Saturday, 18 April 2015

First Signs of Turkish Spring: Çağla Badem and Yeşil Erik

And that means the sourest tastes you can imagine!

I find it almost impossible to reconcile a liking for çağla or early almonds in their fledgling fuzzy green skins and also can erik or unripe green plums, with the overwhelmingly sweet tastes of baklava, şeker pare, revani and all the other Turkish delights that we all swoon over.

How can they like them??? I absolutely don't get it. The sourness makes you gag. It's worse than anything you can possibly imagine, even more than turşu suyu or pickle juice!

But there you go: different strokes for different folks as they say.

Just so you know, here's what they look like:

çağla or early spring almonds

Do you know how to eat them? You pop them whole in your mouth, that's how!

here's the beautiful fruit plate at Hasanaki's in Küçükkuyu a few nights ago: can you see the çağla?

Avoid at all costs!

I was at my local manav/greengrocer's earlier this afternoon and saw not only çağla badem but çağla kayısı! In other words, unripe apricots! This is the first time I see these.

 çağla badem above with çağla kayısı below

Here are the little green plums that are eaten with a sprinkling of salt:

still not widely available as too early, so sold in very special little packets at select manav

I know that there are Turks living abroad who yearn for the taste of these early spring offerings from their home country and will do anything to get hold of them.

Extraordinary is all I can say! Just wait a bit and all these fruits will ripen and be just fantastic!

What do you think?

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Classic Potato Börek/ Patatesli Börek

I never thought I would make a börek filled with potato and yet I have and I will make it again as it was quite delicious!

That filling of potato isn't as stodgy as it sounds, combined as it is with white cheese/beyaz peynir/feta, and freshly chopped parsley. Olive oil and no fewer than three eggs are beaten into the mixture to make it soft and spreadable. And let's face it: who doesn't like potato?

you will need olive oil and three eggs
here's the filling: mashed potato, crumbled white cheese and chopped parsley

This recipe is a result of reading the cookery section in the latest Cornucopia. If you haven't seen this issue yet, or don't know this magazine, you absolutely must track it down. It describes itself as 'Turkey for Connoisseurs' and this particular issue is a real treasure trove in terms of articles and photography. But actually, it always is.

potato borek/patatesli börek

How many shapes do you have in your börek repertoire? 

Check them off: the classic sigara or cigarette; gül or rose, muska or amulet, moving into the larger ones such as kol böreği, the one that coils round itself, not to mention all the others that are baked in the oven. 

clockwise: gül,  sigara , muska and eggplant

All variations on a theme that starts with yufka. This is made from wheat flour and water, then rolled out into large circular sheets measuring about 60cm in diameter before being cooked dry. Filo pastry is sometimes quoted as being interchangeable and to a certain extent it is, but be warned: it is much finer and you need to use multiple sheets to achieve a similar effect. We are lucky here in Turkey as yufka is easily available from specialist shops which make it fresh on a daily basis. Here where I live, I can think of no fewer than five places all within walking distance where I can buy it and this isn't counting supermarkets.

There's no doubt about it, Turks love their börek and they are right. Cheap, easy to make, loved by all, they are in a way the equivalent of our quiches and savoury tarts. Fillings are on the whole predictable with white cheese/feta and parsley being the most common, I would say. In season there is also spinach and leek, with the summer counterpart being grated courgette or, my favourite, aubergine. Also, any ot or fresh seasonal herb can be, and is, made into a börek!

Potato Börek/Patatesli Börek


2 sheets of yufka or filo pastry equivalent


4 small potatoes, boiled
3 eggs
½ cup olive oil
250g/9oz white cheese/beyaz peynir/feta cheese, crumbled
black pepper
1 tbsp nigella seeds/çörek otu

  • Mash the potatoes. Beat the eggs, reserving a little for later, and add to the potatoes, along with the olive oil, cheese and parsley. Use a fork to blend the mixture well, and season generously with pepper.
  • Lay a piece of greaseproof paper on a flat surface and spread the first sheet of yufka over it. Spoon half the potato filling onto it, spreading it evenly with the back of a spoon, taking care not to tear the yufka. Place the second sheet on top and cover with the rest of the filling. Trim the sides of the yufka into a square and place the trimmings on top of the filling. Using the greaseproof paper to hold it all together, roll into a neat cylinder, sealing the seam with a touch of beaten egg. Wrap the cylinder in the same paper and chill in the fridge for an hour or longer.
  • Before baking, use a sharp bread knife to cut the cylinder crosswise into slices two fingers thick, and arrange them cut-side up on a greaseproof paper-lined baking tin. Brush the tops with the reserved beaten egg, sprinkle with the nigella seeds, and bake in the pre-heated oven (180C/350F) for about half an hour or until golden brown

spreading the mixture over the yufka
using the greaseproof paper to roll into a cylinder
potato börek/patatesli börek

Afiyet olsun!

