Saturday, 27 November 2010

Squidgy Lemon-Ginger Cake

teatime and it's the one on the left

 Here in Istanbul you know that Christmas is approaching when  your inbox starts filling with information about the annual bazaars associated with the German School, IWI, the Church, the British Pantomime and other seasonal events, and you are exhorted to make cakes!
 Suddenly  spicy ingredients like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, dried fruits of all kinds become doubly appealing and most importantly, we can get them all here .... on the same theme, brown sugar, not white, comfort foods, and cakes  and cookies that are just yum: the season of indulgence starts right now! Here is one of those great recipes and I have the BBC Good Food magazine to thank for sending out  a couple of Novembers ago a little supplement called Best of British.  This word ‘squidgy’  is so evocative, isn’t it? It  makes me think of something moist and tasty packed with dried fruits. In fact, this cake has fresh apple in it as well. Another plus is that it keeps brilliantly: wrap it well and it will be fine for at least a week and in fact gets better and better. It can also be frozen for up to two months which is great, so you can get ahead.
Ingredients for Squidgy Lemon-Ginger Cake
Cuts into 12 slices
200g/ 8oz butter, cut in pieces, plus extra for greasing
200g/ 8oz dates/ hurma, stoned
300g/12oz dark muscovado sugar
2 eggs
50g/ 2oz fresh or frozen root ginger/zencefil (pron: zen-jey-fil), grated
Grated zest 1 lemon
200g/ 8oz self-raising flour/kekun
1 tart apple (about 250g/ 9oz) peeled and chopped into pea-sized pieces
50g/ 2 oz white chocolate
1 tbsp chopped candied lemon peel and 1 tbsp sugar ‘coffee crystals,’ to decorate
nifty little lemon zester

§  Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 3. Butter and line a 20cm/ 8-9 inch round cake tin (about 8cm/ 3 in deep) with baking parchment. Put dates in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Heat the butter in a small pan until melted and stir in the sugar. Allow to cool slightly.
§  Beat in the eggs, ginger and lemon zest. Drain the dates and chop them finely. Scrape them into the pan too, and mix well. Stir in the flour, then apple. Spoon into the cake tin, put the tin on a baking sheet (this stops the base browning too much) then bake for about 1 ¼ hrs, until well risen. A skewer stuck into the cake should come out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Leave it to cool in the tin.

preparing the ingredients

mixing them together in one gorgeous squidgy go

§  Break the white chocolate into a non-metallic bowl. Heat in the microwave, on Medium, in 1 minute bursts until melted (or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water). Remove the cake from the tin and peel off the paper. Trickle the chocolate over it, scatter with the candied lemon peel and coffee crystals. Leave to set before serving.

perfectly baked squidgy cooling in tin


  1.       The secret of good cake-baking is a good oven and then following a recipe faithfully. With cakes, it all matters.
   2.       Having said that, I didn’t have any dates handy so substituted dried cranberries which was fine. I think dates would have been tastier though.
3.       A lemon zester is a great little tool and comes in very handy.

4.       I always make my own self-raising flour as for years it didn’t exist here. It is very easy: 1 ½ tsp baking powder to 6 oz/ 175g plain flour ie ½ tsp to 2 oz/ 50g plain flour. Just sift it into the flour. But if you go to one of the big supermarkets, I expect you can find a perfectly good bag of kekun!

5.       At last we can get fresh ginger here! I remember the days when I brought it back in my suitcase from the UK. It freezes brilliantly and can be grated (after peeling) from frozen.

6.       The only iffy ingredient here is the dark muscovado sugar. As far as I know, you can’t get it in Istanbul but there again, new things appear on the shelves all the time here, so maybe you can. I always bring back a selection of brown sugars when I come back from the UK. Here, you should mix a bit of pekmez with regular white granulated sugar and it will give that rich taste. Pekmez is a concentrated grape syrup sold at the outdoor markets as it is a natural product made by the village women but you can also find a commercial version in the supermarkets.

and here it is!

