Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Family, Friends, Surprise Hat & the Mystery Cake

I have been having fun with my blog and have been sharing it with family and friends.
My beautiful niece Ece is working on her PhD and her first baby who is coming soon...

Imagine, I'll be a great aunt in May! We all are so excited about the baby.
The blue blanket I made is ready to go to Turkey. Ece recently sent me a note about a surprise package that was on its way. It was a surprise indeed. A real chef's hat that reads "Yasemin's Kitchen".
This officially makes me a chef, I guess, and now I really need to know what I'm doing in the kitchen.

I go to an art class every week. I have the coolest teacher and BFF Lynne. I met some of the most wonderful friends through art over the last few years. Needless to say, it is a lot more than learning to paint, it is like therapy. We are women of all different backgrounds and ages, yet we have a lot in common. I truly enjoy being with my them. On Monday we met in a cozy coffee shop for my birthday. Good coffee, great pastries and priceless conversations. We had a great time. Just when we were about to leave, the waiter shows up with a beautiful birthday cake. We all looked at each other trying to figure out who asked for it.
"Someone reserved it for you this morning" said the waiter.

That was enough to get us all excited. We raced asking “who, who?”
“No name!”. Then we got more excited...
Our imaginations started to work. There were suggestions of a “secret admirer”. 

We all giggled and laughed and sampled the delicious cake with our fingers.
Ten minutes later Lynne got a call from Gali. We found out that she could not make it to the party, but wanted to make sure we had a cake.
So sweet, so special!

Life is good...with good friends...and good food...
Today's recipe?  Call a good friend, chat a little, chat a lot, in my opinion, best food for the soul.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pink Sultan – Beet Dip with Garlic Yogurt

Pink Sultan - Pembe Sultan

Here’s a meze bursting with color and flavor. Its almost florescent pink color comes from the beets. When one day, my childhood friend and college roommate Uslu prepared this for us, we, the other two roommates, whose kitchen talents were limited to macaroni and cheese, thought she used some ridiculous food dye to get the bright color. We were pleasantly surprised to find out it was all natural.

Each time I cook beets, I think about the centuries old Turkish kilim rugs and the fact that they use root dyes to color the wool they use. When a see a rug with bright pink or deep magenta patterns on it, I wonder if they used beets in getting those colors.

This is a very simple recipe with only 4 ingredients including salt. Garlic yogurt added to boiled beets, that’s all! No problem for those who want to skip garlic. This makes a great dip with chips or wedges of pita bread. You can also serve it as meze, a side dish. Enjoy!

  • 4 beets, about 2 cups
  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh mint or parsley (optional as garnish)
Cut the stems and the long skinny root part of the beets, wash them. Place in a pan with about 2 cups of water. Boil until tender, about 30 minutes. You can check tenderness by inserting a thin knife into it. If the knife goes thru with ease, it is cooked. Remove from heat, drain. Let it cool, peel outer layer. When you rub your fingers over the skin, it easily peels off. Grate the beets, place in a large bowl. Add yogurt and crushed garlic and salt. Mix well with a spoon. Taste it, if you like it more tangy, feel free to add more yogurt. Place it in a serving dish. Garnish with a few leaves of fresh mint or parsley.
Use fresh beets if possible
Uncooked, trimmed beets

Beets cooked and peeled

Grated beets
Pink Sultan with Pita Wedges

 Afiyet Olsun! Bon Appetit!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Helva – Farina Dessert with Pine Nuts – Fistikli Irmik Helvasi

We spend our summers in Bodrum, a popular coastal town on the Southwestern Coast of the Aegean Sea in Turkey. We are very lucky with our neighbors. Though we all are from different age groups and backgrounds, we do share a lot, including food. Whoever cooks something special, brings a plate to the neighbors for sampling. 

Ayten hanim, Ayse and Cenk’s mother is a great cook. She was on a cooking show on TV as a contestant and made it to the finals. She is that good! When her son came  from the U.S. for his vacation, as a good Turkish mother, she was cooking all his favorite dishes and then some. Needless to say, we got a chance to enjoy some of her delicious specialties since they were kind to bring samples to us. 

Helva was one of them. Helva is a fairly common dessert in Turkey. Traditionally it is served at special occasions like weddings, after funerals, circumcision dinners, etc. Ayten hanim’s helva was so delicious that I took my pen and a piece of paper the next morning and went over to their house. I wrote the recipe down as we sipped our teas on their balcony. As she was listing the ingredients, like many Turkish women’s recipes, quantities of ingredients were not always measured with a cup or a spoon, typically listed “as appropriate”. She would say, for example “add butter... the size of an egg”, “add pine nuts... to your taste”(how much is up to you). When I tried it the first time, I measured everything, then, the next time I cooked helva, I decided to put less sugar. Thus, the recipe is slightly modified. Here it is, hope you like it!

