I have a little confession to make, I completely muddled this recipe. The 'Muhallebi' is the same as the one in 'Black and White Pudding' but my sister-in-law, Duygu, is incredibly inventive and she makes a wonderful fruit topping for this desert that is both fresh and mildly sweet. I called her up and got the recipe for the topping but changing ingredients to fit my gluten-free diet destroyed it completely and the end result was something that was best gotten rid of very quickly. I had already put it in my menu so, I just added fresh fruit to it. I think the presentation was probably the best part of this desert. I did put it in the freezer, though and am very curious of the outcome.
I wonder what Duygu would have done, if she was in my shoes, she is the queen of improvisation and I am sure that pudding would've turned into something truly wonderful. She can turn healthy cooking into something to be savored; I am always amazed how delectable her everyday table is. My sons even rave about her eggs. I think, here, using the best and freshest ingredients is a key that goes hand in hand with creative and bold approaches. I have never tasted better fruit than I have in her house. Honestly, it drives me crazy, I don't know where she finds it all the time. Whether it's in season or not, she manages to find the best. She makes it all seem so effortless and easy too. There is a lot I still have to learn from her...
I am going to have to watch her make the topping next time I am in Istanbul and then I can post that here as well. But for now, this will have to do...
My mother-in-law is a diabetic so, of course she thrives on chocolate and deserts. Her most memorable signature dishes I can remember are all deserts, like this 'Muhallebi' or 'Bread Kadayif' or her Apricot Tart.
Although 'Muhallebi' (Turkish cooked pudding) is a very traditional Turkish desert, I think this recipe with its rich chocolate topping is a bit modern, but luscious, all the same.
Butter and sugar were my mother-in-law, Yezdos's, most favorite ingredients. This pudding is almost solid thanks to the amount of butter it contains.
When I was a child, I loved the smell of browning flour in butter; unfortunately, in that state it only burns one's mouth, tongue, lips... without much taste to it; I know from first hand experiences. When my mother-in-law made this 'Muhallebi' the whole house would be seeped with that wonderful smell and then when she added the warm milk to it, the sweet aromas rising from the pot would take me back to the days when I was a little girl waiting to lick the bottom of the bowl again.
The major trick to this 'Muhallebi' is that it is beaten for 20 minutes after it is cooked. Then you have to cool it, preferably, overnight, so that when you pour the chocolate sauce over it, it will become a separate level on top instead of mixing into the pudding underneath like mine came out that night (actually, I substituted rice flour for the wheat flour so it would be gluten-free but I think the proportion wasn't right)
When I saw that it hadn't set and it was going to be too runny, I just put it in the freezer and served it frozen... It actually came out alright, but the recipe that follows is for the real thing and it is just fabulous...
When I moved to Turkey and got married more than 20 years ago, I had no idea how inadequate I was in the kitchen until one fateful day I tried to cook a pot of pink beans in olive oil. I had gotten the recipe from one of my newlywed friends who assured me it was sooo easy. She told me the basic ingredients, 1 kg of pink beans, 1/2 cup of olive oil, 2 onions diced, 1 potato and 1 carrot cubed, 2 cloves of garlic and tomato paste with 1 cup of water... these were suppose to be cooked on high until it boiled and then simmer for one hour. After gathering my ingredients I was ready to tackle the project with gusto the next Saturday morning. As a new bride, I was really excited about preparing my husband's favorite dish for him; it started out as a surprise but as the day progressed on and my telephone calls to my Aunt Vuslat got more and more frantic, he began to wonder what I was doing in the kitchen.
My maternal uncle's wife, Vuslat is probably one of the most creative, talented, resourceful and expeditious individuals, in the kitchen that I know of. She can create a feast in record time from the most humble of ingredients. So, she was my natural choice to call for help in time of need.
The first call was probably around 10 in the morning and I asked her if these ingredients could possibly be right; I was looking into a huge pot full of beans with a few measly pieces of carrots and potatoes and 1 cup of water that was nowhere in sight. My aunt assured me that it would be more than enough. I kept on repeating that I couldn't see the water at the bottom of the pan but she said it was ok, that beans would cook quickly in about an hour and I didn't need to add any more water.