PS for further börek recipes, click here!

Friday, 3 April 2015

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

March - April 2015: Istanbul

Monday was market day but I wasn't able to go for multiple reasons. After a very up and down week weather wise, Wednesday dawned fine and clear and I resolved to pay a visit to my local organic market which is also in Selami Çeşme but on a much smaller scale than the regular pazar.

my local organic market in Özgürlük/Freedom Park, Selami Çeşme

I do know people who are weekly faithfuls; I have been  a couple of times but that's all. It didn't draw me and I am not enough of an organic enthusiast to go every Wednesday. Up until recently, I have always thought that the benign climate and the fertile soil were enough to ensure beautiful vegetables: now, with changing agricultural methods, I am not so sure.

But anyway, this time I went. The sun was shining and there was a hint of spring in the air. There were again the same relatively limited number of stalls there with a lot of dried products eg flour, pulses all proudly bearing their organic stamp.

The fresh produce looked very sad, I have to say. You know how organic vegetables look - small, hoary, faded, wizened. And it was all very much the winter stuff: the carrots, the leeks, the celeriac. There was nothing here that screamed SPRING IS COMING! I'm afraid compared to the regular market, this was a non-starter in terms of colour and vibrancy. 

'pink' village tomatoes - I bought some just to see what they were like but was disappointed: still too early, organic or not
a box of  organic broad beans/bakla

The markets at this time of year should be full of exciting seasonal change and I am sure all down the Aegean coast, for example, there must be some marvellous ot or herbs/greenery such as we don't see in Istanbul. All the organic market could produce that was remotely springlike was nettles!

So organic leaves me a bit cold, I have to say. The only organic product I really believe in is eggs and I regularly buy organic here or village/köy when we are in Assos. Those eggs are fantastic with glorious bright yellow yolks and a taste to match.

organic eggs from Manisa laid at an altitude of 1250 metres!

What signs of spring are there where you are? 
How organic are you?

Monday, 30 March 2015

Yogurt Cake with Blood Oranges/Kan Portakallı Yoğurtlu Kek

I have a board on Pinterest called Recipes I have to try. 

'Pinning' interesting-looking recipes onto this board is fun and at the same time by far and away the easiest way to save them without cutting out, putting in a scrapbook or creating a recipe file online.


This month it was my turn to have the neighbours to tea and I had been mulling over in my mind what exactly I was going to make. The usual pattern is two tuzlu and two tatlı ie two savoury dishes and two sweet. But I knew what I wanted to try and it was two delectable cakes I had saved on my special board. One in particular, with its eye-catching photograph of a loaf cake topped with vibrant ruby red slices of orange. It looked amazing.

Just look at it:

yogurt cake with blood oranges

Planning ahead, I bought my blood oranges from the market, and with anticipation - I love nothing better than the challenge of a new recipe - got out my mixing bowl and baking ingredients one day last week. Then I brought my laptop into the kitchen to find that recipe. That was easy. I clicked through to the actual website to find the instructions and what should I see but what looked like Polish: something totally incomprehensible at any rate. Well, you can imagine what I thought. Yes, exactly.

Oh no, I thought to myself. Amazing photographs yes, but not one word could I understand. But I was skimming down, feeling more and more irritated, and eventually spotted in small print Scroll down for English version

To cut a long story short, there is a happy ending: this recipe is excellent. It makes a truly delicious loaf cake, every mouthful light and moist, using ingredients that we usually have in our store cupboards. All except orange blossom water -not a staple for me I have to say, but I substituted plain orange juice instead which was just fine. But the point is that pinterest is a site based on sharing images so be careful: often the photos are better than the recipes! But this time the photos were fantastic and the recipe - once I got to it - certainly matched up.

adding ingredients to the mixing bowl

So here's the recipe for Yogurt Cake with Blood Oranges from a blog intriguingly called Chili & Tonka:


