Almost Turkish Recipes

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!  


 

Haydari Yogurt Dip/Side

 



Haydari, a sine qua non for rakı tables, is a perfect summer side dish or dip. It is great with grilled meat or on toasted bread. Traditionally it's made by mixing strained/Greek yogurt and white cheese--although some try to skip the cheese, we all know that it ain't haydari if there's no cheese. 

~2 cup strained or Greek yogurt (in Turkey it's always whole milk yogurt, but non-fat is also fine)
1/2 cup Turkish or Bulgarian white cheese. If you cannot find them, use feta. 
1 clove of garlic, minced
2-3 tsp dry mint leaves 
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
salt

-With a mortar and pestle mash the white cheese to a smooth texture. You can use the back of a fork as well but make sure there are absolutely no lumps left. 
-Mix the cheese and yogurt, and half of the fresh dill, and salt in a bowl. The amount of salt depends on the saltiness of the cheese. Adjust to your taste. 
-In a small pan heat 2 tbsp butter,1 tbsp olive oil, and garlic. 
-When the butter starts bubbling. Turn the heat off and add the dry mint. Set aside to cool down to room temperature. 
-Once the butter cool down, mix it into the yogurt. Mix it really well.
!!!Once you mix the butter into the yogurt, haydari should never go into fridge, should stay out at room temperature.!!!
-Serving: Haydari is best served on an oval or rectangle serving plate. Lay it evenly on the plate and then make dents with the side edge of the scoop for oile oil that we'll use to decorate to stay on,  as in the picture. 
-Drizzle the remaining olive oil and sprinkle the rest of the fresh dill.
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. I cut the chicken thighs into 1 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. 


Sour Meatballs or Meatballs in Egg and Lemon Sauce (Ekşili Köfte)


 Ekşili Köfte, a very popular meatball dish cherished by kids and adults alike has differing  variations in different parts of Turkey; in some parts tomato or pepper paste is used; in some small diced vegetables; and in some eggs are completely left out. This version is from the Northwestern / Western part of Turkey.



1 lb ground beef

1 small onion, grated

1/3 cup + 2 tbsp white rice

1/4 or 1/3 cup very finely chopped parsley

1/4 or 1/3 cup very finely chopped fresh dill

1 egg, white and yolk separated

1 tsp or more black pepper

salt 

3 tbsp flour

4 tbsp olive oil

juice of 2 lemons



-Put ground meat, grated onion, parsley, fresh dill, 1/3 cup rice, white of the egg, black pepper, salt in a bowl and mix really well. 

-Flour a tray.

-Make mini meatballs, quarter size, and place them on the tray.

-When all are on the tray, shake the tray back and forth or side to side to roll the meatballs to get covered in flour. This flour on them will make a nice crust and will make the "soup" part of the dish thick. 

-Grab a wide bottom-ish pot and heat. Add the olive oil and once hot place the meatballs at the bottom. 


-Cook the meatballs until they have a nice crust on one side. 

-Add half of the lemon juice, 4 cups of water, and 2 tbsp white rice, and a tad bit of salt, just to your taste.

-Simmer on low for 20 minutes. 

-Mix egg yolk with the rest of the lemon juice in a bowl. Start taking little scoops of liquid or soup from the dish and mix with egg and lemon. We are trying to warm the egg slowly so that it won't curdle when we add it to the dish. Add 3-4 scoops of liquid, one at a time and mix the sauce after each time. 

-Add the egg and lemon sauce to the dish, stir once and let simmer covered for another 15-20 minutes. 

-Serve fresh dill or parsley, or with dry mint flakes on top, and crusty nice bread on the side. 


Tips: If you have picky kids or adults, you can skip the fresh herbes in the meatballs. If you want to add veggies, add diced carrots, potatoes, celery root and peas right after you add the water. 



Savory Cornmeal Pancakes (Mısır Unlu Kaşık Dökmesi)

 






I love corn in any form and these cornmeal savory pancakes are one of my favorite brunch or lunch specials.

2 cups of cornmeal / corn flour

2 eggs

1/2 yogurt

1 cup milk

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp salt

1/4 finely chopped herbs: parsley, dill, mint, or chives, pick one. 

1/2 cup hard to melt cheese such as crumbled feta, small diced halloumi, or Turkish tulum goat cheese   (I use a mix of Syrian halloumi and Turkish tulum goat cheese) 

1/2 pitted and chopped black olives 

-Whisk eggs, milk, oil, and yogurt. 
-Add cornmeal, baking powder, salt and mix.
-Add cheese, herbs, and olives and fold into the batter.
-Heat a nonstick pan over medium, slightly grease the pan and drop pancake batter with a spoon. These are similar to old-fashion pancakes, a bit thick. Cook for ~1-2 minutes, check bottom and flip. Cook for another minute. 
-Serve with butter or some sort of spreadable cheese on top because there's no such thing as too much cheese.