After my third phone call, an hour later, she let me add 1 more cup; I had given up on the other ingredients and just worried about making sure the beans would cook already. I kept on staring into the pot full of beans, dubiously.
One hour turned into three and then five, six.... my huge pot of beans was getting more and more full of beans that were still hard as a rock. By this time, my aunt was sitting by the phone waiting for my next phone call. She kept on going over the ingredients with me and I assured her that I put in 1 kg but when I mentioned adding the whole bag, she realized what I had done. The recipe was for fresh beans, taken out of their skins.... I had put in a whole kilogram of dried beans... without soaking them overnight... so instead of cooking, they were only expanding and expanding, while the rest of the ingredients had turned into burnt mush.
The most important lesson I derived from this experience was to make sure I got the right measurement and ingredients for a recipe by any means possible. I used to drill my aunt until she could not take it anymore to get any kind of a recipe out of her that I could reproduce myself. After many hours of questioning, I derived my first formula for 'Borek' that turned out to be the golden recipe.
Borek is a wonderful Turkish pastry, that everyone absolutely loves, made of dough, eggs, milk and butter or oil with some kind of filling that is baked in the oven until it is golden brown.
For each layer of 'Yufka' (a Turkish dough that is thinner than a puff pastry but thicker than a phyllo dough, which can be found in Turkish grocers) I use one egg, 1/4 cup butter or oil and 1/4 cup milk. The more you add the better it is, and believe me with this recipe, it is very very good... The fillings can vary from feta with parsley to cooked ground beef with onions, to mashed potatoes to any kind of vegetable combined with some kind of cheese, I could go on and on for hours.
You start by greasing your baking pan and then spreading your first yufka with the sides hanging out. You mix the eggs, milk and butter or oil according to how many yufka's you are going to use and spread this mixture liberally, in between each layer of yufka, the general rule is 3 yufka's on the bottom of the pan then the filling and two yufka's on top and then the sides are wrapped on top of the whole thing with the remainder of the egg mixture poured over the top. If you run out of the egg mixture before you get to the top, don't despair, just make some more... remember, in this instance more is better. You put your pan in to a 350 degree oven for one hour and that's it. One of the best parts of it is the wonderful aroma that fills the whole house as it is baking.
My Aunt's recipe for the raw Spinach filling is so delicious that I use left over filling as a salad, mixed with tomatoes, peppers and olives. Since the spinach, onions and feta cheese are mixed with olive oil, It already has the basic ingredients for a good salad.
'Boreks' can be made to eat for breakfast, with your afternoon tea as well as an appetizer or a light entree. Over the years, I made so many boreks that I had to add a little variety and the borek I made for the night of the Global Dinner Party was in fact made by combining water and oil and spreading that on the yufka instead of the traditional egg mixture and at the end bathing the whole borek with the same water mixture and letting it sit for two hours in the refrigerator. Before putting it in the oven I spread a beaten egg over the whole thing. It would've been much better if it could have stayed in the refrigerator overnight since the more the yufka soaks the water mixture the lighter and fluffier it gets.
As I mentioned many times before, the main thing is to stay calm. If there is too much water floating above the borek when you take it out of the refrigerator, you can pour some of it out, the same thing is true for when you take it out of the oven as well. Sometimes, the top is bubbling with the water-oil mixture, I just pour it out before I serve it.
Afiyet Olsun. (Bon Appetit)
Salad I made with the left over filling the next day
In Turkey, they say you can measure the expertise of a woman in the kitchen by the rice she makes.
Boy, did it take me a long, long, long time to get it right. Even today, I still hang around the stove while making the rice and check regularly to see if it is done. There are many variations of rice in Turkish cuisine, you can add peas and dillweed, or tomatoes or eggplant or meat or spices. Every single region has a special kind of pilav of their own, each unique from the others.
I use medium grain Goya rice because it is the same as the rice we have in Turkey, the others tend to be more rigid and don't soften enough to our liking. In a good 'Pilav' the rice is suppose to be soft and yet not sticky; every fork-full should consist of separate grains of shiny rice cooked to perfection.
I am told, you are not suppose to stir the rice often and only with a fork.
My mother-in-law always says that the 'Pilav' would like the family to quarrel so that it can pull itself together. It is a good idea to let it sit for at least 40 minutes.
