Saturday, 29 August 2015

Courgette Borek with Potato, Cheese and Fresh Herbs/ Kabaklı Börek

At last I've cracked it! And at last I've discovered the börek filling for me! It is so good that I can't stop dreaming about it. Here's my story:

As my friends who have attended my cooking classes will attest, I always advocate buying fresh yufka/filo from a local corner yufkacı rather than a packet from the supermarket. The reason for this is simple: yufka must be fresh and pliable so that it can be rolled into whatever shape without cracking or tearing.

this is kabaklı börek second time round, using three beautifully fresh yufkas

But this time I was stuck: in our village and indeed its environs there are no yufkacis/makers and sellers of the fresh item. I suppose the women around here all make it themselves and so there is no demand. I could drive 20 km to Küçükkuyu as there is one there but I would only do that if really pushed.

So I resorted to buying a packet of ready made ev yufkası from Uysal Market, our little supermarket in Ayvacık. They told me it is delivered on Fridays so it was already 3 days old. Once home I opened it up and soon saw that it was not going to roll into a kol böreği shape - that's the big round one that coils around like a snail - without cracking. As I was determined to make this kabak or courgette filling in this shape, I realised that I was going to have to adapt. Otherwise I have to confess I liked it: the rounds were smaller in circumference than those that I am used to, and each one was thicker. In a way, it was easier to handle.

So I made one large börek in a pyrex dish and with the remaining yufka, a series of rolled ones packed tightly in another ovenproof dish lined with grease proof paper. Personally I much prefer smaller boreks, the larger ones can be soggy with wet layers of filling in the middle.

a larger oven-baked kabaklı böreğı
oven-baked kabaklı börek, nice and crispy

But the smaller ones that I simply improvised on, brushing sunflower oil on the layers and then filling, rolling and cutting, were really absolutely delicious. This is me saying this! I mean, I like borek but I'm not necessarily mad about it. But this filling with the courgettes and potato is truly excellent. If you haven't tried it, then do so today! It's by far and away the best in my opinion.

You can prepare the filling in advance and it can wait, covered, in the fridge until required:

four basic steps in making the filling

Kabaklı Börek/ Courgette Borek with Potato, Cheese and Fresh Herbs


 3 yufka

for the filling:

3 medium boiled potatoes, mashed
2 medium courgettes/zucchini/kabak, washed, peeled if desired, and grated, excess liquid squeezed out by hand, and left to drain in a colander
1 bunch fresh dill/dereotu, chopped finely
½ bunch fresh parsley/maydonoz,chopped finely
2 medium onions, chopped finely
3 tbsp cooking oil (I use sunflower oil) plus extra for brushing over the yufka
1 tsp red pepper/kırmızı tozbiber, less if desired
1 cup/8oz ricotta cheese/lor peyniri - regular white cheese or feta would be fine
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt

sesame/susam and nigella seeds/çörekotu for sprinkling on top


  • Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan and cook the chopped onions until softened. Add the grated and drained courgettes and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from heat. 
  • In a bowl, combine the mashed potatoes, the cheese, and the fresh herbs. Season with the salt and pepper. Add the onion and courgette mix and combine well.
  • Line your dish or baking tray with greaseproof paper. Take one yufka round and open it out in front of you. Brush the upper half with cooking oil. Fold the bottom half over the upper half and brush with oil so you have a double layer of yufka in a half moon shape on your counter.
  • Take a spoonful of the courgette mixture and spoon along the straight edge of your yufka shape. Continue all along the edge to the end. Then gently roll until you end up with a long sausage-shape.  Place in the centre of the baking tray, coiling it round on itself.* Continue with the remaining 2 yufka rounds, adding them one by one, to the end of the coil. Tuck the ends underneath. Brush with oil and sprinkle with sesame and nigella seeds. 
  • Bake in a pre-heated 180C/350F oven for 30 minutes or until nicely browned.

*cut into lengths approximately 4-5 fingers long if preferred, or if the yufka is not very fresh and has a tendency to tear.

Serve the smaller ones with çay at 5 o'clock, the larger ones for say, a light lunch! Allow a little time to cool before serving.

courgette borek with potato, cheese and fresh herbs/kabaklı börek
PS these borek also freeze beautifully! 

