Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Turkey is the country I chose for my birthday dinner, so yet again, we did not stick by the rules of the random picking. Sorry about that, but in my defense, I think I made the right birthday choice. Turkish food is, in my opinion, some of the best flavors to ever hit your palate. It's just the right amount of savory, sweet and dishes that sound very elegant without breaking the bank.

Taramasalata: Caviar Dip

Here, as you can see and read, is a perfect example of something that sounds really expensive but isn't at all! Tom and I noticed jars of taramasalata popping up all over at our neighborhood grocers about 2 months ago and our curiosity got the best of us. We bought 2 or 3 jars until we realized how easy it was to make. The caviar used in this dip is that of a carp, which may sound a bit iffy and awful, but it is quite tasty and addictive. Most importantly it is cheap. We definitely made way too much of this and ate it throughout the next week.

3 heaping tablespoons of carp roe (may be found at greek and middle eastern grocers for cheap)
1.5 cups of white rye bread with crusts removed
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup olive oil
1 cup vegetable oil
3 tbsp. water if needed.
(There is no need to add any salt to this recipe since the caviar contains more than enough.)

1. Soak the bread in a bit of water and squeeze as dry as you can.
2. Add the soaked bread, roe, garlic, and lemon juice to a food processor. Pulse several times to distribute them evenly.
3. Combine both oils and slowly drizzle them into the mixture with the motor running. If the mixture get's too thick simply pour in a few tablespoons of water.
4. Continue adding the oil until a thick mayonnaise-like substance forms. Chill until ready to serve. This stuff kept well in our fridge for two weeks.

Feta and Walnut Dip

It seems that this was the favorite of the two dips. Our guests really gobbled this one up. I barely ate 2 pieces of matza with it before it was all gone. I wasn't mad about this fact, just happy everyone enjoyed it so much. Here's our good friend Marco enjoying it:

2/3 cup walnuts
1/2 pound feta
1/4 cup yogurt
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

1. Simply combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend into a rough paste.

Red Pepper and Chickpea Soup

Let me just say, I love this soup! Tom found and made this recipe about 2-3 weeks before the Turkey dinner and we automatically knew we had to make it again. It is flavorful and includes two of the best soup ingredients: bulgur and chickpeas. Just read through the recipe and tell me that isn't the most Turkish dish ever.

1 cup dried chickpeas soaked overnight
1/3 cup olive oil
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 bell peppers seeded and finely cut
2 tsp dried mint
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 cups chopped canned tomatoes
1.5 quarts water
1/2 cup bulgur
1/3 cup chopped mint
1/2 tsp hot paprika or cayenne
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium low heat and add the onion and pepper. Cook for five minutes stirring frequently until the vegetables soften. Add the pomegranate molasses and dried mint. Cook for another minute.
2. Drain the chickpeas and add them along with the tomatoes and stock to the pan. Simmer this mixture covered for an hour or until the chickpeas are tender.
3. Add the bulgur to the pot, and simmer a further ten minutes adding more water if necessary.
4. Before serving, stir in the lemon juice and paprika. Salt and pepper to taste. And distribute the soup into individual bowls. Garnish each bowl with some chopped mint and serve immediately. Steps 1-2 can be done up to a day in advance.

Spinach and Feta Pies: Pide

Tom and I enjoyed these wonderful little pies for the first time while we were in New York City this year. Of course the ones we had were filled with pastrami and mozzarella in true Manhattan fashion. We decided to go with a more traditional and not to mention, less filling version of feta and spinach. The dough was so perfect that the next day, we made another batch with sausage, tomato and mozzarella for dinner.

1 quantity of pide dough (recipe follows)
2/3 cup yellow raisins soaked 15 minutes
1 lb spinach washed
2 garlic cloves chopped
2 tsp salt
1/2 red onion finely sliced
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
2/3 pound feta
1 egg
1/2 cup milk

1. Divide the dough into twelve even portions by cutting it in half and dividing each half until you have 12 even portions. Cover and set aside.
2. Prepare the filing by blanching and cooling the spinach in batches. Then chop the spinach and mix it with everything else except for the egg and milk.
3. Preheat your oven to it's highest setting. On a floured surface roll out each piece of dough into a long and thin oval of about 13 by 4 inches. Place several tablespoons of the filling in the middle of the dough and fold the sides over without allowing them to touch. Twist the ends securely. The final result should look a bit like a canoe.
4. Mix the egg and milk in a bowl and brush the pides with a bit of the mixture.
5. Bake the pide two at a time in the oven on a large baking sheet for 7-8 minutes a batch. Remove when the crust is a golden brown. (I find it's easiest to prep the next batch of pide while the other batch is baking.) Serve immediately or warm later in a 320 f oven.


