Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Gazpacho (and comments!)

I've just realised that I have comments! I am such a novice/luddite that I didn't know people were responding until just now. Apologies to those of you who have said something and it has gone unrequited, I am very appreciative.

I have again taken a break from the Turkish cooking. Not because I am tired of it but because my stomach hasn't been able to handle anything resembling food for the last few days. Let's just say I had an attack of 'Sultan's Revenge'. And the Sultan won.

But I did manage to make my favourite summer dish: gazpacho. Turkish produce makes it especially flavoursome; tomatoes here are almost invariably ripe and sweet, cucumbers are crispy, peppers are acidic, but not too much so. Having that kind of easy access to great produce is spoiling me; I know that when I return to London I am going to miss the incredible variety and perfect taste of fruits and vegetables here. So I am enjoying it whilst I can.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Seabass Tarator

I finally made the seabass dish I had been planning for ages; I had the stale bread for breadcrumbs, Andrew was returning from hiking Mt Ararat so I had an audience, and I was thoroughly sick of lamb. So the time was ripe.

What I didn't have was fish. There is a fishmonger just down the road, but I'd never actually seen fish in their refrigerated cases. Instead, the glass fronts are inhabited by bits of styrofoam with big, hand-printed letters spelling out the types of fish they sell and how much they cost per kilo. So at the very least I knew the fishmonger had a bit of nonbiodegradable signage that said levrek (seabass) 28 lira/kg.

I approached the men in the shop and showed them my shopping list which said 'levrek' and then three different words for 'fillet' in Turkish, since I wasn't sure which was the right one. A considerable amount of pointing, misunderstanding, grumbling and bad Turkish (on my part) ensued. Eventually, I worked out that they would bring the fish to my flat if I gave them the address. So, sure enough, an hour later, four beautiful seabass fillets arrived at the door. Sadly, they cost 38 lira (about £15).

Tarator sauce is my new favourite thing; it's garlicky, a bit crunchy and very yummy. And it's incredibly easy to make (thanks to amazing things called food processors). You take stale bread, ground almonds or hazelnuts (almonds in my case), several cloves of garlic, and a bit of water and process it. It gets very thick, at which point you slowly add olive oil, with the motor running, and more water if necessary to make a hummus-like sauce. I poached the fish in salted water with a little bit of lemon juice and few sprigs of parsley, drained it and added a generous portion of tarator and a bit of paprika for garnish. Since there are plenty of carbs in the sauce itself, I bypassed rice and just served it with salad. And the best part is the two unused fillets (now frozen) and the remaining sauce keep well, so we can have it again in a couple weeks. Sadly, it looks rather anaemic on the plate, but it was truly delicious!

French National Day (Bastille Day) was on Wednesday. We were only going to go for an hour, and ended up staying several because there was PORK. And champagne. Pork products are hard to come by in Turkey, so when the little trays appeared stacked with pork terrine, pork pate, and french cured meats, we didn't say no. And, well, who says no to champagne?! And French cheese.

Monday, 12 July 2010


I have opted to no longer number my posts by the days I've been in Ankara--it just highlights how lax I've been at posting recently and how quickly the summer is going! My negligence is mostly because I haven't been cooking much; I think possibly I've cooked myself out, at least when it comes to Turkish things. But I plan to get back on the wagon tomorrow and make some seabass (levrek) with tarator sauce (made from bread and ground hazelnuts or almonds).

I have, however, just returned from Cappadocia/Kapadokya, which is 5 hours (by bus) southeast of Ankara. It's an incredible place, where ancient people built underground cities and houses (called fairy chimneys) inside columns of rock (you can see the windows in the photo below).

There were also some very impressive byzantine frescos for the art historian in me, though I couldn't take any photos of them.

The landscape generally was impressive; lots of valleys, precarious cliff dwellings and byzantine churches to explore.