(the measurements were all in cups but I have added oz and gr)

1½ cups flour + extra for dusting
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 cup/8oz/200g sugar
1 tbsp finely grated lemon or orange zest
¾ cup/6oz/150g plain yogurt
½ cup/4oz/100g vegetable oil + extra for greasing the tin
2 large eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 blood oranges/kan portakal
1 tbsp orange blossom water


  • Preheat oven to 180C/350F degrees.
  • Grease and flour a standard loaf tin (5¼ x 9¼in/ 13 x 23 cm)
  • Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
  • Using your fingers, rub the lemon zest into the sugar in a large bowl until sugar is moist and fragrant.
  • Add yogurt, oil, orange blossom water, eggs, and vanilla extract. Whisk to blend. Fold in dry ingredients with a rubber spatula just to blend. Don't over mix.
  • Pour the batter into your prepared tin and smooth the top.
  • Peel the oranges and cut them into THIN slices. Arrange on top of the cake. Overlapping if fine. NB One orange may be enough.
  • Bake about 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  • Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert onto rack and let it cool completely.
  • Additionally you can brush the top of the cake with liquid fruit jelly or other glaze. Here the recipe leaves you on your own. This is what I did:
  • for glaze:
  • Sieve approx. 2 tbsp apricot jam  into a small saucepan and add the juice of ½ lemon. Using a whisk helps.  Stir over the heat until ingredients are blended, then bring to the boil and simmer for a minute. Let cool slightly then brush over the cake. You can do this a day in advance and it will still be shiny the next day. I really recommend the glaze as it brings out that fabulous colour.
The cake itself can be made up to 3 days in advance and kept at room temperature in an airtight tin or simply wrapped in foil.

here are my two tatlıs: the one on the right, an upside down banana cake with nuts, is another pinterest find - more about that later!
But take it from me, everybody loved both!

Afiyet olsun!

Monday, 23 March 2015

How to Pod Broad Beans ...

Today is Monday so yet again, market day in Selami Çeşme on the Asian side of Istanbul where I live.

Wet, blustery, not a great day but this pazar is really close to where I live so no excuse not to go. Anyway, when I go, I always love it.

I was after, among other things, fresh artichoke hearts and fresh bakla or broad beans. I have a cooking class on Wednesday and of course we are going to cook artichokes/enginar in olive oil with broad beans/baklalı!

I bought a few extra so I could cook them this evening for us and as I was podding the beans, I suddenly wondered if perhaps you might be interested. I mean, I wasn't brought up to the sight of my mother podding broad beans and maybe you weren't either. 

To tell you the truth, I never found it necessary to go that extra mile and pod the beans the second time. Here in Turkey we are lucky as they sell them in the markets already out of their outer pod, usually next to the artichokes. But I am a true convertee: it is really worth it to pod those beans a second time to release that vibrant green colour and the real taste of this springtime delicacy.

So here is how to do it:

beautiful and fresh, home from the market

use a sharp knife and make a slit in each

sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt, rub in, and wait 10 minutes. Then slip off the outer skin.

fresh and green: worth that extra hassle

This evening I used them to make artichokes in olive oil with these beans.

Last week I made a delicious bulgur pilaf with broad beans but I haven't posted the recipe as yet.

Other links to past posts featuring broad beans or bakla:


You can see I am a seasonal cook
The main purpose of this post is to encourage you to pod those beans that second time!
Go on, it's springtime after all!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Time Again for Fresh Broad Beans Cooked in Olive Oil/Zeytinyağlı Taze Bakla

You just can't help it: if it's the time, then it's the time.

And the time right now is for broad beans or fava beans as they say in the US.

As the season turns, so inevitably do one's culinary inclinations.. bakla as they are called here, are starting to appear so it stands to reason that you are going to cook them!

literally: marvellous fresh broad beans! you can see the price is quite high ...

The standard Turkish way is to do them with olive oil ... zeytinyağlı. Nothing wrong with that. This post may even be a little bit late as the word 'sakız' is all-important: it means freshest of the fresh indicating that these beans don't have to be stringed. I made this dish last week when they were indeed described as sakız in the market - it made it all that much easier, not having to remove those pesky double strings. A week makes a lot of difference on the market front so it may be too late for that. If so, you will simply have to remove the offending strings - you have to as they are diabolical in your teeth!

fresh broad beans/fava beans/bakla cooked in olive oil

Here is the recipe for this authentic Turkish dish:

Fresh broad beans cooked in oliveoil/zeytinyağlı taze bakla:

Serves 4-6


1½lbs/800g fresh broad/fava beans/bakla
2tbsp flour
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
3 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh dill/dereotu
 *garlic yogurt to serve

*Garlic Yogurt:

1½ cups plain yogurt
4 garlic cloves, crushed

In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, garlic and salt until smooth. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavour of the garlic to blend with the yogurt.

