Sunday, April 27, 2008

Stuffed Mixed Vegetables (Karışık Dolma)

Dolma is one of the most popular dishes in the current modern Turkey dating back to the Turkish Empire (Ottoman Empire) era. It is also a worldwide well-known dish. Various regions in Turkey make dolma in different ways such as using nuts and raisins in the dolma stuffing. Generally, when dolmas are made with olive oil and without meat, it is eaten cold and when dolmas are made using butter or vegetable oil and meat, it is served warm. Back home in my region, dolmas are always made with meat using butter. Since I do not use butter in my cooking (other than baking), I am making my mom’s dolmas with olive oil and a few other slight additions such as using pomegranate molasses as well as lemon juice. Usually, lemon juice is used.

The word ‘dolma’ comes from the Turkish word ‘dolmak’ which means ‘to be filled’ or ‘to be stuffed’. The vegetables used for dolmas are almost unlimited. One can use any vegetable that can be stuffed. Generally, the following vegetables are often used in Turkish dolmas: eggplants, zucchinis, green or red bell peppers, tomatoes and even onions.

Below is the recipe to this famous dish:


10 small thick eggplants
8 small zucchinis
6 red small bell peppers
2 large green bell peppers
1 large tomato

For the Vegetables:

Full pot of water
1 tsp salt
1 juice of lemon

For the Stuffing:
1 lb ground beef (96% lean)
3 cups of short grain white rice
2 large ripe peeled tomatoes
¾ cup finely chopped parsley
½ cup finely chopped mint
1½ tbsp chopped garlic (about 3 very large cloves)
3 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp red pepper paste
1 diced long green pepper or 1/2 cubanelle pepper (optional)
2 tbsp Pomegranate Molasses
1 juice of lemon
1½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp cumin

For Cooking the Dolmas:

Juices of 2 lemons
4 cloves of garlic
2-3 stems of mint
1 ½ cup water

Fill a large pot with water and add salt & the juice of one lemon. This will be used to keep the eggplants from turning brown and to give them a salty lemony taste to the vegetables after being carved.

To carve an eggplant without creating a hole can be challenging. There is a tool that is especially used to carve an eggplant or a zucchini in Turkey. I know that they are definitely available here in the States in Middle Eastern stores. That little tool makes carving a lot easier. After washing the vegetables well, remove the stem from the eggplant and cut a 1/2 inch from where the stem was. Do not discard the ½ inch stem as it will be used for covering the stuffing later on. This will allow the carver to have enough room to go inside the eggplant. Stick the carver once and remove.

This will look like a half moon. Stick the carver on the opposite side of the previous location and this will look like a round shape. Turn the carver around that area and remove. You will see that the heart of the eggplant will come out nicely. From there, you can start carving easily until the inside of the eggplant is hallowed. Be careful not to poke the eggplant in places so that there are no holes.

Once the carving is complete, add the eggplant to the salty and sour water.

Repeat the same process until all the eggplants are carved. Now, start carving the zucchinis the same exact way. The zucchinis tend to get unwanted holes in them more than eggplants, so be extra careful. Scrape the zucchinis with a knife or with the carver (some carvers have a scraper also) after you carve them. Remove the stems from the peppers and remove any seeds that may be inside them. Repeat the same thing with the tomato.

To prepare the stuffing, mix all the stuffing ingredients very well in a large bowl.

Now, fill each of the carved vegetables one by one with the lemony, salty water in the pot, shake very well and pour the water back and set aside. Do this one by one. This way, the lemon and salt will get inside the carved vegetables nicely.

Start filling the vegetables with the stuffing.

Fill up to the top and leave a ½ inch space on top and cover with the ½ inch piece you cut up before you began the carving process. This will close the vegetable so that the stuffing will stay inside the vegetable rather than swimming around in the pot while cooking. Repeat the same process with all the carved vegetables. Arrange the vegetables in the large pot. Make sure they are not loosely arranged. They need to be as tight as possible so they have no where to move in the pot.