2 tsp dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 cups flour
4 tbsp oil
1/2 cup warm water
2 tsp salt

1. Soak the yeast in warm water and let rest for ten minutes to activate the culture.
2. Combine everything else either in a food processor or mixer and knead until smooth (about five minutes in the mixer)
3. Place in an oiled bowl and leave covered in a warm place for 1 hour.
4. Follow the assembly instructions in the above recipe.

Pistachio and Spinach Pilaf

The best part of this dish is the use of all the fresh herbs. Pilafs always seem to act as a perfect side to meals, but I think this one could stand alone. It just was a good combination of nutty and fresh flavors and got me a little excited about the upcoming farmer's markets for even better herbs.

1 cup basmati rice
1.5 cups water
1/2 stick butter
1 medium onion finely chopped
1.5 lbs spinach washed and roughly chopped
4 tbsps shelled pistachios
1/2 cup chopped mint
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped dill

1. Melt 2 tbsps butter in a medium sized heavy saucepan. Cook the onions in the butter over low heat until they soften.
2. Add the spinach and stir until it has wilted and reduced.
3. Add the rice and stock and bring to a simmer. Season the liquid with salt and pepper to your taste and cover and cook for 12 minutes over very low heat.
4. Cook the pistachios in a small pan with the remaining butter until they brown. Open the lid to the rice and put the pistachios and chopped herbs on top. Cut the heat and leave covered for 15 minutes allowing the pilaf to steam.
5. Fluff the grains and stir the pilaf to distribute everything. Serve on a a large platter.

Circassian Chicken

This is Turkey's national cold buffet dish. This is what you would you would bring to a picnic and is much like a chicken salad we would make, you know, without the mayo. Personally, I did not enjoy this. I think it would be good actually on some bread maybe with some sprouts and stone ground mustard, but on it's own it is a bit boring. This is probably my American taste buds talking but I think it was just lacking some pizazz. You can see it below with the fork in it.

4 chicken breasts
2 stalks of celery
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 large red onion chopped
1 bay leaf
1 carrot peeled and chopped
1/2 cup parsley
1 sprig thyme
1 tsp peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 cup toasted walnuts
2 slices white bread
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp paprika

1. Combine the chicken, celery, carrot, onion, thyme, pepper, and coriander with a liter of water and bring to a simmer. Let cook for 25 minutes and remove the chicken to cool and continue cooking the leftover stock for 25 more minutes.
2. When the chicken is cool shred it with your hands and remove any bones and set aside in a bowl.
3. In a food processor combine the walnut, garlic, cayenne, and paprika. Grind all this and gradually add enough of the prepared stock to make a thick sauce. Salt it to taste.
4. Mix half the sauce with the chicken thoroughly, and top all of this with the rest of the sauce and several dustings of paprika. Serve cold or at room temp.


There are so many interesting tidbits and facts I could share with you about Turkey. The Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, the trade of the Silk Road, the Orient Express, and complicated issues with European and Middle Eastern identities are just the tip of the iceberg. I still think what fascinates me most about Turkey is their road to EEC status and their still pending EU status. I remember having a geography professor my sophomore year telling us that he was betting on 2010 for the year that they finally gain membership. Alas, he was wrong, but it seems to be this struggle that Turkey has with Europe despite having just about equal trade with each other at this point. Someday, Turkey, someday.

As far as the food goes, it is the perfect mixture of Middle Eastern, Balkan and Mediterranean. With this meal, we tried to find the perfect balance of all of these cuisines and produce something that would satisfy and surprise our guests. I think everyone has an idea of what Turkish food is and should taste like, and we'd like to think we exceeded some expectations.

So remember, if you want to see Greek or Roman ruins...go to Turkey.

Up next is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Until then, Sagligina!

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