Saturday, August 29, 2009

Purslane Salad (Semizotu Salatası)

Purslane is a wild, edible, succulent weed that is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. The nutritional richness of this vegetable was not known to me until recently, when I read an article about its nutritional facts. It tastes a little sour and kind of salty and with gooey substance inside its green leaves which are small and clustered around its pinkish stem. Purslane is perfect for culinary uses prior to blooming flowers. It is usually picked from gardens where it grows wild.

Since I was very little girl, purslane was always on the menu in the summers as a side dish, usually in the form of ‘cacık’, yogurt with purslane and garlic. Turkish cooks use purslane for salads, cacık, sauté (similar to spinach) and even soups. I have not had the chance to experiment with different recipes of purslane, however my two favorites are: purslane salad and cacık with purslane.

This purslane was purchased from the Greek farmer at the farmer’s market and this summer was the first time I came across purslane. I had never seen it in the States previously, although when I walk, I see some tiny purslanes coming out of cracks in the sidewalks! If I had a garden, I would be all set for purslane…



1 bunch purslane (about 3 ½ cups when chopped up)
2 green onions (sliced thinly)
1 medium tomato (diced)
1 small green pepper or half of a long pepper (sliced thinly)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp sumac
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white vinegar

Remove and discard the thick stems of the purslane. Choose and cut the fresher stems about an inch in length. If some of the purslane is blooming, remove that portion. Wash thoroughly and drain. Place in a salad bowl. Add the tomatoes, the green peppers, salt, sumac, cayenne, olive oil and vinegar. Toss and serve.

Purslane on Foodista

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Okra Stew in Tomato Sauce (Domatesli Bamya)

This stew is very popular in Turkey in the summer months. Depending on your preference, you may cook it with beef or lamb. I did not add any meat, since most of the time I prefer to have my vegetable dishes without meat. Turkish cuisine also includes grilled or fried okra which also can make a delicious meal.

Although he is not a picky eater, my husband loathes okra, so okra is not cooked frequently in our home. For the sake of my blog, I decided to cook okra before the season was over. I do have a tendency to lag in posting my recipes, but this time I managed to get it out before the summer is gone. I purchased these this weekend from the farmer’s market and they turned out to be very fresh. The stew was soft, light and tasty with a rich tomato sauce. As for the lifelong okra hater, he manifested his dislike by not even tasting the okra since his favorite green bean stew was also on the menu.


1½ lbs okra
3 medium ripe tomatoes (peeled and diced)
1 small green pepper (sliced)
¼ yellow onion (chopped)
2 garlic cloves (chopped)
3 tbsp tomato sauce
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ tsp black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
2 ½ tsp salt
2 cups water

Wash and drain the okra. Peel the stem of the okra in the shape of a cone rather than cutting it flat in order to hinder any gooey substance escaping the okra. Heat olive oil in a deep pot. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until the onions are transparent. Add the green peppers and the tomatoes and sauté for a few more minutes. Dissolve the tomato sauce in the 2 cups water. Pour into the pot. Add the lemon juice, salt, black pepper and let it simmer for a few minutes. Add the okra and stir well, so that the okra absorbs all the flavors. Cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes and then turn to low and simmer for about 30-40 minutes. Serve hot with rice pilaf.


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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sautéed Amaranth (Sotelenmiş Horozibiği)

During a recent trip to the farmer’s market, I came across an edible weed that my mom used to make in Turkey. I immediately recognized it when I saw it at the Greek farmer’s stand and recalled the fact that I actually had seen it in Maria’s blog (Organically Cooked) and actually had learned this weed’s name in English from her post on Amaranth. Actually, I did not even know the name in Turkish either, until after some recent research on the internet. Amaranth was not my favorite food when I was growing up, however it still was exciting to see something that reminded me of home; so I had to buy it. Plus, my taste has changed over the years; hence I appreciate good and healthy food much more. The Greek farmer also had purslane which is also another edible weed that I had not seen while living in the States. Of course, I could not have passed that one up either. A post will be coming up on that one too.

Seeing these edible weeds at the Greek farmer’s stand did not surprise me since Turkish food and Greek food are very similar; in fact there are dishes with almost the same names. In my opinion, both cuisines have their own identity and taste. From my own experience in eating at Greek or Arab restaurants, I am able to distinguish the originality of a particular dish (whether it’s Greek, Arab or Turkish). This is also true for some dishes in Turkey that can vary considerably from one region to another. Spices or condiments or the cooking style contributes greatly to the heterogeneity of the food. I personally love to try a meal with a different variety, because it gives me a different taste and pleasure with each version.