The moral of the story is that you can do whatever you like with yufka, the only proviso being that if the resulting borek is going to be baked in the oven, each layer has to be brushed with either oil, melted butter or margarine, and sometimes egg yolk on top. A little yogurt may be used on top as well, mixed with any of the afore-mentioned ingredients.

Living in the village as we have this summer where the cooking by definition is far from sophisticated, borek has been a trusty friend :))

Friday, 21 August 2015

Last Post in Monthly Market Updates: What's In and What's Not in the Turkish Pazars Series: August/September 2015

Today I went to the Friday market in nearby Ayvacık and realised that this time next week we will be back in Istanbul. I can hardly believe that I have been here continuously since the 20th June. Time has slipped by so pleasurably with visits from family and friends punctuating the glorious sun-filled days of the Aegean and now we are on the home stretch.

I am late I know, in posting about what's on in the markets for the month of August. I think I have subconsciously been refusing to accept that September is just round the corner and so is the end of this village idyll.

the women in the lower market: they don't have tables here but display their produce on the ground,
their prices are lower than in the higher, covered area

But this post brings us back to September which is when I started posting about the locally available produce last year. No need to continue as the cycle unfolds in its usual predictable way and the fruit and vegetables timelessly come and go with the seasons.

The produce right now is still very much in full summer mode. The newcomers on the scene are figs which you have to be very careful about at they are extremely delicate. Unless you have a dedicated fig eater in your house, I don't recommend buying more than half a kilo at a time. Make sure you handpick them.

market scenes today in Ayvacık

Loads of brightly coloured peppers, green and red. This is absolutely the best time for roasted red peppers: they are big, fat and juicy. There are now so many varieties of green that I hardly know where to start. They are much tastier than you might imagine although we had a foreign visitor recently and when I offered her some for her breakfast platter, she demurred saying 'it was one step too far'!!!!.

this type is commonly eaten for breakfast

I do have something to say about those purple aubergines or eggplants. There are two varieties: the one in the picture above, the dark purple, and the attractive striped white and purple. Tastewise they are much the same but I had noticed that the latter ones tended to go off even in the fridge much faster than the dark ones so I asked one of my market ladies about this. Yes, she said, you are right. They have seeds and that affects them adversely. So moral of the story: only buy the dark purple aubergines and make sure they are firm and shiny.

courgettes with their flowers at the market in Ayvalık a few weeks ago
fabulous bouquet of courgette flowers today at Ayvacık pazar

I have to say I prefer the display of these courgette flowers to what the locals do with them. These very delicate yellow blooms are always stuffed with the usual rice filling which is never very well seasoned and then they are boiled to death. This results in either a very soggy tasteless stuffed courgette flower or else a filling with the rice not cooked enough. I don't order them any more when we are out as they are not worth it in my opinion. 

My friend Emily says her Italian grandmother used to dip them in a beer batter and fry in hot oil and they were delicious. Cook friend Lütfi says he stuffs them with a mixture of four cheeses. Both of these sound quite delicious to my ear and perhaps worth trying.

Now is the time for melons, both the regular ones and watermelons. They are everywhere: there are roadside stalls, kamyons filled to bursting, market stalls with nothing else but. The sad truth is that none of them are worth buying. They are so big and the odds of buying one that is tasteless so high, that personally I have given up. Our gardener maintains that kabak or courgette seeds are injected into the watermelons as they ripen faster. That would explain the lack of taste but how true it is, I'm not sure.

they look great but are usually disappointing

If you live in Turkey you know that melon and white cheese are favourite rakı meze. Unfortunately, at least in our region around Assos, the melon is often a huge let-down.

Grapes of all the pinkish hues as well as the different shades of green are coming into their own now. There are some huge pink ones that are just too big and perfect to be true but they do taste good.