Try not to overfill the pot. If the vegetables do not fit the pot, split them into two pots. Assuming you have one large pot, spread 4 crushed garlic cloves, fresh mint leaves and the lemon juice on top of the arranged stuffed vegetables.

Then pour 1 ½ cup of water and put some weight on the vegetables. There is a special weight tool that is made out clay that is put inside the pot on the vegetables in Turkey. Since that is not available to me, I put in 3-4 small plates to put some weight on the vegetables so that they will not be swimming in the pot. Put on the stove until the water inside starts to boiling and then turn to low heat for 1.5 hours. After turning the heat off, let the pot sit covered for 30 minutes before serving. Serve warm. This dish goes very well with plain yogurt.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Turkish Baklava (Baklava)

In Turkey, there is a saying “Tatlı yiyelim, tatlı konuşalım”, meaning “Let’s eat sweet and let’s speak sweet”. So if you want to eat sweet and speak sweet, I recommend you to eat the delightful dessert, ‘Baklava’. That said; now let’s talk about my baklava recipe…

I have received so many compliments on this baklava, I have to admit that there was some hesitation on whether I should share this baklava recipe with everyone… This is a good thing and so why not share good things with people?

This is my favorite dessert. If it weren’t for all the calories it contains, I would eat it every day. It is just out of this world. Until five years ago, I did not know that baklava can be made at home. Where I lived in Turkey, most people did not make baklava at home; they always purchased it from the local specialized baklava stores. The first time, I ate home made baklava was when I was in graduate school here in the States. There was a very skilled Turkish college professor who used to make it and bring it to certain college activities. She made excellent baklava some of which were made with apples. Yummy.

Years later, I attempted to make baklava after some people at work kept asking me questions about Turkish baklava. I did some research on the internet, but I never found any baklava recipe made with pistachio nuts. In the region I lived in Turkey, baklava was always made with pistachios. I am sure they make baklava with walnuts too, I just never came across. In fact, I had never eaten baklava with any other nuts than pistachios in Turkey. Pistachio nuts are my favorite nuts. There is a city called Gaziantep in Turkey which produces the world’s well known best pistachios ever. The name for pistachios in Turkish is ‘Antepfıstığı’ which means ‘Nuts of Antep’. In the word Antepfıstığı, Antep comes from Gaziantep and fıstık means nuts. Fıstığı is considered to be “nuts of”. Antepfıstığı is so delicious; I can eat a 1 lb bag by myself in one sitting. I have never done that, but I could if I wanted to indulge. In Houston there are some markets that sell Turkish pistachios. Even though they are expensive, I prefer to make my baklava with Turkish pistachios, because they make a big difference in the taste. Gaziantep is also known with its famous baklava. I am confident that no one can compete with the masters of baklava in Gaziantep. The city is famous not only with pistachios and baklava, but also with its many other cuisines.

Since I could not find any baklava recipes with pistachios at the time, I took a walnut baklava recipe and substituted the walnuts with pistachios. When I entered this challenge, I first followed other recipes, and then I started to create my own baklava by trial and error. Each time, it got better and better. I am not claiming to have the best baklava, but I have received comments from people who claim it is the best baklava they have ever eaten. The best part is, when I went home last summer, I made baklava for my family and they loved it. To this day, my father tells me that he thinks my baklava is even better than what they purchase in the local specialized baklava stores. I don’t know about that, but I think it is getting close. Also, the baklava stores in Turkey roll their own phyllo sheets; this by itself adds a wonderful flavor to the baklava. I have never tried to roll the phyllo sheets myself. The sheets have to be very thin.
So, I really hope that you enjoy this recipe. If you have never made baklava before, it may take you longer to make it for the first time; however, you will get faster over time.

After all this talk, here is the recipe....