7.       As for the decorations on top of the cake, both these items are available here but you might have to hunt.  I think I got the coffee crystals from Migros and the lemon peel from the Spice Market/Mısır  Çarşısı in Eminönü. But don’t be put off making this cake if you haven’t got exactly these items! Use what you have to decorate! It’s your cake!


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Quince Jam/Ayva Reçeli

beautiful quinces
the end result: teatime!
I’m writing this with the fragrant smell of the cooking quinces or ayva (pron: eye-va) wafting from the kitchen. Every time I get up to check what’s happening,  I see the colour, a deepening rosy pink becoming warmer and richer as the minutes tick tock by.
 I used to make a lot of jams and marmelade, especially bitter, in times gone by but nowadays the jams that we can find on the supermarket shelves  here have greatly multiplied and they are good. But as with all these things, there really is no comparison with homemade.  When my friend  came to stay for the bayram last week bearing  six big ayva from her tree,  I could see that a jam-making session was in order.  That’s the trouble with fresh: you can’t just let it stare you in the face!The fruit itself is very popular in Turkey unlike in the UK or the States : in fact, I’ve just learnt from Wikipedia that Turkey ranks first in the world for quince production and produces a quarter of the total amount. How about that then!  Quinces can’t be eaten raw like most fruit, because they are too sour and astringent, and the flesh is hard even though it is a relative of the apple and pear.

you can see the resemblance

Traditionally it is cooked with sugar and made into a dessert here-ayva tatlısı- and served with that delicious buffalo cream/kaymak. Jam as in this recipe is also a popular option. Persian cuisine, on the other hand, has a tradition of meat and sour fruits cooked together and has many recipes for meat and quince stews. Other countries like Morocco and Romania will commonly  cook it with meat too but not Turkey.
As if I needed further prompting to make this jam, there was a lovely recipe for it with a great picture on the back of the pumpkin and sage from BBC Good Food magazine that I made a few days ago, so I thought I’d give it a go!
Ingredients for Quince Jam/Ayva Reçeli
Makes 2 medium jars worth
1kg/2lb 4oz (about 4 fruit) quince, chopped into chunks, peel, core, pips, the lot
1kg/2lb 4oz granulated sugar
A cinnamon stick/a few cloves/a star anise or a squeeze of lemon may be added to vary the flavour slightly
Tip fruit and sugar into a pan. Add water to cover. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 ½ -1 ¾ hrs, mashing the fruit after 45 mins. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Towards the end, stir frequently to stop it burning on the bottom of the pan. Push through a sieve into a bowl then pour into sterilised jars.

from this ....
to this..... this!
§  It’s important to keep the pips, peel, and core in with the fruit as specified in this recipe as quinces  are naturally full of pectin which is necessary for the jam to set.  I do think it would be better if all those bits were in a white muslin bag so that they could be removed more easily at the end, but where does one get those bags??
§  Turkish ayva are big: I used 3 not 4 to make one kilo.
§  I’ve been comparing other quince jam recipes on the net and there is a huge variation but I came to the conclusion that this recipe is pretty straightforward and produces good results. Many of the other recipes say peel the fruit and throw away the pips and peel: Well, this is not a good idea as then you have to add commercial pectin and there is absolutely no need for that. Also some recipes  say grate the ayva- why would you kill yourself doing that?  Others say cook it for 20 mins but then you look at the pictures and that beautiful jewel-like pink colour is missing, and I am sure the delicate flavour is too. Still others use a food processor! Really not necessary! The fruit softens up with the gentle, slow cooking and the pink colour gradually develops at the same time.
§  I did find it a bit awkward peeling the ayva: the pumpkin was marginally easier, believe it or not. So don’t go overboard and buy a whole ton of them!
§  You need a strong arm for the final sieving but it does the trick.


