I spent a few days recently on a nostalgic trip down memory lane, I taught a course here at the Cookery School entitled ‘A Taste of Istanbul’.
It coincided with the coup and subsequent unrest in Turkey so for me it was a bitter-sweet experience.
The course was inspired by the delicious food we ate on our trip to Istanbul last year.
I longed to share my experience and favourite recipes and stories of the places we visited and the Turkish people we met.
Everywhere I went people heard I was interested in the food they cooked for me and shared family recipes.
One guide in Cappadocia brought us home and cooked a delicious goat stew from his village and a bulgur pilaff from cracked wheat milled in the water mill.
Another family brought out granny to give me cooking classes, the flavour of the food still lingers in my memory as does the warmth and kindness of the Turkish people everywhere we went.
I remember a gentle potter who made beautiful utilitarian pots including a vase-like pot in which a mutton stew is traditionally cooked in the embers of a wood burning oven.
The stew was brought to the dining room in the sealed pot by the cook who knocked the top off neatly with a hammer at the table and poured the intensely flavoured stew onto the plate.
He also made unglazed pots specially for yoghurt. I bought one home and the yoghurt we make in this clay pot is quite exceptional.
The street food in Istanbul was intriguing, some like doner kebab, kokerec, barbecued sheep’s intestines are not easy to reproduce but we make a delicious lahmacun, a Turkish lamb pizza eaten with lots of flat parsley and lemon that everyone loves.
I brought back several bags of urfa biber, the red Turkish pepper that’s virtually an essential seasoning and that immediately gives a dish an authentic taste.
Istanbul on the Bosphorus straddles two continents so its food is a fascinating and delicious mix of European and Asian flavours and techniques.
I particularly remember the fishermen in anoraks and woolly hats with their long rods fishing over the Galata bridge and the delicious fresh fish sandwiches balik ekmek, literally ‘fish bread’ from the stalls the Karakoy edge of fish market on the Bosphorous.
We made a delicious variation with fresh Ballycotton mackerel that everyone loved.
They also enjoyed the comforting mercimek, a simple rice and lentil soup that’s put together in minutes. Kids love it too.
The markets in Istanbul are packed with spices, dried fruit, vegetables and herbs, candies, Turkish delight, halva, wild honey and baklava in very shape and form.
We cooked several sweet and savoury dishes with filo pastry and the related kunefe, a shredded filo pastry that cooks to a golden crunch.
Here’s a recipe for a terrific dinner party and a welcome change from pavlova.
It is my mother’s recipe. In Lebanon it is called osmaliyah. It is meant to be served hot but it is also good cold.
You can buy the soft white vermicelli-like dough frozen in Lebanese, Turkish and Greek stores.
In Lebanon, it is called knafe but in the UK it is sold by its Greek name kataifi in 400g packets; it should be defrosted for three hours.
The quantities below will make one large pastry to serve 10 but you can also make two, half the size, one to serve fewer people and one to put in the freezer to bake at a later date.
It freezes well uncooked.
For the syrup
For the pastry
Make the syrup first. Boil the sugar with the water and the lemon juice over a low heat for 5-10 minutes, until it is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Another way to test it is to pour a drop onto a cold plate and if it does not spread out like water, it is ready.
Stir in the orange blossom water and cook a moment more. Let it cool then chill in the refrigerator.
(If you have overcooked the syrup and it becomes too thick to pour when it is cold, you can rescue it by adding a little water and bringing it to the boil again.)
For the filling, mix the ground rice with enough of the cold milk to make a smooth creamy paste. Bring the rest of the milk with the cream to the boil.
Add the ground rice paste, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon.
Leave it on a very low heat and continue to stir constantly for 15-20 minutes until the mixture thickens, being careful not to let it burn at the bottom. Then add the sugar and stir well.
Put the kataifi pastry in a large bowl. With your fingers, pull out and separate the strands as much as possible.
Melt the butter and when it has cooled slightly, pour it over the pastry and work it in very thoroughly with your fingers, pulling out and separating the strands and turning them over so that they do not stick together, and are entirely coated with butter.
Spread half the pastry at the bottom of a large round pie pan, measuring 28-30cm (11-12in) in diameter.
Spread the cream filling over it evenly and cover with the rest of the pastry. Press down firmly and flatten it with the palm of your hand.
