Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Orange Cake (Portakallı Kek)

This cake reminds me of my childhood. I grew up with orange and lemon cakes since I used to live in part of Turkey where citrus trees grow. The Mediterranean region is blessed with citrus fruit. Fields are filled with lemons, oranges, clementines, mandarins and grapefruit trees. There is an abundance of citrus fruit, so they are widely used in desserts, salads and other dishes.

When I was growing up, during the citrus season (usually winter months), our home always had lots of citrus fruit and none of it was ever purchased. Due to the generosity of relatives, family friends and acquaintance who own citrus farms or citrus trees, we never had to purchase them. Now, my father has his own citrus farm which he enjoys taking care of as a hobby, so now we have more citrus fruit than we even want. In fact, he has a few orange trees that last until the summer, so every year when I go home, they save a tree full of juicy oranges so I can enjoy them from the tree. I know that’s really sweet.

Back to the cake…This cake is very simple and common, which does not require elaborate ingredients. To me, the simpler, the tastier. Sometimes, I do not enjoy foods that have way too many ingredients and different flavors which cause my palates to be confused. Usually, I enjoy one flavor without the interruption of other flavors. Since I am fan of oranges, I like the hint of orange flavor that comes out of the cake. The cake is not too sweet, but flavorful. I wanted to attain the exact flavor I enjoyed when I ate this, God knows how many years ago, at home in Turkey. I still remember flavors of orange and lemon cakes I had when I was a child!

It has been almost two years since I have baked a cake, since I try not to bake or make desserts often. It is usually too much for me and my husband and we end up eating it all. Not so much for weight gain (partially), but for health reasons. However, I did find a solution. When I make desserts or cakes, I take most of it to my office or send to my husband’s office so we could share with our colleagues. I like sharing food, so there are times when I bake things only for the office (not just for experiment). Since I baked this cake 7 times in the past couple weeks, I sent almost all of these cakes to my husband’s office and some to my office. As a result, a coworker of mine offered to bring me oranges from his orange tree in front of his house! I gratefully accepted and the next day he came with a bag full of oranges so I could bake more cake! I baked my last version of the cake with these natural oranges which turned out really good.

The first cake I baked, was too dry, but came out of the cake mold perfectly. The second time, I improved the flavor tremendously, but the cake was cracking and it didn’t come out of the pan nicely. The third time, I improved the flavor even more, but the top of the cake was cracking. Well, during my next try, I covered it with aluminum foil for the first 15 minutes of baking, which prevented it from cracking. However, it still did not come out of the cake mold nicely. Every time it had to break slightly, in one place or another. So, finally, I am happy to say that last night, this cake came out really good with the help of a tip from my mom. The trick was that, instead of greasing the cake mold with liquid oil, I greased it with unsalted butter, with a sprinkle of flour on the greased pan and baked it at lower heat than usual. Apparently, this is a known tip for bakers. Obviously, I have a lot of room for improvement in baking.

I did not want to post this cake until I perfected it in every way. Now, here it is. Enjoy!

2 cups flour
1.5 cup sugar
1/2 cup yogurt
1/2 cup canola oil (or vegetable oil)
3 eggs
1 large orange (both the zest and the juice to be used)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract

Unsalted butter for greasing the cake pan
¼ tsp of flour to sprinkle on greased cake pan

Note: All ingredients need to be at room temperature. To hinder the cake from cracking around the ring, cover with aluminum foil only for the first 15 minutes of baking time.

Using a Stand Mixer:

Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Place the egg whites in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Attach the wire whip to the beater shaft of the mixer. Using the wire whip of the mixer beat the egg whites starting with the lowest speed and gradually increasing the speed to 8. Once a foamy texture is attained, place the foamy egg in a separate bowl.

Grate the orange and put the zest aside. Squeeze the orange and set aside. In the mixer bowl, place the egg yolks, sugar, orange juice, orange zest, yogurt, vanilla extract and oil. Whip together at speed 8; again starting at the lowest speed and increasing it gradually.