But the real disappointment is the TOMATOES! Who would ever have thought I would be saying that. Çanakkale tomatoes are the jewel in the summer crown in this region and are usually to die for. This year I became aware back at the beginning of summer that things were not looking good. I am an avid market goer and have been hoping to find some tasty specimens but to date, am really disappointed. What is happening? There they are, looking fat and juicy but get them home, and the story is very different. They have large white cores and thick skins. I haven't been inspired in the least to do my usual bottling routine. I know I will miss my jars of chopped tomatoes in the winter but the motivation isn't there. 

beautiful grapes today at the pazar

Despite the note of gloom, Turkish markets are still a joy to visit with the freshest of produce. Let's just hope that the growers won't tinker with the seeds and fertilizers too much!

Monday, 17 August 2015

Turkish Beach Food: Assos '15

This is a summer beach post that I wrote about four years ago. It's one of my favourites but I was afraid it might be lost in the archives... so I have revived it! Same beach, same guys (I think), same beach food ... this year however there is a newcomer, the helvacı: he also does a balancing act with a tray on his head selling those wrapped flaky wafers or kağıt helva. His is the only thing I have occasionally bought as with a scoop of ice cream on top and a serving of say, syrupy cherries or plums, a quarter or half of one of those wafers makes a fine summer dessert!

There you are at last, stretched out under a sun umbrella, the sea a dazzling blue in front of you, a cloudless sky above,  and what is your heart’s desire? Seems to me it would surely be something like a choc ice or vanilla wafer with a Cadbury’s Flake stuck into it. Hot dog?  Smoothie? I know! an ice lolly!
But surely never, never, mussels stuffed with rice!!  Yet this is a staple of the Turkish beach crowd: midye dolma. Literally mussels back in their shells surrounded by a tasty rice filling sold singly or however many you want. They come with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and as in this picture, a paper napkin too!

midye dolması

When you are on a Turkish beach, you will see these guys flogging up and down in the heat selling their wares  displayed on trays which they carry on their heads. Believe me, there is a receptive audience. The mussels will be prepared in private homes and over time, these will acquire a reputation for being both tasty and for being prepared under hygienic conditions.

midyeci posing with his tray of stuffed mussels

After the midyeci, we have the mısırcı, the corn-on-the-cob vendor who pushes his little cart. In this area, the beaches are very stony so he has a hard time of it and I feel quite sorry for him.  He doesn’t of course grill his corn but this time boils it. I’m not sure how hygienic this is but he manages to sell a lot. Corn is always popular.

mısırcı on Kadırga Beach, Assos

And the third seller in this beach scenario is the simitçi. He performs a balancing act with his tray of round simit on his head. When he spies a potential group of buyers, he opens up his trestle legs and rests his tray on top of it. Simit are delicious: not sweet but more in the bread category and are amongst every Turk’s favourite foods. They are sprinkled with pre-toasted sesame seeds which adhere to the pekmez or grape molasses in which the pastry is briefly dipped before baking. Usually eaten for breakfast instead of bread with jam or cheese, or in the late afternoon traditionally with kaşar peynir/kaşar cheese and çay or Turkish tea.

simitçi on the same beach, same afternoon

I shouldn't forget to say that when you are on a Turkish beach as the sun's rays start to lengthen and everybody is feeling mellow after a day at the seaside, best of all, çay is brought round - a very civilised custom - and everyone chats with everyone else.

Friday, 14 August 2015

White Cheese & Dill Savoury Treats! Peynirli Poğaca

I've just been wondering what the translation of poğaça (pron: po/a/cha) could possibly be and have come to the conclusion that there isn't one per se. These are delightful little savoury pastries that come into their own with a glass of çay around 5 o'clock.

cheesy poğaça fresh out of the oven

Whereas we are the masters of cakes, buns, biscuits and scones, Turks are the masters of the little snack, either sweet/tatlı or savoury/tuzlu, generally known as kurabiye.

These little poğaça are usually filled with white cheese or mince but friend Lütfi here who runs a boutique hotel has also suggested a sweet filling of chopped dried figs or dates and nuts with a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar added to the basic dough. Sounds delicious! But that would be considered pretty radical.

