Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Spicy Cookies from Hatay (Hatay Kömbesi)





These delicious, spicy cookies are traditionally made in the Hatay province right after Ramadan, during Şeker Bayramı which translates to “Sugar Feast”. Almost every household in Hatay region makes these cookies in very large amounts which usually involves friends, relatives and neighbors getting together to make them. They are either baked at home or at the local bakery. Trays and trays of kömbe are sent to local, wood-fired bakeries during this season and the delicious smell just swifts through the air in the neighborhoods. Some bakeries stay open all night to keep up with baking these cookies. During the “Sugar Feast”, people visit each other and these cookies are served for the guests.
In other regions of Turkey, “kömbe” is the name for a pie/börek, so it can get confusing for people who are not from the Hatay region.

When I was growing up and eating these cookies during the holidays, I didn’t care much for them as they were abundant during this season.  In the past 20 years that I have been here, I probably have eaten them only several times. Mainly when my mom would sneak them in my suitcase when returning to the U.S. after a visit or send them over with someone. Certainly, I have not had them the past 5-6 years at all. Recently, I saw them at a cousin’s Facebook page during the “Sugar Feast” and remembered them. Then, I craved them!  I called my mom and got her recipe for it as I never attempted to make it before. I followed my mom’s recipe, except I added milk. I have never seen my mom put any milk in them, but some recipes call for it. Some people also stuff them with dates, or walnuts. I am not fond of the stuffed version. Traditionally, these cookies have special wooden molds for them. Since I do not have these molds, I used my mini tart shells to make the molds. I also made round cookies, flat cookies and even animal shapes for my kids.

Several years ago, I had a reader named George who had been to Antakya/Hatay and had purchased these molds and asked me for a recipe where he could use these molds. I had promised that I’d post it some time, but never got to it. I am not sure if I did lose that reader as I have not been actively posting on my blog, but if you are reading George, here is the recipe!

7 cups white flour

16 oz butter

1 whole nutmeg

1 small stick cinnamon

12 cloves

7-8 small pieces of mastic

½ tsp mahleb grounded

1 ½ cup sugar

¼ cup olive oil

1 cup milk

Lots of sesame seeds

Grind the nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, mastic and mahleb. Combine them. The combination should amount to 1-2 tbsps depending on the desired strength of spices. Melt the butter. Add the sugar to the butter and mix until the sugar dissolves. Add the olive oil and milk and continue to mix. Add the spices and stir well.

Place the flour in a large bowl. Slowly add the butter, sugar, milk, olive oil and spice mixture. Mix until a dough forms.
Make walnut sized balls with the dough. Spread the sesame seeds in a flat plate.


For tartlet shell mold:

Take the ball and press one side onto the sesame plate.
Press into tartlet shell making sure the sesame part of the dough in the bottom.
Turn the tartlet shell upside down on the sesame place to coat the top of the cookie with sesame.
Place on a baking sheet.

For a flat cookie:

Take a ball and flatten with hands.
Cut with cookie cutter of your choice or a glass.
Coat both sides with sesame.


For circle shaped cookie:

Take a ball and start rolling back and forth to create a few inches long stick with the ball.
Roll the stick into the sesame plate.
Join the ends.
Place on the baking sheet.

Heat oven to 350 F° and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cookies start to take a golden color.
Enjoy with hot Turkish tea.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Rice with Carrots (Havuçlu Pirinç Pilavı)

This rice dish is extremely simple. I have been purchasing colorful (orange, yellow, light purple and dark purple) carrots almost every week. Each time, I make something different with them. One week roasted, one week sliced for salads, shredded for carrot salads, sautéed and etc. I shredded some this week to add to salads and other meals and wanted to add to rice. It really turned out great. The best part is one of my boys who does not like to eat carrots, kept asking for more rice. I may try ‘cacık’ (yogurt soup) with carrots and see how that turns out.

Enjoy warm.

1 cup white rice
1 cup shredded colorful carrots (or one color)
¼ medium onion chopped finely (or a very small onion)
1 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 cups water

Heat the olive oil in a small pot. Add the onions and carrots together and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Wash the rice with cold water. Add the rice to the pot and stir for one minute. Add the water, salt and parsley. Cover and cook on high heat until the water boils. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 30-35 minutes or until the rice is soft. Serve warm.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Turkish Style Potato Salad (Türk Usulü Patates Salatası)


Here is a simple, light and delicious potato salad: Turkish style.  There is no mayonnaise or eggs in it, but if you would like it a little creamy, both ingredients can be added. Instead of green onions dried red onion and instead of green garlic a garlic clove can be used. The green onions and green garlic are from my small garden so I preferred to use them. The pictures show more green onions and garlic than what the recipe calls for. The last minute, I decided not to use them all in the recipe and left them for other types of salads. For two medium potatoes, I think the amount of the greens is perfect. Enjoy!