I was lucky enough to go on a weekend with a free, open-air classical music concert was put on; apparently an American woman who is married to a Turkish man and lives in the area organises a scholarship programme every summer for Turkish and international children to come to Cappadocia and learn and play music. The owner of the hotel where I stayed and his family went to the concert, which was held in the Sakli Vadi (Hidden Valley), and they kindly took me with them. It was a beautiful space for a concert and it was great to see all the children (ranging from age 6 upwards) playing so well with their adult counterparts. It was clearly a community thing; there were very few tourists there, which made me feel as if I'd gotten off the beaten path a bit.

I promise to be back soon with words about food I've actually made instead of holiday pictures!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Days 14-21

We had a busy weekend with Andrew's cousin in town, so I did very little cooking but much eating (a Turkish fish restaurant that was decked out like someone's beach house, chinese food, a wine tasting, Brasilian churasco). I did finally get out the (hypothetical) apron on Tuesday to make a welcome-back-to-Ankara meal for Andrew's friend at the Embassy. I made some meatballs which are translated from Turkish as 'ladies' thighs', pilaf and poached apricots for dessert.

I went to the nearest supermarket to buy the meat, but they don't stock pre-minced lamb and beef, so you have to ask them to mince it for you. This made things interesting for me, since I don't know how to say '750g of lamb please' much less 'could you mince it for me?' But I did manage to get the message across to the man at the meat counter with much gesturing of hands, nodding and smiling. I probably looked completely brainless to any bystanders, and the meat counter man definitely tried to hide a smirk or two.

The 'ladies' thighs' are made by finely chopping an onion, parsley, dill, and feta cheese and mixing these by hand with the minced lamb and one egg. They make a paste-like substance, which you form into thigh-ish shapes (fatter at one end than the other, apparently). You then pour another beaten egg over them, roll them in flour and shallow fry them. They're best warm with yoghurt.

I also made a really wonderful pilaf recipe, which I will definitely be using again: brown up some pine nuts and scallions, add a bit of cinnamon and allspice and add this and some dill and currants to rice that is half-way through cooking. Cook it the rest of the way and then let it sit, covered, away from heat for 15 minutes before serving. It comes out warm and fluffy, and the allspice and cinnamon are a nice balance to the scallions and currants.

Last night we went to a party held by a senior person at the British Embassy; he and his wife have a roof terrace, so they hired two caterers to set up an outdoor spit, on which they roasted several whole chickens, grilled kebabs and made baked potatoes in the wood fire at its base. They also served Pims, so I was a happy girl. I spoke to the Kosovar Ambassador for a while; he was a very interesting man (educated in the States and in Turkey) and he said that if I ever wanted to visit a place that is more pro-America than America, Kosovo is the place to go. I have duly noted this and will be going nowhere NEAR it. Kidding. Mostly.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Days 11, 12 &13

The Japanese Defense Forces Day at the Japanese Ambassadorial Residence was a great event; they had a martial arts show with professional performers doing presentations on kendo, aikido, and karate. Best of all they had really amazing sushi and sashimi, which are like gold dust in Ankara. Only a couple of restaurants here serve sushi and from what I understand it's generally not very good. They also had an amazing dish of pickled eel and friend shrimp. Yum! On the way out of the party, a senior US official and his wife were walking in front of us. He said something to her sotto voce and her (loud) response was, 'oh well whatever. We're from TEXAS.' Apparently even half way around the world, being from Texas is still an excuse for bad manners. Sigh.

Yesterday I attempted the Leek Pie (Pirsanpide). I think I've watched far too many cooking shows, because I've always been of the impression that handling pastry is a terrible idea and you end up with a very dense, un-flaky result. But the recipe for the shortcrust (Hamur) pastry said to rub the butter into the flour by hand, so I did. I was not disappointed with the result.