1 lb phyllo dough sheets (18x14 inch)
3 cups raw unsalted pistachios (coarsely grounded)
1/3 cup raw unsalted pistachios (finely grounded)
3 tbsp powdered sugar
1 lb sweet cream unsalted butter

For the Syrup:
3 cups of ground sugar
1 ½ cups of water
3 tbsp honey
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

First, prepare the syrup. Add the sugar and water in a pot. After the sugar melts, add the honey and lemon juice. Let it boil for 2 minutes and remove from heat. Cool syrup. It is easier to cool syrup if you pour it in a different pot or a deep bowl. Let it sit at room temperature.

If the phyllo dough is frozen, make sure it’s thawed in the refrigerator and it is out of the fridge in room temperature 5 hours before preparing the baklava. Otherwise, the phyllo sheets may be sticky which will make them difficult to butter.

Melt the butter on low heat and cool. Anything that accumulates on top (whitish foam) remove with a spoon. This will clarify the butter.

Using a cooking brush, grease a 18x14 inch tray with the clarified butter. You may also use a 9x14 inch pyrex dish if you do not have an 18x14 inch tray. In this case, you will need to cut the phyllo sheets in half to fit the pyrex dish.

Mix the coarsely grounded pistachios with the powdered sugar. Make sure everything is ready before opening the phyllo dough (i.e. the butter, the tray, the pistachio mix). The phyllo dough tends to dry out quickly. Cover with a damp cloth or a damp paper towel after opening. Select one sheet and place on the greased tray. Quickly butter the phyllo sheet completely. Add another sheet and repeat the same process until you have buttered 8-9 phyllo sheets. Then add 1 ½ cup of the pistachio mix and spread all over the sheets so that there is a thin layer of the mix.

Add another sheet of phyllo dough and butter all over.

Repeat the same process for another 8-9 sheets. Add the rest of the pistachio mix and spread to cover the sheets. Again, place a sheet of phyllo dough on top of the mix and butter it. Butter each of the left phyllo dough sheets one by one until you are out of phyllo sheets. If you see that some of the phyllo sheets are sticky and will not come out separately, then you may add the sticky sheets all together (without separating) and butter very well. One of the secrets of a good baklava is making sure every single sheet is buttered well. After finishing the phyllo sheets, if you have left over butter, pour on top of the tray. Cut diagonally or in squares after pouring the butter.

Heat the oven to 350º F. Place the baklava tray in the middle rack and bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove baklava when ready and pour the cooled syrup all over the tray. Make sure every single piece has syrup on it. The baklava has to be hot when pouring the cooled syrup. Decorate with the finely ground pistachios on top of each of the pieces. Cover with aluminum foil and let sit over night.

Enjoy with a cup of strong Turkish coffee.

Green Lentil Soup (Yeşil Mercimek Çorbası)

I am not a big soup person, but every once in a while, I make soup. I decided to make this recipe when I was trying to put some lentils in a container after grocery shopping and the lentils did not fit the container. So I decided to make something with the lentils that did not make their way to the container using the ingredients on hand. It turned out very good. As most of you know lentils are rich in iron, calcium, zinc. It is a good source of protein that it can easily substitute for meat. This very nutritious grain is also high in fiber and known to help bowel irregularities and even reduce risks of some cancers. My favorite soup is red lentil soup which I will post here sometime in the future.

3 cups green lentils (soaked overnight)
½ yellow onion-finely chopped
2 small diced potatoes
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp tomato paste (optional)
1 tsp celery seed
2 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
6 cups of water

Sautee the chopped onion and garlic in olive oil until onions are transparent. Add the lentils and sautee for 5 minutes. Add the diced potatoes, salt, pepper, tomato paste if desired and finally the water. Mix with a spoon to make sure the tomato paste is dissolved. Cook on high heat until the soup starts to boil, then turn the heat to low. Cook the soup on low heat for 1.5 hours or until the lentils are so soft that they melt in your mouth. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Chicken with Mushrooms (Mantarlı Tavuk)

1 ½ lb boneless chicken breast (bite size cubes)
½ lb white mushrooms (sliced)
2 carrots (cut diagonally)
1 medium tomato (chopped)
½ yellow onion (chopped)
2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
½ tsp paprika
½ cup water
2 tbs fresh chopped parsley

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the chicken and sautee until the chicken is no longer pinkish. Add the thyme and paprika. Sautee the chicken pieces a few minutes before adding the garlic and onions. Stir until the onions are transparent. Add the mushrooms, carrots and tomato. Sprinkle the salt and pour the water. Cover the pan and cook under low heat for 10-15 minutes. Add the chopped parsley on top before serving.

