Thursday, 21 August 2014

Künefe: the syrup-soaked, cheese-filled 'shredded wheat' dessert

Turkish desserts are not normally my thing: on the whole they are just too calorific for me to have even the remotest desire to make them!

I would say that baklava is probably the best-known Turkish or Middle Eastern dessert but when there are specialist baklava shops in many neighbourhoods, I ask myself why would I ever want to make it? When I have visitors from abroad, I take myself round the corner to a small branch of Güllüoğlu and buy a selection of the choicest walnut or pistachio-filled treats that you can imagine. All the classics are readily available: they are all scrumptious, I am not disputing that, but not a good idea to have in your home on a regular basis.


last week I had a special request for a Turkish dessert. This was from an American family who were visiting family members currently residing in Istanbul who wanted to spend a few hours cooking together. Fortuitously, they were put in touch with me!

Many of you, well those of you on facebook, know that I now have a new string to my bow: cooking classes! It's all very exciting and I am lucky enough to have the use of a great kitchen in an old historical building in Kuzguncuk, which is a wonderful traditional part of the city. It's perhaps not quite as convenient as cooking in your own kitchen where you know where every last spatula is, but on the other hand, the pluses are great: a super space in wonderful, warm colours with a huge table and a terrace with views of the Bosphorus to die for. And it is very well-equipped as it is the kitchen of popular chef Refika Birgül! Her weekly TV shows are filmed right here in this kitchen! So I consider myself privileged to be able to use it.

Among the classic Turkish desserts that I do in fact make are ayva tatlısı or quince dessert, 
and kabak tatlısı/pumpkin dessert, but the fact of the matter is that neither of these are in season right now.

So I thought long and hard about what to make. The idea of künefe came to me as I relived my foodie walks in Eminönü: which dessert was unusual in itself with unusual ingredients, and at the same time quite a little showstopper?

künefe or the 'shredded wheat' dessert baked in the traditional metal dish

Künefe's main ingredient is commonly described amongst the foreigners as 'shredded wheat'. It is made from yufka dough which has been put through a sieve resulting in fine, long strands and called tel kadayıf/ 'wire' pastry strands. 

separating the pastry strands, making sure they aren't clumped together

Two desserts are commonly made with it, one simply called kadayıf with walnuts, and the other künefe with a meltingly soft cheese sandwiched between 2 layers of heavily buttered pastry strands. As it comes out of the oven, a syrup is poured over it. Can you imagine the result? The seductive oozing of the cheese as you cut into it with a fork, warm with the sweetness of the syrup and the final OMG touch of ground pistachio nuts sprinkled on top?

here, I used chopped walnuts which is equally acceptable

Künefe: the syrup-soaked, cheese-filled 'shredded wheat' dessert

Serves 6

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4
You will need 6 small ovenproof dishes or 1 large one.


1 cup sugar

¾ cup water
½ tbsp lemon juice
250g/8oz tel kadayıf (pastry strands): available from traditional yufka shops
½ cup melted butter
250g/8oz unsalted cheese, grated, eg mozarella, ricotta or any melting cheese. I used dil peyniri. You could use lor too.
¼ cup ground pistachio nuts/fıstık (traditional) for garnish, OR chopped walnuts


          for the syrup:

  • Place the sugar and water in a pan and simmer uncovered over a low heat for about 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice, heat through and then remove from the heat. Set aside to cool.        

  • Place the pastry strands in a bowl and separate them out. Pour the melted butter over. Using your hands, mix it well so that the strands are well soaked. Use more butter if necessary. 
  • Divide the strands into two (or 6 if using small dishes).  Place one half in the dish and spread out all the way to the sides. At the same time, rub it around the dish so the base is greased. Press down.      
  • Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly over the kadayıf and then cover with the remaining half. Press firmly down.      