Anyway, if you want to try your hand at a well-loved Turkish favourite, I really recommend this recipe. It reminds me forcibly of the borekitas I made with Madam Fortuna: this time, not a Jewish speciality, but something very similar and definitely considered Turkish. TT was thrilled when I made these so if you have a Turkish husband or partner and want to give him a treat, try them!

white cheese and dill teatime treats/peynirli poğaça

This pastry, by the way, is a dream to make! Nothing like our shortcrust pastry which can be problematic especially in hot weather: no, this one always works, Lütfi says! All you have to do is knead the ingredients together to form a soft dough the consistency of which is as soft as your earlobe! This is always the given comparison and you know what? Even though it sounds funny to us, it's very apt.

I last made these here in Assos almost exactly two years ago! Here's the link if you'd like to compare. The recipe is slightly different but nonetheless similar. Put it this way, I was very pleased with this one!

White Cheese & Dill Savoury Treats/Peynirli Poğaça

Makes approximately 36

Ingredients given with authentic Turkish measurements but cup equivalents alongside

150g margarine, softened to room temperature
½ çay bardağı/tea glass sıvıyağ OR 1/3 cup sunflower oil
1 su bardağı/water glass yoğurt OR 1 cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 packet baking powder/hamur kabartma tozu (here it comes in 10g packets)
½ tsp salt
5 su bardağı/water glasses un OR 5 cups plain flour

for the filling:

2 su bardağı OR 2 cups white cheese/beyaz peynir, either chopped in small pieces or grated

1 su bardağı OR 1 cup lor peyniri/ probably ricotta is the nearest equivalent. If you can't find it, simply increase the amount of the regular white cheese
½ bunch fresh dill/dereotu - essentially a good handful, chopped

for the topping:

1 egg yolk
1 tbsp nigella/çörekotü
1 tbsp sesame seeds/susam (optional)


For the filling:

  • Combine the chopped white cheese and the lor peyniri/ricotta with the chopped dill in a bowl. Set aside.
for the pastry:
  • Place the softened margarine, sunflower oil, lemon juice and salt in a second bowl and mix. Add the baking powder and flour and knead well until the dough reaches the consistency of an earlobe. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave for 20 minutes.
  • Then take walnut-sized pieces of the dough and roll them in your hands. You can also roll them with a rolling pin on the counter. Each piece should be the size of a glass top. You can also use a rounded fluted cookie cutter. 

  • Place a tablespoon of the filling on each round and fold the pastry over to make a D shape. Pat to seal.  I used a fork to flute around the edges but this fluting got lost in the baking. I think this is more appropriate for Cornish Pasties! 
  • Place each pastry on an oven tray lined with greaseproof paper.
  • Brush each one with the egg yolk and sprinkle with the nigella seeds and sesame if using.
  • Bake at 180C/350F degrees for 25 minutes.
  • Serve warm with freshly made çay or tea!

white cheese & dill teatime treats/peynirli poğaça

I don't know anybody who doesn't like these! So, not difficult to make, pantry ingredients, nothing fantastic, and really, really light and delicious! These poğaça are at their best slightly cooled out of the oven when they smell fantastic, but the next day is also fine! You can also reheat.

Bound to be a hit!

Afiyet olsun!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Islim Kebab/İslim Kebabı: kofte wrapped in aubergine slices and baked in a tomato sauce in the oven

Recently I was told that the aubergine or eggplant, an essential ingredient in this dish, belongs to the nightshade family. So I thought I would google it to find out more.

The result was very interesting. Apparently not only aubergines but also tomatoes, potatoes and bell peppers - I eat all of these regularly - all belong to the nightshade family and indeed they produce a range of alkaloid chemicals which may be toxic in differing degrees. (By the way, deadly nightshade is a separate member of this nightshade family). It seems that many health practitioners go as far as recommending avoiding eating these especially if you suffer from chronic pain eg arthritis, or headaches.The chemicals can also contribute to allergic reactions.

So now we know. I think it is quite fascinating but will certainly not let this information affect my eating habits in any way - well, not now, at any rate.

I love islim kebab: I love its look, the way it's assembled like a little package in its aubergine wrapping, and the colourful appeal of the red tomato and green pepper skewered jauntily on top with a toothpick. Not only that, its ingredients are staples of the local summer markets so it's an extremely economical dish to make.

islim kebab

There are two aspects to its preparation: one the köfte or meatballs and two the aubergine, and neither is taxing. Then of course comes the assembling: the fun part!

