Friday, February 27, 2009

Broiled Flounder (Izgara Dil Balığı)

My uncle was the inspiration for the way I cooked this fish. He used to grill a whole flounder for us quite often and it used to turn out so flaky and moist. We always had a salad and fresh bread with it. Since I do not have space for an outdoor grill, as an alternative, I broil. The flesh of flounder is so soft and delicate; you have to pay extra attention when cooking. You may notice that I use the same or similar combination of ingredients (salt, pepper, paprika, olive oil and lemon juice) for marinating poultry, meat and fish. This combination works very well and produces a very Mediterranean taste. Observing my uncle’s grilling, I noticed he used this combination often and I loved the result.

When buying fish he always advised me to purchase wild fish rather than farm raised. Farm raised fish do not get the chance to swim around and eat food from nature. For that reason, they are given antibiotics and pesticides and who knows what else. I am not an expert on this subject, but I religiously follow my uncle’s advice on this. Some wild fish may have mercury, but we try to consume these kinds of fish less.

Another thing that my uncle taught me to pay attention while buying fish is freshness. He only purchased fish that was brought in the market that day and always advised me to do the same. It never occurred to me at that time, any of the information he was sharing would come in handy, but now I am very glad he taught me all these things. There are only a few fish types that I purchase previously frozen, meaning they were frozen before and thawed at the market.

Every week, I make sure to purchase at least one type of fish or seafood since it is so much healthier than meat. So every time I purchase fish, I ask the person behind the seafood counter at the supermarket about the day the fish came in. If the fish I am inquiring about did not come in that day, 95% of the time, I do not buy it. After getting used my questions, the people working behind the seafood counter at the market, graciously told me about the scheduled days for bringing fish to the market. This makes things so much easier!

In my household in Turkey, fish consumption is much higher than chicken or red meat as my father always preached us to eat more fish and less meat. He has a few fisherman acquaintances who inform him about their catches, so our fish at home is just out of the Mediterranean Sea! Grilling fish over wood fire is a favorite way of eating fish at our home, along with poaching and baking.

This particular fish was so large that I had to use a baklava tray for the fish when I cooked it. No serving plate would fit the fish. Add a salad and a glass of wine and you're good to go.

1 whole flounder
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp coarse sea salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp olive oil

Prepare a big oven tray. Put the fish inside the tray and rub with the ingredients. Rub half of each ingredient on each side of the fish.

Heat the oven broiler at 500º F. Put the tray on the second top rack and broil each side of the fish for 10 minutes. It may be challenging to turn the big fish once one side is cooked; you may need wide tools to turn it over without breaking it. Enjoy with salad and warm bread.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Winter Vegetable Stew (Kış Sebze Yemeği)

There are times when I crave very light vegetable dishes. This was one of those days when I had a few vegetables on hand and did not feel like cooking anything elaborative. I just wanted something light and easy. It is simple to make and very nutritious. In Turkey, many types of vegetables are mixed together to produce a nutritious and light meal. This is one of them.

½ head cauliflower (diced)
3 yellow medium zucchinis (diced)
2 small potatoes (diced)
3 carrots (diced)
3 medium tomatoes (peeled and diced)
½ cup frozen peas
1 large clove garlic (chopped finely)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp tomato paste
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 cup hot water
1 tsp salt

Heat olive oil. Sauté garlic for a minute and add potatoes, zucchinis, carrots and cauliflower. Sauté for 3-4 minutes and add tomatoes, peas, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Mix together and add the hot water. Cover and cook on medium heat until the water starts to boil. Turn the heat to low and cook for another 20 minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered for 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm with rice or bulgur pilaf.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Kale with Olive Oil (Zeytinyağlı Kıvırcık Lahana)

Kale, a dark green, leafy vegetable from the cabbage family has numerous nutritional benefits. In fact, kale is one of the most nutritious vegetables. It contains vitamin C, B6, carotenes, manganese, iron, dietary fiber, calcium, minerals and many other nutrients. This is another vegetable that is an excellent protector against cancer.

In Turkey, kale is mainly popular in the Black Sea region in Northern Turkey. In Northern Turkey, kale and collard greens are used for soups, sautés and for other types of dishes. I was not very familiar with kale as it was not cooked in the region I lived. I love taking advantage of this nutritious vegetable when I see it in supermarkets or the local farmer’s market. I found this particular kale at the local farmer’s market.

1 bunch kale
½ onion (chopped)
½ cup pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame seeds
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt (adjust to your taste)

Heat olive oil in a large pan. Add the onions and sauté for 2 minutes. Add pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, oregano and black pepper. Saute all the ingredients for about 3-4 minutes.