Remove the wire whip attachment from the mixer and attach the flat beater (Do this after unplugging the stand mixer as the instructions of the mixer suggest). Add the foamy egg white to the bowl. Sift the flour and baking soda in a separate bowl and add them to the wet ingredients in the bowl of the mixer. Mix together at speed 4 for a few minutes until all the ingredients are incorporated and you have a smooth batter. In case some of the flour stays around the mixing bowl, scrape them down using a spatula. Make sure your mixer is off when you are doing this.


In a deep bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are foamy. Set aside. On another large deep bowl, put the egg yolks, sugar, orange juice, yogurt, oil, vanilla extract and orange zest and whisk together until all the ingredients are integrated. Add the egg white foam the rest of wet ingredients. Sift flour and baking soda and add to the wet ingredients. Mix all the ingredients until you attain a smooth batter.

Set oven heat at 325ºF. Grease a cake mold with unsalted butter. Sprinkle a little flour on the greased pan or cake mold. Pour the cake batter in the cake mold. When the oven is ready, place in the middle rack and bake for 50 minutes. To check whether the cake is baked well or not, insert a toothpick in the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean, that means your cake is ready, if it comes out with batter, that means it still needs baking.

When you remove the cake from the oven, let it rest for about 15 minutes before taking the cake out of the cake mold.

Enjoy with a hot tea or coffee.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ispanaklı Sac Böreği (Borek with Spinach on Griddle)

Another type of borek that is unique to Iskenderun/Hatay region is the Spinach Borek on a convex griddle. This version (with spinach) is more widespread in this region. However, nowadays potato, zucchini and meat versions are frequently prepared on sac (convex griddle). To reiterate, even though Turkey is a small country compared to the United States, Turkish food is very heterogeneous. There are so many foods that are unique to only one city or one region. For instance, some cities in Hatay province may not recognize this borek because of its specialty specifically for one small area. Common Turkish cuisine may be prepared and consumed all over Turkey, but sometimes with different versions.

I have made Patatesli Sac Böreği (Borek with Potatoes) previously which was posted on my blog. This recipe is almost the same. I used wheat flour for the potato borek, here I am using regular white flour. Of course the fillings are different too, but the process is the same. Since I do not have a convex griddle, I used a regular non-stick pan.

It may look very time consuming to make these boreks, but believe me it does not take much time to prepare the borek, especially if you prepare the filling the day before. The day you cook the boreks, all you have to do is prepare the dough. If you have a stand mixer, that will take you less than 4 minutes. The only disadvantage is that you have to constantly watch the boreks while cooking so that they do not burn and you do not set your fire alarm.

I am proud to say that both the spinach and the green onions were from our local farmer’s market. They were so fresh. I actually took the previous recipe of 'Spinach Saute' and spiced it up a little bit before I used it as a filling for these boreks.

Here is the recipe with illustrations.

For the Stuffing:

2 bunches of spinach
7 large green onions (chopped) (or 1 medium white or yellow onion)
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove (chopped finely)
3 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp paprika
1 tsp salt

For the Dough:

4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 ¾ of cups water

For Drizzling During Cooking:

1/3 cup olive oil

Preparation of Stuffing:

Wash the spinach thoroughly. In a large pot, boil water and add the spinach in the boiled water for 2 minutes. Do not keep them in the boiled water longer as their texture will become mushy. Immediately run the spinach under cold water in order to stop the cooking process. Create small balls from the spinach and give them a nice squeeze to remove the excess water in the spinach. Chop each spinach ball coarsely and with your hands, separate the spinach leaves from each other as sticking together will hinder the salt and spices to get inside the spinach.

Heat olive oil in a large pan. Add onions and garlic and sauté for 2-4 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add the spinach to the onions. Add the rest of the ingredients for the filling and sauté for 5-6 minutes. Make sure the salt and pepper are distributed evenly in the spinach.

Dough Preparation:

Using a Stand Mixer:

If you are using a mixer, place the flour and the salt in the bowl of the mixer. Attach the dough hook to the beater shaft which comes with your mixer. Start with the lowest speed and start pouring water gradually from the pouring chute. Increase the speed to 2 and then to 4 and mix for about 2-3 minutes until the dough is soft and sticky. Do not forget to add the 1 ¾ cup of water slowly to the dough. The dough will stick to your hands when it is finished (in about 2-3 minutes) but that is okay. Cover the bowl that has dough in it with plastic wrap and let it sit for about 20 minutes.