I checked several recipes to compare and found that the kofte mixture contains nothing radical: the usual onion and garlic, red pepper flakes and cumin, some parsley if desired, an egg and bread crumbs. Voila! 

mixing the ingredients for the kofte and then shaping and frying them

And if you are used to working with aubergines, you will find a similar story. Nothing new here. Peel in stripes, cut in slices approximately 1 cm wide, soak in salty water, pat dry and either fry lightly on both sides or bake in the oven to soften up to make them suitable for wrapping round the köfte

 preparing the aubergine slices and then wrapping round the kofte

islim kebab almost ready for the oven: just waiting for a little tomato sauce to
be drizzled on top and round
Islim Kebab

Makes 6 (I doubled this recipe)


2 firm,shiny long aubergines, washed, trimmed and peeled in stripes, then carefully sliced lengthways approx. 1 cm wide  
NB Tip: choose longer rather than shorter aubergines as they will have to stretch over the köfte 
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 onion, grated
½ cup bread crumbs made from stale bread or the packet variety
400 g minced beef/dana kıyması
1 egg
spice mix eg 1 tsp cumin/kimyon, 1 tsp red pepper flakes/kırmızı biber, handful chopped parsley/maydonoz (optional)
salt and pepper
1 small to medium tomato
2 long green peppers
olive oil for brushing the aubergine slices if baking in the oven OR cooking oil if frying. Plus a little more for frying the köfte - either will do here.

for the tomato sauce:

1 tbsp tomato paste/salça
1 cup hot water
1 tbsp olive oil

an ovenproof dish


Preparing the aubergines:  
  • Soak the aubergine slices in salted water for 15 minutes. Remove and pat dry with kitchen paper. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and arrange the slices side by side. Brush each one with olive oil and bake in a 180C/350F oven for 15-20 minutes OR fry the slices in cooking oil in a frying pan. Drain on kitchen paper. Be careful not to overcook.

Preparing the kofte/meatballs:
  • Put the minced beef in a bowl and add first the grated onion and crushed garlic. Mix well with your hands. Then add the egg, bread crumbs, spices and seasonings including chopped parsley if using. All the ingredients should be well combined. Form into rounded kofte shapes. NB don't make them too fat. One video showed it being made into quite small kofte rounds but then two were used in each aubergine package. This way it was ensured that they were cooked all the way through. My kofte were rather plump so making the 4 ends of the aubergine meet was something like pulling on a girdle!
Assembling the kebabs:
  • Lay 2 slices of aubergine one on top of the other to form a cross and place a meatball in the middle. Bring first one end of the aubergine up to the top and then in turn the other three ends to form a little package. They should overlap. Secure with a toothpick.
  • Slice the tomato and green pepper (no need to deseed) and place first a slice of tomato on top of the toothpick and then a piece of green pepper.
  • Continue with the remaining ingredients in a similar way, placing each package in the ovenproof dish. Season lightly.
  • Mix the tomato paste and the hot water together. Add the tablespoon of olive oil and gently pour over each of the kebabs. Use all of it.
  • Bake in the preheated oven (180C/350F) for 30 minutes.
  • Serve with rice pilaf.

islim kebab

Afiyet olsun!

A delightful seasonal lunch or supper dish perfect for all of us enjoying a Turkish summer! Islim kebab can in fact be made with chicken or lamb too.
Try it soon before the season starts to change!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Lemon Lavender Cupcakes

It is hot. Very hot indeed and I am just loving it. The sun just bakes down and it feels great. I wouldn't be anywhere else except here in our village of Assos. You can't beat summer in Turkey.

lavender in our garden

Meanwhile, on the cooking front, life goes on.... we have had family and friends to stay and amongst trips to Apollon Smintheion, Bozcaada, local walks in the ruins and the village, not to mention the beach and swimming, food continues to play its part.

I always find inspiration in what we have and in the garden right now - actually it is the very end - is lavender. This heat is drying it up in front of our eyes. If you rub a flower between your fingers, the scent is very much there however. So what better than these little cupcakes? You don't need much lavender.

