Friday, May 29, 2009

Bulgur Balls with Spinach and Garlic (Sarımsaklı ve Ispanaklı Bulgur Köftesi)

One of my favorite snacks/appetizers is the bulgur balls with spinach and garlic. These bulgur balls have numerous names. The funny thing is that I did not know the name until I started to write the recipe and begin to think about its name. I grew up with this food, no question about it, but I had no idea what it was called. In my internet search, I found out that it can be called ‘Fellah Köftesi’, ‘Sarımsaklı Köfte’ and some other names. I have to emphasize the spinach and garlic in it, hence I am calling it ‘Sarımsaklı ve Ispanaklı Bulgur Köftesi’ meaning ‘Bulgur Balls with Spinach and Garlic’. To me, that is the most reasonable way of describing it. This dish is mainly known in Southern provinces of Turkey such as Hatay, Adana and Mersin. I would not be surprised if it is also known in Gaziantep and other Southeastern provinces where a very rich variety of food exists.

Instead of spinach, you may also use green beans with red pepper paste sauce. Bulgur balls with tomato sauce and garlic are also very popular. I will start with this as it is my favorite one and will continue with other versions of this recipe at later dates.

In Turkey, generally, this recipe is made in get-togethers and ladies tea parties. Usually, one person does not sit and make the whole thing; it’s a collaborative effort where a few friends or neighbors get together to make it. As you may imagine, rolling every single of these balls can be pretty time consuming if you are making them in large amounts. Having help does allow these bulgur balls to be rolled in no time. Back home in Turkey, these are made in large quantities and shared with neighbors and friends.

The last time I ate this at home was two years ago as a result of my request. Every year when I visit home, my mother would ask for my wish list. What would I like to eat? She certainly prepares my favorite foods first, such as İçli Köfte (Stuffed Bulgur Balls) just before I arrive and just before I leave. My mom never allows me to cook or even help her while I am on vacation as she sees it more like work rather than enjoyment (I am sure most moms are the same). Only if she knew... :) Even though I have shared my blog with her, she probably still does not believe I am able to cook all this food as I had no culinary interests when I was living at home. I guess since I have no access to my mom’s food, I kind of had to learn myself. Although, I never have time to cook there anyway as a result of travel, the beach, catching up with family, friends and relatives.

Before I get off the subject, one day during my vacation, my mother in law was visiting. My mother had asked me what I wanted to eat earlier. I had mentioned that I was craving bulgur balls with spinach and garlic. She was surprised as she thought I came all the way from America and I want to eat bulgur balls with spinach and garlic? She was making every effort to prepare the fanciest, the best food she could think of during my short visits. My mother in law is also one that makes every effort to make the best meal possible and almost forces me to eat more and more. She either thinks I need to gain some weight or that I should be crazy not to stuff myself with all this food that I cannot find in the States. No wonder why after we finish our meal and slow down, they (women in the area I grew up) start complaining about their weight and half of the conversation goes about how to lose weight ... Then, they try to figure out why they gain weight; most of the time the conclusion amazingly would be that their weight gain occurs due to ‘water’ or/and ‘air’! ‘Water’, because they drink too much water and ‘air’ because they swallow air which “causes” them to look inflated than they actually are! Eventually, reality sinks in and they realize that it is really not ‘air’ or ‘water’ that causes the weight gain but the amount of food they eat. :)

Of course, their intention with insisting on eating lots of food is certainly a good one since in Turkish culture, food is a big part of hospitality. With an enormous pleasure, they will cook a feast for their guests and would probably get offended if you do not eat. I think it would be very difficult to stay very slim in Turkey as guests come and go daily and when there are guests, many types of snacks/foods are served. The guests are joined by the host in eating; otherwise it would be impolite.

I know I am going off track here… Back to the bulgur balls... My mother in law and my mom started to make the bulgur balls together. Half of the mixture was made with spinach and the other half with green beans. They finished quickly and we had it for lunch that day.

I decided to try to make it here by myself, since I do not cook in large quantities unless I have company. This is the result of my recipe and both my husband and I were pleased with the result.

For the Bulgur Balls:

2 cups bulgur (fine grind)
1 cup flour
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp red pepper paste
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 cup hot water

For the Spinach Mixture:

2 bunches fresh spinach
3 garlic cloves (chopped)
½ cup olive oil
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt (adjust to your taste)

Ttriple wash the spinach. Let the spinach soak in a big pot or bowl filled with cold water. Wash each leaf of spinach individually if you do not like to have any kind of dirt on them. I wash them individually and then soak them in cold water and drain them three times.

