Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Borek with Spicy Cheese (Çökelek Böreği)

Now that I have posted the recipe for çökelek, finally I am able to post this börek recipe. This is one of my favorite böreks. Börek is a type of pastry that is made out of yufka or phyllo dough and stuffed with meat, vegetables or cheese that goes back to the Ottoman Empire era. Börek can range in variety and style depending on the region. In the Hatay/Antakya region, there are other types of stuffed dough that are also called börek. Turkey is so rich in food culture that even regions within the same province may have different types of food and style of making them.

Back home, in afternoon tea gatherings, börek is a favorite snack served along with Turkish tea. It can also be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s perfect for any time of day.

1 package Yufka-thin dough (similar to phyllo dough only thicker-available in Mediterranean grocery stores)
2 Çökelek balls (see Çökelek recipe under Breakfast section of my blog)
4 eggs
¾ cup fresh parsley
1 small onion (finely chopped)
1 cup yogurt
¾ cup olive oil
1 ½ tsp salt

Crumble the çökelek and place in a large bowl. Add the onions, parsley, eggs, salt and only 3 tbsp of the olive oil. Mix well. In a separate small bowl, mix the yogurt and the rest of the olive oil. Grease a large Pyrex dish or a tray. Place one sheet of the yufka and dip into the yogurt & olive oil mixture and brush all over the yufka. Cover every part of the yufka with this mixture. Place another sheet and follow the same process. Use half of the yufkas (usually there are 5-6 of yufkas in a package) brushing them with the yogurt & olive oil mixture. Place the filling and spread evenly on the yufkas to cover the inside. Cover with another layer of the yufka and brush with the yogurt & oil mixture. Follow this process until all the yufkas are used up and fold toward the inner part of the pyrex dish if the yufkas have extra dough on the sides. This will not take long if you use the Turkish yufkas since each package has only 5-6. If you are not able to find yufka, you may use the phyllo dough which has many more thin sheets of dough.

Bake at 350º until the borek is golden brown.

Cool and cut in squares.

Serve at room temperature and enjoy with Turkish tea as a snack, lunch or dinner.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Moldy, Dried and Spiced Cheese (Küflü Çökelek)

Çökelek is a type of cheese made from yogurt in various parts of Turkey. This post will introduce the çökelek that is unique to the Hatay/Antakya (Antiochia) region in Southern Turkey on the Mediterranean. It is usually served at breakfast with a drizzle of olive oil or as a major ingredient in böreks (stuffed phyllo dough with meat or vegetables or cheese). Before the seasonings are added, it looks like cottage cheese.

I prefer to make yogurt (see my recipe) at home as I think there is a world of difference in taste when compared to mass produced commercial yogurt. One of those days my yogurt did not set, meaning the result was not yogurt but a mixture of milk and yogurt. When this occurred, I usually threw it away. I happened to speak to my mom that day and mentioned to her how my yogurt did not turn out right. She immediately suggested that I could make çökelek with it. I had never tried to make çökelek since I thought it was a labor intensive process and needs patience. One of my pet peeves is wasting food and I was not going to throw a whole gallon of half milk-half yogurt away. So, I followed her directions of boiling the half milk-half yogurt and draining the water. It is supposed to be drained in a cheese cloth for one day, but I did not have the patience, so I only drained it for one hour. After spicing it up, you are supposed to also dry the balls under the sun. Well, I did not do that either. They turned out quite good anyway.

I am a big fan of börek with çökelek. My husband loves çökelek for breakfast but I prefer it in böreks which goes perfectly with a cup of hot Turkish tea. In fact, I have that börek with çökelek recipe ready to be posted on my blog for so many months now, but I did not post it before posting the çökelek recipe itself. It wouldn’t be possible for people who are not familiar with çökelek to make börek with it as you cannot find this here in the States.

This time while making çökelek, I tried to follow the proper way and did drain the cheese for one day and waited a few days for it to dry even though traditionally, it should dry for months under the sun. It tastes great anyway. My next post will be the börek with çökelek recipe that has been waiting to be posted for months!

2 gallons milk or yogurt
1/3 cup yogurt (not necessary if making with yogurt)
2 tbsp red pepper paste
2-3 tbsp thyme
Salt (adjust to your taste)

If you choose to make this with milk, add the yogurt and bring to a boil on medium heat. If you make it with yogurt, just boil the yogurt on medium heat. When the milk-yogurt mixture or the yogurt boils, it will form into cheese curds and whey (the left over thin liquid after the cheese curds separate from milk or yogurt). The cheese curds will separate from whey. Drain this mixture and use the cheese curds in this recipe. I throw away the whey, however I think it contains great amounts of vitamins, proteins and minerals. I feel bad throwing it away, but I have not figured a way to use it in my cooking yet. Place a large cheese cloth in a colander and drain the small forms of cheese that is acquired from boiling the yogurt or the milk-yogurt mixture.

Cool for an hour since it will be too hot to handle. Gather the cheese cloth from all sides and tie on the top keeping the cheese inside. Try to squeeze as much as water as you can. Hang the cloth for one day as shown in the picture on the cupboard or somewhere where it can get rid of its juices. I hanged it on the handle of a cupboard and placed a large plate with paper towel in it underneath so that any water that may drip will drip on the plate without splashing around my kitchen.

When the cheese is drained after a day, place in a large bowl and add the red pepper paste, thyme and salt. Knead for a half hour or through a kitchen mixer until all the ingredients are integrated and smooth. With your hand, start creating small balls from the mixture twice as large as an egg. Place in a tray, cover with cheese cloth or any other thin cloth to protect from dust and let dry under sun for a few days until it accumulates mold on it. Do not be surprised when it becomes stinky as it is the case for moldy cheeses.

