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!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Sweet Lor Peyniri with Black Mulberries/Karadut - Sour Cherries/Vişne will do too!

I may have made this with the last of the mulberries but do not despair, you can use sour cherries or vişne to the same effect if you find you can't get your hands on any.

Here in our garden in Assos we have a huge old dut tree. Every year it produces hundreds if not thousands of white mulberries which if I am not mistaken are called loganberries. Anyway, unfortunately they don't taste half as nice as their darker cousins, the black mulberry which we don't have and I am about to rave about.

Now, these are big and fat and the juice is an irresistible dark ruby red that will stain your clothes if you aren't careful. They are luscious. You will spy roadside stalls selling karadut suyu or mulberry juice - buzzz gibi, the signs scream - icecold! Or pekmez, which is a very dark thick kind of molasses used in a multitude of ways eg for us, mixed with white granulated sugar as a substitute for brown sugar. It's very healthy so is often mixed with tahin in winter, spread on bread and given to children before going to school. TT remembers that from his childhood! Or it would be a snack once you got home! (NB pekmez can be made from other fruits too, not only mulberries eg grapes, carob and even pear).

black mulberries/karadut

Mulberries are not a fruit that I would normally buy or even search for but we were given a bowlful by our gardener when we arrived here and I haven't looked back. However, the last lot I was given looked fabulous but tasted eyewateringly sour. 

I decided I'd better make a simple sweet syrup with them to eat with either yogurt, lor peyniri - a kind of soft white cheese - or even ice-cream.

(Actually, ideally I would serve it on half a kağıt helva, those large round wafers that are sold improbably enough in the middle of motorways when the traffic is bad, with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream and this syrup spooned lovingly over the top!)

sweet, syrupy black mulberries/karadut with homemade yogurt - they tasted great!

So that's what I did ie made the syrup, and this is how you do it:

  • Take 1kg of either black mulberries - avoid washing if possible as they are very delicate - or sour cherries, pitted and washed, and add 100g granulated sugar. Let stand for one hour.
  • Then simmer the fruit in a pan over a gentle flame for half an hour. Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon and continue boiling the juice for another 15-20 mins until it thickens.
  • NB You will probably find that the cherries are juicier than the mulberries so you will need to thicken the syrup with a little cornstarch/nişasta.
  • Add a little lemon juice to the syrup to help bring out the taste. Return the fruit to the pan and set aside to cool.

We enjoyed the black mulberries used like this with yogurt made from the milk of our cows, and the sour cherries with lor peyniri that I bought in Ayvacık  weekly market yesterday. Both times as a light summery dessert!

black mulberries/karadut

Try it before the season's out!

Afiyet olsun!

sour cherries from Kütahya at the market yesterday
1 kilo of pitted sour cherries cooking with the granulated sugar


  • Pitting these sour cherries was much easier than the regular cherries/kiraz that I used recently in the White Chocolate & Cherry Loaf. It didn't take as long as you might think.
  • Vişne are easily recognizable as they're smaller and lighter in colour than kiraz. They're in season right now.
  • ... and to give credit where credit's due, I got the idea to make this syrup from Didem Şenol's book Aegean Flavours!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Fab Turkish Cherries/Kiraz: Use Them in a White Chocolate & Cherry Loaf

My favourite little kitchen tool these days is my cherry stoner - is that what it's called? Pitter? De-stoner? Anyway, it's brilliant! You never know with items like this whether they are worth it or just gimmicks. This one is fantastic and has earned its place in the kitchen drawer! Have you got one?

Cherries are still everywhere - look out for the ones from Bayramiç, a place quite near Assos, famed for its cherry orchards. They are huge, dark red in colour and luscious! Having said that, I advise you to pop one in your mouth before buying as a little taste check because the season is ending soon.

beautiful market cherries

Here in Assos, where we arrived a few days ago, market prices are a joke compared to those in Istanbul: today was the smaller Tuesday pazar in neighbouring Ayvacık (designed to keep you going until the big market on Friday) and a kilo of cherries was 4 TL. In Istanbul I was paying a minimum of 8.

I felt like using these in something sweet, something that wasn't a tart, so decided to make a cake that I've made before from BBC Good Food: White Chocolate & Cherry Loaf. Last time I made it, these Turkish cherries were so huge, they sank to the bottom of the cake. This time, I cannily cut them in half and sure enough, they spread nicely throughout the loaf. I brought the white chocolate with me from Istanbul knowing I probably wouldn't find it here in the village. The full recipe includes a white chocolate frosting - I didn't make it as it sounded just too sickly: more chocolate combined with mascarpone and white chocolate curls to boot! 