Put the spinach leaves in a large pot full of boiling water. If you have a pot that comes with colander (usually used for cooking pasta), that will make boiling the spinach easier. Cook for two minutes and remove the colander from the pot. If you use a regular pot, just pour the contents of the pot into a colander. Place the colander under cold water so the spinach stops cooking. Let them drain.

In the mean time, prepare the bulgur balls. Place the bulgur in a large shallow bowl. Pour the hot water and mix to make sure all the bulgur is soaked. Cover with a plate or plastic wrap and let sit for 20 minutes until the bulgur is soft.

Add all the other ingredients to make the bulgur balls. Knead for 10 minutes. You will need to dip your hand in water while kneading so have a bowl full of water ready. The bulgur balls will dry easily and that is why soaking the hand is necessary when kneading.

You may also use a stand mixer to mix the ingredients for the bulgur balls. Combine all the bulgur ball ingredients in the bowl of the stand mixer and using the flat beater attachment, mix the ingredients for the bulgur for a few minutes on speeds 2 and 4 respectively. Do not add any of the ingredients for the spinach mixture.

Once the bulgur is soft enough and ready to be shaped, dip your hands in the water, pull a small amount of the bulgur in the size of a quarter, roll it and give it a gentle punch with your finger. See picture.

Fill half of a large pot with water and boil. Add the bulgur balls and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. Cool the bulgur balls.

Since the bulgur balls are ready, now it is time to prepare the spinach mixture. Squeeze the spinach to let out the water it holds. I usually create large balls of spinach and squeeze them until all the water is drained. Give the spinach a coarse chop. Place the spinach in a large bowl and add all the ingredients listed above for the spinach mixture. Mix well so that the salt and the seasonings are evenly distributed.

Add this mixture to the cooled bulgur balls and mix again so that the spinach mixture and the bulgur balls are married together.

Serve at room temperature along with cold yogurt.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Fried Chicken Wings (Tavuk Kanat Kızartması)

As we all know, fried foods are always delicious, but not very healthy as fried foods contain excessive oil. As a substitute, I have turned to broiling foods that are conventionally fried. I seldom fry anything as I try to minimize the oil intake into our bodies. In fact, for the longest time, I turned away from frying completely as I was probably influenced by my uncle who to my knowledge has never ever fried anything.

In the past couple years, I realized that I was longing for some of the traditional foods that I grew up with (such as İçli Köfte and Fried Potatoes) that taste best when fried. Now, once in a blue moon, I do fry either potatoes or chicken and of course İçli Köfte.

One day, I felt like having some comfort food and decided to allow us to eat something unhealthy (chicken wings)! The oil I used is incomparable to what most restaurants use. In my house, canola or olive oil is used for frying and for regular cooking only olive oil is used. The chicken wings used in this recipe are organic as I purchase organic poultry and meat. What I am trying to get to is that, these chicken wings are much healthier home made than buying them at a restaurant.

With a simple Mediterranean twist on the chicken wings, they had a great taste.

16 chicken wings
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 cup olive oil
3 tbsp parsley (chopped)
1 tsp red pepper flakes for garnishing
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp salt (adjust to your taste)

Heat the olive oil in a large pan.

In a medium sized bowl, place the eggs, paprika, black pepper and 2 tbsp of the chopped parsley. Mix vigorously until all ingredients are mixed together.

In a large plate or Pyrex dish spread the flour.

Salt the chicken wings. Dip them in the egg mixture, then immediately in the flour. Fry until golden brown. Garnish with the rest of the parsley and red pepper flakes and serve hot.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Turkish Flat Bread (Pide Ekmeği)

Bread, (“ekmek” in Turkish) is the main staple food in Turkish cuisine. Varieties include: pide ekmeği (flat bread), somun ekmeği (bread loaf which is very soft inside and crispy on the outside), sac ekmeği or yufka ekmeği (paper thin bread made on a large iron convex griddle), tandır ekmeği (thin bread made in a clay oven that is comprised of a hole in the ground and covered with clay inside), lavaş ekmeği which is also a thin type of bread baked in a clay oven and many more regional specialties. Different regions have different breads, hence I am not even able to mention all of them.