§  I had boiled my jars for 25 mins and left them in the hot water while waiting for the jam to cook. Now they are upside-down while the jam  cools. Any air pockets should disappear and the jam will keep well for 6 months. After that, the colour may change apparently. Best to eat it before that happens!
§  I have to confess that I didn’t heed the timer as I was engrossed in the blog, and let the quince boil a bit too long. It is still absolutely delicious but the consistency is more quince jelly than jam! So watch the timing especially at the end.
§  I am not the best person to ask about sweetness as I prefer savoury to sweet most of the time. Let’s say if you have a sweet tooth, you are going to love this recipe! Personally,next time, I will add a little lemon juice and use less sugar.
quince jelly!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Pumpkin, Sage & Parmesan Gratin

garden sage
I don’t know about you but the ingredients in this recipe make me drool. It is just my kind of dish. I saw it in an article in BBC Good Food, entitled Pick of the Month by Gregg Wallace, co-presenter of BBC 2’s Master Chef Goes Large and I knew I was going to love it.  But even though pumpkin is available everywhere in Istanbul right now, sage isn’t! I have had to contain myself till we came to Assos where thanks to the now sadly defunct English Gardens, we have a flourishing sage bush in our garden. Sage, or adaçay, is generally used as an infusion here and drunk in the little tea glasses with a slice of lemon.
with rosemary and lavender

So here we are for the weeklong bayram holiday in our house in the ancient village of Assos. Daughter No 1 is here and friend Frances from Selçuk which is close to Efes/Ephesus. Frances arrived bearing a little pumpkin/balkabak – to my  initial horror, I saw it was whole, unlike the ones in Istanbul which are all cut up and ready to go. I really thought I would have to take a saw to it but to my surprise, a sharp kitchen knife was enough to cut it in half without undue sweat and then into chunks. Then imagine my pleasure in going out into the garden wielding a pair of scissors in order to cut some sage leaves. We used olive oil from Frances’ own olive grove which lies in the hills above Selçuk. As for the parmesan, I had the foresight to bring some with me from Istanbul as the bakkal or local village shop, doesn’t run to exotic things like that!
Ingredients for Pumpkin, Sage & Parmesan Gratin
Serves 4 as a ‘delicious substantial side dish or a great veggie main course’
1kg/2lb 4oz pumpkin (or winter squash), peeled, deseeded and chopped into large chunks
3 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Small bunch sage, roughly chopped
142 m pot double cream
50g/2oz parmesan, grated

slicing, peeling, deseeding, chopping get this
§  Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. In a large gratin dish, toss the pumpkin with the olive oil, garlic and sage, plus pepper and salt. Roast for 40 minutes till soft. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and increase the heat to 220C/fan 200C, gas 7.
§  Drizzle the cream over and scatter on the cheese. Return to the oven for 20 minutes until bubbling and golden. Serve on its own or with the Sunday roast.

set for the oven
I didn’t use the cream as I thought it would be just too rich. But I don’t doubt that it’s probably a yummy addition!

ready to serve!
             Only the front half has parmesan on it as two of our party wanted it plain!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Mrs O's Apple Pie

try this one: you'll like it

Autumn is  a nostalgic time with the nights drawing in, leaves falling from the trees. But it is also the season for apples and for pies, and here we have both in one. This recipe is a real star, passed on to me by my dear friend Lyn who acquired it oh so long ago from her Turkish mother-in-law, the redoubtable Mrs O, and I have made it innumerable times. The family name was a difficult one so for all of us greenhorn gelins or brides, Mrs O was always known and referred to as Mrs O – just not to her face! But she was one of those truly great Turkish cooks and really knew what was what in the kitchen. The only thing was that like all those of her generation, she was used to giving her measurements Turkish-style in glasses, but Lyn managed to adapt this one in such a way we could cope and in fact, it is easy.
But I've just learned something new: according to Sibel, Mrs O’s granddaughter who was visiting Istanbul from London recently with her new baby, it actually came from none other than Zsa Zsa Gabor. This sounds incredible but it seems that she was briefly married to a Turk and lived in Ankara, where her teaparty circuit obviously crossed with Mrs O’s. So here is a Hungarian recipe with Turkish overtones that actually, whatever the origin, everybody always loves:

