Sunday, February 27, 2011

Spinach and Feta Borek (Ispanaklı ve Beyaz Peynirli Börek)

Two years ago, I made a spinach and feta börek and prepared the recipe and all the pictures step by step and never got around to publishing it. Just recently, I made this börek and documented it again. This time, I made a few changes in the recipe and I decided to publish this version instead of the previous one. The taste of this one surpassed the previous one, so I decided to publish this version.

Note: The Phyllo dough sheets can be found in the frozen section of most markets. If the Pyhllo sheets are too big for the tray or Pyrex dish you are using, the phyllo sheets can be folded to reach the size of the baking dish.

1 package Phyllo sheets
½ cup yogurt
½ cup olive oil
1 egg

For the Filling:

2 bunches fresh spinach (approximately 2 lb)
2 cloves of garlic (chopped fine)
2 shallots (chopped fine)
1 cup feta cheese (crumbled)
¼ cup olive oil
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp salt (if the feta cheese is not too salty)
Pinch of black sesame seeds

Preparation of Filling:

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 long 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 and garlic. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the cheese for the filling and sauté for 5-6 minutes. Make sure the salt, cumin, black and cayenne peppers are distributed evenly in the spinach.

Remove the spinach filling from heat and let it cool. When the filling cools down, add the crumbled feta cheese. If the feta is very salty, no salt is needed for the filling as feta cheese may compensate for the salt.

Putting All Ingredients Together:

In a deep bowl, add the yogurt, olive oil and egg. Mix vigorously until all three ingredients are mixed well.

Using a brush, spread a small amount of the yogurt-olive oil-egg mixture in a large Pyrex dish. This is to prevent the Phyllo sheets from sticking to the Pyrex dish.

Open the Phyllo dough package. Place a damp cloth on top so that the Phyllo sheets do not dry out. These are the same dough sheets that are used for baklava.

Place one sheet of the Phyllo dough in the Pyrex dish. Dip the brush in the yogurt-olive oil-egg mixture and brush the Phyllo sheet. Do this one by one until half of the Phyllo sheets are used up. After half of the phyllo sheets are layered, spread the spinach filling on top. Add another sheet of the phyllo sheet on top of the filling and brush with the yogurt-olive oil-egg mixture. Continue the process of brushing each Phyllo sheet and placing them on top of each other until all the Phyllo sheets are used up. If you have any of the yogurt-olive oil-egg mixture left over, pour it on top and spread it evenly with a brush. The result will be a spinach filling in the middle of the layered phyllo sheets. Half of the phyllo sheets will be in the bottom of the filling and the other half will be on top of the filling.Sprinkle black sesame seeds on top.

Bake at 350º F in the middle rack of the oven for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Let it cool before cutting, otherwise the bottom part of the börek may get soggy.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dandelion Salad (Hindiba Salatası)

The taste of dandelions my mother picked selectively from the weeds from our garden many years ago has been active in my palate since childhood. After developing a curiosity for cooking, the name of this wild weed that tasted superb was a question in my head. I had guessed that it may have been dandelions, but to me dandelions were bitter weeds that are not very tasty. I purchased them every once in a while just because they were extremely healthy. One day, it was confirmed that the unforgotten weed with a delicious taste reminiscent from my childhood was indeed dandelion and I was not cooking it properly. The good taste of this green weed wasn’t being maximized. The secret was the way it was prepared. I remember every single ingredient in that dandelion salad my mother made when I was still a kid so, I decided to recreate it to acquire the same exact taste.

Most of the dandelions that were available to me at grocery stores and the farmer’s market were more mature and hence chewy. Luckily, recently I found young, whole dandelions not separated by the leaves at my favorite grocery store. The dandelions in my memory were cooked as a whole with all the leaves attached since they were young and tender. The salad in this recipe turned out to be almost free of the bitter taste and very appetizing.

2 bunches dandelions (approx. 2 lb)
3 cloves garlic (chopped finely)
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp paprika
¼ cup olive oil
2 ½ tbsp pomegranate molasses

Wash dandelions thoroughly and cut off the roots. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Boil the dandelions for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and run cold water over the cooked greens to stop the cooking process. Cool and drain. Gently squeeze the dandelions to remove excess water and place in a bowl. Add the garlic, olive oil, salt, red pepper flakes, paprika and the pomegranate molasses. Toss and serve at room temperature.