Kneading with Hands:

If you are kneading with your hands, place the flour and salt in a large shallow bowl. Keep a bowl of water handy since you will be dipping your hands in the water quite often. Add some water to the flour to start the dough making process. Keep adding water slowly and start kneading. Keep kneading and keep dipping your hands in the water while kneading. Continue kneading until the dough becomes soft. Place in a bowl and let it sit for 20 minutes.

For Cooking:

Heat a large non-stick pan. Keep the 1/3 cup olive oil handy in a bowl with a small spoon. Take a piece of dough in the size of your fist and make ball.

Add a little olive oil to the ball and with your hand flatten the dough a little.

Keep the dough in your left hand and place a spoonful stuffing inside.

Close the stuffing with the dough by pulling the dough from each side and joining at the center.

Add a little more olive oil to the ball (this is left to your judgment) and smoothen the ball with your hands.

Drizzle some olive oil in the heated non-stick pan. Place the stuffed ball at the center of the non-stick pan and start pressing with your fingers from the center to the outer side of the ball until you have a large disk of dough with the stuffing inside.

This will allow the stuffing inside the dough ball to be distributed evenly on every side of the dough disk. You will have some tears and broken dough here and there but do not worry that happens when you first try this.

Cook each side until the color turns golden brown. You may keep turning back and forth until you reach the desired color.

Enjoy with Turkish tea as an afternoon snack or with yogurt and any kind of salad for a lunch or dinner.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Spinach Sauté (Sotelenmiş Ispanak)

The main two ingredients for this simple and nutritious dish is from our local farmer’s market. This dish can be eaten with pasta, rice or even potatoes. You may also use it for a filling in böreks (Pastries filled with spinach, cheese or meat). It’s light and can be served for lunch or dinner or as a side dish.

Thousands of years ago, spinach was used for medicinal purposes. Spinach is known for improving blood quality, restoring energy and increasing vitality. This dark green leaf vegetable is an excellent source of iron and lutein; a type of carotine which is beneficial for good eye sight and preventing eye related diseases. Of course with its dark leaves, it is a wonderful protector against various cancers. Many other health benefits exist for spinach but I will not dwell into that here as it would take a very long post just to describe the benefits of the spinach.

2 bunches of spinach
7 large green onions (chopped)
½ tsp red pepper flakes
3 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt

Wash the spinach thoroughly. In a large pot, boil water and add the spinach in the boiled water for 2 minutes. Do not keep them in the boiled water longer as their texture will become mushy. Immediately run the spinach under cold water in order to stop the cooking process. Create small balls from the spinach and give them a nice squeeze to remove the excess water in the spinach. Chop each spinach ball coarsely and with your hands, separate the spinach leaves from each other as sticking together will hinder the salt and spices to get inside the spinach.

Heat olive oil in a large pan. Add onions and sauté for 2-4 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Add the spinach to the onions. Add the rest of the ingredients and sauté for 5-6 minutes. Make sure the salt and pepper are distributed evenly in the spinach.

Enjoy with rice or bulgur pilafs or any kind of pasta. Also, this can be used as filling for any type of börek.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Bulgur Pilaf with Ground Chicken

Bulgur pilafs can be prepared in numerous ways in Turkey. This pilaf includes both chicken and vegetables. Traditionally, Turkish pilafs are made with either lentils, chickpeas, vermicelli, orzo pasta, vegetables, lamb or beef. The chicken worked out perfectly in the pilaf, however, if you prefer, you may substitute with beef or lamb. I actually liked the chicken in the pilaf as it is lighter than beef.

This recipe was given to me by my sister who created this dish for a Christmas party. I was not sure how the pilaf would turn out with the cranberries and the lemon juice, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how the combination of flavors turned out. In Turkish cuisine, currants and raisins are widely used, especially in pilafs, so the cranberries were not foreign in the pilaf. The lemon juice also provided a mysterious pleasant taste that left you wondering where it is coming from. This pilaf can be eaten as a meal by itself as it includes grains, vegetables and meat all in one dish.

