Friday, May 30, 2008

Potato Stew with Beef (Etli Patates Yahnisi)

Turkey has such a rich food culture that each region in Turkey has an astonishing variety of foods. Yahni is one of them. It is prepared in different ways based on the region. In some areas, Yahni is made with lamb and shallots, whereas in some regions it is made with chicken or beef and onions/shallots. The versatility of this dish makes it so easy to prepare. Instead of potatoes, you could use chickpeas or you could replace beef with chicken. Some people add carrots and other vegetables to it. Either way, it will taste wonderful. If you are a bread lover, dipping your bread into the Yahni juice will satisfy your palate.

1 lb cubed beef (stew meat preferred)
2 large potatoes (cubed)
½ of small yellow onion (sliced)
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 cups water

Sautee the beef cubes for 3-4 minutes in the heated olive oil. Add the onions and sautee 2-3 more minutes. Add the potato cubes and mix together. Dissolve the tomato paste in the water and pour over the potatoes and meat. Add the salt and black pepper and mix again. Cook covered on medium heat until the water starts to boil. Once it starts to boil, bring the heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve hot.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Broiled/Grilled Halibut (Izgara Pisi Balık)

I should give credit to my uncle whom I learned how to cook this fish. He is also in favor of cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients. His main principle has been to cook delicious food in little time. The preparation of this dish is very simple and involves very few ingredients, but it tastes great and is very healthy. Because of the quick preparation and cooking time, this dish is perfect for a weeknight dinner and very convenient for working folks.

2 halibut steaks
2 tbsp olive oil
1 juicy lemon
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp paprika

Heat the broiler or an outdoor grill. Sprinkle the salt, black pepper and the paprika on both sides of the halibut steaks. Drizzle olive oil and squeeze the lemon on both sides of the fish. Broil for 10-15 minutes for each side on the broiler and enjoy with rice and vegetables.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Asparagus with Mushrooms (Mantarlı Kuşkonmaz)

1 bunch green asparagus
¾ lb white cap mushrooms
1 medium yellow onion
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
¼ cup water

Discard the hard portion of the asparagus. Cut the asparagus in half. Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the asparagus and sautee for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, onions, salt, peppers (ground black & red flakes) and oregano and mix. Sautee one more minute and add the water. Cook for another 4-5 minutes uncovered and serve. This can be served hot or cold.

Eating Out vs. Eating at Home; Which is the Winner?

Eating out vs. eating at home has been on my mind as a topic I could write about and share on my blog. I finally got a chance to write about this after coming back from a trip where I had to consume restaurant food for a few days in a row. Anytime I come back from a vacation/trip, I feel unhealthy and less energetic. I always relate this to the food I eat.

In today’s society, eating out at a restaurant is very quick and convenient. Let’s be honest, the food also tastes really good. If it is a sit down restaurant, a server waits on you and all you do is select your meal and eat. You do not have to worry about cooking or washing dishes. However, many people overlook the disadvantages of eating out. Eating out everyday can be very unhealthy even if the consumed food is not fast food. Restaurants use good amounts of butter and bad quality oil in food. We consumers do not have much control over the ingredients used in the meal at a restaurant. Remember, restaurants exist for business, so they will do everything they can to increase their profit which means spending less while making more money. This is just a fact.

My husband and I used to eat out very often. We do not go to fast food restaurants; as a matter of fact, it has been years since we’ve been to a McDonald’s or a Pizza Hut or any other similar fast food places. Even though we try to go to “healthy” and “good” restaurants, still, we have no control of what is in the food and we tend to eat more since the portions are so big. I believe that is one of the biggest contributors of obesity in the U.S. For health reasons, about six months ago, we decided to reduce eating out. Even though we were not trying to lose weight, we both had some noticeable weight loss as a result of this decision. No matter how much we eat at home and I do have a good appetite, we do not gain weight. We still eat out now and then, not to deprive ourselves of the pleasure of different ethnic foods and the convenience, however within limit.

In addition, one really should be very cautious about restaurant cleanliness, i.e. employees’ hand washing habits (or not washing habits!). Many of us prefer to ignore this even though we all know many restaurants do not handle food properly. When I grab lunch from somewhere and the food is prepared in front of me, I try not to watch the person who is preparing my food. You know those supposed to be white rags used in restaurants that are literally covered in dirt and thus do not look white anymore… well, they are used to wipe off dirty surfaces, hands, plates and knives that are used to cut your sandwich. No wonder why the rags do not maintain their original white color. I am just disgusted with that and the first time I saw it I almost got sick.