I happened to have the cupcake cases leftover from TT's birthday - otherwise, forget it, you would never find those around here.

lemon lavender cupcakes

A quick search on Google produced this recipe from the blog Art of Natural Living. Her cupcakes are beautifully iced with butter creme whereas I decided that we didn't need all those extra calories and did a very simple little lemon glacé icing. Mine look very homemade whereas hers look pretty professional with the swirl of multi-coloured icing atop each cupcake! But the taste of the actual cupcake is excellent: the infusion of lavender flowers in the granulated sugar is a tip worth remembering. The taste is not too strong but definitely there. The lavender flavour permeates the recipe delightfully so make sure you too mix those flowers into the sugar the night before.

here is the lavender sugar mixed with the lemon zest and flour

just out of the oven

Here is the recipe for Lemon Lavender Cupcakes:
I recommend it highly :)

Serves 12


2 tbsp skimmed milk
3 large egg whites, room temperature
½ tbsp vanilla extract
3/4 cups granulated sugar NB make sure you combine the lavender and sugar in an airtight container the night before: really worth it!
2 tbsp lavender
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp cornstarch/nişaştası
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
zest from a very small lemon or half a regular lemon
6 tbsp butter, room temperature
3/8 cup skimmed milk (Just think that 4/8 = half a cup so it is just a bit less than that)
buttercream icing if desired - or glacé icing like I did.


  • Preheat oven to 350F/180C.
  • In a small bowl, combine 2 tbsp milk, egg whites and vanilla extract. Whisk to blend.
  • In a second larger bowl, combine the flour, sugar/lavender mixture, cornstarch, lemon zest, baking powder, and salt. Mix briefly on low speed to combine, about 30 seconds.
  • Add in the butter and mix on low speed until the mixture resembles wet sand, about 30 seconds.
  • Mix in the remaining 3/8 cup milk, then increase the speed to medium and beat for about 2 minutes more.
  • With the mixture on low speed, add the egg white mixture in three additions, mixing for about 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
  • Fill each of the 12 cupcake papers in the 12-hole pan about 2/3 of the way full.
  • Bake in the preheated oven, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Let cool in the pan briefly, then transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before frosting.

lemon lavender cupcakes

Afiyet olsun!

Try these little lavender cupcakes for tea today - very light, very fragrant and totally delicious!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Summer Mezes for Your Table: 2) Ladies' Fingers or Okra in Olive Oil/Zeytinyağlı Bamya

You haven't lived if you haven't spent an hour or so preparing ladies' fingers aka okra/bamya!

Yes, it is a very fiddly job: whatever you do, don't buy them unless you're ready to spend the time painstakingly peeling and trimming them.

half a kilo of ladies' fingers just waiting for me!

BUT the rewards are considerable. This may be our favourite meze.  Ladies' fingers are right in season and I highly recommend taking the trouble to make this dish. If possible, go for the medium sized ones.

a cascade of okra

In an earlier post, you can see step by step how to peel these lovelies. You need a very sharp knife and honestly, it's just like sharpening a pencil. 

Yesterday however I decided that life was too short to do that to every single one as my lot turned out to be extremely mixed sizewise. I simply cut off the end of the teeniest of them all, some of them smaller than my fingernail!

The idea of course is to prevent the sticky substance inside each little okra from seeping out - I was relieved to see that chopping the end off some of them didn't add to the general stickiness in any way and the final dish was as delectable as ever. Give the prepared okra a good wash in cold water before continuing.

I still use my original recipe where you can see pictures of the finished dish.You can find it here:

Daughter No 1 is here in Assos with us and says that okra is not common in England. Here, they are everywhere! At this time of year in Aegean Turkey at least you are bound to find this meze and the previous one of roasted red peppers in many a home.

Ayvacık market lady and her produce including okra decorated with flowers

Afiyet olsun!

PS this hot humid weather is just great for my kefir! Made a jugful yesterday with milk from our cows and it was thick and creamy this morning. I am very pleased with it! It's like magic.

And talking about our cows, we had not one but two births on the same day last week! Easy births, both of them - calves both male and doing well.


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