After my husband ate this pilaf, he began teasing me that my sisters are naturally good cooks and it must be something running in the family. I think he is right as both my sisters enjoy cooking as a hobby and every once in a while contribute to my blog by either giving me recipes or ideas. It sounds like, only if we were all together, we could start a restaurant!

2 ½ cups bulgur (medium grind)
1 ½ lb ground chicken
1 yellow onion (chopped)-optional
1 green bell pepper (diced)
2 ripe tomatoes (peeled and diced)
½ cup dried cranberries (tart & sweetened)
1/3 cup brown lentils
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
5 cups of chicken broth or water
2 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper

In a large pot, heat olive oil and place the chicken. Cook until the chicken is cooked or takes a whitish color; stirring occasionally. Add onions and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add lentils and sauté approximately 5 minutes. Add cranberries, green peppers and tomatoes. Squeeze the lemon on top and sauté another 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and let it boil. Add the bulgur, the salt and the black pepper and cook covered on medium heat for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 15-20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed in the bulgur.

Decorate with pickled small peppers, parsley and onion. Serve warm.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Red Lentil Soup (Kırmızı Mercimek Çorbası)

First, let me say that, in general, I am not a big fan of soups. However, Turkish Red Lentil Soup was my childhood favorite. Today, it is still my favorite. This remarkable soup was so warming and comforting in the cold days of winter. That is why I thought this is a perfect time to share this warming recipe since we are in the winter season currently. Although, I better get all my favorite winter recipes going since we only have a couple months of winter in Houston.

Red lentil soup is a Turkish favorite and served in most restaurants. Most households in Turkey consume this soup. This is another simple, yet delicious recipe.

The main ingredient, red lentils have a delicious nutty and hearty flavor which makes this soup so delectable, not to mention their (or lentils in general) health benefits which include but not limited to managing blood sugar disorders due to their inclusion of high fiber and lower cholesterol. Red lentils are a good source of protein, dietary fiber and iron similar to beans.

2 cups red lentils
1 medium onion (chopped finely)
2 tbsp canola oil
3 tsp salt
1 tbsp tomato paste
2.5 cups chicken broth
8 cups water
1 tsp oregano (optional)
¼ tsp paprika (optional)
Lemon or lime wedges

Run the red lentils under cold water and wash thoroughly. Heat the oil and add the chopped onions. Sauté for 3-5 minutes and add the red lentils. Mix the ingredients together for approximately 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken broth, water and tomato paste. Give it a stir. Add salt (adjust to your liking) and cook covered under medium heat. When the water starts to boil, turn the heat to low and cook for about 45 minutes to an hour until the red lentils are soft. Sprinkle with oregano and paprika. You may choose to squeeze some lemon before eating. Serve hot.

You may also choose to put the soup in the blender or food processor after it is cooked to puree the ingredients. I prefer to feel the texture of the lentils so I do not choose that method.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Fake Chicken Breast Pudding (Yalancı Tavuk Göğsü)

Happy New Year! Let’s start the New Year with a sweet dessert recipe so that 2009 will be sweet; full of sweet things, sweet people, sweet memories…and etc.

As the name suggests “Yalancı Tavuk Göğsü” (Fake Chicken Breast) is fake, meaning no chicken is employed in the recipe. The original recipe (Tavuk Göğsü) which goes back to a history of a couple thousands of years, includes chicken breasts. The chicken is shredded and pounded until the chicken breasts are in thread like pieces. I have never eaten this dessert with chicken. This version (without chicken) is more popular.

I got this recipe from my sister who had tried it herself recently and recommended it.

4.5 cups milk
1 cup flour
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
½ cup shredded coconut

Melt the butter and add the flour. Stir constantly. Once the butter and flour are integrated, add the sugar and continue to stir. Add the milk and the vanilla extract while still stirring. In order to avoid lumps forming in the milk keep stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the mixture thickens. Pour in a serving dish and sprinkle coconut on top. Refrigerate and serve cold.

Note: You may also use fruit such as bananas or strawberries or other types of nuts to decorate the top of the pudding.

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