I prefer the bottom crisp and brown, so I make it in a non-stick pan and let it stay on the heat a little bit longer after the water is completely evaporated. I then flip it onto a serving plate like a cake. Another great option is to put the cooked chicken (since you are going to have it on hand after making the broth anyway) around the pilav and you can serve that as the main meal.
The first time I visited my parents' hometown, Kilis, a small border city in Southeastern Anatolia, I was about 9 or 10 years old. My maternal grandparents still kept a house there at the time and it was one of the most incredible places I had ever seen. You entered into an open courtyard that had the kitchen and several small rooms bordering it and a door to a small backyard, then there were stairs on the side wall that took you up to the family's living quarters. I felt like I was in a fairy tale house, it was so different than the cement blocks that we called home back in Istanbul. That trip was also the first time I tasted this kebap. Southeastern Anatolia is the birth place of the 'Kebap' but it is usually made in restaurants with very fatty lamb. I believe this must also be called a 'Kebap' because the taste can be quite similar to the one's you can eat at restaurants with one little difference, it's a bit more healthier.
My grandmother had prepared the meat that my grandfather had cooked in a breadbaker's special wood burning oven, next door. I think I ate the whole thing. My grandfather, then laughingly told me the name and the story of this wonderful delicacy. It is called a 'Fallen Woman's Kebap' because a woman who is outside the home all day visiting, shopping or whatever else instead of cooking, cleaning and other wifely chores would of course be considered a fallen woman. But she still had to feed her family and this is something you can put together in 5 minutes and throw in the oven and still make it for dinner time. I guess we could call it 'The Working Woman's Kebap' today but it wouldn't be as much fun...
Basically, you can use any type of ground meat you like (the original is beef) and put tomato paste, pepper paste, parsley, lots of diced onions, a couple of cloves of garlic, salt and pepper, knead it all together and pat it down in an oven-proof dish and cook for about 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven and... Voila!
I would suggest playing around with herbs and spices to get a taste you prefer but made this way it is a perfect 'kebap.'
I am going to have to admit Sabiha hala(Aunt) is one my most favorite people in this world. She is currently 98 years old and just as entertaining and lively as she was many years ago. Everyone from little kids to teenagers to even prickly adults enjoys her company and her house is always full to the rim with people visiting. She used to be one of the finest cooks as well; society ladies' chef's used to ask her for advise on how to cook certain dishes. She loved to eat and so she loved to cook. One of my favorite stories growing up was about how she would get up in the middle of the night yearning for a certain desert and she would cook one portion just for herself right then and there. My grandmother used to say some of my diligence when cooking for myself reminded her of my great aunt, which was high praise indeed.
Everything Sabiha hala made was great but her 'Kisir' (Cracked Wheat Salad) was the best I had ever had. There are a lot of recipes and different variations for this particular dish but the 'nar eksisi' (pomegranate sauce) which I couldn't live without, a sweet and sour molasses-like liquid is the secret ingredient that makes it fabulous. You can add more than the recipe to your own taste. One summer, when I was visiting the States and couldn't find the 'nar eksisi' I substituted lemon and molasses which was an acceptable solution for the time being. You can find this in Turkish grocery stores online. I would definitely try to get it since it is a magical addition to any salad.
Olive Trees are in abundance on both sides of the Aegean sea, I think this is enough of an explanation for the variety of vegetable dishes in Turkish cuisine that are prepared using olive oil. Almost all the vegetable can be cooked in olive oil using a basic recipe with minimal variations and the results are always scrumptious. Olive oil dishes are one of the main categories of Turkish cooking.
Turkey is a true mosaic of different cultures and civilizations, our own family is a perfect example of the different types of backgrounds that are inherent in our culture. While my parents are both from Southeastern Anatolia, my husband's father was from Drama, a small town in today's Macedonia and his mother's family was from Crete.
Although I didn't get a chance to meet her, my mother-in-laws mother was reportedly an excellent cook of all the 'Zeytinyagli' (olive oil dishes) and Tuku, our dear aunt, who lived with her had the privilege of learning her way of making these particularly Aegean dishes. Tuku was one of the only women I know who had learnt to cook with measurements and basically, it is thanks to her that I started to cook any decent 'Zeytinyagli' dishes at all.