Ingredients for Mrs O’s Apple/Elma Pie
3 cups plain flour
2 eggs (1 ½  in pie, yolk of second on top)
1 coffee spoon Baking Powder/kabartma tozu
¾ packet/180g butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
Cinnamon/tarçin (pron: tar-chin)
3 big, tart apples

  •   Heat the oven to 350F/180C.
  •   Grease and flour a 8-9 inch/20-22cm round tin. Mine was 8 ½ in.
  •   Separate one of the eggs, reserving the yolk to glaze the top of the pie.

§  Peel, core and slice apples quite thinly and put into a saucepan with a little sugar and water (depending on how sour and juicy your apples are). Cook over gentle heat till they turn yellow. Stir from time to time. Cool.

  •   In a large bowl, sieve the flour and add the butter cut into small pieces. Make a well in the centre and add the 1 ½ eggs, Baking Powder, sugar, and mix with your hands to make the pastry. Divide into two, one for the top layer, one for the bottom. The bottom piece will be a little bigger.

a lovely easy-to-work-with dough

  •   Now, on a floured surface, gently roll out each piece. The beauty of it is that you can use your fingers if you like.  Place the larger piece in the prepared tin and push round the edges. Spread the cooled apple slices over it and sprinkle with a little cinnamon. Then place the remaining layer of pastry on top. There shouldn’t be any gaps round the side of the tin, the apple should be covered.

the heart of the pie: apple and cinnnamon 

  •  Brush the remaining yolk all over the top of the pie with either a pastry brush or the back of a spoon, and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Put in the centre of your pre-heated oven and bake for 45 minutes. It will rise and turn a beautiful shade of brown. Also the smell from the oven will be most enticing!
  •   Run a knife round the edges before turning out of the tin to cool on a baking rack. Can be served as a dessert, especially if warm from the oven, with whipped cream.

Thanks Mrs O and Zsa Zsa!

Afiyet olsun!

1.       I find apples in Turkey disappointing in terms of variety as there are very few. Ekşi elma or cooking apples, seem to have all but disappeared. Ekşi means sour. Today at Ezine Pazarı I bought some firm red apples which do look good and were described as mayhoş (pron: my-hosh) Apparently the taste is tart as opposed to sour. But the elma I buy now in Istanbul are a new variety called Fuji. They are nice eating apples and cook well too.
2.       I remember serving this pie as dessert once in Yeniköy, where we used to live. The electricity went off as was its wont in those days, and somehow in the dark, this little elma pie tasted positively ambrosial!

versatile apples

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Tender Green Beans with Meat/Etli Fasulye

my favourite: green beans with meat/etli fasulye

I really love this meal: Etli Ayşekadın Fasulye in Turkish.  Etli means 'with meat': since this time I used mince, this is actually Kıymalı Fasulye. Not only does it look and taste delicious, but it’s very healthy as there is no oil in it.  To achieve this taste, fresh beans are streets ahead of frozen. This time I used one of the jars of tomatoes that I bottled in the heart of summer using those fat, juicy, sun-ripened tomatoes from the local tarla/fields around Assos. I’m really pleased that I did all that bottling: next summer I think I’ll make twice as many jars as it is just so much more satisfying to use your own and recall those long, lazy summer days, rather than a couple of sterile greenhouse tomatoes which are the only alternative right now. They may look firm and beautiful but they have no flavour worth mentioning.