Since I mentioned my shopping at the Greek farmer’s stand, I predict that some of you who are familiar with history of Turkey or Greece may be surprised that I would shop from a Greek farmer (or store) since Greeks and Turks look like they are competitors due to their historical relationship. When I decide to shop from a store or market, the determining factors are: good quality products and excellent customer service. In terms of shopping, there is nothing worse than receiving low quality products and customer service where you reciprocate with your money. For instance, I had two unacceptable experiences pertaining to product quality and customer service at the two biggest and famous stores that sell Middle Eastern food here in Houston (Names of the markets are irrelevant, as the goal of my blog is not to bash markets that I am not happy with). Unfortunately, these markets do not have the mentality of “the customer is the first priority” that you find in most American supermarkets. After these two unpleasant experiences at the two markets, I never set my foot in either of them. It is only fair to expect good quality products (such as not having flies/insects in your bulgur or products that do not survive the expiration date) and a good customer service considering the amount of money and the shopping frequency in these places. Even if they were the only two stores that sell Middle Eastern products in Houston (Thank God that’s not the case), I would still choose not to give even one dime of my money to them. The customer-market relationship should be on a win-win basis rather than win-lose basis.

Before getting off the subject, the first time I shopped at the Greek farmer’s stand, he gave me a complimentary turnip. Albeit, the monetary value of a turnip is not large, it was a nice gesture that made me a loyal customer of his stand. The second time, I was there, while I was trying to choose between two large bunches of fresh mint with the help of his wife (I am assuming), he said “take them both, take them both”. He gave me both mint bunches for the price of one. Again, the monetary value of the mint was not much at all, it was very generous of him. After finishing my shopping and leaving the Greek stand with the two bunches of mint for the price of one and some other vegetables, I started strolling among other produce stands. Right then, I went back to the Greek stand to purchase more produce, thinking that I had no reason to spend my money at another stand when I can find good quality vegetables along with a very friendly farmer. I continue to shop from him regularly. Only in the case when he does not have what I am looking for, do I search other stands. I also took my friends there and told them about this friendly farmer and his produce.

The shopping experiences with the Greek farmer enhanced my belief that no matter what problems our countries had, instead of generalizing, we should make decisions based on one’s personality rather than the whole country or culture. As a matter of fact, the people who have touched my life the most while living in the States (other than my uncle, aunt and her parents), were four Greek ladies.

Although, I try not to deviate from my cooking related stories much in my blog, I prefer not to pass this opportunity to talk about these Greek friends. I will introduce each one of them one by one as briefly as I can, since each one has a special place in my heart.

About 10 years ago when I had just finished college and moved to another state, I was hospitalized for about two weeks for a surgery. At that time, I did not know two of these ladies (Toula and Margarita) who had heard about me and visited me and helped me at the hospital regularly. I hardly knew Thespina; only through our daily routine walks with my aunt and uncle.

I met Joyce at a Greek coffee house (it’s a restaurant and a coffee place) which was very close to the Salvation Army, where I was volunteering the first summer I came to the States. I was not old enough to drive, so my aunt, Barbara would drop me off early in the morning at the coffee house so she could make arrive at her work on time. She would advice me to purchase something at the restaurant every morning since I would wait there for about an hour before the Salvation Army opened its doors. I would purchase coffee and a bagel every morning and wait for the Salvation Army to open. Every morning, I would see the same woman come and drink coffee by herself. She never missed a day. She always was properly dressed and always looking after herself. One day, she approached me and started talking to me and bought me coffee. Then, we talked every morning and I got to know her. Then, I left for college to another state and one of those summers when I got back, I heard from a neighbor that Joyce was diagnosed with a serious illness. During my visit to the hospital, she kind of was surprised and a little sad; maybe she did not want to be seen in a hospital bed struggling with a serious illness. To me, she did not look any different; she was still the same, wonderful person. Thankfully, she managed to prevent the illness from progressing. When I was hospitalized a few years later, she was one of the first to come visit me and see how I am doing. I lost touch with Joyce for many years now. My Christmas cards sent to her came back to me two years in a row and her telephone was no longer working which brings the worst to my mind.

Another Greek lady, Thespina, whom I knew during our daily walks in the evening with my aunt and uncle (yes, we walked a lot; every single day, no matter if there was 3 feet of snow or if it was dark, we walked at least 1 hour each day!) made numerous trips to the hospital; bringing me reading material and helping me take short walks within the hospital to support recovery. The day I left the hospital, Thespina and her husband who enjoyed fishing as a hobby gave us a huge halibut to speed up my recovery through nutrition. It is funny, but every time I eat halibut, I remember them. We still correspond with Thespina.