 TIP If you wish to make this in advance, cover with 2 layers of cling film and refrigerate till needed 
  •  Otherwise, place in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until a deep golden colour. (If using smaller dishes, keep your eye on them to make sure they don't burn).      
  • Pour the prepared syrup over it and sprinkle with the ground pistachio nuts.       
  • Serve warm or hot while the cheese is still gooey!

here's the künefe I made at home as a trial practice: moist and sweet!

Afiyet olsun!

TIP: The first time I made künefe, I used a large dish. In the class, I used 6 small, traditional künefe dishes which Refika kindly offered me. The larger size worked better I think, because it was easier to divide up the pastry strands into 2 lots as opposed to 6 and then halve each. I now see that it is important to make sure that the base of the dish is indeed well-buttered AND that the cheesy layer is covered all over with the strands otherwise everything sticks. Not that the taste is impaired in any way!

Further tip: I think the little dishes are probably too much of a good thing which makes the large dish easier to serve a spoonful each. Seconds on demand!

BTW this dish is not nearly so good if served later: the cheese hardens and you don't get the same melt-in-your-mouth sweet sensation!

künefe in all its sticky glory

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Roasted White Eggplant/Beyaz Patlıcan, Sliced, Stuffed with Cheese, Tomato & Fresh Herbs!

I was at the mini pazar in Ayvacık last week when I spied these:

white eggplants/aubergines

I don't know about you but I have never seen white eggplants before - have you?  Big and bulbous, the veritable Moby Dicks of the patlıcan family!

Purple I know...

Stripy too ....

But these?

I looked at them curiously and the stallholder, a woman I vaguely know from previous market forays, said 'Do you know what to do with them?'

No, I said.

And here is what she told me, kindly slicing a normal purple eggplant to illustrate what she was describing.

Cut finely from one end towards the stem end without cutting all the way through; then slice through again below that cut. This time, cut through so you have what looks like a sort of folder, a sandwich idea but joined at one end.

two white eggplants

In it, she said, put cheese, parsley and mint, brush with olive oil and bake in the oven. This sounded enticing so I bought two to experiment with.

The next day, I cut through my two white eggplants so I had 8 pockets. I brushed inside each with olive oil and seasoned well. Then I  put a slice of cheddar cheese, some fresh parsley, dried mint - I didn't have fresh - and dried thyme in each. I thought a dab of colour would be appetising so added a slice of bright red tomato. I closed each pocket as much as I could, brushed the outside with olive oil and put them in an oiled pyrex dish in a preheated oven (180C/350F).

I think they took 40  minutes - they didn't need any further attention, just a little look to see how they were progressing. 

this is how they looked out of the oven stuffed with cheese, tomato and fresh herbs

We had our friends from the UK with us so this was lunch: I would definitely do this again as they were extremely tasty, just as you would imagine! 

Next time however I'll add some garlic - can't think how I overlooked it!

So this is yet another way with eggplant. Or aubergine. Or whatever you want to call it. Try it and see how you get on.

Afiyet olsun!

roasted eggplant sliced, stuffed with cheese, tomato & fresh herbs

PS as far as I can see, whatever the colour, they all taste the same!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Spicy Red Lentil Kofte/Mercimek Köftesi

Whenever I am invited to a teaparty by a Turkish friend, more often than not, these little beauties are part of the spread.

spicy red lentil rissoles or kofte/mercimek köftesi

When I first came to Turkey, it came as a surprise to see these gracing the table along with say, yaprak sarma or rolled vine leaves, and typically, a börek or two. These would be as well as the sweet offerings of course...

Teaparties here are serious business and by our standards, there is usually way too much food! I always wish I had a fabulous metabolism and could really tuck into it all! Needless to say, everyone is always on a diet but somehow rises to the occasion and manages to do justice to the hostess' best efforts!

Now, I really appreciate these little rissole-shaped köfte: they can be made in advance, for a start and make ideal finger-food eg for a picnic. Not too soft, not too hard, easy to transport, keep well in the fridge .. and everyone always loves 'em!

mercimek köftesi

The ingredients are nothing if not healthy: red lentils - which don't require soaking - and bulgur wheat, the fine variety. I love both of these! Here, they are considered staples of the Turkish pantry. Add onions, fresh parsley, tomato and/or red pepper paste, plus some spices, and the result is a highly seasoned, spicy mix. Not necessarily spicy hot/ acı, I hasten to add - that depends on you! Just spicy as in zesty! Serve with lots of lemon wedges: the tart lemon really enhances the taste.