ayşekadın fasulye

çalı fasulye
Here, there are two distinct types of green bean/fasulye: one is ayşekadın, the type used in this recipe. To prepare it, after trimming, it is simply snapped or cut in half. It is cooked with meat or sometimes egg, and served hot as a main meal. The other, çalı or string, looks completely different as it is much longer, and flat in shape. This one is cut in half lengthwise and is used for zeytinyağlı dishes ie  served cold.  If it is really long, it is also cut in half the other way. I have to confess I have never bought these. Of course if the beans need stringing, this is a pain, there’s no denying it!
Ingredients for Etli Ayşekadın Fasulye
Serves 6
1 kg tender green beans, topped and tailed.
250 gr ground beef/dana kıyma, or 1/2 kg cubed beef or veal/dana kuşbaşı
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste/salça
1 onion, grated
2 cups warm water
1 tsp seasoned salt/tuzot
1.       Gently cook the grated onion, chopped tomatoes, and ground beef in a wide pan until all liquids have been absorbed. NB no oil is added.

here it is

all the liquid has boiled down
my jar of summer tomatoes

2.       Snap the beans into halves – you will soon see if they need stringing or not! – and add to the above mixture with the seasoned salt. Add the warm water and tomato paste, and cook over low heat till the beans are soft.

I did string mine

The beauty of these yemeks or meals, is that they can be made ahead and reheated with perhaps a little extra water. They keep well in the fridge too. Serve with plain yogurt if liked. A simple rice pilaf goes well with this.

Afiyet Olsun!

§  The spoonful of tomato paste was my touch as I thought the dish looked a bit anaemic!
§  For a change, cubed veal or beef can be used instead of the mince - then it would become etli!
an aberrant fasulye

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tangy Seasonal Soup with Tasty Meatballs/Terbiyeli Köfte Çorbası

In Turkish this recipe is called Terbiyeli Köfte and again it is a classic. This is one of the very first Turkish dishes I ever attempted back in those distant Ankara days after watching my mother-in-law prepare it several times, and seeing how much the family enjoyed it. So for us it is forever connected with her and the time when our children were young. In fact we call it Babaanne’s yemek or Granny’s meal! According to Angie Mitchell in Secrets of the Turkish Kitchen,  the recipe dates back to the days of culinary experimentation in the Ottoman palace kitchens. Terbiyeli literally means well-behaved but in Turkish cooking it refers to a sauce made with lemon and egg. This dish can be either just that: a dish, or as I prefer to make it since that is how I was introduced to it, a delicious seasonal soup with little meatballs. Since the markets are now full of the winter vegetables that we will be seeing for the next few months, this recipe sprang to mind when I went to my usual Selami Çeşme market yesterday.
Ingredients for Terbiyeli Köfte Çorbası
Serves 4 – 6
For the meatballs:
450g minced lamb or beef
1 tbsp rice, rinsed and drained
1 small onion, grated
1 handful of finely chopped parsley
1 handful finely chopped dill
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsps plain white flour
For the stock:
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 small celeriac, peeled and diced
2 tsp salt
4 cups/1 litre boiling water
For the terbiye/tangy sauce:
2 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
Juice of 1 lemon
Chopped parsley or dill to garnish
§  Place the prepared vegetables in water with a squeeze of lemon to prevent discolouration.

all the ingredients for the köfte/meatballs

§  Combine the minced meat, rice, grated onion (keeping any residual onion juice to add to the stock), parsley, dill, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Using your hands, mix together well. With wet hands, roll into balls the size of walnuts and then roll in flour.

§  In a pan, heat the water with the salt. When it is boiling, drain the vegetables and add to a large p the pan.

  •  Once the vegetables are simmering, add the meatballs. Continue to simmer for 15 minutes until the rice grains are protruding from the meatballs and the vegetables tender. Remove from the heat.
simmering the soup before adding the terbiye/sauce

  • §  Put the egg yolks in a bowl. Add the pinch of salt and whisk with a fork. Add the lemon juice and continue whisking, adding spoonfuls of the hot stock a little at a time. Return this mixture to the pan and on a gentle heat continue stirring until the sauce thickens. Take care not to let it reach a rapid boil as it may curdle.
  • §  Serve at once garnished with the fresh parsley and dill. If serving as a meal, a rice pilaf would be a good accompaniment. 
afiyet olsun!