Method for Broad Beans Cooked in Olive Oil

based on Özcan Ozan's  'Sultan's Kitchen'

  • If the beans are not really new and fresh, prepare them by snapping off one end and pulling off the string, then turning the beans over and pulling the string from the other side. Cut them in half and place in a bowl. Cover with cold water, sprinkle on the flour and stir in the lemon juice. Set aside.
  • Heat the olive oil in a deep pot over medium heat and cook the onion gently for about 2 minutes, until softened. Drain the beans and add them to the pot along with 2 tbsp of the dill and 1½ cups water. Season with salt.
  • Bring this mixture to a boil, then lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for about 40 minutes or until beans are tender.
  • Transfer the mixture to a serving dish, cover it and refrigerate. pour the garlic yogurt over the beans and sprinkle on the rest of the chopped dill. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

fresh and vibrant
broad beans with the freshly chopped dill in the pan

Afiyet olsun!

Monday, 9 March 2015

I Learn How to Make Borekitas From Madam Fortuna

I had such a wonderful Saturday afternoon: it was like stepping into a different time in Istanbul, a time when the the population make-up included sizable Jewish, Armenian and Greek communities.

I was with my friend Lusi who usually visits her mother at the weekend. This time the invitation included me as I had happened to ask her if she ever made borekita.  This question followed on from my learning that it is the time of Purim right now and I wondered if perhaps borekita, a Jewish type of börek, were considered festive and associated with this feast.

borekita, fresh out of the oven, fragrant, warm and inviting

It turns out that they're not but boreka or borekita are very special, very Jewish, always savoury, and served with tea in the afternoon. According to Claudia Roden, the doyenne of Middle Eastern food and cooking whose book The Book of Jewish Food is such an amazing resource, these 'little pies are the pride and joy and the trademark of the Sephardi table'. The name comes from the Turkish word börek but they differ from ours in size, shape, type of pastry and filling.

Lusi's mother, fourth of five daughters, is called Tuna short for Fortuna and, according to her daughter, is the family borekita expert.  She lives very near Göztepe Park which is nearby, with her husband Monsieur Albert/Mösyö Alber, who looked on benignly as we proceeded with the afternoon's programme. 

here is the lovely and lively Madam Fortuna with the tray of borekitas before baking

But before we got down to business, Lusi and I were waved to two armchairs beside the window for a welcome cup of Turkish coffee. Any afternoon gathering always starts with this: we both took it az şekerli/ with a little sugar, and it was quite the most delicious coffee I have had for a very long time. Madam Tuna makes it herself, no Arçelik coffee machine for her!

served with the mandatory glass of water, lokum and cookies

I was entranced when I realized they were not speaking Turkish amongst themselves but Ladino, the language of the Turkish and Balkan Jews which has evolved from the archaic Castilian dating from before the Spanish expulsion in 1492, influenced over time by French, Arabic, Spanish and Italian. I didn't realize that Lusi could speak it, I don't think her daughters can.

The Jews of Istanbul traditionally make their borekitas with one of two fillings depending on the season: aubergine in summer and potato in winter. But nowadays we can get aubergine all the year round so Madam Tuna had kindly prepared both fillings so that I could taste both. I looked them up in Claudia Roden's book when I got home and sure enough, she has the recipes for both so I am giving them here. Apparently the aubergine filling is particular to the Istanbul Jewish community so I was thrilled to be trying something so authentic.

        Ingredients for the aubergine filling: (makes about 20)
  • 500g/1lb aubergines
  • 100g/4oz feta/white cheese/beyaz peynir
  • 100g/4oz grated taze kaşar peyniri, kashkaval or Gruyere
  • pepper
  • salt (optional since the white cheese contains salt)


  • Grill the aubergines either in the oven, under the grill or over the gas flame until soft and blackened. Put them in a colander and peel them. Then chop the flesh in the colander with a sharp knife to release the juices, and press them out with your hand. NB Madam Tuna wraps the peeled aubergines in a piece of muslin and squeezes them to get rid of as much liquid as possible.
  • Turn the  aubergine into a bowl. Add the feta and mix well. Then add the kaşar, kashkaval or gruyere and the pepper and mix well. You may not need to add any salt. Taste before you do.