In the mean time, wash the kale and with your hands remove the leaves from the stalks. Discard the kale stalks. Give the kale leaves a coarse chop or just tear with your hands. Add to the pan. Cover the pan and as soon as the kale starts to lose its volume, mix it together with the rest of the ingredients. Add salt to your liking. Cook covered for 5-8 minutes. Enjoy warm with rice pilaf.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Ümit’s Hummus with Eggs (Ümit’in Yumurtalı Humusu)

Another version of the hummus is with eggs. My husband informed me that sometimes this is how his family makes hummus. It is very easy and tasty.

You may cut this in pizza-like slices and place between bread slices as a sandwich. That’s exactly what we did when we had extra hummus leftover and wanted a quick dinner. We placed one or two slices of the eggs with hummus between bread slices with the tomato and parsley garnishes. The homemade, pickled small peppers (home preserved) which came all the way from Turkey with me last summer are perfect match for such a sandwich. We placed the pickled small peppers in the sandwich. A small bowl of yogurt would also be a great complement to this. It was one of the most delicious meals I had ever eaten.

4 eggs
1-2 cups hummus
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp paprika or cayenne pepper
1 tomato for garnishing (cut in 8 piece wedges)
2-3 leaves of parsley for garnishing

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Add salt and black pepper and beat vigorously. Pour the eggs in the hot oil and do not tamper until the eggs cook. Take the omelet and place in a large round plate. Spread the hummus on the eggs starting from the center of the eggs towards the outer. You may cover all the eggs, however for picturing purposes I left the sides of the eggs exposed. Either way is fine.

Drizzle the one tbsp olive oil on top of the hummus. Sprinkle some paprika or cayenne pepper. Place the parsley leaves at the center and decorate with tomato wedges around the plate. Serve at room temperature.

Note: Last week, I accidentally posted this recipe for a time period of less than 15 hours. For those of you who already read it, sorry for the repetition!

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hummus (Humus)

One of the most famous Mediterranean foods is hummus. Hummus has become so popular in America, it is very accessible in regular supermarkets. It is sold already prepared in small tubs. I still think homemade hummus is the best. This dish can be a perfect appetizer or a nice lunch full of nutrients.

In my household in Turkey, hummus is rarely prepared for some reason. Maybe my mother does not like hummus much; I really don't know. Although, it is prepared and consumed all over Turkey. My husband’s family prepares it very frequently though. Therefore, my husband actually made this dish (his second time). I had never made hummus myself, as I was not a big fan, however I am very much liking it now. This was prepared on a cooking get together with friends mentioned in the previous post. Of course the whole thing was a collaborative effort, as I boiled the chickpeas and our friends peeled them. My hubby was the one who determined the ingredients and completely decorated it himself without my help (except the crackers). I think he has acquired better decoration skills than myself!

You can decorate hummus with tomatoes, with olives and various spices. It is all up to you. Depending on your taste, you may increase or decrease the amount of tahini. Some people like hummus with more tahini and some like it with less. As you are adding the tahini, taste the hummus until you acquire the right taste for your palates.

Note: You do not have to peel the chickpeas; they will still taste good and will be pureed smoothly even with the peel. I tried it recently with the peel after writing this recipe and it worked well. To my surprise, the hummus was very smooth even without peeling the chickpeas.

2 cups dried chickpeas
1 cup tahini (or ½ cup depending on how much you like tahini)
5-6 garlic cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
½ tsp paprika
9-10 black olives for garnishing
10-15 crackers for garnishing
2-3 sprigs fresh parsley
1/3 cup hot water

Soak the chickpeas overnight in a deep bowl full of water. The next day, pour the water out and wash the chickpeas. Place the chickpeas in a large pot and cover with water. Boil for about an hour or until the chickpeas are soft but not mushy. Run the chickpeas under water and cool. Peel the skins of the chickpeas (if you prefer). After boiling, the skin of the chickpeas will come out easily. All you have to do is take each chickpea and give it a gentle scrub between your thumb and forefinger. The skin will come off easily.

Put the chickpeas, the garlic and the salt in a food processor. Process until the mixture is pureed adding the hot water gradually in order to create the right texture. Pour the water from the feed tube. After the chickpeas are pureed add the tahini in the processor with the chickpeas. Once everything is integrated, spread the hummus in a large flat plate with a spatula. Drizzle olive oil on top by making a circular shape with the oil drizzle. Sprinkle some paprika and decorate with parsley and black olives. Place the crackers around the round plate and serve at room temperature. The beauty of this dish is that you may decorate it any way you like. There is no limit to the decoration.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Zeynep’s Stuffed Grape Leaves with Olive Oil (Zeynep’in Zeytinyağlı Yaprak Sarması)

During a cooking get together with friends a while back, we prepared various dishes. I could not resist publishing a few pictures of these foods. Usually, I do not get a chance to take pictures of the food when I have company, but since this was a cooking together activity, many pictures were taken. Here are a few.