Green Beans with Tomatoes (Domatesli Taze Fasülye)

1 ½ lb green beans
4 medium peeled ripe tomatoes (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup water

Cut the ends of each green bean and slice in the middle without cutting through the end. The beans will split in two and attached at the bottom. Take the split beans (attached at the bottom) and cut diagonally around 1 ½ inch long. If you are in a hurry, cut the beans diagonally without slicing in the middle. When the beans are split in half before cutting, all the wonderful juices go inside and it creates a delicious taste. Pour the olive oil in a large pot and place on the stove under medium heat. Once the olive oil is hot, add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add the chopped green beans and sautee for a few minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and the salt. Dissolve the tomato paste in the water and add to the beans. Stir and cover. Cook it under medium heat until the water starts to boil. Turn heat to low and cook for 45 minutes until the beans are tender. Serve warm with rice or bulgur pilaf.

Bulgur Pilaf (Bulgur Pilavı)

2 cups bulgur (thick grind)
1 cup green lentils
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
6 cups of water
1 thin slice of onion

Add the lentils to the water in a pan. Boil until the lentils are soft. Bring the heat to low and add the bulgur and the salt. Stir and cook covered under low heat until all the water is absorbed. Do not stir. In a separate pan, heat the olive oil. Add the thin slice of onion to the olive oil to check when it is ready. Once the onion slice becomes dark brown, the olive oil is ready to be poured on the bulgur. Remove the onion slice and pour the olive oil on the cooked bulgur. Stir to make sure all the bulgur is covered with the olive oil. Bulgur pilaf is perfect to be eaten with vegetable dishes such as green beans.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lahmajun (Lahmacun)

In Turkey, lahmacun's filling is usually prepared at home and sent to a local bakery for baking. The bakery uses its own dough and the bakers bake it for a small charge. That turns out to be delicious. Also, bakery-made lahmacuns tend to be thicker and softer. It is very difficult to attain the same kind of lahmacun with the ovens available at home. My mom never bakes the lahmacun herself. She always sends it to a baker. Since, here in the states, we do not have that option, we use a home oven to bake the lahmacuns. If you are not afraid of setting the fire alarm off (believe me I've done that more than once), you can always cook them in a teflon pan on both sides. Actually, cooking them in the pan allows them to be softer around the edges. You should not bake or broil the lahmacuns too long; they need to be soft enough to be rolled off. That's the way it is eaten. A glass of ayran (a cold yogurt drink) goes well with lahmacun.

For the dough:

3 ½ cups of flour
1 package dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm water

For the filling:

1 lb ground beef (96% lean)
1 medium peeled ripe tomato
1 medium cubanelle pepper
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
½ cup chopped parsley
1 tsp red pepper paste
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil (optional)

Preparation of the dough:

Dissolve the dry yeast in the warm water and let sit for 10 minutes. Add the salt and sugar to the flour and mix. Open a well in the flour and add the yeast. Knead for 10-15 minutes until dough is soft. Cover with a wet cloth and let rise for an hour.

Preparation of the filling:

Chop the onion, the green pepper and the peeled tomato finely and place in a deep large bowl. Add the meat and all the other ingredients and mix well for five minutes. Leave in the refrigerator for one hour.

