Darina Allen travels to the heart of Turkish Cuisine in Istanbul

During our visit to Istanbul, Burcu of Unison Turkey told me about a particularly delicious marzipan made in Edirne close to the Bulgarian and Greek border, by a family who’d been in business since 1952.

So despite the heavy snowfall and lots of advice to the contrary, I decided to seek them out.

It developed into an endurance test — a five hour journey along the snow-clogged highway past abandoned cars, jack-knifed trucks and freezing hungry drivers many of whom had been stranded since the night before.

When we eventually arrived at Keçecizade almost three hours late, we were warmly welcomed with hot black Turkish tea, cay and a plate of the famous marzipan and cookies. The founder, Metin Bey’s office, was crammed with awards and trophies garnered throughout the years for his delicious confections

Here again we encounter an example of the Turkish apprentice system and a passionate commitment to quality.

Metin worked with a candy master and halva master in Safranbolu, an area traditionally famous for candy and Turkish delight, Eventually he started to make marzipan and Keçecizade was established in 1961.

Metin and his son source their almonds from Thrace where the climate and soil produce the finest nuts with the best aroma and oil content.

The sugar too is carefully sourced. Apparently, it takes four years to become a master marzipan maker as opposed to just three years for a master tailor or shoemaker.

To make the marzipan, the finest almonds money can buy, are first ground with a special blade, then sieved.

Meanwhile they cook the syrup from beet sugar at 120° c and this is poured into a huge stainless steel mixing bowl. The ground almonds are added and the marzipan is mixed slowly with some corn starch for an hour.

It’s then poured out onto heavy unpolished marble tables to cool, formed into mounds, then rolled into 10” batons, with a special corn starch and cut into individual pieces of silky marzipan.

Metin stressed the importance of consistent vigilance not only of each step of the process, but also the quality of each element: the starch, the almonds, the sugar.

Keçecizade also make a delicious Turkish delight, not in the least like the sickly sweet, tooth-wrenching jelly that is usually sold under that name.

There was a wonderful, rose-flavoured version, also one with mastic, and double pistachio to die for. There were rolls of walnut Turkish delight and a hazelnut version rolled in desiccated coconut.

The hazelnuts come from the Black Sea area of Giresun and I discovered Turkey is the biggest producer of hazelnuts in the world.

The city’s food speciality is Tava Ci?geri (translation Fried Liver), thinly sliced deep fried calves liver served with crispy fried chillies and yogurt. We had a feast of ci?ger in a superb little place called Çiçek Ci?ger.

The return journey to Istanbul took just a little over two hours, the highway had by then been miraculously cleared of the huge build-up of cars, vans and lorries.

I also visited a very interesting winery called Arda near Edirne where the wines were elegant and full of promise.

See www.ardasarap.com  and https://www.facebook.com/ardabagcilik  for more details.

Cacik – Cucumber yoghurt dip

Darina Allen travels to the heart of Turkish Cuisine in Istanbul

This delicious version of cacik comes from Eat Istanbul – A journey to the Heart of Turkish Cuisine by Andy Harris and David Loftus

Serves 6

1 cucumber

3 garlic cloves, peeled

500g thick yoghurt

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp dried mint plus extra to serve

1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped, plus extra to serve

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve:

Chopped cucumber

Grate, dice or shave the cucumber into ribbons and place in a colander. Sprinkle with salt and weigh down with a plate. Leave it to drain for at least 30 minutes. After that, put the cucumber in some muslin or a clean tea towel and squeeze out any excess juice.

Use a pestle and mortar to pound the garlic cloves and a little sea salt to a paste. Transfer to a large bowl with the cucumber, yoghurt, olive oil, dried and fresh mint and combine well.

Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Refrigerate until ready to use, then transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with a little more dried mint and garnish with some chopped cucumber and fresh mint.

Turkish Snail

Darina Allen travels to the heart of Turkish Cuisine in Istanbul

Serves 10-15 people

1 packet of best-quality filo pastry

Filling:

450g (1lb) ground almonds

325g (11oz) castor sugar

1 tbsp cinnamon

75-110ml (3-4 floz) orange flower water

75-110g (3-4oz) melted butter

Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl to form a paste.

To Assemble

Lay one sheet of filo on the worktop. Brush with melted butter. Take a fist full of the paste and make into a snake about one inch (2.5cm) thick. Lay this on the long side of the sheet of filo, about one inch (2.5cm) in from the edge. Roll up and bend into an accordian shape and then roll up into a ‘snail’.

Put a sheet of tin foil on a baking sheet and lay the snail on top. Continue with the rest of the filo and paste. Press the ends together to seal the joining and continue to make the snake.

Brush with egg wash and then with melted butter. Bake in a pre-heated, moderate oven at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for approximately 30 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Cool.

Dust with icing sugar, and a little sweet cinnamon.

Marzipan Dates

Darina Allen travels to the heart of Turkish Cuisine in Istanbul

Makes 28

Use up scraps of marzipan to make these dates

28 fresh dates, depends on source

4 ozs (110g) almond paste or marzipan (see recipe)

Castor sugar

Split one side of the date and remove the stone. Roll a little piece of marzipan into an oblong shape, so that it will fit neatly into the opening. Smooth the top and roll the stuffed date in castor sugar. Repeat the procedure, until all the dates and marzipan are used up. Serve as a petit four or as part of a selection of homemade sweets.

Medjool Dates with Pistachio and Marzipan

Dip the top of the stuffed date in finely chopped, unsalted pistachio nuts. Serve as above.

Medjool Dates with Walnuts

Stone the dates, but keep attached. Sip a walnut into each and press closed.

Medjool Dates with Candied Orange Peel

Stone the dates, but keep attached. Slip a sliver of candied orange peel into each and press closed.

Medjool Dates with Candied Pecan Nut

Stone the dates, but keep attached. Slip a candied pecan nut into each and press closed.

Marzipan

175g (6oz) ground almonds

200g (7oz) sugar

110ml (4fl oz) water

1 egg white

Natural almond extract to taste (beware, 1 drop only)

Put the sugar and water into a deep saucepan. Stir over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar in the water. Bring to the boil. Cover the pan for two minutes to steam any sugar from saucepan sides. Remove cover and boil rapidly, just to thread stage -106-113C (236F).

Remove from the heat. Stir the syrup for a second or two, until cloudy. Stir in almonds. Set aside to cool briefly.

Lightly whisk egg white. Add the almond extract and stir into the almond mixture. Transfer the paste from the saucepan to Pyrex plate. Cool. The cool marzipan should feel like moulding clay.

Marzipan will keep for 2-3 months in a fridge.

Edirne Fried Liver with Cacik and Crispy Chillis

Serves 4

350g (12oz) very fresh calves or lambs liver, cut into very thin slices, about an inch (2.5cm) square

Well-seasoned flour

Beef fat or oil for deep-frying

Cacik (see recipe above)

Crisp, sun-dried, deep-fried chilli peppers

Ripe tomato wedges

Raw onion slices

Wash the liver in cold water several times, until the water runs clear. Drain, cover and keep chilled.

Make the Cacik, and keep cool.

Just before serving, take a fistful of liver per person, dry and toss in well-seasoned flour. Drop gently into the hot beef fat or oil. Stir with a metal spoon to separate the pieces, cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the liver is crispy on the outside, but still tender in the centre.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve on a hot plate with a bowl of thick yoghurt or Cacik and with the other accompaniments. The chilli heats, the yoghurt cools and the vegetables provide a delicious freshness. Add some flat parsley, too.

HOT TIPS

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