The basic recipe I learnt from Tuku is as follows - for every kilogram of fresh vegetable, use 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1-2 onions, 1 tablespoon of salt, 2 tablespoons of sugar, about 1 cup of warm water and then you can add tomatoes or rice or lemon according to the vegetable you are cooking. After all the ingredients are combined as they are suppose to be, you cook it on high until it starts to boil and then turn the heat down and let it simmer for an hour. You are suppose to let the vegetable cool in its own pot before removing it to a serving dish. All the olive oil dishes are served cool, with a little drizzle of olive oil on top, to make it look shiny.
If some people are born with a green thumb, some are definitely born with a natural cook's hand and my sister-in-law, Duygu's mother, Aymis hanim is definitely one of those talented individuals. Whatever she touches seems to turn into a gastronomical delight. None of our special family gatherings at Duygu's house would be complete without her mother's incredible 'Zeytinyagli Dolma's' (stuffed grape leaves in olive oil) or 'Barbunya' (pink beans in olive oil), yummm... 'Dolma' is the one food that would separate the girls from the women in case of Turkish cooking, since it entails many hours of wrapping the rice and onion combination filling in thin grape leaves; the size and the firmness of the Dolma pronounces the expertise level of the preparer. It is one of my favorite foods and I am especially fond of Aymis hanim's Dolma's.
Circassian chicken, 'Cerkez Tavugu,' is another specialty that is the sign of a good Turkish cook. The actual recipe is suppose to be very hard because it requires extracting the oil of walnuts; I have never, even questioned, how that is done, so I cannot tell you but this recipe, in my opinion, tastes better than the real thing. It is super easy and incredibly delicious.
Getting a recipe with actual measurements out of a real Turkish cook is next to impossible, These women must have all learned how to make these delicacies on their mother's laps and are very easy going about giving out recipes since everyone's pinch or hand full is different; the resulting product can be extremely variable. I have learned after many melt-downs that all you need to do is relax and trust your taste buds. If you get the basic ingredients fresh and rightly prepared (in this case boiling the chicken until it is tender) the sky is the limit.
I am including the recipe for this but I have to admit that I start out with the boiled chicken and keep on adding more and more yogurt and salt and even garlic until I get it to the consistency and taste I desire.
Mezes are tapas-like, small portions of food that is served to go along with the Turkish national drink ‘Raki.’ There is a whole ‘Raki Culture’ related to how the drink is to be consumed slowly, in accord with the food and the conversation. But most of the same foods that are used as mezes can also be found in any Turkish home, cooked as the appetizer or cold vegetable dish that is served before the main meal.
My mother, Nuko, before she became a businesswoman, used to be renowned for her splendid tables and endless hospitality; she spent many years feeding whoever walked in through our doors, sometimes to the point of detriment to the guests’ health. Insistence is the sign of a truly outstanding hostess in our culture. One time I heard my mother-in-law, boasting to my mother about how many people had to go to the emergency room after leaving her table, I have heard of at least one heart attack and one near-collapse, while Nuko responded with stories of her own.
She rarely has time to cook these days but, she still absolutely loves to roast eggplants. According to my mother, the messiest job that I have a major aversion to, is the easiest thing in the world and she is sure to have it on hand anytime she entertains. Since I too love the end result, I tackled my demons for this special evening and came through ok, I think. Once you roast the eggplant in the broiler of your oven, the rest is up to you and your preference.
I read Rita Golden Gelman's first book "Tales of a Female Nomad - Living at Large in the World"... and my whole world expanded...
After I checked out her website, I found out she had another book out, a facebook page and an event that was planned - 'The Global Dinner Party' that I just had to be a part of...
Rita's first book was about breaking free of the confines of our existing lives, broadening our horizons, connecting with other people and following your heart's desires, I, naturally, loved it...
My husband saw me reading it and just said - "It would be impossible to expect you to not love a book that has a title like that..." He knows me so well.
It wasn't just the nomadic existence that appealed to me so much though, it was the fact that she was doing something I had always longed to do - meeting new people in different cultures, living amongst them, entering their worlds and touching their lives in some way. And, she made it seem so easy...
I immediately bought her second book and got to work...
"Female Nomad and Friends - Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World" is a collection of little stories, written by women, who have traveled the world and connected on some level with people from different cultures. The book also contains recipes, from all over the world; one of the main ways Rita connects with people is by cooking with them, another one of my passions.
