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 :)