Bake in an oven heated to 180C/gas 4 for about 45 minutes.
Some people like to brown the bottom — which comes out on top when the pastry is turned out — by running it over heat on a hob for a brief moment only.
Others prefer the pastry to remain pale.
Just before serving, run a sharp knife round the edges of the osmaliyah to loosen the sides, then turn it out onto a large serving dish.
Pour the cold syrup all over the hot pastry and sprinkle the top lavishly with the chopped pistachios.
Alternatively, you can pour only half the syrup over the pastry and pass the rest around in a jug for everyone to help themselves to more if they wish.
This is another wonderful dessert that I strongly recommend. It is quicker and easier to make than the previous one with cream.
Make the pastry as above but instead of the cream filling, use 18oz (500g) mozzarella cheese chopped or grated in the food processor, mix with 9oz (250g) ricotta, 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons orange blossom water.
Bake as above and pour the cold syrup over the hot pastry as it comes out of the oven, just before serving.
Serve hot or at least warm while the cheese is soft.
Mayonnaise is what we call a ‘mother sauce’ in culinary jargon.
In fact it is the ‘mother’ of all the cold emulsion sauces, so once you can make a mayonnaise you can make any of the daughter sauces by just adding some extra ingredients.
I know it is very tempting to reach for the jar of ‘well-known brand’ but most people don’t seem to be aware that mayonnaise can be made even with a hand whisk, in under five minutes, and if you use a food processor the technique is still the same but it is made in just a couple of minutes.
The great secret is to have all your ingredients at room temperature and to drip the oil very slowly into the egg yolks at the beginning.
The quality of your mayonnaise will depend totally on the quality of your egg yolks, oil and vinegar and it’s perfectly possible to make a bland mayonnaise if you use poor quality ingredients.
Serve with cold cooked meats, fowl, fish, eggs and vegetables.
Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues).
Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time.
Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken.
When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace.
Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.
If the mayonnaise curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce.
If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled mayonnaise, a half teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.
Add 1 tablespoon each of chopped parsley, spring onions and 1 teaspoon of chopped tiny capers and add to the basic homemade mayonnaise.
Sumac (Rhus corioria): the sour berries of a shrub that grows wild throughout Anatolia.
They may be steeped in water and the juice expressed, or ground and used to give a sour note to meat and vegetable dishes.
Sumac can be bought in Middle Eastern shops, or use lemon juice as a substitute.
Red pepper (Biber): an essential item in Turkish cooking. It is available powdered or coarsely ground and the taste is not as hot as cayenne nor as mild as paprika.
A combination of the two may be used as a substitute.
Red pepper appears on the table as a condiment instead of black or white pepper.
At the Eminou end of the Galata bridge over the Bosphorus in Istanbul, you’ll find the Karaköy Fish Market and boats selling balik ekmek.
The name literally means ‘fish bread’, a simple sandwich of freshly grilled fish seasoned with salt and Turkish red pepper, served with sliced onion, lettuce, maybe some tomato and or pepper salad and a wedge of lemon.
The Turks love mackerel but other fresh fish can also be used. Different vendors do variations on the theme, the secret is spanking fresh fish, freshly grilled.
Parsley, Caper and Spring Onion Mayonnaise (see recipe)
First make the mayonnaise (see recipe).
Season the fish with salt and sprinkle with biber pepper or sumac.
Next make the tomato salad.
Half the red onion, slice, sprinkle with salt and sumac and work well into the onion slices with your hands. Allow to sit while you chop the tomatoes coarsely.
Add to the bowl with the roughly chopped parsley. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, lemon juice.
Toss, taste and correct the seasoning – you may need a pinch of sugar.
Heat the pan-grill on a high flame.
Split the bread in half and pan-grill on the crumb side.
Pan-grill the mackerel first, flesh-side down, turn over when nicely marked and golden and then cook on the skin-side until crisp.
Spread a little herb mayonnaise on the cut sides of the bread.
Top with a piece of pan-grilled fish and a portion of tomato salad.
Add a leaf or two of lettuce, either Little Gem or Lollo Rossa.
Serve immediately on a little tray or a piece of brown or greaseproof paper.
Date for the Diary: Don’t miss the Taste of Donegal Food Festival which runs from August 26 for three days.
There are lots of cookery demonstrations, wine and beer tastings, plus meet local food producers.
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