Once the dough rises, make small balls from the dough in the size of an egg or a little larger. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and put the dough ball on the flour. Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough ball and roll them with a roller. If the dough sticks to the roller, sprinkle some more flour. Keep rolling until the diameter of the dough is 8-10 inches wide and 3/25 inches (~3 mm) thick. If you wish, you may make the Lahmacuns thicker (which I actually prefer, but it will take longer to cook). Scoop some filling and spread on the dough with your hands. Make sure the filling is sticking to the dough so that it doesn’t fall off. Turn on your oven broiler and put the Lahmacuns in the broiler for 7-8 minutes. Enjoy with squeezing some lemon wedges on the Lahmacun.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bulgur Salad (Kısır or İç)

Kısır or İç is a delicious snack, appetizer, light lunch and even a light dinner. Some people confuse it with Tobouleh, however it is much different than Tobouleh and tastier. In Turkey, when ladies get together in the afternoon, it is very common to serve Kısır. Especially, in the Southern region of Turkey, this appetizer is very popular in gatherings. The best Kısır I have eaten is made by my aunt (father's sister). Until this day, I cannot forget how delicious she makes it. To me, the redder the Kısır, the better. She somehow manages to make it so red (she must use lots of red pepper paste), it looks so pretty and impossible to resist. Usually, when Kısır is served, it is eaten wrapped in romaine lettuce or fresh grape leaves and served with tomatoes, cucumbers, green olives, pickled peppers on the side.

2 cups bulgur (finely ground)
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 bunch fresh mint
1 bunch green onions
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp red pepper paste (available at Middle Eastern stores)
3 tbsp Pomegranate Molasses
½ cup olive oil
2/3 cup of boiling water

Place the finely ground bulgur in a wide bowl. Add the boiling water on the bulgur and mix until all the bulgur grains are soaked. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 20-30 minutes. While the bulgur is soaking, chop the parsley, mint and green onions finely.
When the bulgur grains become soft, add the red pepper and tomato pastes and knead for 5 minutes. Add the pomegranate molasses and knead a few more minutes. You can also substitute juice of 1 lemon (or more) for the pomegranate molasses. I use either of them, however, molasses gives it a more reddish color which I enjoy. Add the chopped parsley, mint and green onions. Mix well and make sure the bulgur grains are separated. Add the olive oil and mix. Enjoy this on a bed of romaine lettuce along with tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles and green olives.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Shish Kebab (Şiş Kebabı)

Şiş Kebabı is one of the most famous Turkish dishes that is known worldwide. 'Şiş' literally means 'skewer', and 'Kebap' means meat cut in small pieces to fit the skewer. Şiş Kebabı can be made out of beef, lamb or chicken. Nowadays, seafood kebaps are also made. The best kebabs are the ones that are grilled on a wood type coal. This is the way it is cooked in Turkey. In case you do not have access to a grill, you may use the oven broiler on a wide pan in order to keep the juices out of the oven. During family and friend gatherings, Şiş Kebap is a no-no menu item in Turkey.

1 lb filet mignon or any other kind of meat you may prefer
1 cubanelle or bell pepper
1 small onion
1 firm tomato
2 small cloves of garlic (chopped finely)
½ tbsp thyme
¼ tsp paprika
¼ tsp black ground pepper
½ lemon
½ tbsp olive oil
½ tsp of salt

Cut the meat in bite size pieces. Add the garlic, thyme, paprika, ground pepper, salt, olive oil and the juice of the ½ lemon. Allow it to marinate overnight in the refrigerator. If you are using bamboo skewers, soak them for half an hour in water so that they do not get burned. Cut the cubanelle pepper, the onions and the tomato large enough to put through a skewer. Start skewering the meat, the pepper, the onion and the tomato by alternating. You may use an outside grill or you may broil them in the oven. Broil skewered meat and vegetables 5 minutes on each side. This meal goes well wrapped in flat bread (pita or any other kind) and over rice.

Shrimp Shish (Karides Şiş)

1 lb large shrimp
½ tsp olive oil
¼ tsp paprika
½ tsp rosemary
½ tsp oregano
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper

Mix all the ingredients with the shrimp. Marinate overnight. If you are using bamboo skewers, soak for half an hour before using. Skewer the marinated shrimp. Broil for 5 minutes on each side. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp. Serve together with rice or wrap up in flat bread with other vegetables.