So, last night I had a little dinner party of my own, as a part of Rita's grand plan...
"The Global Dinner Party" took place for a period of 24 hours, all over the world, where people connected over food. I took this opportunity to meet my neighbors and invited them over to get to know them better.
It turned out that it was only four of us, including my son, but I think it was more intimate and I feel that I have made some dear friends.
Naturally, I had to add my own flair to the party and decided that it wasn't enough to just cook an all Turkish menu, it also had to have a connection to the women in my own life who had left me with memories, recipes and affected my life in a significant way.
I will be posting the details of the party along with recipes, I hope, this weekend...
Meanwhile, here is a preview of the menu...
"Fallen Woman's Kebap" from my grandmother, Ulker Yavasca
"Pilav with chick peas" my own specialty
"Spinach borek" from my aunt, Vuslat Yavasca
"Eggplant salad" from my mother, Nukhet Uygur (Nuko)
"Circassian Chicken" from my sister-in-laws mother, Aymis
"Green beans in olive oil" from my husband's aunt, Turkan Yucesan (Tuku)
"Kisir" from my great aunt, Sabiha Pinar
"Black and White Pudding" from my mother-in-law, Yezdan Piker (Yezdos)
"Pudding with Fruit topping" from my sister-in-law, Duygu Piker
There are many stories behind most of these, so keep watching...
I am hoping to fulfill my true potential by going back to school and taking art history classes this fall. I have been waiting for this day, like waiting for the Monsoon in the desert. I am a forty four year old woman who has lived in the world, stayed at home to raise a family, is managing her own business but still doubts her own place in this universe.
It feels like I have been on a path of trying to find a sense of self thorough art all my life. It all started when my 5th grade art teacher suggested that I enter one of my oil pastel works into a competition. He praised my work over everyone else's and made the suggestion; being a painfully shy child, I demurred, needing more encouragement... he got distracted by something else... and later on my picture was lost... I had found and lost my only chance of a conspicuous existence within the crowd all within the same heartbeat.
I was very proud of that picture and how I had worked out the problem of presenting the human figure, something I didn't feel competent about. I had the crowd with their backs to the viewer. I don't remember now, if I felt particularly special due to my great talent but I do remember feeling smart. Some subtle awakening must've taken place at the time; my recollections of that summer are of getting up early to paint the sunrise out of my little bedroom window. Unfortunately none of these early masterpieces survived since we moved to the States one year later.
My memories are hazy about my other artistic endeavors until I got to high school and started to take art classes as electives. One incident that sticks out in my mind is of my sculptor instructor chastising me for not being loose enough ..I can still hear his baffled inquiry "Have you never played in the mud as a child?" I hadn't ... but that was besides the point... I was trying to maintain a strict control over the clay... obviously without much success. That must've been why I never liked working with water colors either, the frustration I felt due to the lack of control was beyond bearing... I could never relax and just do it due to a constant obsession of trying to get it right.
My aspirations never ran towards studying fine arts (not enough confidence in my own ability) but I wanted to do something creative. I am not sure if my love of art history came into being because of my obvious lack of artistic genius, (I always reasoned, if indeed I was a genius, I would've been discovered already) or if it was just an accessible way of being a part of the art world, the only place I had ever felt I had a modicum of a sense of belonging. Whatever the reasons, it feels like I have been looking for my true calling in art classes and museums, for the better part of the last thirty years. How I envy those lucky individuals who know what they want to do and how they want to do it from an early age.
Now, watching this video of Jeff Koons and listening to his remarks about "what people want to do the most in life, is what they avoid the most... and his pronouncement that somehow our true potential can be triggered by the contemplation of a work of art," makes me stop and ponder... hmmm... he may have something there....
I have a new hero... Rita Golden Gelman. She is the author of "Tales of a Female Nomad - Living at Large in the World" This courageous woman had the audacity to go out into the world following her instincts and heeding her inner voice at the tender age of 48. She shed her life of privilege and glamor behind and started anew from one day to the next. She should be the guiding light for all those women across the world, who think there is no other way to live, that they are stuck in their lives, their circumstance. It can be done... It has been done. I want to thank her for giving me the courage to say "this is how I want to live this life."