In Turkey, in almost every corner, you will run into a bakery where the aroma of bread is filling the whole street. Bakeries bake breads at least twice a day; in the early morning and in the afternoon. Fresh bread is purchased daily in Turkey. In the morning, just before breakfast, one of the family members takes a short trip to the closest bakery and picks up fresh bread. The bread is usually warm when purchased and when it enters the house, it makes its presence known with its delectable aroma.

Bread is consumed not only during breakfast, but also at lunch and at dinner. Every household purchases bread at least once a day. In villages and small towns, some people make their own breads such as sac ekmeği and tandır ekmeği. In this case, they would not purchase bread for lunch or dinner, but only for breakfast. During lunch or dinner if there is stew or soup in the menu, again, there is a rush to the bakery to get the warm and soft bread which is usually used for dipping.

The importance of bread in Turkish cuisine cannot be overstated. It is considered to be peasant food, since it is cheap and filling, nevertheless rich and poor, everyone consumes bread daily.

One of the foods that I miss the most from Turkey is the bread. A few months ago, I decided to start learning how to bake bread myself since I cannot find the same bread in bakeries.

One day, when I was talking to my parents over the msn, they happened to have a relative who used to be a baker visiting. So, I took the opportunity to ask him how to make pide ekmeği (flat bread) at home. He gave me instructions step by step. I did follow his recipe, but my first attempt to make the bread was not successful. In my second attempt, I started to change a few things here and there. The bread was better than the first time, but still not that good. In my third attempt, I made a few more changes in the process and this time it came out really good. Of course still not as good as what you would get in Turkey, but pretty good. Using the oven at home, it is almost impossible to attain the same texture and taste you would get in bakeries in Turkey.

I hope to experiment with more bread recipes and share them with you here. Here is the recipe for the flat bread.

Note: If the dough is too dry, add a little more water. If it’s too soft and sticking to your hands, then add oil to your hands in order to manage the dough.

For the Dough:
2.5 cups flour
2 packages dry yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup warm water

For Basting and Garnishing:
¼ cup warm milk
1 tbsp sesame seeds (black and white)

Preparation of the Dough:
Using a Stand Mixer:

Place the yeast in a bowl and add warm water. Mix well and let it sit for about 20 minutes. Place the rest of the ingredients for the dough in the mixer bowl and attach the dough hook. Add the yeasty water to the bowl and mix using speed 2 and increasing to 4 and then 6 until the dough is soft. This should not take more than 3 minutes.


Place the yeast in a deep, large bowl and add the warm water. Let it sit for about 20 minutes. Place the rest of the ingredients for the dough in the bowl and start kneading. You may need to dip your hands in the water so that the dough does not get too dry. Knead for 10-15 minutes until the dough is soft.

Making the Bread:

Cover the dough with plastic wrap or wet cheese cloth. Let the dough sit for 1 hour. The dough will rise during this time. Push the dough down and let it sit for a half hour. Divide the dough into two parts and make a ball with each one. Sprinkle some flour on the dough balls, so that the dough does not stick to your hands. Sprinkle some flour on a baking tray and let these two balls of dough rest for 15-20 minutes.

Flatten each ball with your hands and start stretching it until you reach the desired size. You could also make an oval shape instead of a round shape. With the tip of your fingers, press on the flat dough randomly to make the bread uneven on the surface. Brush with milk and sprinkle sesame seeds.

Bake at 475º F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. While the bread is baking, baste with warm milk every 5 minutes or so. Enjoy warm during breakfast or with any meal.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Traditional Turkish Breakfast (Geleneksel Türk Kahvaltısı)

Have you ever had Turkish breakfast? Those of you who have visited Turkey or have close Turkish friends or family members, probably have had a taste of what Turkish breakfast entails. Breakfast in Turkey is not only about food, but also about family time and gathering.

In Turkish, breakfast is called “kahvaltı” which is derived from “kahve altı” which literally means “under coffee” or “before coffee”. As you may guess, traditionally Turkish coffee (kahve) is not drunk during breakfast, rather after breakfast or in the afternoon. A traditionally brewed black tea is an indispensable part of breakfast. Along with hot black tea, white cheese (analogous to feta), boiled eggs, green or black olives, çökelek (spicy cheese), Turkish sausage, helva, pekmez (grape or mulberry molasses), tomatoes, cucumbers, honey, jam, fresh butter, an omelet called “menemen” and fresh warm bread complete Turkish breakfast. Occasionally, böreks, pides, fried potatoes and various types of pastries are also served for breakfasts. Soups such as “red lentil soup” or “rice soup” can be a part of breakfast in some households. In my household in Turkey, in the summer months, grapes and watermelon are a must during breakfast.