So I'm afraid you won't find the instructions here. The cake is absolutely delicious as it is: moist, full of flavour with the vanilla really coming through and definitely sweet enough!

de-stoning the cherries, dusting with flour after halving, chopping the white chocolate, stirring into the mixture

White Chocolate & Cherry Loaf
Serves 12


For the cake:

225g/8oz butter, softened
225g/8oz golden caster sugar (I used regular toz şeker or granulated sugar)
4 eggs, beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
225g/8oz self-raising flour ( I added 2½tsp baking powder to this amount of plain flour in order to make it self-raising)
375g/13oz fresh cherries, pitted
175g/6oz white chocolate, chopped into small chunks


  • Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.
  • Line a 1 kg loaf tin with baking parchment, making sure paper comes up higher than the sides.
  • Beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, then add the eggs, a little at a time, along with the vanilla. Fold in the flour until smooth.
  • Dust the cherries in flour, then carefully stir half of the fruit and chocolate into the mixture. Spoon into the tin, then scatter the remaining cherries and chocolate on top, pressing in lightly. 
  • Bake for 1hr 10mins-1hr 15mins until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  • Leave to cool in the tin for a few mins, then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool.
  • This can now be wrapped tightly in cling film and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

into the pre-heated oven ...

White Chocolate & Cherry Loaf

Afiyet olsun!

It's nice to have something sweet with a glass of çay!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

What to do with Purslane Using an Onion, a Tomato and a Sweet Red Pepper/ Semizotu Yemeği

Yes, summer is well and truly here in Turkey and it's not only feelin' good but lookin' good in terms of colours in the markets.

this is what I made this evening using  purslane with an onion, a tomato and a sweet red pepper: semizotu yemeği

And it's green everywhere, lingering springtime shades verging into deeper, more vibrant darker ones inviting you to daring culinary experiments!

beautiful vibrant purslane or semizotu

Semizotu or purslane is a recurring theme in my blog and that's because it's so seasonal! This is summer so here we are again with the green and the purslane. I do realize that this is not a very common vegetable in many other places but here, it is so wonderfully ubiquitous. The larger-leafed variety is the cultivated sort while the smaller one is garden-grown. There is a little wild variety that grows wherever it can, including in-between the cracks of the stones of our garden path in Assos! All of them are edible.

personally, I like to remove the thick stems leaving just some of the thinner ones behind

One of the joys of semizotu is that it can be served either hot or cold. Either as a yemek meaning meal or dish, with optional ground beef, rice or bulgur - just a little, though, - or as a salad or indeed, meze too.

You might like to cast your eye over one or more of the following three just to refresh your memory:

 Purslane: a Vegetarian Dish

To my surprise, I haven't included the simplest, most common semizotu salad/meze of them all, the one that you find on every meze tray at this time of year, and that's the one with the garlic yogurt.  I introduced it to my friends in my recent meze cooking classes  along with cacık, the cucumbers in a similar garlic yogurt (with the addition of mint) simply because at the market, there was a woman with three huge sacks of the most succulent-looking purslane that you could ever imagine: I just had to buy it! I also had the feeling that perhaps this would be a relatively new vegetable for my friends.

This particular meze is easy enough to make with the simple caveat that you shouldn't chop the leaves, just add sprigs of purslane to the salad itself.

Tonight I made basically the hot version again simply because I had a bunch of purslane in the fridge that I needed to do something with! You know that scenario, I'm sure! Tomorrow we are driving down to Assos and purslane is one leafy veg that will not survive 5 hours in the car very well, even in a cooler box.

Butttt this time it was different and we think it was much tastier: this time I added one chopped sweet red pepper. Not only did the taste improve, but the fragrance as the dish cooked was most inviting, and I liked the little dabs of red contrasting with the green purslane. (The red tomatoes just melt away into the juices). I noticed this little addition on some purslane videos I was watching and thought, yes, why not?

purslane with onion, tomato, sweet red pepper and a little rice/semizotu yemeği

So, to quickly go over the ingredients: 

Purslane using an onion/tomato/a sweet red pepper/Semizotu Yemeği
Serves 3-4


1 kg purslane/semizotu, washed and roughly chopped
1 onion, chopped into crescent shapes
1 big tomato, peeled and roughly chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1 tsp seasoned salt/tuzot
2 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp rice or bulgur, washed

  • Cut off and discard the roots of the purslane, wash several times in cold water, and chop.chop 
  • Peel and dice the tomato. Chop the onion into crescent shapes. Chop the red pepper into small pieces.
  • In a pan, place the purslane, onion, red pepper, tomato, olive oil, seasoned salt and washed rice or bulgur and mix.
  • DON'T ADD WATER. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat for 45 minutes. Leave the pan uncovered for the last 15 mins of cooking.
  • Serve with plain yogurt sprinkled with a few red pepper flakes.

and finally, purslane with yogurt sprinkled with flaked red pepper

Afiyet olsun!

Try this, it's light, full of flavour, and can't be too fattening, can it?