After seeing and hearing stuff about some restaurants (presence of cockroaches, mice and etc.), I developed the habit of looking at the local health department restaurant inspection reports. If you go to your local health department website, you will see the violations of all restaurants in your area posted. The first time I looked at the local health department inspection report, it was very disappointing to see some of my favorite restaurants were cited for violations. Even high end restaurants are not excluded from violations. Of course, the health department only cites what it sees during its visit; who knows what else occurs during times when no one is present.

When I was in college, one summer I worked as a server at a country club restaurant where members paid tens of thousands of dollars per year to play golf and dine. That was the first eye opening experience that I had with restaurants where I witnessed some yucky stuff going on in the kitchen. I was naïve to think that just because the members paid so much money, they would get cleaner food. I vividly remember my observation of the head waitress one day. The chef prepared a sensational looking fried calamari plate and set it on the shelf ready to be served to a customer. The head waitress was passing by, so she reached the plate of calamari, grabbed a few with her hands, shoved them in her mouth, licked her fingers and on her way back, she repeated the same process; grabbed some more calamari, threw them in her mouth and licked her fingers again before she took the calamari plate to the customer (I was also wondering if the customer was going to have enough calamari left on the plate!). I have seen and heard worse things, but I will not elaborate anymore on this topic, but I am sure you got my point.

Cooking at home can be time consuming; however, it allows you to select and use the freshest ingredients. Especially, if you select good quality ingredients, the food will be delicious. Most restaurants do not serve good quality meat, poultry and vegetables. If you don’t seem to find time and/or you don’t feel like cooking during the week, it may pay off to prepare a few dishes over the weekend and eat them during the week. Although, I am not a fan of leftovers, it is much cleaner and healthier than eating out.

As a conclusion, I believe that eating at home wins in every aspect when you compare to eating out.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Stuffed Bulgur Shells (İçli Köfte)

I cannot describe how much I love içli köfte. It is just out of this world! Yes, it is time consuming, but it is well worth it. In Turkey, ladies get together to make it so that it doesn't take long to make. If you have friends or neighbors who also enjoy cooking, it can be a fun activity together.

If you do not feel like making the shells or if you find the shells are being stubborn and not working with you, there is a quick and easy option. You can spread half of the shell mixture on a greased pyrex dish, spread the stuffing on top and cover with the other half of the mixture pressing it with your hands. Drizzle some olive oil on top and bake at 350º until golden brown. Cut in pieces and serve warm. Most of the time, I choose the easy way to make the içli köfte, however, the stuffed shells look pleasing to the eye and more fun to eat.

For the Shell Mixture:

3 cups bulgur (finely grounded)
2 medium boiled potatoes
1 cup semolina
4 tbsp flour
2 tbsp red pepper paste
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp salt

1 cup oil for frying (or as much as it takes)

For the Stuffing:

1 lb ground beef (96% lean)
1 large onion (chopped finely)
3-4 cloves garlic
¾ cup parsley (chopped finely)
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp cumin
½ tsp black ground pepper

To Prepare the Stuffing:

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the ground beef and cook until the beef is no longer pink. Add the onions and garlic and sautee until onions are transparent. Add the salt, cumin, black pepper and the chopped parsley and mix well. Remove from heat and set aside. You can always prepare the stuffing ahead of time.

To Prepare the Shell:

Soak the bulgur in warm water in a large bowl and cover. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Mash the boiled potatoes in a separate bowl. Add all the shell mixture ingredients including the potatoes and start kneading. Have a small bowl of water handy, because you will need to dip your hands in the water while kneading. Keep kneading for 15-20 minutes (longer if necessary) until all the ingredients are mixed well and the shell mixture is soft enough to give a shape.

Below is a picture of how the end result of the shell mixture should look like.

When the shell mixture is ready, follow the instructions below to create the köftes. Below is a picture of how each step should look like:

1. Take an egg sized piece and put it in your left palm. Make sure your hand is dipped in water before starting to shape the shells.

2. Wet your right index finger and stick it into the egg sized piece and make a hole in the shell.

3. Make a half circular movement clockwise and counter clockwise with your index finger into the shell while it is still on your left palm to create a thin shell (as thin as possible).

4. Fill the shell with stuffing and close gently.

5. The final shell should look smooth and intact. Make sure to wet your hands so that you can smooth the shell from the outside after you close it.

While you are working with the shells, keep the remaining mixture covered with a damp cloth. As the mixture tends to dry out, make sure you roll each ball in your hands (make sure your hands are dipped in water) before shaping the shells.

Heat the oil in a large pan. When the oil is ready, add the stuffed shells and fry both sides until they take a brownish color as shown in the picture below.