2 medium russet potatoes
½ cup chopped green onions & green garlic (3 green onions and 1 green garlic)
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp sumac
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
¼ cup olive oil

Place the whole potatoes with skin in a sauce pan and fill water to cover them. Boil for about 45 minutes or until tender. This can be checked with a fork.

Let them cool. Peel the skin. 

Cube the potatoes and place in a deep bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss. Enjoy alone as a snack or a side dish. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cigaratte Rolls (Sigara Böreği)

Sigara böreği takes its name from the shape of cigarettes. Although I truly loathe cigarettes, I love cigarette rolled boreks! Addictive is the right word to describe these little rolls. In Turkey, they are usually served as appetizers, for breakfast and as an afternoon snack with a hot Turkish tea. I have tried making these numerous times using whole fat Turkish white cheese and each time the cheese would leak during frying and ruin their appearance and taste. I have tried rolling them differently, adding an egg white to keep the cheese together but it kept leaking. Then I realized I was using cheese with whole fat which was causing the leaking. Since I couldn’t find low fat Turkish white cheese, I used low fat feta and for the first time I prepared rolls that did have leaked cheese during frying. They were so good to look at I was hesitant to eat them (no, not really) J I do not normally purchase anything low fat or diet so I had to make an exception for this. They tasted incredibly good but I know that they taste even better with whole fat white cheese.

You may substitute the filling with other types of cheeses, minced meat, chicken, potatoes or even spinach. Enjoy hot right after you fry them. They will be so crispy and delicious!

2 cups crumbled low fat white cheese (or feta)
1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 package triangle pastry leaves (about 20 leaves)

4 cups sunflower or canola oil

Place the white cheese in a bowl and add the parsley. Mix well.

Place one triangle pastry leaf on the counter and brush the edges with water. 

Add a table spoon of cheese in the wide section of the triangle pastry leaf. 

Fold from both sides and start rolling. 

Dip hands in water when sealing. 

Repeat the same process until all the triangle leaves are used up.

Heat up the oil. Add a few of the rolls and start frying. 

It should take only a few minutes. As soon as the rolls start taking a golden color remove and drain on paper towel. It is better to fry as little as possible; that way they will fry faster. 

Note: If you cannot find triangle shaped pastry leaves available in Turkish or Middle Eastern stores (ucgen yufka) and able to find regular Turkish yufka, you could cut the large round piece of yufka into eight triangles. If you cannot find yufka, you may substitute regular (thinner) phyllo dough for it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Baked Pastry with Leeks and Chard (Fırında Pırasalı ve Pazılı Börek)

With winter comes, my favorite winter vegetables: chard and leeks. I started buying chard and leeks because of their nutritional value which I feed my little kids on a weekly basis. I grew up eating chard which I was not fond of but my mother only made it with a yogurt soup with grain which is eaten cold. I don’t recall eating it any other way. For böreks, my mother only used spinach and never chard. After I learned cooking many years later, I tried böreks with Swiss chard and regular chard and I was very happy with the results. This time I wanted to add leeks since I had them on hand and really it was so light and delicious!

I prepared the stuffing ahead of time and froze it as it is almost impossible for me to make everything the same day with two little kids and work.  I made the dough the same day I made the böreks and the stuffing tasted as if fresh. We all enjoyed them; especially my boys. They kept wanting more and more. Even though I was in a hurry when making them and didn’t take very good pictures, I think the pictures are acceptable and will explain the steps pretty well.

Caveat: You will most likely have leftover dough. I could have adjusted the proportions for the recipe, but I did not want to do that without really trying it. You can use the left over dough for any type of stuffing you like or even a small pizza.

Now it’s time for the recipe.

For the Dough:

6 ¼ cups white flour
2 ½ cups warm water
1½ tsp yeast (optional)
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp red pepper paste (optional or red pepper can be substituted)
1 tbsp olive oil

1/3 cup olive oil for brushing boreks
½ cup flour for rolling

For the Stuffing:

2 bunches of chard (around 10 chard leaves)
2 leeks
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 ½ tsp red pepper flakes
¼ tsp black pepper
1 ½ tsp salt

Prepare the Dough:

Let yeast sit in warm water for 25-30 minutes until it bubbles.

Using a Stand Mixer: 

Attach the dough hook to the stand mixer. Add the flour, salt, red pepper paste and olive oil in the mixer bowl and run it on stir. Gradually add the yeasty water. Change the speed to 2 and let it knead the dough until it is soft. It should take less than five minutes. Cover with a damp cloth and let it sit for two hours.