Ingredients for Spicy Red Lentil Kofte/Mercimek Köftesi

Serves 4-6

2 tbsp virgin olive oil/sızma
1 cup red lentils/kırmızı mercimek
1 cup fine bulgur wheat
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 spring onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp red pepper paste/biber salçası (hot/acı OR mild/tatlı)
1 tbsp paprika/flaked red pepper/pul biber
1 tbsp cumin/kimyon
1 tbsp dried mint/kuru nane
1 cup parsley, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
lemon wedges to serve
lettuce leaves to serve (optional)


  • Rinse the lentils, put in a pan with 3 cups of water and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.. Add the bulgur and continue cooking for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for 20 minutes. The bulgur will absorb any extra water. 
  • Heat the olive oil in another pan and gently cook the finely chopped onion till softened but not browned.
  • Take the cooled lentil-bulgur mix and add the cooled onion, about 2/3 of the spring onions keeping the remainder for garnish, tomato and pepper pastes, spices, chopped parsley and season well with the salt and pepper.
  • NB seasoning is very important, especially salt, otherwise the taste will be bland
  • Mix well, cover, and let stand for about 15 minutes.
  • Shape the mixture into either rissoles, balls or small ovals about the size of a large walnut. If you choose the rissole shape (as I did), make indentations with your fingers. This is traditional!
So is this method of serving:

Serve on a bed of lettuce leaves decorated with lemon wedges. To eat, squeeze lemon juice into the indentations and roll up the köfte in a crunchy lettuce leaf.


Place on a serving dish and scatter the remaining chopped spring onions on top. Garnish with the lemon wedges and make sure that everyone squeezes the juice on their köfte.

Didem's mercimek köftesi
and here are neighbour Esma's mercimek köftesi 
Afiyet olsun!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Vegetarian Delight: Colourful Casserole of Summer Vegetables

A dish of mixed vegetables in Turkey is generally known as türlü and is one of my personal favourites.

vegetarian delight: colourful casserole of summer vegetables

The weather outside is 30+ degrees so why would I feel like a hot casserole of veggies? Well, it all started the other day when I mentioned the word 'ratatouille': I casually said do you remember the days when all we did with aubergine was make ratatouille? That got me thinking...

Personally I have been on quite an aubergine journey since those days! How about you? Have your boundaries been pushed? Have you broadened your aubergine scope? In Turkey, patlıcan is the queen of the summer vegetables so it isn't surprising that there are so many wonderful ways in which to prepare it. Not that there is anything wrong with ratatouille .... but it is just one way.

Anyway, I just love vegetables so I really did feel like cooking up some sort of medley. I have already posted on something very similar with lamb but this one is vegetables pure and simple that you cook slowly for over an hour until it reaches a glorious, thick, fragrant consistency. The taste is enhanced by the golden olive oil in which it's cooked. It contains all the summer vegetables including green beans and okra. The peeling and chopping is a bit endless but it is oh so worth it. It couldn't be more seasonal if it tried!

 a colourful casserole of mixed vegetables

Here are the ingredients:

Vegetarian Delight: Colourful Casserole of Summer Vegetables

adapted from a recipe by Rena Salaman in 
'The Cooking of Greece and Turkey'

Serves 4-6

Pre-heat oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.

500g/1lb aubergines/patlıcan, peeled in stripes and cut in large cubes
4 tbsp vegetable oil
150ml/1/4 pint olive oil, best quality
2 medium onions, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
250g/8oz okra (ladies' fingers)/ bamya, peeled carefully* SEE BELOW
250g/8oz green beans, trimmed and cut in 2-3 pieces
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 red or green peppers, chopped
500g/1lb courgettes, cut in large cubes
250g/8oz tomatoes, peeled and chopped, OR a 250g/8oz can, chopped
1 tbsp dried oregano or thyme/kekik
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp sugar
1 tbsp tomato purée, diluted in 150ml /1/4 pint hot water
salt and pepper.