I had not met Toula. Toula who my uncle and aunt knew only through hi’s and small talks during their walk in the neighborhood, had a young daughter. As soon as she heard about my situation, she informed Margarita and they both came to the hospital together along with Toula’s daughter who was holding a teddy bear to present to me. It was a very nice gesture. Neither of us (myself, my aunt and uncle) had met Margarita. Margarita visited me a few times during my stay at the hospital. She also made a rice and chicken soup for me the day I was discharged from the hospital, so that I would recuperate faster. During this time, my aunt was out of the country, so when I had to visit the doctor’s office for follow ups and still was not allowed to drive, she insisted that my uncle should not take time off from his work and she offered to drive me to doctor’s office herself. This kind of kindness cannot be forgotten. I kept in touch with them. A few months back when Margarita and her husband were in Houston, I had the pleasure to welcome them in my home for dinner after so many years. I was ecstatic to see them. Margarita is also an excellent cook who gives me tips on cooking and baking when I speak to her. Unfortunately, we lost touch with Toula, but I still wonder how she is doing.

There is a saying in Turkish that says “Dost, kara günde belli olur” meaning “A real friend reveals himself/herself in bad days”. Anyone will be with you in good days, but not everyone will be on your side when you are having a tough time. I am not only thankful to these women who barely knew me or my aunt or uncle, I am also thankful for having this experience at such a young age which allowed me to gain a very different perspective on people and life.

This story taught and showed me that no matter what we are taught in history classes in our schools, no matter what we hear from our politicians, no matter what we hear from our friends and relatives, we need to consider people on the individual basis. We should never reach to prejudgment/conclusion or have perception about someone or a country before we really see and learn about them by ourselves. Imagine that if I were to show my reaction to these wonderful Greek women and people based on political tensions that Turkey and Greece might have, or based on our history books (which should be no surprise to anyone that every country likes its version of the history), I would not have met these terrific people and I really believe that it would have been a big loss for me.

Now after this story, let’s talk about amaranth. Amaranth, also called pig-weed is a spinach-like weed that possesses great nutritional benefits. Among many benefits, it contains a large amount of iron and vitamin K. It grows wild in the fields, under trees and along the road all over the world. Amaranth can also be a flower that blooms pinkish/purplish flower which in Turkey we call “Kadife Çiçeği” or “Horozibiği”. This is the non-edible type. The amaranth family is very extensive; the colors of its leaves range from dark green to a purplish color.

I previously had thought amaranth mainly grows in the Mediterranean region; however I have learned from other blogs that it also grows in India, Asia, the Americas and even West Africa. In fact, just recently, I saw it protruding wildly between the side walk and the edge of a building in New Orleans, LA. I have not noticed it grow wild in Houston; maybe I need to pay attention to see it.

In Turkey, the most common way of cooking amaranth is a sautéed or as a stuffing in böreks. Finally, here is the recipe.


1 large bunch amaranth
½ white or yellow onion (chopped)
1 garlic clove (chopped)
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 ½ tsp salt
2 1/2 tbsp olive oil
Lemon or lime wedges (optional)

Discard thick stems of amaranth and wash thoroughly. Fill half of a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Place the amaranth and let it boil for 15 minutes. Remove and run under cold water. Squeeze the water out of the amaranth and chop roughly.

Heat olive oil in a large pan. Place the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are transparent. Add the black pepper, paprika, red pepper flakes, cumin and salt. Give it a stir. Add the already boiled and chopped amaranth and sauté for 5-6 minutes until all the spices and the amaranth leaves are integrated. Based on your preferences, you may squeeze lemon or lime wedges on top of the amaranth before serving. Serve warm with pasta or pilaf.

Note: This can also be used as stuffing in böreks.


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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cooking Measurements and Unit Conversions

Since I started my blog 15 months ago, I have been meaning to post cooking measurements and unit conversions on my blog. Finally, after having prepared this and sitting on it for more than 6 months, I am posting this useful information! I hope, it will be helpful.

ABBREVIATIONS:

tsp. = teaspoon (also referred to as 't')
tbsp. = tablespoon (also referred to as 'T')
gal. = gallon
ml = milliliter
l = liter
oz. = ounce
fl. oz = fluid ounce
inch = in
sq. = square
cm = centimeter
mm = millimeter
kg = kilo
lb = pound
F = Fahrenheit
C = Celsius


COMMON COOKING MEASUREMENTS:

1 tsp. = 1/6 fl. oz.
1 tbsp. = 3 tsp. = 1/2 fl. oz.
1/4 cup = 4 tbsp. = 12 tsp. = 2 fl. oz.
1/3 cup = 5 tbsp. = 16 tsp. = 2.7 fl. oz.
1/2 cup = 8 tbsp. = 24 tsp. = 4 fl. oz.
3/4 cup =12 tbsp. = 36 tsp. = 6 fl. oz.
1 cup = 16 tbsp. = 48 tsp. = 8 fl. oz.
2 cups = 1 pint = 16 fl. oz.
4 cups = 1 quart = 2 pints = 32 fl. oz.
8 cups = 1/2 gal. = 64 fl. oz.
4 quarts = 1 gallon = 8 pints = 16 cups = 128 fl. oz.