Another version of these shells are boiled in water instead of being fried. However, that is only done with shell mixture that contains ground meat instead of potatoes. If you try to boil shells that are made with potatoes, the shells will dissolve in the water and you will have a soup instead of stuffed shells! The boiled shells are then served with olive oil, crushed garlic and red pepper paste mixture. You can dip the stuffed shells in the mixture and enjoy with Mediterranean salad, plain yogurt or cacık.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mediterranean Baked Chicken (Akdeniz Stili Fırında Tavuk)

This is a dish I created on the fly. I had some chicken breasts that could not sit in the refrigerator any longer and I was busy; not feeling like cooking. So, I just threw them in a pan and added the ingredients and popped in the oven. This took less than 5 minutes to prepare.

6 chicken breasts
½ cup red pepper paste, eggplant & garlic mixture (available at Mediterranean stores)
1 cup water
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp dried mint
1 tbsp olive oil

Rub chicken breasts with sea salt on both sides and place in a pan or Pyrex dish. Dissolve red pepper paste, eggplant & garlic mixture in the water and pour over the chicken breasts. Drizzle olive oil on top and add the dried mint.

Bake at 350º covered for 30 minutes. Cook another 30 minutes uncovered so the water inside evaporates. Enjoy with rice pilaf and sliced fresh vegetables.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Eggs with Tomatoes & Green Peppers (Menemen)

A favorite in Turkish breakfasts, menemen is a delicious dish. Menemen always reminds me the lovely, loud and big Sunday family breakfasts we used to have with my family. Coupled with the aroma of the warm Turkish bread just purchased from the local bakery and freshly brewed Turkish tea is just heavenly. Turkish breakfast entails a rich variety of foods that would go perfectly with menemen such as white cheese (similar to feta), boreks, green or/and black olives, sliced fresh cucumbers & tomatoes and different types of jams and etc.

4 large eggs
1 long green pepper or cubanelle pepper (sliced thin)
3 small ripe tomatoes (peeled & diced)
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of salt

Sautee the green peppers in olive oil in a non-stick pan for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes. Cover the pan so that the juices of the tomatoes stay in the pan. Stir occasionally. In five minutes, the tomatoes should be soft. Separately, beat the eggs in a bowl with some salt. You can adjust the salt to your liking. Then slowly pour the beaten eggs in the pan with the tomatoes and peppers and stir gently until the eggs get mixed with the tomatoes and peppers. Put heat on low and cover for a few minutes until the texture of the eggs on top should look soft. Sprinkle some freshly ground black pepper and enjoy for breakfast.

Menemen (eggs With Tomatoes & Green Peppers) on Foodista

Friday, May 9, 2008

Macaroni with Ground Beef (Kıymalı Makarna)

1 lb macaroni
1 lb ground beef (96% lean)
1 large onion (chopped finely)
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
¾ cup water

For boiling Macaroni:

4-6 quarts water
1 tsp salt
½ tsp oil (canola or olive oil)

Heat the water in a large pot until it boils. Add macaroni to the boiling water. Add salt to bring out the flavor of the macaroni and ½ tsp of oil so that the macaroni does not stick together. Boil for 9-10 minutes on high heat. Do not over cook.

While the macaroni is boiling, heat olive oil in a large pan on medium heat and add ground beef. Stir occasionally, but try not to separate the ground beef too much so that it stays in small clusters. The taste of the ground beef comes out nicely when it is in clusters rather than in small particles. Add the chopped onions and sautee for 3-4 minutes. Add the 1 tsp of the salt, the black pepper. Dissolve the tomato paste in the water and add to the ground beef and stir. Cook for a few minutes.

Drain the macaroni and add to the ground beef and mix well. Be careful not to let the macaroni sit too long outside its water. I usually add the macaroni to the sauce as soon as I remove it from the heat. Add the rest of the salt and cook for a couple minutes.You can either stir in the parsley or you could just sprinkle parsley on top. Enjoy this delicious meal with plain yogurt and your favorite salad.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Beef with Eggs (Yumurtalı Kuşbaşı)

1 lb sirloin steak
4 eggs
1 tbsp canola oil
½ cup chopped parsley
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper

Mix the chopped parsley with the eggs. Add ½ tsp salt & the ground pepper. Mix well. Cut the sirloin steak in bite sized pieces. Place the meat in a skillet and cook under medium heat until all the blood drains out of the meat. Drain the meat. Put the oil in a clean skillet. Once it warms, add the half cooked meat and cook for a few minutes. Add the egg mixture and keep mixing until the eggs are done. This dish can be a quick lunch or dinner eaten either with pilaf, pasta or inside bread as a sandwich.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Rice Pilaf with Chickpeas (Nohutlu Pilav)

3 cups short grain rice
1 cup chickpeas (soaked overnight)
4 cups chicken broth (home made)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil

Boil the soaked chickpeas until tender (about 45 minutes). Drain. Wash rice and drain. Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the chickpeas and sautee in the oil for 5-6 minutes. Add the rice and stir for two minutes. Add the chicken broth and the salt. If you are using store bought chicken broth, it may be salty and adding 1 tsp of salt may cause the rice to be too salty. Check broth for saltiness.