Simit (similar to sesame bagel) is a very popular snack for breakfast. Most people who go to work every morning, will grab a simit on the way to work and eat it with hot tea for breakfast. Students also tend to purchase simit for a quick breakfast. My first and only attempt to make simit at home resulted in failure. Although, when I have some time, I will put my hands to work until I get it right.

Above are some pictures of a typical Turkish breakfast. The breakfast I have set up is very traditional, however does not include everything I have mentioned above. One by one, I would like to describe each of the items in the pictures. I will use the first picture to describe each item.
In the middle of the picture, we have boiled eggs with toasted bread in the plate. This bread is not the traditional bread we eat in Turkey, but since Turkish bread is not available here, we consume this multigrain bread. However, I am including pictures of homemade (after a couple unsuccessful attempts) Turkish flat bread (pide ekmeği) and Turkish somun bread below that are eaten at breakfast. I will post recipes for these breads at another date.

Turkish Flat Bread (Pide Ekmeği)

Turkish Somun Bread (Somun Ekmeği)

To the right of the red plate is Turkish tea, in a slim belly glass which is very traditional. I personally do not get the taste of tea, unless I drink my tea in these glasses. Right above the tea is apricot jam. Straight above the jam is “yayık tereyağı” which is butter that is strained from fresh yogurt. In some parts of Turkey it can be made from milk. For centuries, women in villages have made this kind of butter. It used to be rarely found in supermarkets since commercial butter has taken their place on the shelves. I used to watch my late grandmother when she used to make this butter at home. She used to have a wooden, cylinder shaped item where she would place the yogurt and then shake it vigorously until the butter separated from yogurt. This butter is in its most natural form; no chemicals or any foreign ingredients. It is the tastiest butter I have ever tasted. I guess it is not surprising since it is all natural. I found this type of butter (made from milk instead of yogurt) at the local Turkish market a few months ago and I was very surprised as I did not realize that it was sold in markets. To tell the truth, my grandmother’s butter was much better, but this particular one is still preferable to the other commercial butter that is so detrimental to our health. I actually looked at the ingredients of this butter when I purchased it and it had only two ingredients; milk cream and milk culture.

To the left of the butter, fried potatoes are waiting quietly in a small plate. Straight above the potatoes, a plate full of Turkish sausage, white cheese and kaşar cheese. White cheese is very similar to feta cheese, but I think it’s a little creamier. It can be produced from cow’s or sheep’s milk. No breakfast is complete without white cheese in Turkey. Kaşar cheese is a yellowish cheese that reminds me of swiss cheese. Usually, it is made out of sheep’s milk.

To the left of the sausage and cheese plate is a plate full of black olives. Either green or black olives accompany every Turkish breakfast. Dressing olives is a very common practice even for breakfast. I will post some dressed olive recipes sometime in the future. Below the olives is a pan with a vegetable omelet. Usually “menemen” replaces this omelet, but again it is a matter of preference. That morning, we felt like having an omelet with the veggies we had available in the fridge.

In the left of the omelet is a box of helva with pistachios. This is a sweet that can be based on flour or semolina. Above the helva is a plate of sliced tomato slices with some peppers. The day I set up this breakfast, I did not have any cucumbers on hand, so just imagine that there are fresh, sliced cucumbers next to the tomatoes.

Right below the helva is honey that came with me all the way from Turkey. This honey is produced by my father’s bees that he raises as a hobby. It does taste much better than the commercial honey.

Breakfasts, especially weekend breakfasts are always eaten together with family in Turkey. That is something I look forward to when I visit Turkey. During the summer months, I especially enjoy my mother-in-law’s breakfast which is very rich in variety, set up in the middle of a rose garden, under the shade of an arched pergola covered in bougainvillea vine. It did not take me long to figure out the reason behind my husband’s wanting to have a big breakfast every Saturday and Sunday. Although, we do not have the beautiful setting of his front yard in Turkey, we have the food and each other. Our longest and most useful conversations occur during breakfast and afterwards while sipping our tea. During the week, we have a banana, an apple and some other fruits that are in season such as orange or strawberries for breakfast which we eat at work. Therefore, the weekend breakfast is something we both look forward to.

Note: The picture on the top of my blog behind the title shows a typical Turkish breakfast. My sister-in-law prepared this inviting breakfast table at her house when I visited her in Ankara, Turkey last summer.

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