I will start explaining the dishes made during this feast. I will use the 3rd picture as a reference. However, the 2nd picture is taken from the opposite side of the 3rd picture.

The ‘Roasted Chicken’ was rubbed with various dry spices, olive oil and lemon juice before it was roasted. I did not write down the recipe that day as I just wanted to just enjoy cooking. Sometimes I feel like cooking something without measuring. In that case, I do not publish the recipes until I make them with measurements.

To the left of the chicken is ‘Poğaça’ which is a savory pastry filled with white cheese (similar to feta) and parsley. These poğaças were made with yeast rather than baking powder. Usually there are two options in choosing the raising agent for poğaças. The ones with yeast turn out very soft and the ones with baking powder are a little firmer. Both taste great, but I prefer the soft ones. I have made these a few times and have not written the recipe yet, but it will be coming sometime.

Right above the poğaças is a ‘Steamed Asparagus and Brussels Sprout Salad’ dressed with salt, olive oil and lemon (very simple ingredients).

Next to the asparagus and brussels sprouts is İçli Köfte which is bulgur shells stuffed with meat and onion mixture. I have posted a recipe for içli köfte before. You have two choices when making the shell. You may add boiled and pureed potatoes to the bulgur or ground meat (this can be done in a food processor or grinding the ground beef three times in a meat grinder). These particular ones are made with grinding the meat three times in a meat grinder to make the shell. They turned out pretty decent.

Everyone had a shot at opening the shells. Both Selma and Zeynep actually did a good job even though it was their first time, except I think Selim created some interesting shapes to the shells. We knew which ones he made! I don’t even think my husband tried; he probably would have done worse! Opening a hole in the shells needs some experience and talent and I am not there yet either. The shells are supposed to be thin, however mine turn out to be thicker than I would like them to be. But I have made these only 3-4 times so far. I need to practice! They tasted similar to what my mother makes, so I was pleased. Once I manage to make the shells a little thinner, I’ll be happier, as this is simply my favorite food. There is a machine for it, but bringing it from home in my luggage will be very risky since I have seen how luggage is carelessly thrown in airports! It will be too heavy to carry on a carry on.

Next to the içli köfte is ‘Bulgur Pilaf with Chickpeas’ that is prepared with chicken broth instead of water.

Straight above the pilaf is 'Hummus’ which was made by my husband. A recipe for it will be coming next.

To the left of the hummus there is ‘Yalancı Dolma’ or ‘Zeytinyağlı Yaprak Sarması’ which was made by Zeynep. The recipe is being posted in the bottom of this post.

To the left of the ‘Zeytinyağlı Yaprak Sarması’ is a ‘Red Cabbage Salad’ which is made with lemon and olive oil dressing. This is a very tasty salad.

I had to reserve a separate picture for the ‘Baklava’ that we made. This is my favorite dessert. I enjoy making it and sharing it with others. A while ago, we made it with a friend so she could take it to her work for an occasion. She could not stop telling me how much praise it got and how she still hears about it. Did I mention that last year, in the company where I work, there was a dessert competition and my baklava won? I am humbled to receive so many compliments above and beyond usual about this baklava. However, the last time I made baklava, which was last week it did not turn out great for two reasons. For one, the market where I usually shop had run out of my favorite phyllo dough, so I had to choose another brand that I had not tried before. These phyllo sheets were thicker than usual and did not work out as I wanted it to be. Another thing was that, I played with the syrup a little bit. It still was not bad, but was not my usual.

Now, it’s time to talk about today’s recipe. We prepared all the meal together except the filling for the rolled grape leaves which was done the night before by Zeynep. She brought the filling ready to be rolled during our cooking adventure. We used the grape leaves my mother had given me last summer that she had collected from our garden in the mountains. In fact, I think I even helped her picking them. She stores them in bottles with some water (I don’t know the process she uses to store them really). This is a common way of preserving grape leaves back home.

Collaboratively, the grape leaves were rolled and cooked. The decoration was done by Zeynep and her sister Selma who claims does not have any culinary talents. I was astonished when I saw the rose she created with the tomato peel that was placed on top of the rolled grape leaves. That was something I learned from her as I need to advance my decoration skills. The plate looked so pretty and appealing with the arrangement and contrast of colors; one would feel discouraged to eat them so that the decoration would not be destroyed. As you can assume, we did eat them. In fact, this was the first dish that was cooked, so we nibbled on the grape leaves while preparing the rest of the menu.