  • 2 cups farina (semolina)
  • ½ stick (4 table spoons) butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups milk
  • ¾ cup water
  • ½ cup pine nuts (pignolias)
  • Ground cinnamon (optional)
  • Vanilla ice cream (optional)

Combine butter, pine nuts and farina (semolina) in a large pot. Stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, roast the mixture until pine nuts turn golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Add milk, water and sugar, mix with a spoon. It will be a very watery mixture at first with pine nuts floating on top. Bring to a boil on medium heat, reduce heat and let it simmer, stirring occasionally. Do not cover. As the mixture thickens, it will start to look like porridge. Keep stirring with a wooden spoon to avoid sticking on the bottom. In about 10 more minutes, it will thicken resembling mashed potatoes, but stickier. 
Start roasting pine nuts and farina (semolina) in butter

Helva roasted until pine nuts turn golden brown

Milk, water and sugar added

It gets thicker as it simmers

Cooked, ready to be served

Remove from heat, let it cool for about 5 minutes.  When it is lukewarm, using an ice cream scoop or a melon baller, shape them into balls and place the balls on a serving dish.  You can sprinkle cinnamon over them when you serve. Goes well with vanilla ice cream. 

Afiyet Olsun! Bon Appetit!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Stuffed Zucchini & Peppers – Kabak ve Biber Dolmasi

Dolma means "stuffed" in Turkish, referring to stuffed vegetable dishes. Best known dolma by far is the stuffed grape leaves. Other vegetables that are used in making dolma are peppers, eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes, cabbage, Swiss chards and onions. There are two versions of dolma. One with meat filling, other meatless. Both are made with a grain like rice or bulgur, onions and different herbs and spices depending on the version. Recipe below is made with ground beef and rice. Meatless recipe to follow at a later time. Dolma is great comfort food, tasty and satisfying. Like many Turkish dishes, it is usually served with yogurt on the side.

  • 6 medium zucchini
  • 1 lb mixed red/orange/yellow small peppers
  • ½ lb lean ground beef
  • ½ cup rice, washed and drained
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ cup fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 table spoon paprika
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup boiling water

Cut the tops of the peppers, remove seeds, wash, set in a pot.
Peel and wash the zucchinis. Cut the top 1/3 of the zucchinis. Using a melon baller and a small tea spoon, remove the inside of the bottom parts of the zucchinis (see picture). Save the top portions and the pieces that come from the inside. You can make zucchini dip (see recipe dated Feb 20,2012) using the leftover zucchini pieces. Sprinkle paprika inside the zucchini shells. Set them also inside the cooking pot.

peppers ready to be filled

peeled zucchini

zucchini ready to be filled

peppers and zucchini in the pot, ready to be filled

In a bowl, place ground beef, rice, onions, dill, olive oil, salt & pepper. Mix well with a spoon. Fill the peppers and the zucchini with the filling. 

filling for the dolmas

pepper and zucchini dolmas ready to be cooked

In a separate bowl, mix the tomato paste with boiling water. Add this sauce to the pot. DO NOT pour it over the stuffed vegetables, Gently pour from the side, letting the sauce go to the bottom of the pot. Otherwise the dolmas may get mushy. Start cooking over medium heat. When the sauce starts to boil, reduce heat to slow. Let it simmer until the rice is cooked and the peppers are tender, about 30-45 minutes.

Dolmas ready to be served
Serve hot with yogurt on the side or with salad.

Afiyet Olsun! Bon Appetit!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Zucchini Dip with Garlic Yogurt

Zucchini Dip with Garlic Yogurt

This is a “meze”, an appetizer, usually served as one of the side dishes that accompany a typical “raki dinner table” where many appetizers accompany the anis based Turkish drink called Raki. For this recipe I thank my friend Guner. Each time we have a pot luck dinner at a friend's house we ask her to bring this as one of her specialties, "garlic yogurt zucchini meze". It looks and taste just like one that is made with eggplants. Eggplant version requires fire roasted eggplants, thus much more labor intensive. This one is simpler, yet delicious.

Though zucchini does not have much of a taste by itself, when it is mixed with other vegetables or spices, it becomes a very appetizing dish. Garlic and yogurt add a lot of flavor to this one in particular. Enjoy!