The proper way to do this is to age this cheese for months and months, but I am inpatient; I want it now. So, for me 1-3 days is more enough and most of the time I do not even dry it. Plus, I prefer çökelek when it’s fresh, before it is dried. Enjoy çökelek in breakfast with a drizzle of olive oil or in böreks which is my favorite. If you create moldy çökelek, before serving it, make sure to shave off the mold.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Vermicelli Chicken Soup (Şehriyeli Tavuk Çorbası)

1 cup cooked shredded chicken
2 quarts chicken broth
½ cup vermicelli
1 medium potato (diced)
4 small carrots (diced)
½ onion (chopped)
2 garlic cloves (chopped)
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the vermicelli and stir constantly until the vermicelli turns brown. It is very easy to burn it, so watch it closely. As soon as the vermicelli turns medium brown color, add onions, garlic, the potatoes and carrots and stir for 3-4 minutes. Add the chicken, broth, salt and pepper. Adjust the salt and pepper to your liking. Cook on medium heat until water starts to boil. Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. Garnish with parsley before serving.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Shrimp with Tomato Sauce (Domates Soslu Karides)

1 lb shrimp
1 head broccoli cut up in small pieces
1 tsp tomato paste
1/3 cup white wine
1 tsp dry parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground black pepper
Pinch of salt

Dissolve the tomato paste in the wine. Marinate the shrimp in wine-tomato paste mixture and some salt for a half hour. Heat olive oil in a large non-stick pan. Add the shrimp, sauté for one minute on each side and add the broccoli pieces. Add the pepper, dried parsley and salt and sauté until the shrimp is cooked (about 4-5 minutes). Be careful not to over cook the shrimp as it is very delicate. The broccoli will be crunchy rather than soft when this dish is finished.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yogurt with Cucumber (Cacık)

During a hot summer day, Cacık is the perfect refreshing cold appetizer or a side dish or even a dip. This is another dish that comes from the Ottoman Empire era. Cacık is made up from yogurt, cucumbers and some spices. Some prefer it with a drizzle of olive oil. My recipe is very simple and not very spicy. However, feel free to try new things by adding different ingredients. Instead of cucumbers, you may add spinach or carrots or even broccoli in the winter.

4 cups plain yogurt
2 small cucumbers (chopped finely)
2 cloves garlic (chopped finely)
1 tbsp dried mint
Pinch of salt

Place the yogurt in a large bowl. Add the chopped cucumbers, garlic and salt. Mix well. Sprinkle with dried mint before serving. Enjoy cold.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Baba Ghanoush (Babagannuc)

The main ingredient of this dish is eggplant. Eggplant is a purple and fleshy vegetable that was widely used in the cuisine of the Ottoman Empire. To this day, eggplant is one of the major vegetables used in Turkish cuisine, especially in the summer months. Eggplant is mainly used in the following Turkish dishes and appetizers: İmam Bayıldı, Karnıyarık, Babagannuc, Hünkar Beğendi, Dolma and etc. Creating a main dish out of this vegetable alone is possible in so many different ways. Eggplant is perfect for vegetarians as it can be cooked without meat in so many ways. In Turkey, we use small to medium sized eggplants, however here in the States you may only be able to find the large, fat eggplants which are not as tasty. I am lucky to live in Houston where I have absolutely no trouble finding the right sized eggplants as well as other hard to find ingredients. When I lived in the Northeast and the Midwest, it was more difficult to find many ingredients used in Turkish cooking including the right sized eggplants! Also, nowadays stores have green and white eggplants available which I am not very familiar with and have not tried them yet.

This particular dish (Babagannuc) can be made in various ways in different parts of Turkey and the Middle East. In other Middle Eastern countries and in some parts of Turkey, tahini(paste of ground sesame seeds) is added to the Babagannuc. I grew up with this particular recipe (without tahini) and I just love it! This dish will have your taste buds dancing.

6-7 medium eggplants
3 red bell peppers (optional-you may use only green peppers)
2 green pepper (cubanelle or long peppers preferred)
4-5 small tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic (crushed)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses or 2 juicy lemons
Pinch of salt
A few sprigs of flat leaf parsley

Heat your oven broiler. Wash the vegetables and dry them. Poke 3-4 small holes in the eggplants with a knife, so that when they are in the broiler, they do not explode. Arrange the vegetables in a large tray and place under the broiler. Broil the veggies until they are thoroughly cooked. Remove from the broiler and cool. Once the vegetables are cooled, peel and dice and place in a large bowl. There will be some juices from the vegetables in the tray that was in the broiler. I always add it back to the dish since I do not want to throw away all those vitamins and good taste! Chop the crushed garlic and add to the newly chopped vegetables. Sprinkle some salt. Add olive oil and the molasses or lemon juice. Mix well and adjust the salt based on your taste. Garnish with flat leaf parsley. Enjoy as an appetizer or light lunch with any kind of bread.

Note: When selecting the eggplants, do not purchase the huge oversized eggplants. Their seeds are way too large and not as tasty. I prefer to use the smaller eggplants which are much fresher and tastier. Originally, this recipe is done with green peppers, but I made a change this time and added mostly red bell pepper. You may do either one. Usually, lemon juice is used and if you like to try new things, you may want to try it with pomegranate molasses which can be found in Middle Eastern stores.