Add the flour, salt, red pepper paste, olive oil and half of the water and start kneading. Add the rest of the yeasty water gradually and continue to knead until soft dough is attained. It should take about 15-20 minutes. Cover with a damp cloth and let it sit for two hours.

Prepare the Stuffing:

Remove stems of chard from leaves.  

First steam stems of chard until soft as they will take longer to cook than the leaves. Remove and steam chard leaves until wilted. Chop both stems and leaves small.

Slit leeks in half and wash thoroughly several times to remove all the dirt between the layers. 

Chop finely. Heat olive oil in a pan. Sauté leeks first for 4-5 minutes. 

Add chopped chard, garlic, cumin, salt, pepper flakes and black pepper. Stir for a couple minutes and remove from heat and cool.

Prepare softball size dough balls and sit aside. 

Take about 2 tbsp of flour and place on the dough rolling surface. Take one of the balls and place it on top of the flour. Add another 2 tbsp of flour on top of the dough ball. 

Flatten with your fingers and start rolling. 

Make the pastry 9-10 inches in diameter, smaller if smaller pastries are desired. 

Add 3 tbsp of the stuffing in the middle of the rolled dough and fold the outer 1 inch from the left, right and the bottom to create a triangle. 

Place on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Repeat until all the dough and the stuffing are used up.

Heat up oven to 375º. Bake for 15-25 minutes or until the böreks take a golden color. 

Enjoy with hot tea or with cold yogurt or yogurt drink. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Baked Eggplant Kebab (Tepside Patlıcan Kebabı)

This truly delicious dish comes from the city of Gaziantep, Turkey which is very famous with its cuisine. After Hatay (my Province), I like Gaziantep’s food next and then Adana which is about two hours away from my hometown. I have only passed by Gaziantep and have not been there to taste all the delicious food, but when I was very young we had a family acquaints who were from Gaziantep and would come to enjoy the Mediterranean beach for the summer months. As our families spent a lot of time together during their summer vacation, I have tasted some of their food.  One thing I still remember from those days was when we stopped by one day the lady was making stuffed eggplants. She insisted on us to try it before we left and we did. To this day, the taste of that stuffed eggplants is still in my mouth and have never forgotten it. It was hot, but extremely delicious and I must say I have not eaten any better stuffed eggplant than that. I have tried to recreate it in my adult life by asking my mom about the ingredients, but I have not been fully successful. Now that we’ve gone back to childhood memories, let’s get back to the eggplant kebab.

Gaziantep is known with its eggplant kebab which is normally made on a grill which tastes even better. But this one is also extremely good and probably easier cooking as you put it in the oven and forget about it. I made this twice so far; in the initial trial it is juicier than I would have liked and also I used the fat eggplants that I had in hand. In Gaziantep the long eggplants are know as “kebaplık patlıcan” meaning “eggplants specifically for kebap”. This version turned out better than the first one. The amount was perfect for two adults and two small children and we had leftovers. You can easily double the recipe for a larger amount.

1 lb ground beef
4-5 eggplants (long eggplants)
1 tomato (cut in half)
8 pearl onions
2 green peppers (any kind of long and thin peppers will work)
1 clove garlic (chopped fine)
1 small onion (grated)
1 tsp red pepper flakes
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 ¼ tsp salt

For the Sauce:

2 tbsp tomato sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup cold water

For Soaking Eggplant:

5 cups cold water
2 tsp salt

Mix ground beef, garlic, grated onions, red pepper flakes, black pepper and salt well. 

Pull a walnut sized piece and slightly flatten. 1 lb ground beef made 17 small patties. 

Cut the eggplants 1-1.5 inches wide. 

Cut as many pieces as the number of ground beef (in this case 17).  Soak the eggplants in the salted cold water for about 30 minutes to get out any bitterness that may exist. In a round pan, arrange the beef and eggplants by alternating with one piece of eggplant and one piece of meat starting from the edge of the pan until all the meat and eggplants are used up. In the middle of the pan, place the tomato halves and the pearl onions. 

Mix the salt, olive oil and tomato sauce with 1 cup of water. Pour it all over the pan. 

Add the green peppers and cover with aluminum foil.

Bake at 400º F for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove aluminum foil and continue to bake for another 15 minutes until the vegetables show signs of roasting. Five minutes of broiling also will work.

Enjoy with rice pilaf or just flat bread.

Note: If your pan is bigger and have a lot of room left in the middle, you may add more tomatoes, onions and green peppers inside.