1.       This is the first time that I have actually followed a recipe (it comes from Secrets of the Turkish Kitchen) for this soup as opposed to just following my own inclinations, and the measurements are perfect. However, next time I will add a little more rice as it makes the meatballs look like little hedgehogs. I like that and I remember so did my children!
2.       I also let the mixture cool a bit before I made the sauce. It just reduces the risk of it curdling.

A nice easy, extremely seasonal soup for either lunch or dinner! There is no direct translation for afiyet olsun but basically it means Enjoy! It is said before every meal by the cook to those about to eat!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Mini-break in Eskişehir

 Eskişehir reborn
 I’ve  just returned from a wonderful overnight trip to this city of about 650,000, which lies just  over halfway between Istanbul and Ankara in Central Anatolia, and is home to several universities, including  Anadolu Üniversitesi, the largest in Turkey.  It was a revelation. Up till now, I only knew Eskişehir as a place to pass through on the way to somewhere else but recently it has been in the news thanks to the energy and vision of one enterprising man,  Professor Yılmaz Büyükerşen, politican, educator, and the current Mayor. With tremendous initiative, he has succeeded in transforming Eskişehir from a dusty, conservative Anatolian town to one that is now more than ready to receive visitors. His many achievements include the reconstruction of one hundred and fifty Ottoman houses in the old part which have been meticulously restored with some of them housing museums and art galleries.   Another  hundred are scheduled to be done up.

stunning pieces at the Cam Muzesi/ Glass Museum

and here is one of the gondolas

The River Porsuk which dissects the city, formerly dirty and neglected, has been transformed with riverbanks, bridges, and sidewalks; smaller branches are now canals.

It even boasts gondola rides now!  Two major parks have been built , both with artificial lakes, and one even has beaches for the populace of Eskisehir to enjoy in the summer months.

 And who knew that this city is internationally known as the source of meerschaum/lületaşı?   We visited a museum with a fascinating display of pipes all elaborately carved and quite beautiful.

We were a group of eight organized by my friend Ayşe: four of us were old friends dating back to when we were all English teachers  twenty four years ago  at  Semiha Şakir Lisesi,  a local high school here in Istanbul on the Asian side, and the others represented similar long-standing friendships. The aim of our trip was two-fold:  to visit the highly-accclaimed Patchwork Exhibition that her cousin was participating in, and then to give us a taste of the city where she was born. A real mini-break!
                               The culinary delights of this beguiling city included:

a very tasty Chinese dinner at Chinatown
For dinner that evening Ayşe had made a reservation at this stylish restaurant. I was surprised to find a restaurant of that calibre in a little place like Eskişehir with such good food, excellent service, and much cheaper than a comparable place in Istanbul.

çiğ börek (pron: chi beurek) originally a Crimean Tatar speciality: this is a portion for one!
This dish was introduced to Eskişehir in the late 19th Century when a group of Tatars were settled here. Each börek is filled with raw mince and then fried. The pastry is very light and surprisingly it was easy to polish off all five! Strictly speaking, forks are not used, just fingers and paper napkins! The speed with which these appeared from the kitchens was amazing: we were a party of 20 by that time, and there were tons of other people already and the service was impeccable. We sat outside as the temperature was just right with the sun beating gently on our backs.

su muhallebisi, another local speciality
Muhallebi is a kind of milk pudding and su means water. It contains very little sugar we were assured - but it's piled on top instead! The water refers to the fragrant pink rose water that crowns each portion. Delicious! The muhallebici was our last stop before driving back to the station to catch our train to Istanbul at 16.45.
Our delightful guide Taylan
I can thoroughly recommend a visit to Eskişehir - a weekend, perhaps?