To Make the Broth:

1 whole chicken or 4 chicken breasts
Water (enough to cover chicken)
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper

Place the chicken in a pot and add the salt and pepper. If you wish, you may add other kinds of spices, but for this simple rice, I prefer a simple broth. Boil chicken until tender. Remove chicken and use the broth anyway you desire.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Fried Fish Fillets (Kızarmış Balık)

2 lbs cod fillets (or any other fish fillets)
3/4 cup flour (whole wheat)
6 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp salt or as much as it takes for all the fillets
2 tbsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp marjoram

Wash and dry fish fillets. Sprinkle salt, pepper and marjoram on both sides of the fillets. Spread the flour in a plate. Place each fillet in the flour plate on both sides to make sure they are covered with flour. Heat olive oil 2 tbsp at a time in a large skillet. For each batch, use 2 tbsp of olive oil. I ended up with 3 batches so I used 6 tbsp of olive oil in total. When the oil is hot, put the fish in the skillet. Do not crowd. Put 3-4 fillets at a time if you are using a large skillet. Turn when the bottom of the fish takes a golden brown color. Cook until the other side is also golden brown. Serve with lemon wedges.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Arugula Salad with Avocados (Avokadolu Roka Salatası)

This healthy and nutritious salad has very simple ingredients and does not take much time to make. This salad is our household favorite in Turkey. In addition to being tasty, arugula is rich in calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C.

½ bunch arugula (chopped)
2 large avocados (diced)
4 small firm tomatoes (chopped)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon
1 tsp salt
½ tsp sumac (optional)

After washing the arugula carefully, drain. Place in a large bowl. Add the avocados, the chopped tomatoes and the sumac. When you dice the avocados, make sure to squeeze some lemon juice on them so that they do not get brownish. Just before serving add the dressing so that the salad doesn’t get soggy. When ready for the dressing, sprinkle the salt and drizzle the olive oil. As a last step, squeeze the lemon and toss.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Grilled Meatballs (Izgara Köfte)

1 lb ground beef (96% lean)
1 small onion chopped finely
2 large cloves of garlic
1/6 cup bread crumbs
3/4 cup parsley chopped finely
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients for a few minutes to make sure everything mixes together well. Create a small ball from the meat mixture and give an oval shape. Place in the refrigerator over night or for a few hours. If you will grill outside, grill both sides until the outside of the meat is darkened. You may also broil the köftes in the oven. Place under broiler for 5-6 minutes on each side or until outside is darkened. This popular dish and Turkish fries complement each other perfectly.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Asparagus with Tomatoes (Domatesli Kuşkonmaz)

1 bunch green asparagus
5 ripe small tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano

Cut and discard the hard part of the asparagus. Cut in half. Put olive oil in a pan and sautee the asparagus for 2-3 minutes. Quarter the tomatoes and add to the asparagus. Add the oregano and the salt. Mix and cover pan. Allow to cook under low heat for 10 minutes. This is a perfect spring side dish.

Turkish Fries (Kızarmış Patates)

I do not know a single person who does not like fried potatoes. If you are tired of the commercial french fries that is cooked in God knows what kind of oil, this is an excellent alternative. It is even more delicious. Use either canola or olive oil for frying potatoes as they are known to be the healthiest cooking oils available. As I mentioned before, I cook almost everything with olive oil. For frying, I prefer canola oil. The reason for that is because both canola oil and olive oil contain high amounts of monounsaturated fats which help in reducing the LDL (bad) cholesterol
and increasing the HDL (good) cholesterol.

5 small yellow potatoes
1 cup canola oil
2 tsp salt

Heat the oil in a pan. Peel potatoes completely. Cut lengthwise in half. Slice each half piece diagonally. Add salt to the sliced potatoes and mix so that the salt gets in every single piece of the potatoes. Throw half the potatoes in the oil. Make sure it is hot enough before throwing the potatoes in the pan. Once the color gets golden brown and the potatoes are still soft, turn the potatoes over to the other side. Once both sides are golden brown, remove from oil and place in a drainer that has paper towel in it, so it would absorb all the oil. Add the second batch in the oil and fry until golden brown on both sides. Serve warm.