The Famous Mediterranean Turkish Salad (Marullu Salata)

This salad is one of my favorite. When I used to live back home in Turkey, everyday in my home, we ate this type of salad with a meal. Almost every household in Turkey that is on the coast of the Mediterranean, serve this kind of salad not to mention in other parts of Turkey. This salad does not always require the exact ingredients; you can always add or remove certain vegetables. For example, you can always leave out the onions or the carrots and instead add red cabbage or/and red radishes. Having so many different vegetables and using olive oil and lemon in the salad makes it very healthy.

8-9 large leaves of romaine lettuce
2 baby cucumbers
1 large firm tomato
½ of small onion (optional)
2 carots
1/3 of a cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp of chopped mint
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon
½ tsp of sumac
½ tsp of salt or more based on your taste

Chop the lettuce leaves. Cut the cucumbers into half and slice them. Slice the onions (you may substitute green onions instead) and the carrots. Mix all of the vegetables and add the chopped parsley and mint. Add the sumac, salt, and olive oil. Squeeze the lemon on top of the salad after adding the olive oil and salt. Toss and serve.

Asparagus and Broccoli with Turkish Dressing (Turk Soslu Kuşkonmaz ve Brokoli)

1 bunch asparagus
1 broccoli crown
½ tsp olive oil (you may add more if you like)
1 lemon
Pinch of salt

Cut the broccoli into florets. Cut the hard part of the asparagus. Place in a steamer and steam for five minutes. Make sure that the vegetables are not overcooked. Remove from heat and right away place in a bowl that has some ice in it so that it stops the cooking process after removing from heat. When ready to eat, place the asparagus and broccoli on a plate. Add a pinch of salt. Drizzle the olive oil and squeeze the lemon.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Linguini/Fettuccini with Turnip Greens

1 package linguini or fettuccini
2 bunches turnip greens
2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
1/3 of a cup chopped parsley
¾ of a cup of milk (fat free)
2 tbsp. olive oil
¼ tsp of cayenne pepper
1 tsp of black pepper
Salt to taste

Fill half of a pot with water and bring to a boil. If you have a pot with a colander insert, that would be perfect. While waiting for the water to boil, wash turnip greens well and chop them up. Add the chopped turnip greens to the boiling water and leave them in for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and put the insert colander under cold water so that the vegetables stop cooking. If you don’t have a pot with an insert colander, just pour the vegetables in a regular colander so that the water in the greens drains. Form the greens into a ball and squeeze as much as possible to get the water.

Heat more water in the pot and bring to a boil. Add the linguini or fettuccini once the water boils. I usually add a pinch of salt and ½ tsp oil in the water so that the pasta does not stick together. In the meantime, place 1tbsp olive oil in a large pan. Add the chopped garlic. Add the squeezed turnip greens. Sprinkle with salt, cayenne pepper, ground black pepper. Sautee for 5 minutes. Add the milk and mix. Let simmer for a few minutes. Once the pasta is soft, remove from heat and drain. Right away, add the linguini or fettuccini to the simmering turnip greens. Add the chopped parsley and 1 tbsp olive oil. Mix well and make sure the salt is to your liking. You may add more cayenne pepper depending on how much heat you can take. Mix for a few minutes and serve.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Chicken Tava (Tavuk Tava)

I learned this recipe from my mother. It's very simple but also delicious. When I cook chicken, I usually remove all the skin and fat. However, since this recipe does not require any sauce or water, to keep the chicken moist, I am leaving the skin on. You can always remove it before eating. I will post another version of chicken tava (with potatoes) another time. Tava means a pan. So basically, it is called 'pan chicken' :) Enjoy...