Note: If the leaves are tough, they should be discarded as they will be chewy. Young dandelions should be picked.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Green Olives Salad (Yeşil Zeytin Salatası)

One of the indispensible food items for breakfast in Turkey is olives. Whether green or black, plain or with sauce, olives must exist on every Turkish person’s breakfast table. In order to break away the bitterness, green olives are cracked but still served as a whole with the pit. In smaller towns, families purchase large quantities of fresh olives once a year which they crack and cure for the year’s supply. Black olives are not pitted or cracked and cured in such away that there is no trace of the bitterness.

I personally find much more flavor in cracked green olives that are not commercially pitted. If using for salad, I usually pit them myself. Pitted olives rarely enter my house as I think that most of the flavor is diminished when the pit is removed commercially. We purchase some very good quality olives here in the States that are not cracked (can’t find cracked ones) and not pitted and I find them a little bitter. Therefore each time I visit Turkey, I bring cracked green olives with me. The following olive salad is made with olives I brought with me during my recent visit to my hometown in Turkey. Our favorite time to eat olives is breakfast/brunch, but olive salad can be eaten as appetizer or side dish during lunch or dinner. Preferably use fresh thyme for this salad. I did not have any fresh thyme on hand so I used home dried thyme that my mother brought with her last year during her visit.

2 cups green olives (pitted)
1 ½ tbsp pomegranate molasses or lemon juice
½ tbsp red pepper paste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ tbsp thyme leaves (fresh preferable)

Wash and drain olives. Add pomegranate molasses, red pepper paste and olive oil. If using dried thyme, crumble with hands over olives. If using fresh thyme add whole leaves. Toss together and serve.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Turkish Milk Pudding (Muhallebi)

Muhallebi is a milk based dessert that is known throughout Turkey and the surrounding regions. Traditional Turkish muhallebi can be consumed all year around however in my opinion the best season to relish this delightful dessert is during the summer months. One spoonful of cold muhallebi is refreshing in the heat of the summer and will enliven your palates.

Authentic muhallebi does not include mastic gum flavor, however people have become creative and have made it with various flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, almond and etc. My all time favorite flavor is mastic gum (to see pictures of mastic gum: go to my Cardamom Mastic Gum Pistachio Cake post) which can be found in Mediterranean grocery stores in the U.S. It usually comes in small pieces and mortar and pestle can be used to grind it. Grinding it in a blender or food processor will result in having sticky gum on your machine which actually happened to me. I still cannot get the small tiny sticky gum from my blender, so now I stick to mortar and pestle.

Enjoy muhallebi plain or with any flavor you desire.

2 cups whole milk
1 small piece mastic gum (grinded)
1 tbsp rice flour
1 tbsp corn starch
¼ cup sugar
1-2 tsp finely ground pistachios

In a small bowl, mix ¼ cup of the milk with rice flour and corn starch. Stir well so that there are no lumps. Once the milk starts to thicken, set aside.

Boil the rest of the milk on medium heat. Add sugar and stir. Gradually, pour the thickened milk (that was mixed with corn starch and rice flour) on top of the boiled milk and continue stirring. Turn heat to low. Add ground mastic gum. Stir until the milk slightly thickens. Remove from heat and let it cool.

Pour into serving size dishes and store in a refrigerator for 4-5 hours. The mixture will fully thicken in the refrigerator. Sprinkle finely ground pistachios or cinnamon just before serving. Serve with cookies.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lobster Sauté (Sotelenmiş Istakoz)

Although I do not cook lobster often, this was the first time I cooked a lobster with spices rather than just steaming. Using ingredients commonly used in Mediterranean cooking, the lobster turned out to be very flavorful and light. It was still tender after being steamed and sautéed in oil.

The sautéed lobster can be a delicious ingredient for a sandwich as well being served as a salad, side dish or main dish. We ate it with rice pilaf and steamed vegetables.

1 whole steamed lobster
2 tbsp white onion
1 garlic clove (chopped)
2 tbsp fresh parsley
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp paprika
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp white vinegar
½ tsp salt

Cut whole lobster in half lengthwise and remove meat from the tail and claws of the lobster. A cracker will be needed to remove meat from the claws. Roughly chop the meat. Set aside.

Heat olive oil on medium heat. Sprinkle paprika, black pepper and salt on the oil. Add garlic and onions. Sauté until onions are translucent. Pour vinegar. Add the lobster pieces along with the parsley and sauté for 1 minute. Serve warm or cold with potatoes, rice or bulgur pilaf.

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