I discovered half way through wilting the leeks and once the pastry had been made, however, that I didn't have a rolling pin. Andrew not being a baker, he of course doesn't own one, which I should have realised. So I got inventive: I took an empty Hefeweisen beer bottle, soaked it in boiling water, removed the labels and adhesive with much scrubbing, and used that to roll out the dough. It wasn't perfect, but in a pinch, it worked just fine. I'll be having leftover pie for lunch today!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Days 8, 9 & 10

The Queen's Birthday Party was incredibly fun! I met lots of interesting people, including the Ambassador, but the best part was the food: it was themed, so there were miniature cones of fish and chips, Scottish smoked salmon hors d'oeuvres, two Welsh lambs roasting on spits, roast beef in tiny yorkshire puddings, and best of all, British CHEESE. Which of course meant that I started the 'which would you give up, bread or cheese?' debate. I'm in the minority because I'd give up bread over cheese, but there you go.

On Saturday we took a day trip out to Hattusa, the ruins of the ancient Hittite capital. It is 4000 years old (from 2000 BC) and to be honest, it was mostly rubble. But the view was incredible out over a river valley and to distant mountains, so I could understand why they built their empire there. And the day was capped by my first kebab in Turkey (I can't believe I've been here for a week and not had a kebab); a very nice chicken one (pilic sis).

Yesterday, Andrew and I had Lamacun (pronounced lamajoon), which are like very thin crust pizza with minced meat and tomatoes on them. You roll them up and eat them like a burrito. They are incredibly tasty, so when I'm feeling ambitious I'll find a recipe and try it. Andrew also made some amazing beef kebabs on the barbecue last night, which we enjoyed out on the balcony until a huge thunder storm rolled across the city from the West and drove us inside. Altogether a great weekend, but I'm afraid very limited cooking on my part. And tonight is the Japanese Defense Forces Day, which means sushi at the Japanese Embassy!

Tomorrow I'm planning a leek pie, so cooking will recommence soon!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Days 5 & 6 (and 7)

Sorry for the lack of illustration in the previous few posts; I am trying to figure out how to get the photos off my camera and onto those entries, but I'm having 'internal errors' (which sounds very intimate), so you will have to imagine what my masterpieces look like. Here's a hint: mush. But yummy mush! (I have figured out how to get images up, but now the formatting is all strange and try as I might I can't fix it. So a new round of apologies for the wonkiness of the layout!)

The mystery green has been, if not identified, put to use. Andrew asked the grocer what it was and couldn't remember the name that he gave for it, but did remember that the guy told him to chop it up finely with lots of garlic and put it in yoghurt with a little olive oil. So we did. And on Tuesday, in a very un-Turkish meal, we put it on top of our BLTs instead of mayonnaise. The sandwiches proved to be much better for it!

But, since I had an entire plant of it, I decided to utilise this lovely dip again last night when I made aubergine fritters. It was an incredibly simple recipe, the key being salting the aubergine rounds first and letting it sit for half an hour so that the water beads up on top of the slices and can be wiped away before frying. The batter was deceptively simple; beer, flour and a little salt. With the dip and a glass of beer, they were honestly wonderful (if I do say so myself).

Earlier in the day I made a dish called Swooning Imam. It's really just stuffed aubergine with tomatoes, parsley and onions, with plenty of olive oil for good measure. The most fun part was roasting the tomatoes over the range to get the skin off. By the time we got round to the main meal, we'd had far too many bits of fried goodness and we were risking aubergine overload, so we skipped the Swooning Imam and went straight for the White Bean Salad. Another deceptively simple recipe: white beans are boiled until tender then added still hot to sliced onion; this cooks the onion without it going limp. Add olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar, plus some chopped parsley (lots), mint (less) and dill (just a little) and serve with sliced red pepper and boiled egg. So easy and really satisfying.

Today is the Queen's Birthday Party at the Embassy, so I won't be doing any cooking. I have, however, had my hair done and my nails painted. According to the liaison officer at the embassy and some other embassy plus-ones, most women attending will be dressed to the nines; I felt I should at least make a small effort so as not to embarrass Andrew. He, however, keeps reiterating that this is a work function. Since I don't have a history of acting inappropriately at work functions, I am going to choose to believe he keeps saying it to remind himself not to misbehave, not me.

A post on the QBP to follow soon (provided I don't misbehave so badly Andrew asks me to leave the country)...