*You need to take care when preparing okra: you don't want to release those sticky juices inside. Therefore, cut off the stalk and then, as if sharpening a pencil, take a sharp knife round the hard little cap, leaving a pointed end.


here are the okra, with the ends carefully peeled away

TIP: When buying, don't choose the very small ones nor the large ones: go for middle of the road.

assembling all the vegetables


  • Soak the aubergines in salted water for 30 minutes; then rinse and drain the pieces, squeezing them gently. NB This soaking is to prevent too much absorption of oil.
  • Using a frying pan, heat the vegetable oil and fry the aubergines briskly, stirring continuously until the flesh is pale golden. 
  • Remove from the heat and place on paper towelling.
  • Heat the olive oil and lightly brown the onions and garlic in a large saucepan; add the okra, beans, potatoes, peppers, and courgettes and sauté together for 5-6 minutes. 
  • Add the remaining ingredients, and cook in the pre-heated oven for approximagely 1hr 20 minutes. NB You could also cook this, covered, over a gentle heat on top of the oven for about 30 minutes.
  • Stir occasionally and add a little water if needed. NB if your tomatoes are juicy, this probably won't be necessary.

vegetarian delight: colourful casserole of summer vegetables with a slice of sough dough bread on the side

Afiyet olsun!

PS If there is too much olive oil in this recipe for your taste, you could simply layer up all the vegetables BUTTT as this recipe points out, '..... it is the essence of the dish'!. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Today in Eminönü: Ramazan is over!

This morning we went to Eminönü. It's almost the last day of fasting and this long month of Ramazan, the most sacred month of Islam, will finish tomorrow night at sunset. I imagine those who have been fasting will give a deep sigh of relief - but who am I to say? 

from Karaköy looking towards the Old City

For us, it would be just about unthinkable to go without food and drink, especially water, from sunrise to sunset for 29-30 days especially at this time of year. Yet, they say here that the body gets used to it and they really don't feel the pain. I do know that the evenings are a very special time when friends and families get together to share meals and it is fiesta!

For those who don't know, Eminönü lies within the heart of the Old City, an area where you can still get a sense of old Istanbul. The myriad little streets were teeming with people, especially as the day wore on. There was a real feeling of anticipation building up, it wasn't just the regular hustle and bustle. It was intensified.

queues in front of Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, right by the Spice Bazaar,buying the excellent  ground coffee in anticipation of visitors in the next few days. We bought some too: 100g for 3 TL

the coffee place happens to be right opposite my favourite peynirci  or cheese seller,whom I have
mentioned before so, yes, I bought another kalıp of his white cheese which comes
from Thrace  -  believe me, it's the best!

After a month of deprivation, the first day of Şeker Bayramı starts on Monday. Tomorrow night is Arefe, the night before, an important time indeed. Bayram means feast or holiday, and şeker literally means sweet or sugar. 

Thus today, people were already in holiday mode and that, like everywhere in the world, implies more relaxed spending especially in this case, on sweets or candy, and typical Turkish treats like baklava!  

baklava at Güllüoğlu - TT had his favourite pistachio/fıstıklı ezme, at Develi, just down from the coffee place
piles of sweeties and their bayram prices were  prominently displayed everywhere you looked
also the more traditional lokum or Turkish delight...
everybody in shopping mode

Over the bayram, all the little kids will be kitted out in new outfits, faces glowing both from healthy scrubbings and from excitement, and families will both visit and be visited.  The rule is the younger members visit their elders first. Traditionally they will kiss their hands and raise them to their foreheads in a sign of respect.

