Almost Turkish Recipes

Izmir Style Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (İzmir Köfte)

There are so many meatball dishes in Turkish cuisine that we can easily make a multi-volume cookbook out of them. Among all the meatball recipes, Izmir koftesi, i.e. Izmir meatball, a specialty of Aegean city of Izmir, holds a special place in my heart. This dish of meatballs cooked with potatoes and peppers in tomato sauce is one of my all time beloved comfort foods. Since nowadays, we need comfort more than any other time I've been making Izmir meatballs almost weekly. Izmir kofte is usually a summer dish when tomatoes are in abundance served traditionally with rice and yogurt on the side, and accompanied by an icy glass of
rakı, obviously. 

For the meatball
1/2 lb ground meat
2 slices of stale bread soaked in water and squeezed tight or 1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup minced or finely chopped onion
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 egg (Traditionally there’s always an egg in the meatballs both to keep the meatballs together and moist when baked; however, I don't like egg smell in meatballs and prefer not to use any)

~10 peppers. (In Turkey green sweet chilies are staples in this dish.) If you like spicy peppers, you can use any kind of pepper: jalapeno, wax, banana, Anaheim, or poblano. I like using Shishito and sweet Italian peppers for this recipe. Seeded.
2 medium size potatoes, peeled and cut in wedges
3 tbsp olive oil
3-4 medium size tomatoes, grated or chopped in food processor
1 tbsp tomato paste (optional)  

-Mix all the ingredients for the meatballs. Knead well for 5-7 minutes. Wet your hands and form 3-4 inches long oval-ish finger shaped meatballs round in the middle and thinner at the ends. 
-Heat a pan. Add 3 tbsp olive oil. Add meatballs and cook until they change color. We're not trying to cook them, just sealing them. 
-Take the meatballs aside but keep the oil in the pan. (Some people fry the potatoes as well and it is delicious, but much more greasy. So I choose not to fry the potatoes)
-Place meatballs in a sun pattern in a wide bottom oven proof dish or a cast iron pot with 1/2-1 inch intervals. If you're using a square or rectangle dish, you can line them up. 
-Add tomato paste to the frying pan and cook for 2 minutes, if you're using any. Add grated tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes or tomato sauce as well. Salt to your taste. Cook tomatoes until the juice is gone. Add 1 and half cup boiling water. Bring to a boil and turn off. 
-Place potatoes in between meatballs and put peppers on top, all still in sun shape. 
-Pour tomato sauce on top of meatballs and vegetables. The sauce should barely cover the meatballs and vegetables. If it doesn't, add a little bit more boiling water.  
-Bake in the middle rack of the oven at 380 F for 40-45 minutes, enough time for potatoes to cook.
-Serve with rice or crusty bread and yogurt. 
Bon appétit! 


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
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


 -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.