COOKING MEASUREMENTS CONVERSIONS (U.S. TO METRIC):

Measurement Conversion:

1/4 tsp. = 1.25 ml
1/2 tsp. = 2.5 ml
1 tsp. = 5 ml
1 tbsp. = 15 ml
1 fl. oz. = 30 ml
1/4 cup = 59 ml
1/3 cup = 79 ml
1/2 cup = 125 ml
3/4 cup = 177 ml
1 cup = 237 ml
2 cups = 500 ml
3 cups = 750 ml
4 cups = 1 l
1 gal. = 3.78 l
1 gal. = 4 quart
1 gal. = 128 oz.
1 gal. = 16 cup


Weight Conversion:

1 lb = 16 oz
1 oz. = 28.35 g
¼ lb. = 114 g
½ lb. = 227 g
1 lb. = 454 g
2 lb. = 907 g
3 lb. = 1. 36 kg
4 lb. = 1.81 kg


Length:

1 in = 2.54 cm
1 in = 25.4 mm


Area:

1 sq in = 6.45 sq cm


Temperatures:

275º F = 135º C
300º F = 149º C
325º F = 163º C
350º F = 177º C
375º F = 191º C
400º F = 204º C
425º F = 218º C
450º F = 232º C
475º F = 246º C
500º F = 260º C

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chicken Shish Kebab (Tavuk Şiş Kebab) and Zerzavat (Onion Salad with Sumac and Parsley)

Chicken shish kebabs (şiş kebap- şiş means skewer and kebap means cubed, grilled meat) are an excellent alternative to regular lamb or beef şiş kebabs, especially for people who are not fond of red meat. When accompanied with zerzavat (onion salad with sumac and parsley) and rice or flat bread, it can make an excellent meal. Any type of meat can be used for şiş kebabs; however the most common ones are beef and lamb. Kebabs are also can be made with vegetables such as green peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, onions and etc.

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
½ tbsp red pepper paste
1 clove of garlic (chopped finely)
½ tbsp thyme
1 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt

10 bamboo skewers or regular skewers
1 tsp olive oil for greasing the skewers

Vegetables on the Side:

1 bell pepper
2 plum tomatoes
1 white or yellow onion

Cut the chicken breasts into cubes. Put in a large bowl. Add the red pepper paste, garlic, thyme and salt. Add the olive oil and as the last step, add the lemon juice. With your hands (wear kitchen gloves so you do not make your hands messy) integrate all the ingredients so they are distributed evenly on the chicken. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

If you are using bamboo skewers, soak the bamboo skewers for 30 minutes in water prior to cooking the chicken, so that they do not burn during broiling or grilling. Oil the skewers ¾ of the way only, so that you have a place to hold the skewers without greasing your hands. Take each chicken cube and insert into the skewer, again ¾ of the way, not all the way.

Cut up the bell pepper in squares and quarter the onion. Start inserting the peppers, onions and one tomato in each greased skewer. Alternate the vegetables so that they look colorful.


Heat the broiler or grill. Broil or grill each side of the skewer for 12-13 minutes. Enjoy with rice pilaf and zerzavat.


Zerzavat (Onion Salad with Sumac and Parsley)

1 medium red onion (white or yellow will also work)
1 tbsp sumac
½ tsp salt
¼ cup parsley (chopped)
4 lemon wedges

Cut onion in half. Slice each half in thin slices so that you have half rings of onions. Sprinkle the salt and mix with the onion. Add the chopped parsley and sumac. Mix well. You may squeeze the lemon on top of the onion salad or you may serve with lemon wedges and squeeze the lemon while eating. Enjoy with grilled meat, chicken or fish.


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Monday, August 3, 2009

Broiled Flank Steak with Turkish/Mediterranean Marinade




The marinade used for marinating the flank steak is Turkish/Mediterranean style. My uncle who loves grilling uses this type of dressing. You may broil or grill this steak.

1 lb flank steak
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh rosemary (chopped finely)
1-2 tsp coarse sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp black pepper


Rub the steak with sea salt and black pepper. Add the fresh rosemary, olive oil and lemon juice to the steak making sure the ingredients are distributed well all over the steak. Marinate over night in the refrigerator. Broil or grill for 10-12 minutes on each side. Depending on how you prefer your meat cooked, you may adjust the cooking time. It will cook well done based on this recipe. Slice against the grain and serve with potatoes or pilaf.