Again, this is another versatile Turkish dish as you will already see two other different stuffing posted in my blog for grape leaves and dolmas. Check out Stuffed Mixed Vegetables (Karışık Dolma), Stuffed Grape Leaves with Olive Oil (Zeytinyağlı Yaprak Sarması) and Stuffed Peppers with Chicken (Tavuklu Biber Dolması) for other types of fillings.

The stuffing for the grape leaves and dolmas varies from region to region in Turkey. Different areas prepare the filling differently based on their local food culture.

This dish is also called ‘Yalancı Dolma’ which in this case means ‘Fake Dolma’. The word ‘Yalancı’ in Turkish means ‘Liar’, but in this case it refers to fake. Instead of meat, rice is used for stuffing the grape leaves. The word ‘Dolma’ comes from the Turkish word 'doldurmak', which means, ‘to fill’.

This is made with olive oil and served cold or at room temperature. Although, for me I make everything with olive oil, so I serve them warm or cold. Both ways taste very good. Generally, I serve them warm as I am used to the way I used to eat them when I was a kid. It is funny how habits from a young age continue for so long. However you choose to eat them, sarmas or dolmas are really good.

This dish was very common in the Ottoman Empire kitchen. Most regions surrounding Turkey also make different types of dolmas. From Eastern Europe to the Middle East, to Azerbaijan, this is a popular dish along with eggplant, zucchini, tomato and other types of dolmas.

Thank you Zeynep for sharing your delicious recipe.

For the Stuffing:

2 cups rice
1 large onion (finely chopped)
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp currants
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp dried mint
¾ cup olive oil
1 bunch fresh parsley (finely chopped)
1 tsp salt
2 ¾ cups water

For Rolling & Cooking:

1 jar grape leaves or as much as it takes to finish the stuffing above
½ lemon
2 ½ cups water

Stuffing Preparation:

Heat olive oil and sauté onions until onions are transparent. Add pine nuts and stir for 3-4 minutes. Add the water and let it boil. When the water boils, add the rice and salt. Mix and cook covered on medium low heat for about 15-20 minutes or until the rice is soft. Turn heat off and add currants, cinnamon, mint and parsley and cover. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Uncover and mix stuffing. Let it cool.

If you are using a pickled grape leaves, remove from the jar and run under cold water and squeeze to let all the water out. Take one grape leaf and place on a cutting board or well cleaned counter. Follow the rolling process on my previous post for ‘Stuffed Grape Leaves with Olive Oil’.

Remove the stem. Place some stuffing on the leaf. Start rolling the grape leaf by first making one fold forward and then folding both sides in. Keep rolling forward until the leaf is completely rolled. Place neatly in a pot.

Pour ½ lemon juice on top. Add water. Place 3-4 small plates on the leaves to put weight on them so they do not open during the cooking process. Cover and cook on medium heat until water boils. Reduce the heat once the water boils and start cooking on low for 45 minutes. Make sure the water does not dry out before cooking. I always take one grape leaf and taste it before I decide if the rice inside has cooked or not. Enjoy at room temperature.

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lamb Chops (Kuzu Pirzola)

I love lamb chops. These turned out just out of this world. The tenderness and juiciness of these lamb chops were very noticeable. Combining and pureeing all the common Mediterranean ingredients such as parsley, garlic, thyme, lemon and olive oil created a wonderful sauce. Enjoy with pilafs, pasta or potatoes.

7 lamb chops
2 cloves garlic
5-6 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs mint
½ cup fresh parsley
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
2 tbsp olive oil
Ground black pepper

Salt the lamb chops on both sides. Sprinkle the black pepper on them. Set aside 1 thyme sprig and 3-4 mint leaves for garnishing purposes. Remove the rest of the thyme leaves from the twigs and place in a food processor. Add the mint, parsley, garlic cloves, olive oil and juice of 1 lemon. Puree all the ingredients in a food processor. Set a small amount of this sauce for garnishing purposes.

Rub the lamb chops with this sauce and set aside for 30 minutes. Wrap the exposed bones with aluminum foil to prevent the bones from burning. Broil each side for 12 minutes. You may extend or reduce the cooking time based on how rare or well you want them to be. I like them medium well and 12 minutes on each side was good enough. Place in a serving plate and garnish with thyme, mint and the green sauce.

Note: You may remove the aluminum foil from the lamb chops before serving. It is up to you. I removed the aluminum foil as I think my plate looks more appealing without it!

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