Friday, July 22, 2011

Istanbul II - Cooking

Determined that I would consign the 2am-post-drinks-kebab to history I set out to discover the real taste of Turkey, by taking a cooking class.  Actually I had a doner kebab for lunch, a 4 Turkish Lira (about £ 1.50) extravaganza of grilled aubergine and tender lamb, crispy bread and zucchini that had already made me think that "Kebabs on Queen" had been holding something back for years.  Breakfast at the hotel had been salty cheese, olives, watermelon and a delicious sweet bread roll made with tahini (this is, I think, Armenian).  Turkish food was looking very tasty.

I had booked a place at "Cooking Alaturka" and spent quite some time trying to find the place in the maze of streets near the Blue Mosque.  I did manage to find this shop on the way.  Trying on felt hats when it's 38 degrees outside is a bit silly, but imagine the fun you could have on a chilly winter afternoon.

Entering the cooking school with some trepidation I was greeted by the owner and given the days recipes.  All looked simple, and really delicious.  I couldn't wait to get started.  Soon the five of us were chopping garlic, slicing onions and starting to create our dinner.  First on the menu was Ezogelin Çorbasi – Lentil and Bulgur Soup with Dried Mint and Red Pepper.  Ezo (gelin - the bride) Çorbasi was a particular beauty who many men wanted to marry.  Unfortunately for her, her family arranged her marriage to a man who loved another.  Her second husband took her to Syria where she was very homesick.  She created this soup for her very demanding mother in law who could never be pleased.  Poor Ezo died of TB sometime in the 20th Century and her soup lives on - on pretty much every menu I saw in Turkey.  It's pretty tasty too, with its distinctive flavour coming from capsicum puree (bilber alçası), an important part of Turkish cuisine.  Not sure why the mint is dried though, I guess it has a slightly different flavour to fresh mint - more wintery and warming.

Next up was Zeytinyağlı taze fasulye (Runner beans coked in olive oil with tomato, onion and garlic).  This was also a staple on many meze dishes in Turkey and absolutely delicious.  I'm a runner bean fan, but this elevated the bean into something special - and you throw away most of the cooking liquid, so they are healthy, right? 

Kabak Mücveri is delicious! Zucchini fritters with dill, parsley, mint and feta.  Find a recipe, eat the lot, you won't regret it. Hünkar Beğendili Kuzu - Lamb Stew in Tomato Sauce on Smoky Eggplant Puree was the next course and the one I was least convinced by.  The lamb stew was tasty but I'm not sure about the eggplant puree.  I love eggplant, but this had bechamel sauce in it.  It made it a little heavy, maybe it's for a banquet.  It had a lovely smoky flavour though.  Maybe I had eaten too much by this point.

Which is a shame, because for dessert we made İncir tatlısı.  I claimed defeat at this point and took mine back to the hotel for tomorrow.  These figs were stuffed with walnuts and poached in a lemon and clove syrup.  They were fantastic, and looked really beautiful and difficult - they were easy to make.

All this and a couple of glasses of local wine. A brilliant day in Istanbul.

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