Category Archives: Turkish Food

Dolma Made by a Diva

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“’Come on,’ she said. ‘I made some dolma. Stuffed peppers and tomatoes. You’ll love them.’  ‘I ate out.’ ‘You’re crazy, ayol,’ she nagged. ‘I mean, everyone knows what a great cook I am. Yet you go off to some restaurant. Shame on you!'”  – From The Prophet Murders by Mehmet Murat Somer (Kenneth Dakan, transl.)

Meet our hero’s best friend, Ponpon.  She is also a transvestite, but instead of being another amateur detective, she is a stage diva a la The Adventures of Priscilla:  Queen of the Desert.  Her show and her cooking both draw the crowds.  She is described as being plump with a quick growing 5 o’clock shadow.  She is also extremely bossy when she doesn’t get her way, even when she is staying at her friend’s house.

Chicken Dolmas

2 lb ground chicken 

1.5 cups basmati rice

4 cups of chicken  broth

2 tbsp pine nuts

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, pressed

1.5 tsp sugar

1 tsp cayenne pepper 

1 tsp coriander

1 tsp cumin

2 tbsp lemon juice

Salt and Pepper to taste 

4 bell peppers and 4 small tomatoes with the tops cut off and reserved, and the insides carefully scooped out 

In a medium saute pan, cook the onion in the olive oil until soft, then add the garlic and saute a minute more.  Add the rice and saute until it becomes clear.  Add the chicken and all the spices.  Once the chicken is browned, add the pine nuts and chicken stock.  Cover and cook on low for about 25 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.  Add the lemon juice.  Stuff the peppers and tomatoes and place in a baking dish with the remaining cup of chicken broth.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees until the peppers and tomatoes are soft.  Serve with the cooking juices spooned over the top.

This dish is just as amazing and Ponpon claimed it would be.  I had some leftover filling that I mixed into the broth around the peppers and that just added to the overall flavor.  The actual spices that were called for in this recipe were cinnamon, pepper paste (a mixture of hot pepper and salt, which is why I added the cayenne), and allspice.  Don’t ask me how I managed run out of cinnamon and not know it.  I made do with what was available and it was delicious all the same.

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Pogaca and a Plan to Get Good and Fat

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“When I took a seat in the back garden of Pizza Express Gönül had not yet arrived. I told the waiter I was expecting a friend and ordered a glass of fresh grapefruit juice. Pogaca for breakfast, pizza now for lunch and then whatever Ponpon had prepared for dinner. . . At this rate I would become positively fat. There was no sense in settling for just plain plump. I’d allow myself to get completely obese.”  – From The Prophet Murders by Mehmet Murat Somer (Kenneth Dakan, transl.)

Our hero/ine and I definitely see eye to eye when it comes to food.  There is no mistaking the allure of a good Phyllo based pastry nor the resolution, thrown out off hand, that I could enjoy the process of getting good and truly fat by overindulging on delicious food.  Sigh.  Unlike our hero, who ate 2 pastries in the shop, I just had the one and I paired it with some salad and hummus so as not to give in too deeply to temptation.

Pogaca (for one)

2-3 sheets of Phyllo

About 2 ounces of feta – cut into cubes

1 tbsp melted butter

Brush each sheet of Phyllo with butter and layer by folding each pastry sheet in half.  Then place the feta so that it forms a rectangle at the top of the Phyllo.  Wrap the Phyllo around the feta, brushing with butter at each flip.  Bake at 350 until golden brown. Serve hot with salad to hopefully stave off the imminent heart attack.

A few notes about Phyllo:  It’s delicate.  It’s tricky.  It dries out quickly when you’re not looking.   I tried to make a spinach borek the other day and failed miserably because I didn’t know about the butter or oil between the sheets.  I also tried to fill it with hot filling, which will disintegrate the Phyllo on contact.

Here’s how I successfully tamed it the second time.  I wet and wrung out a few paper towels and placed them over the waiting stack of Phyllo sheets to prevent drying out.  I used cold feta.  And, on the advice of my favorite Greek family, I generously buttered each sheet using a pastry brush (I used a silicone brush, but for this delicate procedure, I recommend the old fashioned bristle brush, if you’ve got one).

It really is delicious and I imagine there are infinite varieties of crusts and fillings that you can experiment with.

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