Friday, July 8, 2011

Cooking Bloopers and a Taste of Turkey

I had my share of cooking bloopers in my early days in Izmir.  (I still have them as a matter of fact.) The lasagna fiasco stands out in my memory as a time when I tried serving American food to Turks and could tell they didn't like it. Thinking therefore that I should adapt to their culture and serve them food they were used to, I tried to cook Turkish food. Only it flopped, and when you cook Turkish food for Americans, they can’t even tell if it turns out right, but my Turkish friends could tell, like the time my lentil balls (mercimek köftesi) were so soggy that they flattened out on the plate into one mass of goop.

My quest to learn some Turkish cooking began in earnest one Christmas when I wanted to host a party and realized, to my horror and shame, that I didn’t know how to make one main dish after living here three years!  In my defense, learning to cook a la turca is not easy because people don’t use recipes or exact measurements.  If you ask someone how to make something, instead of giving you a recipe, they’ll want you to come over so you can watch them and work on it together.  Everything is a pinch of this a pinch of that.

Still Learning
Turkish cooking is a work in progress for me.  I’m still learning.  For example,  I only make stuffed grape leaves two or three times a year, not often enough to remember how, so that the rice inside my dolma is either soggy and gloopy or dry and crunchy.  Not sure which one is worse.

This book has been a lifesaver for me. There may be others, but it's the only Turkish cookbook I've ever seen that uses accurate measurements and tested recipes.

My Favorite Turkish Cookbook

What about you?
Part of the joy of cooking is discovering new tastes, using new ingredients and combinations. If you live overseas, what is your experience with local cooking? Any cooking bloopers? What is your favorite local dish?  If you live in your home country, what is your favorite ethnic food?  (Scroll down to leave a comment after the recipes.)

I thought I’d share a few tastes of Turkey with you:

Zeytinyağlı Fasulye 
Green Beans in Olive Oil (My favorite summer dish)

1 ½ pounds of green beans, strung and chopped.
1 chopped onion
4-5 cloves garlic minced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp sugar
¼ cup olive oil
2-3 grated or food processed fresh tomatos**
1 ½ cups water

Place the green beans in a wide mouthed, lidded pot.  Add the onion, garlic and tomato pulp raw.  Drizzle with the olive oil, add the salt, sugar, and water. Bring to a boil on high until the green beans turn bright green.  At this point, lower the heat and simmer 20 to 30 minutes. (Greenbeans in the US are more tender and should require only 15-20 minutes cooking.) Serve at room temperature as a side dish.

**Cut a tomato in half, then press the cut side to a grater and grate, until you are left with the peel in your hand.  I find this easier than peeling tomatos and dragging out my food processor. An alternative would be to 
food process the tomatoes with the peels, but don’t serve it to Turks that way!

Cracked Wheat Salad

1 cup fine grain bulgur wheat
1 cup boiling water
2 TBSP olive oil
1 small chopped onion
3-4 cloves minced garlic
3/4 tsp. cumin
3/4 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
2 TBSP tomato paste
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2 cucumbers
2 tomatoes
3-4 dill pickles
1 large red or green pepper
3 TSPN olive oil
Juice of half a lemon

1.      Heat the oil in a medium saucepan, add the bulgur and onion and stir it until the bulgur begins to brown slightly.  At this point, add the garlic and seasonings.  Continue stirring a minute; add the tomato paste and stir one more minute.  Add the water, stir and cover. Let sit one hour. Chop the vegetables
2.      When the bulgur is cool, fluff it with a spoon and add it with the chopped vegetables and pickes to a salad bowl.  Toss with olive oil and lemon, add more salt to taste and serve.

Any comments about your cross-cultural cooking experiments?


Columba Lisa said...

Hi Betsy! That wheat salad looks great! Is there much talk about going gluten-free over there? It's the big deal over here these days, and I understand in Europe, too. So many people have been diagnosed with Celiac's disease, caused by gluten.
How are you? We spent today hauling our furniture all around the house, and now we're settled in our new bedrooms! Which we really need, as we're exhausted, lol!
Love in Jesus!
Lisa and kids

OliveTree said...

Hi Lisa! Great to see you here. Gluten-free products are SLOWLY appearing on the shelves here, but you don't hear much about it. And in this country where out of necessity WHEAT BREAD is the (cheapest) staff of life, I predict the gluten-free movement will be small...

Shanda said...

That looks yummy. My family loves foreign dishes.
I remember back in the late 60's when we first went to Africa. My mom was excited to make American food for her local friends and she made spaghetti. they didn't want to eat it because they thought it was worms.

OliveTree said...

Worms? That's pretty funny.