Thursday, 27 November 2014

Turkey beyond drunken kebabs, and a Smoky Aubergine Dip



It's been a whirlwind past month. I'm sorry I haven't blogged in a while, but I promise it is for good, delicious distractions. I spent the past week stuffing my face with aubergines– roasted, pureed, stewed, braised and topped with lamb... you name it, I've probably had it.  I've also scored a stack of gorgeous handmade pottery to add to my already groaning shelf of plates and bowls. (I wish I collected more portable things but there you go. Silly food stylists.)

Turkey has always been one of those countries I really wanted to visit, and when my sister got sent on an exchange program to one of the universities in Istanbul, I jumped at the chance of free lodging (and of course the chance to see one of my favourite people from home). And the place did not disappoint. I knew Turkey was a food mecca, but my perception of Turkish food hardly ventured beyond the gloriously greasy doner kebabs of drunken late nights.


What I've had these past few days instead, were wonderful things like lamb-stuffed quince and perfectly spiced lentil soup from a humble homestyle restaurant with daily-changing menus; fragrant sesame-studded simits (Turkish 'bagels'), freshly baked from an 80 year-old wood-fired oven in a quaint little cafe; and up in the snowy hills of Cappadocia, gozlemes– flaky hand-rolled dough filled with spinach then grilled till crisp and fragrant with the smell of charcoal. The food was always simple but delicious, and served with a generous smile and eyes that lit up when I utter the only Turkish word I know, tesekkuler (which I pronounce wrong).

In my last days, we made friends with one hell of a character. Yilmaz drove us into forbidden valleys, changing gears while guzzling beer and smoking cigarettes, all single-handedly (quite literally, he broke one arm in a fight). We almost died a few times over trying to keep up with him as he happily climbed up slippery muddy slopes in the pouring rain, but the view was so breathtaking that it made it all worthwhile. On learning that we love menemen, a Turkish dish of eggs lightly scrambled with tomatoes and peppers,  he invited us to his place for dinner– where he cheekily watched and directed us from the couch while we cooked. He then pulled out a couple of aubergines from the fireplace, and gleefully instructed us to scoop the smoky flesh out from underneath the blackened and blistered skins while gently mocking my sister that she probably would never be able to find a Turkish husband with her skills. 

Like I said, one hell of a character you cannot help but love.


Yilmaz' aubergine dip was ridiculously simple– charred aubergines, butter and salt. This is a version I really like from a Turkish friend that's slightly fancier, but in no way fussy. You might not be able to find locally-grown aubergines as easily now that it's November, but this is a keeper for the summer months or for those living in perpetually sunny lands (Singapore!).

~

SMOKY AUBERGINE & CORIANDER DIP
Ingredients
2 medium aubergines
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground coriander
lemon juice, to taste
sea salt, to taste
1 handful coriander leaves (optional but I couldn't help it, #asian)

Method
1. Lay the aubergines directly across an open fire. The barbecue would be great but it is not exactly summer here, so you can do so across lit gas rings. Once they have blackened on one side, about 30 seconds, use a pair of tongs to turn them, until they are charred and black all over. You can also cook the aubergines in a very hot oven for 20 minutes, turning to the grill function for the last 5 minutes and flipping often.
2. Once cooked, place the aubergines in a bowl, cover, and leave to steam. When cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and scoop the soft flesh into a sieve to drain for 20 minutes.
3. Chop the flesh up roughly and mash with a fork, mixing in the garlic, olive oil, coriander, lemon juice and season with salt. You can puree this in a blender if you want a smoother dip. Stir in the chopped coriander leaves to finish and enjoy with warm grilled pita or whatever you fancy dipping.



I'll be back. (For more plates. And those beautiful Turkish carpets, when I one day have my own home.)

Ama's Cafe- near the bus station in Cappadocia. A really sweet husband and wife team serving up homecooked food and those gozlemes.

For an exclusive menemen recipe by Yilmaz the man himself, join the mailing list :)



20 comments:

  1. Turkish food is my husband's favourite. The eggplant dip looks very creamy and tasty.

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    1. It's really good, very more-ish which isn't that much of a problem because it's quite healthy actually! Make this for your husband ;)

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  2. Awesome post Shu Han! Love the recipe! What restaurant have you had the best aubergine? Remember to add it to your Besty List! http://www.thebesty.com/mummyicancook

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  3. Sounds like you had a fantastic trip. I love Turkish food and am always looking for new ways to cook aubergines. I've never thought about blistering them on the gas ring like that. I will definitely give it a try.

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    1. It was fantastic. Blistering them like that gives them a wonderful smoky flavour. Don't worry about eating burnt food because you peel all the skin away! xx

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  4. So simple but so delicious! The trip sounds amazing!

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    1. Thank you Millie! It was amazing, definitely a place I want to revisit. The food in general (not just the aubergine dip) is simple but delicious- very inspirational!

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  5. the food pictures looks awesome!! and the aubergine illustration is really cute too haha. make me feel like exploring more food places in Istanbul now

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    1. You have less than a month quick quick !

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  6. It sounds like wonderful holidays, Shu. Moreover, with your sister, who lives there. It must have been so much better! It's such a pity most people only know kebabs as Turkish food representatives... (and kebabs are here particularly bad...). The aubergine dip reminds me of the M'tabal I prepare (or Baba ganoush) but it's much easier. I must try it one day because I'm crazy for M'tabal!

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    1. It was wonderful. I see my family once a year, so it was really nice to be able to see my sister, and we had so much fun catching up! To be honest I didn't know much about Turkish food either before the trip– it was such an eye-opener! I love Baba ganoush and this does remind me of it, though I find the taste of this lighter, so great for having seconds ;)

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  7. wow, what an adventure! Love the sound of the dip - it's the best way to eat aubergines :)

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    1. I think the best way to eat aubergines is fried and smothered with sambal, but it is one of the most sinful ways ever to eat it hehehe.

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  8. What a captivating post, Shu! I'll need to persuade J to learn how to enjoy eggplant because this sounds way too good to pass up.

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    1. Try this! It isn't very auberginey at all, you just get a nice creamy texture. Might change J's mind ;)

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  9. Really lovely post Shu Han. The eggplant dip looks amazing! Love the illustration too. Definitely a dip/recipe that I want to try. Lovely photos of Turkey and beautiful storytelling. Lamb stuffed quince sounds divine! Best wishes. :)

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    1. Thanks Padaek! The place was really beautiful and the lamb stuffed quince definitely is divine. I wish I picked up a recipe for that too! x

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  10. Nice place to visit and I like the foods.
    see also: http://goo.gl/Y9NovV.

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