PS I don't think I told you about my recent mention in Sabah newspaper? If you are on facebook, then you know, but if not, here's the link:

Exciting indeed! :)

Saturday, 28 June 2014

How to Make Stuffed Vine Leaves/Zeytinyağlı Yaprak Sarma in Several Easy Steps

Why am I focusing on stuffed vine leaves?

Simply because summer is here at last, I am a seasonal cook, and this season features a lot of stuffed vine leaves! The best leaves come from Tokat, BTW. I always buy mine fresh from the local markets or pick them from the vine that persists in growing in our garden in Assos at this time of year, but they are available year-round in jars or salted.

These sarma are popularly called yalancı which means fake as the rice, pine nuts and currants are substitutes for meat in the stuffing.

arranging the rolled vine leaves in the pan on a bed of leaves

We were in Bodrum recently and visited several friends: at each, delicious meze were generously offered and each included yaprak sarma! So, seriously, this should be one that you get under your belt.

 a dish of  cooked stuffed vine leaves garnished with lemon slices/zeytinyağlı yaprak sarma

Sarma and dolma are different: sarma means rolled whilst dolma means stuffed. Typically you can roll cabbage and Swiss Chard leaves, and as here, vine leaves. Stuffing includes eggplant, tomatoes, and courgettes or marrow. 

If you decide to include meat in your filling, then it must be served hot. If your stuffing is basically rice and onion, that means it will be a cold meze.

Making sarma is not so much difficult as a knack. The more you do, the more proficient you will become.

stuffed vine leaves/ yaprak sarma, before being cooked

I have made these sarma several times recently and each time the taste was different. I personally liked the last ones in which the lemony taste was more pronounced. As with all these meze, there is leverage for personal preference and that's great - the only thing is, you have to experiment to discover what YOURS is!

at my recent cooking class, everyone was amused by the different sizes!
You can see the middle one has been done back-to-front: the veiny side is uppermost!

Look at the difference in the pictures below: both are rice fillings but one is very red compared to the other and includes far more fresh herbs. Cinnamon is a given and so are pine nuts/çam fıstığı and tiny black currants/kuş üzümü. A touch of sugar is a good idea.

in my house ..
in the village...

Here's the recipe that I've been using:

Vine Leaves Stuffed with Rice, Pine Nuts, and Currants/Zeytinyağlı Yaprak Sarma

Serves 4-6


450g/1lb fresh vine leaves/asma yaprak, prepared as below
1/4 cup virgin olive oil/ sızma zeytin yağı
2 tbsp lemon juice
lemon wedges or slices for garnish

For the Stuffing:

3 tbsp small black currants/kuş üzümü
2 tbsp virgin olive oil/sızma zeytinyağı
3 tbsp pine nuts/çam fıstığı
2 onions, finely chopped
1 cup long-grain white rice
1 tbsp sugar
1½ tsp ground cinnamon/toz tarçin
2 cups hot water
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill/dereotu
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley/maydonoz
salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Soak the currants in warm water for 15-20 minutes. Drain them and set aside.
  • To prepare the vine leaves, cover with enough cold water and bring to the boil. Add the leaves and leave for about 2 minutes to soften them. Turn off the gas and using a slotted spoon, remove from the water and place in a sieve. With a sharp knife, cut out the small protruding stalk from each leaf. Check if the central vein at that point is too hard: if it is, cut it out as the leaf will rip when you try to roll it. TIP: if the leaves are very fresh and new, you can simply snip the stalks off with your fingers.
  • Set aside any leaves that are torn or not particularly great.

First, prepare the stuffing:

  • Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and gently sauté the pine nuts for about 2 minutes, until golden brown. Be careful not to burn them! Add the currants, onion, rice, sugar, cinnamon and 2 cups of hot water. Stir the mixture, cover the pan and cook gently for about 20 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed. TIP: taste a few grains for doneness to make sure the rice is fully cooked before removing from the heat.
  • Mix in the dill and parsley. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.
  • Let the stuffing cool for 30-40 minutes.
  • Prepare your pan by lining it with those leaves that were too small or torn to be used. You can also use the stalks to make a base. The idea is to prevent the sarma from sticking to the base.
  • To assemble the sarma, take one leaf at a time, shiny side down, and place 1 tbsp of the stuffing at the stalk end. Fold first one side over it, and then the other side and then firmly roll up the leaf, keeping the stuffing inside. You will soon get the knack of it!
  • Arrange the sarma on top of the leaves in the pan, seam-side down. Pour 2 cups hot water, the olive oil and the lemon juice over them. Cover the sarma with any remaining leaves and place an ovenproof plate on top. (It should fit inside the pan). Cover with the lid and bring the liquid to the boil. Reduce the heat and cook gently for about 45 minutes or until the sarma are tender and the water has been absorbed.
  • Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the lemon wedges or slices.
  • Serve at room temperature.

moist and full of flavour: vine leaves stuffed with rice,pine nuts, currants and garnished with
lemon slices

Afiyet olsun!
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