1 whole chicken
3 tbsp. thyme
5-6 cloves of garlic (crushed)
2 tbsp. of red pepper paste (available at Middle Eastern grocery stores)
1 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Cut up chicken into pieces. Rub chicken pieces with salt. Add black pepper, garlic, thyme, red pepper paste and olive oil. Mix well so that the paste is all over the chicken. Cover pan (Teflon preferred) and bring heat to low. Cook on low for about 45 minutes to an hour or until chicken pieces are tender.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Baked Zucchini (Fırında Kabak)

Veggies! I love vegetables. They are healthy, full of vitamins and succulent. This is a very light and a healthy dish. It goes very well with Turkish rice.

7 small zucchinis
1 large red bell pepper (sliced lengthwise)
1 green bell pepper (sliced lengthwise)
2 carrots (sliced)
2 juicy tomatoes (sliced)
½ white onion (sliced)
4 garlic cloves (crushed)
1 tsp. tomato sauce
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup hot water
Pinch of salt
½ tsp ground black pepper

Scrape zucchinis with a knife and slice horizontal in large chunks. Place in a Pyrex dish and add the peppers, onions, carrots, tomatoes and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Mix all vegetables so that salt and pepper are all over the veggies. Dissolve the tomato paste with the water and pour all over the vegetables. Drizzle with olive oil. Preheat oven to 350º and place Pyrex dish in the middle rack of the oven. Once the water in the vegetables starts to boil, cover with an aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour or until the vegetables are tender.

Turkish Rice Pilaf with Vermicelli (Şehriyeli Pirinç Pilavı)

This rice is my favorite of all. This is the kind of rice my mother used to cook when I was living in Turkey. It's very simple, but very delicious. I've eaten many different kinds of rice dishes, however nothing beats this. My mother uses butter to cook rice, but I prefer to use olive oil. I only purchase 2 kinds of oil. Olive oil and canola oil. I use canola oil for frying which I rarely do. I never use butter in my cooking other than in desserts. If I could get away with not using butter in desserts, I would. In Turkey, there are certain dishes that must be cooked in olive oil which they call "Olive Oil Dishes" and are eaten cold. There are also dishes where olive oil is never used. However, I am breaking that rule. My mother was very surprised to hear that I use olive oil to cook rice or eggs and etc. Try it, I am sure you will like it. It will help your waistline too.

2 cups rice
¼ of a cup vermicelli
3 cups of water
½ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. olive oil

Put olive oil in a pot and put on medium heat. Once the olive oil is hot, pour the vermicelli and stir constantly until the vermicelli is brown. Be careful not to burn. Add the washed rice and stir for a minute. Add 3 cups of water to the rice. Stir and add salt. Taste the water of rice to make sure salt is to your liking. Cover pot. Once the water in the rice starts to boil, turn the heat on low and let it cook until all the water is evaporated. Usually it takes about 20 minutes. Do not stir the rice until ready to serve.

Whole Wheat Pizza with Beef Sausage

Preparation of the dough:

3 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 package of active dry yeast
2 tbsp honey or 2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup warm water
Salt (adjust to your taste)

Preparation of the Sauce:

½ cup thick tomato sauce
1 tbsp. oregano
4 cloves of garlic
½ of small onion
Pinch of salt
½ tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 cup of water

2 small beef sausages (pepperoni can be substituted)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (you can mix and match your favorite cheeses)
1 cup shredded Romano cheese

Mix the dry yeast with the warm water in a large bowl, stir until yeast dissolves and let sit for 5 minutes. Add the honey or sugar, the olive oil, the salt and the whole wheat flour on the yeast and water mixture slowly and mix with your hands. Sprinkle a little flour on the surface and knead dough until it does not stick to your hands. Let sit for an hour or until it doubles in size. If you like, after it doubles in size, you can punch it down and let it sit another 30 minutes to an hour.

While the dough is rising, prepare the sauce. Grind the garlic cloves and the onions until they are pureed. Add water if necessary. Add the pureed garlic and onions with the tomato sauce, water, black pepper and oregano and let it simmer on the stove for an hour or until the sauce thickens.