         Ingredients for the potato filling: (makes about 40)
  • 400g/14oz or 3 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed
  • 350g/12oz white cheese/feta/beyaz peynir
  • 50g/2oz grated Parmesan or kaşar peyniri
  • 3 eggs
  • white pepper
  • Mix all the filling ingredients together thoroughly.

Now, here is the recipe for the actual boreka/borekita dough: (makes about 20)

I am giving Claudia Roden's recipe as she has proper tried and tested measurements. Madam Tuna's method which I witnessed with my own eyes was all coffee cups and water glasses. Even though these translate into 1/4 cups and cups respectively, and is straightforward enough, I think I'll go with Claudia Roden who has 2 Basic Pie Dough recipes, the first using sunflower oil and the second oil and butter. Madam Tuna's is actually a cross between the two but is basically like the first one.

  • 125ml/4fl oz sunflower oil
  • 125ml/4fl oz warm water
  • ½ tsp salt
  • about 350g/12oz flour
        Method - I am going to quote directly from Claudia Roden:

  • 'This is a very easy dough to make. It can be easily rolled or flattened between the palms of your hand. The quantity of flour needed is always given as 'as much as it takes - when it feels like the lobe of your ear'. So true: this is what Turkish cooks say! I think that is much more sensible than giving precise measures, since the amount of water that flour absorbs varies not only with different types of flour but with flour from the same provenance from one year to another.
  • ... For this reason, I urge you to add the amount of flour slowly towards the end, and to be ready to stop when you feel the dough has absorbed as much as it can. It should be extremely soft and malleable.
  • In a large bowl, mix the oil, water and salt, beating with a fork. Gradually work in enough flour to make a soft, malleable dough - stirring it in with the fork to begin, then working it in with your hands. You may roll it out right away. If you want to keep it aside for an hour or so, do so in clingfilm and at room temperature, not chilled in the refrigerator.'
Madam Tuna did exactly this but waited 15 minutes. She also sieved her flour.

sieving the flour into the liquid

to continue in Claudia Roden's own words:

  • 'It is a very oily dough and must be rolled out without flouring the rolling pin or the surface. You want the rolling pin and surface to become oily so as not stick to the dough. Divide the dough into 4 pieces to make rolling easier. Roll out as thin as you can, and cut into 10cm/4 inch rounds with a pastry cutter. Scraps can be immediately rolled into a ball and rolled again so you do not waste any part of the dough.'
Madam Tuna did not use a rolling pin but just her hands. She took walnut-sized lumps of dough and rolled each into a ball. She pressed and pulled to get each as thin as possible.

see what a compact dough it makes
rolling into balls; behind is the aubergine filling
placing a spoonful of filling on each round
this dough stretches very easily: here she has pinched the edges firmly
together and twisted all around
  • Put a heaped teaspoon of filling in the middle of each round. Fold the dough over the filling into a half-moon shape. Then pinch the edges firmly together to seal the pies. It is traditional in all the Jewish communities to pinch, fold and twist all around the edges.
  • Place the little pies on oiled trays or a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.
Madam Tuna did not brush with egg yolk mixed with a drop of water but Claudia Roden does. Madam T however, dipped each borekita into grated kaşar cheese before placing on the baking tray.
  • Bake at 350F/180C for about 35 minutes or until slightly golden. they are best eaten hot but are also good cold.

I absolutely agree with this: they really are at their best when oven-warm, just like any börek. Of course they can be reheated in the oven later on. They can also be frozen before cooking, and then cooked from frozen. Lusi tells me that in the summer on the island (Büyükada), she often makes one big tart and fills it with the aubergine filling.

And so it was, that while our borekitas were cooking, we sat at the table and enjoyed a wonderful cauliflower and artichoke salad along with a piyaz:

and then along came the borekitas, golden brown and simply heavenly, accompanied by glasses of çay ... 

Ellinize sağlık, Madam Fortuna! Çok teşekkürler!

Literally, health to your hands, thank you very much, Madam Fortuna!

What a fantastic afternoon!


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