  • 2 lb zucchini
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 cups yogurt
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ cup fresh dill, chopped
Wash and peel the zucchini, cut them in 1 inch thick pieces, place in a pot. Add olive oil and salt. 
Peeled zucchini
Zucchini cut and placed in a pot with olive oil and salt
Without adding any water, cook over low heat. Zucchini releases its juices. It will look watery at first. Cook for about 30 minutes or until the zucchini is tender and no longer watery.   
Add the flour and stirring with a spoon, cook for another 5 minutes. Using a fork, mash the zucchini.
Add garlic and yogurt, mix well with a spoon. Place it on a serving dish. Garnish with chopped fresh dill. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.
Zucchini cooked until soft and not watery

Flour added and cooked a bit longer

Garlic yogurt added, garnished with fresh dill

 Afiyet Olsun! Bon Appetit!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lady’s Thigh Meat Paddies - Kadin Budu Kofte

Lady's Thigh Paddies - Kadin Budu Kofte

This is a kind of kofte (meat paddies or meatballs) that is made with ground beef and rice. Turkish name translates as “Lady’s Thigh Meat Paddies”. Hard to tell if it was meant to be a compliment for the kofte or for a woman’s thighs. Either case, it is delicious. I have also tried it with ground turkey, that works fine as well. My mom used to make it when she had left over cooked rice.

  • ½ cup rice
  • 1 lb ground beef (1/2lb + 1/2lb)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup of cold water
  • 1 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1 + 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (optional)
  • 1 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1  cup of vegetable oil or olive oil
Place rice and water in a small pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat to slow, simmer until rice is cooked. Drain the rice, let it cool to room temperature. 

In a pan, sauté half of the ground beef with onions for a few minutes only until beef's color changes. 

In a large mixing bowl, combine uncooked ground beef, 1 egg, parsley, pepper and salt. Knead them all until all mixed like a meat loaf. Add the cooked ground beef/onion mixture and mix well. Add the rice to the mixture and gently mix again. The reason to put the rice last is to make sure it does not get mashed during the kneading process. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to cook, take egg size pieces of the mixture, roll it up in your hands like an egg, then flatten the piece to give it an oval shape (about ¼ in thick). Place the paddies on a plate, ready to cook.

Paddies dipped in flour
In a frying pan, heat oil over medium heat.
Mix two eggs in a bowl, set aside.
Put the flour on a plate.

Take each piece of meatball, first place it in flour, making sure both sides are covered. Then dip it in the egg mixture and place it in the frying pan. Add as many meatballs as you can fit in the frying pan, do not over crowd the pan. Fry both sides until golden brown. They should be fried over medium heat. Place the cooked pieces on a plate with a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. 

Place paddies on a paper towel before transferring to a serving dish

Serve hot. Goes well with French Fries and yogurt.

Afiyet Olsun! Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pumpkin Glace – Kabak Tatlisi

Pumpkin Glace, a heavenly dessert

I thought for Valentine's Day, I should post something sweet. This is one of my favorite non-chocolate desserts, one that is based on a vegetable, figure that out!

Pumpkin Glace is the Turkish version of American Pumpkin Pie. It is a popular dessert throughout Turkey. Unlike pumpkin pie, there’s no crust, thus much easier to prepare.  It is always served with grated walnuts. In Antalya, Turkey, they serve it with a drizzle of sesame sauce called tahini. A few years ago, when I made this dessert, I gave a plateful to my neighbor and explained to her what it was. Later she told me that they enjoyed it with their meat. It turned out that they served it with the main dish like you would serve yams or sweet potatoes. I thought it was too funny. This is not a side dish to accompany turkey or meat, it is simply a dessert.

  • 2 lb pumpkins or banana squash
  • ½ lb sugar
  • 1 cup walnuts, grated

There are two ways of cooking this dessert. You can either cook it over the stove or in the oven. I cook it both ways. Taste is very similar, oven cooked one slightly better.  It takes about 30 minutes to cook it on the stove versus 1 hr plus in the oven. So you decide…
Each one of these pieces was approximately 2 lbs
Wash and cut pumpkin into slices. 

Peel the thick skin. Place in a pot for stove top cooking or in a Pyrex dish for oven cooking. Pour sugar over the pumpkin pieces. 

Pumpkins pieces with sugar sprinkled

Place in refrigerator overnight. Pumpkin will release its juices. By morning pieces will be covered in syrup.

Pumpkins in syrup after soaking in sugar overnight

Stovetop Cooking Directions:
Place pot over medium heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, let it simmer until pumpkin slices are tender, about 30 minutes. There will be some syrup in the pot. Let it cool to room temperature. Serve chilled with a generous spoon full of grated walnuts as garnish.
Oven Cooking Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the Pyrex dish with pumpkins in the oven.  Do not cover. Cook until pumpkin slices are tender, about 1 hour. There will be some syrup in the dish. Remove from the oven and let it cool to room temperature. Serve chilled with a generous spoon full of grated walnuts as garnish.

Pumpkin cooked on stove top
Pumpkin cooked in the oven

Afiyet Olsun! Bon Appetit!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Black Eyed Peas Salad - Borulce Piyazi

Black Eyed Peas Salad - Borulce Piyazi

Piyaz is a kind of salad or meze that is made from some kind of dry beans, onions, parsley, sometimes other herbs and spices. The most common piyaz is made with white broad beans. This one is made with Black Eyed Peas. It is simple, tasty and very healthy. Enjoy!