                                          İyi Bayramlar

                      Happy Holidays to you all from Istanbul!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Ten Pics of Turkish Çay!

this is what upmarket çay looks like: presented on a tray complete with paper napkin and cookie. this is at Big Chef's, Suadiye

Just been going through some of my photos and realize that çay is a recurrent theme around here: anytime of day, anyplace, a glass of Turkish tea is always welcome! 

Here we have the quintessential glass of tea on the traditional white saucer
decorated in red. I don't know the symbolism of this red pattern - if anybody does, please let me know. I took this photo on the Kadıköy-Beşiktaş ferry. The tea on the ferries is legendary. You can compound your experience by having a tost or toasted cheese sandwich with it - then all your dreams will come true!

notice the colour: tavşan kanı or rabbit's blood! This is how it should be....

You may not actually like Turkish çay, it may be an acquired taste for you, but there is something about the ritual and the spirit in which it is offered, that makes it an indelible mark of Turkish hospitality.

Personally, I love it! I love the whole thing about it! When you live here like I do, inevitably you acquire the whole kit: the çaydanlık or set of 2 kettles, a smaller one sitting pretty on top of the bigger one; a set of the seductive tulip-shaped glasses with the little saucers - honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way!

So here we have Turkish çay at its best!

Kastamonu Market çay ...
tost and çay, Çiralı
Bosphorus çay ..
Grand Bazaar çay ... specifically, at Hasan & Adnan's carpet shop..
friend Ayşe's teaparty çay ...
Bodrum çay complete with biscuits and decorative flower

friend Ayşen's çay ...
and here's me with a glass of çay outside our house in Assos ...

Learn how to make it, buy the glasses and SERVE!


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Summer Eggplants: different version Patlıcan Salatası/Aubergine Salad

Aubergines or eggplants? Or shall we use the Turkish word patlıcan?

Summer eggplants:  different version eggplant salad/patlıcan salatası

But a rose by any other name, aubergines are the true summer vegetable in this country. Remember the days when all we ever made with them was ratatouille? 

My most popular recipe of all time in the 4 years of this blog is the classic aubergine meze with yogurt, lemon juice, and garlic which has had almost 14,000 pageviews! 

But here is yet another version of patlıcan salatası, this time using a few other chopped vegetables and for a change, no yogurt. It is my favourite Summer '14 aubergine meze and I have made it three times in the last two weeks! I will be making it at my next cooking class too ....

We've been enjoying it down at the beach so I asked how they made it: here are the ingredients as described:

Aubergine Salad/Patlıcan Salatası

  • 3-4 aubergines, chargrilled (either on the gas ring, in the oven or on the BBQ)
  • 1 big tomato, peeled if desired, then chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 1-2 green peppers - either the light green ones/çaliston, or any of the thin dark green ones
  • a good handful parsley, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, pounded with salt
  • juice of half a lemon
  • pinch of sumac/sumak
  • drizzle of pomegranate molasses/nar ekşisi
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • salt and pepper

As with many of this type of recipe, these amounts are not absolute, if you prefer more garlic, for example, go ahead. 

With all these vegetables, you can see that there is a fair bit of chopping - well, in summer especially, this is certainly the case here in Turkey! Best to get another pair of hands to help out ..

grill them right on the gas flame, turning from time to time
blackened but softened, now cooling
chopped and ready to go ...

  • Place the grilled aubergines in a dish, cover with a double layer of stretch film and wait to cool. You will find that they peel much more easily if covered like this.
  • Peel them, removing as much of the blackened skin as possible, place on a large plate and mash with a fork. You're looking for a rough consistency as opposed to smooth.
  • Add all the other ingredients one by one, mixing well as you go. I like this salad especially because of the additions of sumac and pomegranate molasses - they add a subtle depth of flavour and make it slightly different from the classic versions.

mix well to incorporate the ingredients and flavours

  • Arrange on a clean platter and add a final sprinkling of chopped parsley with a few black olives for decoration.


 summer aubergine salad/patlıcan salatası

Afiyet olsun!

PS the other day I added to My Most Popular Posts board on pinterest - here's the link if you're curious!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...