Once the dough is ready, shape it into a ball, sprinkle a little flour on the surface and roll the dough with a roller in any shape you like. I use a rectangular pan, so I try to shape it rectangular. Once you have reached the size of your pan, grease the pan lightly with olive oil and spread the dough on the pan. If the dough does not cover all over the pan, try to stretch it without tearing to cover the pan. Spread the sauce all over the dough. Add the shredded cheeses on top of the sauce. Top the pizza with thinly sliced sausage or pepperoni.

Preheat oven to 375º. Place pizza when ready. Let it bake until the cheese takes a golden color. Enjoy!

Shredded Fillo Dough (Kadayıf)

1 lb kadayıf (shredded fillo dough)
2 cups chopped pistachios
2 tbsp. powdered sugar
2 sticks sweet cream butter

For Syrup:
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups milk
1 tbsp. honey

Preparation of Syrup:

Mix sugar and milk and bring to a boil. Simmer about 10 minutes under low heat. Let it cool. After it cools, it will be poured on the hot kadayıf.

Preparation of Kadayıf:

Place half of the kadayıf on a greased, deep baking pan. Melt the butter and drizzle half of the butter on the kadayıf. Mix the pistachios and the powdered sugar and spread on top of the kadayıf. Place the rest of the kadayıf on top of the pistachio mixture. Drizzle with the rest of the butter. Preheat oven to 375º and bake until the surface of the kadayıf is golden brown. Pour the cooled syrup all over the surface of the hot kadayıf. Sprinkle some chopped pistachios on top. This dessert goes well with Turkish coffee. Enjoy!

Loving Cooking and Eating

One of my hobbies is cooking. I really enjoy cooking. I cannot say that I am always successful, but at least I try! Especially, when I am happy. Since I cook often, I guess that means I am happy most of the time. There are times when I think of quitting my job and open a restaurant, but I think it's too much work and therefore, I think cooking would become a job rather than a hobby. At this point, no business adventures :)

Sometimes when I come back from work tired, I want to cook something just to let the stress out. But sometimes, I am so tired that I don't feel like cooking at all. That's when I bring out the food I had cooked over the weekend. My husband doesn't mind eating food that's leftover, but I am not a fan of leftovers. I love freshly cooked food with fresh ingredients. I always use fresh ingredients except when I cook ethnic and have to use the prepared sauces and sometimes canned veggies such as bamboo shoots. I do not use any kind of frozen veggies, meat or any kind of canned foods (exceptions occur when fresh ingredients are not available). For example, I prefer to use the beans and chickpeas soaked overnight and boiled to get the correct texture instead of using the canned versions. I know it is time consuming, but I know it is fresh and I know what is in it. I don't have to second guess what could be in there aside from the preservatives.

Cooking can be even more fun when you involve your spouse, friends or family members. My cooking adventures started in graduate school when on the weekend there was no food provided in the dorms. I am embarrassed to say that, at that time, I basically lived on ramen noodles on the weekends. Come on, they are so cheap and so tasty. I wasn't so health conscious at the time. I was eating everything. When you are a student living in a dorm, you do not have much of a choice. You eat what you can get your hands on. There was a small group of friends from other countries in the dorm and we all started to cook together on the weekends. We'd go to the grocery store together and purchase the ingredients, split out the bill and then cook and eat together. They came from countries where they did not eat in a hurry, rather taking their time enjoying the food. In Turkey where I come from, people take their time eating. So I really liked that. Because during my undergraduate school, I was also living in the dorms. We used to go down to the cafeteria to eat with friends and they would finish their food so quickly that sometimes before I sat down they would be finished! I had to adjust to them; otherwise, I would have to eat my food alone! Yeah, I learned eating fast so well, but also my stomach was never happy. So, this was a big change to have people sitting around and enjoying the food. It was fun! I still miss those days. Then, after I graduated and started working, I had my own apartment and I attempted to cook all the Turkish food that I missed. There were disasters of course, but by time I learned to be creative. I was lucky to have grocery stores that sold Turkish cooking ingredients around. Today, I am still enjoying cooking different types of food.