Almost Turkish Recipes

Greens and Grains (Yeşil Yapraklılar ve Tahıllar)

 

We're transforming a Turkish classic: In Turkey, a traditional winter favorite is spinach cooked with onions, peppers, or tomato paste, and served with rice alongside a dollop of creamy yogurt. However, since I moved to the United States, I've taken this beloved dish and given it a twist by incorporating a variety of greens and grains. I now experiment with spinach, chard, beet greens (of course I keep my beet greens), kale, and even collard greens, pairing them with bulgur, quinoa, wheat berries, buckwheat, and more. The result? A delightful medley of flavors and textures that can be enjoyed for lunch or dinner, and it is vegan. 
 
Sometimes, I venture to the local farmers' market to pick the freshest greens available, but on other occasions, the convenience of a 1.5 lb bag of power greens or baby spinach from Costco comes to the rescue, allowing me to whip up a delicious meal in just 30 minutes. The possibilities are endless—select your preferred combination of greens and grains and give it a try. Whether you opt for a plain or garlicky yogurt accompaniment, you're in for a green treat. 

(For the dish in the picture I used Costco power greens and coarse bulgur.)
1-1.5 lb greens of your choice
1/4 cup of grain of your choice
1 biggish onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tomato or hot pepper paste
salt/pepper/red pepper flakes
1/2 cup hot water
optional
1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped fresh pepper (I love using sweet Italian red peppers but just like anything else, you can choose yours) 
And yogurt for serving

-Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté for 6-7 minutes until they become translucent and tender, but not browned.
-If you're using bell peppers, add them to the pot along with the minced garlic. Continue cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
-Stir in the tomato or pepper paste and cook for an additional 1 minute to enhance the flavors.
-Begin adding the greens in small batches, allowing each batch to wilt before adding more. Stir continuously for about 10 minutes until the greens darken in color and become tender.
-Add your chosen grain to the pot and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. (Avoid using brown rice due to its longer cooking time; if you must, use pre-cooked brown rice.)
-Pour in the hot water and season with salt and black pepper to your taste. If you like a bit of heat, don't hesitate to sprinkle in some red pepper flakes.
-Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and let the mixture simmer for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until the grain is cooked and has absorbed most of the liquid.
-Serve your delicious greens and grains dish with a side of yogurt. While I personally love mixing the cooked greens with yogurt, some enjoy it plain. 
 

Crispy Okra (Çıtır Bamya Mezesi)

 

Years and years ago when we moved to the south for a couple of years, I decided to give fried okra a chance,  despite it being my least favorite vegetable. To my surprise it turned out to be a rather enlightening moment. I discovered when prepared this way okra becomes quite palatable and even makes for an excellent meze. Through some experimentation, I found that crispy okra, especially when served on garlicy yogurt, is the best. 

Nothing is set in stone here. Feel free to adjust any of the ingredients to your liking or based on your needs. 



~1/2 lb or less fresh okra pods, sliced

1-2 tbsp olive oil

~3 tbsp cornmeal

1 cup yogurt

1 clove of garlic, minced

optional: 1 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped

1 tbsp olive oil + 1 tsp paprika or crushed hot pepper flakes


-Coat the sliced okras with olive oil in a bowl. Once they're coated, add cornmeal and coat them with cornmeal as well.
-Arrange the sliced okras in a single layer on a parchment lined baking tray and bake at 430F preheated oven for ~20 minutes or until crispy. 
-Mix one cup of yogurt with one clove of minced garlic and a dash of salt. Cover the bottom of a plate with yogurt. Top it with crispy okras. 
-In a small frying pan, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add either paprika or, if you want spicy, crushed pepper flakes. Drizzle it on top of okras and yogurt.
_Sprinkle some fresh dill and serve. 

Bon appétit! 





Cretan Style Zucchini Ribbons with Rice (Girit Usulü Kabak Sıyırma)

 

This Cretan style zucchini dish/meze is an absolute summer favorite. Cretans create magic with zucchinis and this one is no exception. 

3 medium sized zucchinis, peeled and ribboned. Do not ribbon the soft, seedy inside, just the firm flesh. Save the seedy cores for mucver  (we don't want the skin since it might have a different cooking time compared to the flesh of the zucchini)  

1/4 cup baldo, arborio, if not jasmine rice, soaked in hot water for at least 20 minutes

3-4 green onions, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

~1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped

~1/4 or less fresh mint, finely chopped

1/2 cup olive oil 

juice of one lemon

salt


 -Put 1/4 cup of rice i hot water to soak.

-Peel and ribbon the zucchini. Sprinkle some salt on top and leave to rest. 

-In a pot heat the half of the olive oil, ~1/4 cup, and add the green onions. Cook for 2-3 minutes.

-Rinse the rice after at least 20 minutes in hot water, and add to the pot. 

It is important to soak the rice in hot water, DO NOT skip this step. We need to cut the cooking time for rice so the zucchini doesn't melt away while rice is cooking. 

-Add garlic with the rice. 

-Cook for 3 minutes stirring constantly. 

-Add 1/2 cup of water and let cook covered on low to medium for ~10 minutes. Check every now and then for water. 

-After 10 minutes, the rice should be half way cooked. Add zucchini ribbons, lemon juice and some salt. Stir and cook for another 10 minutes covered. No extra water needed since the zucchini will release some of its own.

-After ten minutes the both the rice and zucchini will be cooked. We don't want zucchini to be too soft. 

-Turn it off, add half of dill and mint, stir and let it cool down to room temperature. 

-Serve it on a wide round or oval dish. Pour the rest of the olive oil on top and sprinkle the rest of the fresh herbes. Salt to your taste. It is good at room temperature or cold. It is a great dish for hot summer days but also an excellent meze/side. You can enjoy it with a slice o f good bread or with cold yogurt. Bon appétit! 

Chicken Kebab Marinade (Tavuk Şiş Sosu)

 

This is a classic tavukçu marinade i.e. grilled chicken restaurant marinade and it is both adult and kid favorite in our house. 

You can use any part of chicken, but I do love thighs for grilling. Cut the chicken thighs into 1-2 inch-ish cubes and marinade for at least two hours or preferably overnight, and then put them on skewers for grilling. However, if you're strained for time you can also pan-fry them. 






This marinade is for ~1lb chicken
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano 
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
juice of half a lemon or lime

optional for grilling: 2 onions, tomatoes, peppers chopped in ~1 inch pieces (as big as your chicken pieces)
-Chop chicken pieces and rub them well with lemon/lime juice.
-In a bowl mix all the ingredients and mix well.
-Add chicken pieces and coat them well with the sauce.
-Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. 
-Thread the chicken pieces on the skewers.  Alternate chicken pieces with onion, tomato, and/or pepper pieces for extra deliciousness. 
-Grill them for ~10 minutes by turning them around. Grilling time would vary based on different grills and the size of chicken pieces. Just don't overcook and dry them out. 
If you don't have a grill, you can also bake these skewers in the oven at 400-420F or broil them. 
-Eat with rice, on its own, or wrapped in warmed flat bread/tortilla or a sandwich bread. 


Grilled Branzino (Mangalda Levrek)

 

Branzino or European sea bass is one of my favorite fish and until recently it was hard to come by in US. Nowadays, not only staple places for European seafood like Whole Foods, but also Trader Joe's sells branzino fillets. However, branzino has an amazing flavor when cooked on the bone. I get them as a whole from Costco. This is a simple and quite delicious way to grill branzino. 

However many branzinos you need head and tail on (the cheeks and tail, my favorite), scaled and gutted
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 lemon, sliced
2 bay leaves per fish
salt & pepper
olive oil



-First things first, start your grill. You will cook the branzino(s) on high.
-Rub the fish cavity and the outside of the branzino with olive oil, a good one. 
-Generously season the cavity and the outside of the fish with salt and pepper.
-Stuff the cavity with onion and lemon slices and bay leaves.
-Place the stuffed branzino on the heated grill split side facing you. This way it'll be easier to flip it over without losing the stuffing. (If you feel uncomfortable about flipping a stuffed fish, the first time around you can tie it with an unbleached kitchen twine. You'll get a hang of it fast)
-Cover and cook for at least 7 minutes. Don't peek, don't poke. Sip your beer. After 7 minutes try with the spatula to flip the fish, if it resists it is not ready. Let cook for another minutes. The fish will tell you when it's time, when it's not sticky anymore. Do NOT force it. 
-Once you flip it, cook for another 7-8 minutes, and that's it. The branzino, which must be smelling delicious by then, is ready. Serve right away with a green salad and maybe some crusty baguette. 
-Discard the stuffing and dig in.  


Purple Basil-ade (Reyhan-ata/ Reyhan Şerbeti)

 

Purple basil-ade, or basil sherbet as they call it in Turkey, is a very old recipe that has become popular in the last couple of years. The way it is served is quite sweet for my taste so here's my recipe for a sugar-free purple basil-ade.




1 bunch purple basil

1/2 lemon 

2 liters boiling water

optional

1-2 cinnamon sticks

4-6 cloves

1/2 cup sugar or any sugar substitute you want to use



-Wash the purple basil leaves and put in a jar or a pitcher

-Squeeze the lemon on top and crush/knead the leaves with lemon juice to extract the utmost color.

-Pour the boiling water on top and let it cool down overnight, uncovered. If you want a sweet sherbet, add the sugar with water and stir. If you want a sugar-free one, adding cinnamon sticks gives it a slight sweetness, which I prefer to sugar. 

-That's it. Your basilade is ready. Serve it cold.

Note: If you make the basil drink more intense with less water, it becomes an excellent base for summer cocktails!