  • 2 cups dry black eyed peas (soaked overnight)
  • 5-6 cups boiling water
  • 1 large onion, julienne cut or chopped
  • 1 cup parsley, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 table spoon balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup small tomatoes cut in half
  • 3-4 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon hot chile pepper (optional)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Soak dry black eyed peas overnight or at least for 3 hours.
Soak Black Eyed Peas overnight

In a pot combine boiling water and beans.  Let it simmer over medium heat until the beans are tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and put the black eyed peas in a large bowl. Let it cool to room temperature. 

Boiled and drained Black Eyed Peas

Add the onions, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, peppers and salt into the bowl. Gently mix with a spoon.
Place the salad into a serving dish. Garnish with small tomatoes. Cover and chill in the refrigerator. Serve chilled.

Afiyet Olsun! Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Oruk - Meat and Bulgur Patties
Oruk - Meat and Bulgur Patties:

Before talking about ORUK, let’s first talk about BULGUR, the main ingredient in Oruk and many other Middle Eastern dishes. Bulgur is a form of whole wheat that has been cleaned, parboiled, dried and ground. It is then sifted into distinct sizes. In Turkey, for example, two sizes of bulgur are available. Fine bulgur is used in soups, salads and “koftes.” Oruk is a type of “kofte”.  Coarse bulgur is used in “bulgur pilaf”. Bulgur is a nutritious grain with nutty flavor, rich in fiber and B vitamins, iron, phosphorus and manganese.  It is thus considered a favorable substitute for traditional rice pilafs. 

Based on ancient Hittite tablets and murals, bulgur wheat was cultivated in Mesopotamia -Fertile Crescent area first.  People made a dish similar to kofte, some sort of meat mixed with spices and grains, formed into patties, oven cooked, grilled or steamed.  

Legend goes like this: Fearful King Nemrut gives orders to kill Abraham. He is to be burned at the stake. By king’s orders, everybody is asked to bring all the wood from their houses to the center of the town (today’s Urfa in Turkey) to form the biggest fire. Since people used wood fire to cook in those days, they were not able to cook anything. If smoke was coming out of the chimney of a house, king’s men would punish the family who is burning wood.  A hunter comes back home with a deer and asks his wife to make a dish. Unable to cook the meat, she creates a new dish for her family by mincing the deer meat, adding bulgur and spices to it and forming the mixture into patties. Her family loved the new dish and day named it “kofte”.  The irony is that we have to thank cruel king Nemrut for this delicious dish enjoyed by millions all over the world. By the way, our story has a happy ending. When Abraham was thrown into the flames, the place becomes a lake and a rose garden and the woods become fishes. Since that day, the area in Urfa called Balikli Göl (Fishy Lake) is considered to be holy ground.

Balikli Göl - URFA

Oruk is a specialty of South Eastern Turkey. Growing up in the West, I did not know this dish until I met my husband who is from Antep. His parents and his uncles made amazing oruks. I got this recipe from uncle Meray who is a great cook. I modified the recipe a little. It is traditionally made with lamb, fatty part of lamb. In order to avoid animal fat, I use leanest ground beef and I add olive oil to add moisture to the beef patties so that when they are cooked they are tender, not hard and dry. When I suggested this change, uncle Meray hesitantly approved, but I'm sure he will continue to make it the "right way".

I am hoping that my friends from Southern and Southeastern Turkey will read this recipe and make comments on it. I’d love to modify it to add flavor and to make it more authentic.

  • 3/4 cup of fine (#1 ) bulgur
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced with garlic press
  • 3 heaping table spoons of dried or fresh mint, chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • dry red chili pepper to taste (1-2 tablespoon)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • salt to taste
Preheat oven to 400F.

Place bulgur in a large pan, add water to it, let it soak the water in for about 5 minutes.
Add the ground beef, olive oil, minced garlic, mint, red chili pepper, black pepper and salt to the bulgur in the pan.Knead the mixture until all ingredients are mixed well. You may want to use latex gloves to avoid smelly hands later.

Wet your hands. Take an egg size piece of the mixture. Roll it in your hand and shape it into a round or oval, flat piece (about 1/2 in thick). Repeat this for the rest of the mixture.

A side note here: Half of my family likes oruk very spicy hot, the other half likes it mild. I put hot crushed chili peppers into part of the mixture. To differentiate the hot ones from the mild ones, I form them into two different shapes; rounds ones will be mild, long ones will be hot for example as you see in the picture below.

Place prepared pieces of oruk on a large pan, side by side, touching each other but not overlapping.
Oruk ready to go into the oven
Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is brown.
Oruk cooked until top is golden brown

Serve hot, but my family loves them cold too.

 Afiyet Olsun! Bon Appetit!