Posted by: bluesyemre | November 3, 2019

In the Mood for #TurkishFood


All the dishes in this menu can be prepared in advance.Credit…Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Iah Pinkney.

A recent trip to Turkey inspired David Tanis’s latest dinner party menu.

A few years ago, quite unexpectedly, I spent a glorious 24 hours in Istanbul. It was supposed to be a brief stopover for a connecting flight, but a delayed departure from New York meant my onward journey would be postponed. Along with several other passengers, I was informed we couldn’t fly out until the next day, then directed to board a minivan and shuttled to a nearby hotel.

Fortunately, I was able to contact a well-known Turkish food expert, Gamze Ineceli, who was born and raised in Istanbul. We had a mutual friend, but had never met. She kindly offered to show me around the city. (It was my first visit to Turkey.)

What followed was a whirlwind tour of Istanbul, starting with a ferry ride across the Bosporus, the strait that divides the European and Asian parts of the city. We traipsed through mosques and markets for hours, hitting all of the famous sights.

Happily, we also wandered to various off-the-grid food destinations, stopping frequently to taste local specialties. We sipped ice-cold glasses of anise-scented alcoholic raki and nibbled on mezze, assorted little plates of savory fare. It was an extraordinary introduction to Turkish culture, and a display of genuine hospitality. Turks, I soon realized, are extremely generous, welcoming and warm.

I vowed to return for a longer stay, and the chance to do so arrived recently when Ms. Ineceli invited me to participate in a remarkable food festival she organized in Izmir, a city about 300 miles south of Istanbul. In attendance were chefs from near and far, from Lebanon, Israel, Spain, France, Poland, Germany and Britain, along with a great number of Turkish chefs, purveyors and food artisans. There were workshops, seminars and presentations, as well as a chance to taste everything from pilaf to flatbreads to Turkish coffee.

The festival’s theme centered on the marketplace and its cultural influence. A small band of us spread out across the city to see as many local markets as we could. Izmir markets are especially lively and dazzling, with the freshest fish straight from the sea: Silvery, glistening anchovies were in season, along with shimmering fat bonito. There is glorious produce: Masses of greens, herbs, eggplant, cabbage, peppers, beans and pumpkins piled high. Vine leaves, olives and pickles of every sort punctuated the displays. An abundance of luscious grapes and juicy figs beckoned, along with great baskets of quinces, lemons, oranges and pomegranates. (Every corner juice bar will squeeze you a glass of pomegranate juice for a pittance.)

After the festival, I journeyed up to Ayvalik, a town farther up the Aegean coast, in a region where olive trees cover miles and miles of countryside. I was told the youngest of them were 400 years old, still bearing fruit.

The harvest was in full swing, and fragrant, fresh green oil was being pressed. On the main street, crowds clamored to taste the new oil, so necessary to good Turkish cooking, and the excitement was palpable. All the vegetables and salads prepared with this oil were tasty beyond belief.

Back home, I longed for Turkish flavors, so I put together a meal for a group of friends. Much more practice would be required to reproduce some of the more complex dishes I had sampled, but this relatively simple-to-prepare menu gave a hint.

For the first course, a flaky spinach and cheese borek wrapped in phyllo pastry was a satisfying and savory start, paired with radishes, cucumbers and olives. It is equally good served warm or at room temperature.

For the main, I turned to a Turkish favorite: lamb shoulder, slow cooked to juicy tenderness. A highly seasoned rice pilaf, based on one I admired there, studded with currants, pine nuts and chunks of pumpkin was a great accompaniment. For color and textural contrast, I garnished the platter with slices of Fuyu persimmon and pomegranate seeds.

Finally, though a large cake is not usually served for dessert in Turkey — dessert there is more often fresh fruit or ice cream — my syrup-soaked almond cake has the right flavor profile. It’s delicious and pleasurable served in small slices after a meal or with tea.

All the dishes in this menu can be prepared in advance and are guaranteed to put you in a Turkish mood.

Recipes: Spinach and Feta Borek | Slow-Roasted Turkish Lamb | Rice Pilaf With Pumpkin, Currants and Pine Nuts | Almond Cake With Saffron and Honey


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: