Saturday, November 27, 2010


Turkish food is quite similar to other Mediterranean food, with lots of meat, feta, yogurt, and fresh vegetables. Lamb and beef are common, but pork is not as most citizens are Muslim. When I was in Turkey, my mother and I ate almost nothing but döner kebab (the Turkish version of gyros) and were totally all right with that. Unfortunately, making it involves taking ground lamb and beef, seasoning the crap out of it, and slow-roasting it on a spit. So when I decided to make Turkish food it wasn't an option.

I built the meal around a boneless leg of lamb I had in the freezer and needed to get rid of before a Groupon for Springfield Butcher expired. I found a recipe for something called pink leg of lamb, which was supposed to be Turkish and looked manageable. I decided to alter the recipe a bit to make something more like Iskender kebab, which is a seriously amazing Turkish food (chunks of meat in tomato sauce with yogurt and melted butter). To round it out, I made fried zucchini (it's an informal goal to fry zucchini as many times as possible throughout this endeavor) with yogurt sauce, cigarette borek, olives and garlic with pita, and a basic rice pilaf with saffron. I also mixed up a little ayran, which is a yogurt drink that's super popular over there. I hate the stuff so didn't have any myself, but I made my friends Ben and Katie try some. In general, everything was tasty. I'd hoped the lamb would come out a little more tender, and was upset that the yogurt separated despite my efforts to stabilize it. I didn't follow the directions with the phyllo, but the cigars were still really good. I think my favorite part was the olives; I couldn't find pitted black olives at the olive bar and didn't want to use canned or jarred so I used kalamata. I had the leftovers sauteed with mushrooms and pasta, and they were incredibly flavorful.

Olives with Garlic (Sarimsakli Zeytin)

1 cup black olives, seeds removed and cut in slices
50 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 lemon juice
1 tbsp dry oregano
1 tsp dry mint or chopped fresh mint

Mix all the ingredients with a spoon. Serve with any kind of lamb meal.

Cigarette Borek (Sigara Boregi)

3 sheets Phyllo Pastry
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Pinch of oregano (optional)
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Mix the filling ingredients in a bowl. Grab a small dish and place some water in it - you'll use this to stick the edges of the borek.
Place the three sheets on top of each other on the counter and place them vertically. Cut them in half from top to bottom. Then cut from one of the top corners to a bottom corner diagonally. Now you should have 12 smaller pieces of phyllo pastry. Put one teaspoonful of filling on the long side of each sheet. First fold the ends from the outside to the inside, then roll it up. Soak the open end in the water and close it up.
After you've rolled up all the sheets, heat up the sunflower oil on the stove in a skillet. Fry each borek equally over medium heat until they take a light golden color. Don't leave the stove as they fry quickly:) Place ones that are done on a paper towel to soak up extra oil.
Serve Cigarette Borek while they are still warm as an appetizer or with tea as a snack.
*Phyllo Pastry may dry up, so roll them up quickly or cover them with a clean towel while you're not using them.

Fried Zucchini with Yogurt Sauce (Kabak Kizartmasi)

2 zucchini, peeled and cut in round slices
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Yogurt Sauce:
1/2 cup yogurt
1 garlic clove, smashed with salt
2 tbsp dill, chopped

Put the zucchini slices on a shallow plate and pour milk all over. Leave for about 20 minutes.
Pour the flour in an another shallow plate. Remove the zucchini slices from milk, don't squeeze, and flour.
Heat up the oil and fry the zucchini slices until both sides take a light golden colour. Afterwards, place on a paper towel to soak up any extra oil. Arrange on a service plate and serve with yogurt sauce while the slices are still crunchy.
Serve at room temperature on the same day.

Shepherd's salad

1 tomato
1 cucumber
1 small red onion
1 small bunch fresh parsley
dressing: fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper

Dice the tomato, cucumber, onion, and parsley. Mix well with dressing.

Turkish Rice Pilaf (Pilav)

3/4 cup long-grain rice
1 cup hot water or chicken stock
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
Pinch pepper
Pinch saffron

Wash the rice several times with warm water and drain. Then cover the rice with hot water and leave for about 15 minutes, then drain. Melt the butter in a cooking pot. Saute the rice with butter for 2-3 minutes while stirring. Pour 1 cup of hot water or chicken stock in it. Add salt, pepper, and saffron. Turn the heat to low and cook until the rice absorbs all the water.
Take the cooking pot away from the heat. Open the lid, place a clean kitchen towel across the top of the pot on the rim and put the lid on it. Let the Pilaf stand for about 5 minutes. We call this brewing time. Then serve.
* Don't stir Pilaf while it's cooking.
* Don't use a spoon to fluff Pilaf. Use a wooden or regular fork for it.

Pink Leg of Lamb, Iskender style

3lbs deboned leg tied
3-5 garlic cloves slivered
Salt and pepper
1 cup tomato purée
1 tsp cumin
4 tbsp butter
1 cup stabilized yogurt made with:
1 liter/quart yogurt
1 egg white from a large egg
1 tbsp cornstarch

Heat the yogurt, then add the egg white and cornstarch, whisk, and simmer for five minutes. Put half away; you won't need it for this recipe. Make incisions in the lamb and stuff with garlic. Season with plenty of salt and pepper and brown in oil on all sides. Add the yogurt, cumin, and tomato puree (if you want a more caramelized tomato flavor you can add the tomato puree first, in very small batches, stirring until each batch is very dark before adding more). Cover and simmer for about 2 hours. To serve: slice lamb, cover with sauce, and pour melted butter over the top.


3 cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt

Mix well; serve cold.

"Mmm, vaginal health!"


  1. that all looks delicious! I really want fried zucchini...

  2. Love Turkish food--it's like Greek and Pakistani food had a love child. Though that love is tempered by the fact that I can't have yogurt, so I share your aversion!

    One of my favorite things about Turkish cuisine is that it's one of the comparatively few cuisines that warms olives in the oven, which changes the texture and flavor completely (as heat tends to do to things with oil in them).

    Question about the pilaf: is 1 cup of stock really enough for 3/4ths of a cup of rice? Generally for Turkish pilafs I soak the rice in hot water for half an hour, and then still end up adding stock in a 5:2 ratio, like 2.5 cups of stock for every 1.5 cups of rice. But so much in the cooking of rice depends on the age of the rice, the ambient humidity in the room, and that sort of thing, that I can envision a world where one cup could even work.

    My favorite story about Turkish food is that Empress Eugenie (Napoleon III's wife) was visiting the Sultan when she was served a dish of Hunkar Begendi (imagine some gibberish accents where appropriate and it translates to "admired by the sultan," or colloquially something more like "sultan's delight"), creamed eggplant topped with chunks of spicy lamb. She liked it so much that she sent her personal chef to the palace kitchen to get the precise recipe. Supposedly, the palace chef responded to the query with the observation that a TRUE chef cooks from instinct and not from recipes. Implicit in the story is that not even the palace chef believed that--it was just meant to be a dismissive thing to say to avoid giving out a recipe.

    In a way, it summed up all the problems of the Ottoman Empire in the 1800s: behind in technology, education, commerce and culture, with the powers of Europe salivating to devour its riches. And yet, somehow, Turkey survived the Ottoman Caliphate, a larger story told in the thumbnail sketch of Empress' chef returning to France without a recipe.