Sunday, October 11, 2015

Eating Around the World - Turkey

Just over eight years ago, I had my last first date and my first traditional dinner date, and it all happened at a Turkish restaurant. This many years later, I can't even remember what we ate, except that there was red sauce on my dish, because I dropped some of it on my skirt and was self-conscious about it the whole rest of the evening. 

Over the next few years, we had many dinners at a Turkish restaurant, although a slightly cheaper one that specialized in pide. For about $7 a person you got a salad plate with three salads, a cup of lentil soup, and a pide or bread boat which is basically a Turkish pizza. And that whole time you got to sit cross-legged at a low table, propped up by pillows, enjoying conversation during the leisurely meal. One of the places I miss most from my hometown.

I was missing the Turquaz Cafe a little too much when I planned our menu this week, and I forgot one crucial fact. Most of the time we went to the Turquaz Cafe it was because we were having a hard week, and I needed a night off cooking and a place to relax over a fun meal. I mean, the food was excellent, but the atmosphere and time together was really the reason we went.

This meal, on the other hand, took several hours to cook, and a couple more to clean up. And, to be perfectly honest, I ended up finishing the dishes in tears at midnight. The food itself was delicious, probably even better than the restaurant version. And the family dinner was really fun, eating the food around the coffee table on the living room floor. But I'd never recommend this full menu to someone with multiple little children and a teething, fussy baby. My advice to my smarter, future self? Stick to the soup OR the pides for an entree. You're welcome.

And lest you think that a simple lentil soup isn't enough to be an entree, just give it a try. After the first bite of this one, Collin said, "This is so good. Why don't you make it more often?" My modifications to this recipe were to substitute cracked barley (whirled in the blender) for the bulgur wheat, and to add 1 T. smoked paprika to the onion/spice blend.

Shepherd's salad: chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, and banana peppers, with a very simple dressing. This salad was served with almost every dinner on the trip I took to Turkey in college. I think it's kind of the Turkish equivalent of an American lettuce side salad. Not remarkable, but tasty and a good foil to the spices in the other dishes.

Pide! For these I used a combination of this recipe for the crust, and this video tutorial for the meat filling. On one of the pide I cracked eggs into the boat and baked them that way. I don't often like whole eggs (scrambled eggs rock!), but this was surprisingly good. Next time I make pide we're going to make more with the eggs.

Along with the rest of the dinner, we made ayran to drink. Ayran is basically just plain yogurt blended up with ice and water and a pinch of salt. It's a perfect accompaniment for Turkish food, especially if the food is spicy. I topped one of the pide with a hot pepper, and the ayran came in very handy!

And for dessert! This is marble halva, which is sort of like dairy-free sesame seed fudge. I made it with homemade tahini, which sounds more complicated than it is. I think it took less than half an hour to make the halva, including blending the tahini. I made a half recipe of the halva, with 1/2 c. of toasted sesame seeds and 2 T. olive oil. I ended up with three muffin-size cakes of halva, which was more than enough. Even though by the time I made the halva I knew our menu was too complicated, I would've cut the soup and salad before dessert. It's the best part of the meal for little girls, and this unusual treat was no exception.

Afiyet olsun! (Bon appetite!)

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