heated oven and then remove to add the desired filling.

making the bulgur pastry - it makes a nice firm dough

  1. for the olive/zeytinlik filling:

1 cup black olives, de-stoned
1 cup green olives, de-stoned
1 cup white cheese, crumbled
1 cup kaşar cheese or any other melting cheese, grated
2 spring onions, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp olive oil
dried thyme to sprinkle

Chop the olives and mix with the peppers, spring onions, egg and white cheese. Add half the kaşar cheese and mix together. Spread over the bulgur base.  Sprinkle the remaining half of the kaşar cheese over the tart and drizzle the olive oil. Replace in the oven and cook for another 20 minutes or until the cheese starts to turn an attractive toasty brown.
NB when you buy the black olives, make sure you get ones that have been in a salamura and not sele. They will be plumper and easy to de-stone. The others will be dryer and wrinkled, therefore hard to remove the stone.

    2.  for the leek/pırasalık filling:

2 leeks, washed and finely chopped in rings
1 cup kaşar cheese or any other melting cheese, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp sunflower seeds/ayçekirdeği
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Add the chopped leeks to the olive oil in a frying pan and cook for 3-5 minutes till softened. Add the salt, sugar and black pepper and stir for a further 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.  Add the egg and half of the grated cheese and arrange on the bulgur base.  Sprinkle the remaining half of the cheese over the tart along with the sunflower seeds. Return to the oven and cook until the top changes colour - about 20 minutes.

the leek bulgur tart just out of the oven - I only had pine nuts the first time round.
Definitely better with sunflower seeds!

all the ingredients for the olive bulgur tart
Afiyet olsun!

*I obviously like this recipe book as I realise I've made something from it every month since September! If you like this recipe - if you like bulgur! - here are the links for the others on my blog:

Kısır/Spicy Bulgur Salad with Tomatoes 
& Pomegranate Molasses

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Delicious Apricots stuffed with Cream/Kaymaklı Kayısı Tatlısı

apricots stuffed with cream and sprinkled with toasted flaked almonds

Last week we made this typical Turkish dessert in one of my cooking classes in Kuzguncuk. Suitably sticky, deliciously sweet and syrupy with a slight crunch from the flaked almonds, I think it was a winner!

sweet and sticky ....

I had some kaymak left over - you may wonder what that is: well, it's buffalo cream! Yes, really!! It's somewhat similar to our clotted cream in that it's firm and can easily be spooned into each apricot. Here, you buy it in rülo or rolls from shops that sell milk puddings eg Sütiş, which is where I got mine. I should add that it's not cheap at approximately 22 TL per roll so I wasn't out to waste the remaining half roll.

So I made it again! This time at home for the family. In fact, this is what we enjoyed after our takoz palamut as there is a general consensus that 'something sweet'  after fish is always nice. In restaurants you are (often!) served a selection of baklava or some warm helva  along with fruit just to satisfy this craving.

Of course the apricots are the dried ones that are sold everywhere here in Istanbul. I bought mine from my local aktar, a treasure trove of dried herbs, spices, oils and essences as well as nuts and dried fruits. Aktars are fabulous places. You can see that the quality of these apricots was superb: firm, fleshy, and on the large side: just perfect for stuffing with cream!

L: apricots after being soaked overnight and R in the pan with the water, lemon juice and sugar

Yes, they are the orange ones, the ones that have been treated with sulphur dioxide to preserve the colour - I suppose we should all be buying the organic brown ones that have been sun dried. I usually do as a matter of fact but for cooking, this colour is so much more attractive. One of the ladies in the group suggested a chequerboard effect: one orange, one brown etc! Not a bad idea.

This recipe is simplicity itself: the only thing to remember is to soak the apricots overnight and then the next day, to reserve 1 cup of that same liquid for the boiling with lemon and sugar.

The ladies were brilliant: how about cinnamon sticks? vanilla pod? cardamom? they suggested.  All excellent ideas!

But here's the typical recipe inspired by Angie Mitchell in 'Secrets of the Turkish Kitchen' for:

Apricots stuffed with Cream/Kaymaklı Kayısı Tatlısı

Serves 4-6


250g/8oz Turkish dried apricots/kuru kayısı
1 cup water
juice of ½ lemon
4 tbsp sugar
kaymak or clotted cream to serve (approx ½ roll of kaymak)
flaked almonds or crushed pistachio nuts for garnish


  • Soak the apricots overnight in cold water. 
  • Drain and reserve 1 cup of the water. Put the water in a pan with the apricots, lemon juice and sugar. Boil gently for 10 minutes or until the syrup thickens, taking care not to allow the apricots to become mushy.      
  • Allow to cool. Then split open the apricots and stuff with a spoonful of the cream. Arrange on a serving dish facing up, spoon over the syrup and sprinkle with either the pistachios or flaked almonds.
  • I decided that I wanted to toast the almonds so quickly did exactly that in a small frying pan over medium heat.

apricots stuffed with cream and garnished with toasted flaked almonds

Afiyet olsun!

An easy dessert that tastes just as good as it looks!
Easy to eat too: 
just pop one straight in your mouth and ENJOY!


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