With the feast of St David, the patron saint of Wales, coming up on 1 March, we’re cooking with leeks. We’ll be combining this creamy-tasting cousin of the onion, which is one of the symbols of this country with a dragon on its flag, with crumbly white cheese in layers of filo pastry to give a Celtic twist to Turkey’s popular anytime snack – the börek.
Börek consists of thin sheets of pastry stuffed with cheese or vegetables. It is found in all corners of Turkey and alongside the more familiar fillings of white cheese, spinach or potato, it’s worth looking out for the lesser-spotted leek filled version, known as pırasalı börek in Turkish.
The leek is thought to have been adopted as a symbol by the Welsh in the 7th century when soldiers, fighting off an invasion by Saxons from the east, were advised to wear leeks in their helmets in order to distinguish the home fighters from the enemy. The battle was won and the leek is still worn by people in Wales to this day. Expect to see many being sported this Saturday in the run up to St David’s Day as Wales seek to repel more invaders from the east in the form of England’s rugby team.
To celebrate the occasion we’ve filled our börek with a riff on the Glamorgan sausage, a vegetarian, breadcrumb-covered speciality of south Wales made from leek and Caerphilly cheese. We also knocked up our own sheets of filo as Ramstore, the purveyor of all things Turkish in Kazakhstan, has shut its doors, a victim of the pandemic. This means that yufka, as the Turks call filo, is no longer easy to find in Almaty.
Ingredients (makes 4 böreks)
300 g all-purpose flour
100 ml olive oil
20 ml white wine vinegar
150 ml warm water
One leek (approx. 250 g)
150 g crumbly white cheese
One teaspoon caraway seeds
One teaspoon of nigella, sesame or poppy seeds
50 ml olive oil
Make the filo pastry first. Combine the sieved flour with olive oil and white wine vinegar. Slowly add the water a bit at a time and mix it all together with a wooden spoon until the dough forms into a smooth ball. Knead for 10 minutes on a lightly-floured surface to make the dough more stretchy. Separate into eight golf-ball sized pieces. Lightly coat with olive oil and leave for an hour covered in clingfilm at room temperature.
For the leek filling, heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and add the caraway seeds. Clean the leek thoroughly and roughly chop it into 0.5 cm rounds. Use all the leek, including the green bits, discarding the rough tops of the leaves. Add to the pan and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes stirring occasionally. When the leek has softened, turn off the heat and grate in the white cheese and combine well.
Roll out the filo sheets as thinly as you can using a rolling pin or the palm of your hand. It should be around 15 cm by 20 cm and become clear in places. Brush one sheet with olive oil and then place another on top. Add a quarter of the leek the filling along the shorter edge. Roll up the mixture into a cigar shape and tuck in the edges. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle nigella, sesame or poppy seeds (or all three) over the börek and cook for 20 minutes at 200 c, until they turn a golden-brown colour. Serve on its own or with a green salad or roasted root vegetables.
With much of 2020 spent at home there has been plenty of time this year to hone our baking skills here at KCC. Over the past few months we have been experimenting with the base for an old favourite, pide (Turkey’s take on the baked dough and cheese combo), with an eye to creating a perfect pizza base that is soft and springy but with a crispy crust and we’re well pleased with our latest efforts.
After testing bases made from plain wheat flour, wholemeal flour or rye flour but found that these resulted in a denser base so we tried a more finely-milled flour, similar to Italy’s 00 standard, and found that this gave the best results with a fluffy but crispy base.
With tomato supplies running low (and being too lazy to brave the icy conditions outside), we improvised with crushed avocado in place of tomato sauce and hit upon a winning combination. Add some melty mozzarella, chunks of artichoke and slices of tomato to complete the taste sensation!
Ingredients (makes an eight-slice, 30 cm pizza)
150 g pizza flour (00 grade)
30 ml olive oil
Dried yeast (use according to pack instructions)
75 ml water
One medium tomato
150 g mozzarella
One teaspoon dried mixed herbs (of your choice)
Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the olive oil and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the dried yeast (according to the instructions on the pack) and then slowly add the water, mixing all the while.
Use your hands to form the dough into a ball and knead gently for ten minutes or so. Leave to rise in a warm place in an oiled bowl with a damp tea towel over the top for an hour or so. After 30 minutes, turn the oven on and heat to 200 c.
Roll the dough into a 30 cm round on a lightly-floured surface and then spread crushed avocado over the base. Arrange strips of mozzarella on top of the avocado. Put tomato slices on top of this and then add chunks of artichoke. Sprinkle with mixed herbs if using.
Bake the pizza on the top shelf of the oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until the cheese starts to bubble and brown and the edges of the crust turn a golden brown colour.
This time round on KCC we’re returning to mücver, Turkey’s versatile courgette fritter, with our take on that brunch staple Hash Browns. This mücver variation adds potato and garlic scapes to the mix to give us a fritter we’ve dubbed Hash Greens.
These fritters are super-easy to prepare and cook and are great as part of a breakfast or brunch. They can also be served in a roll to make it closer to a veggie burger.
We came across garlic scapes, the edible stem that grows from the bulb, on a recent visit to the local greengrocer while looking for green beans. This flavoursome peduncle gives a milder garlicky kick to soups, pestos and stir fries. It’s not an overpowering flavour as it adds a subtler, roasted garlic undernote to these dishes.
Ingredients (Makes 6-8 fritters)
One medium courgette (zucchini) (approx 200 g)
One medium potato (approx 200 g)
One small onion (approx 100 g)
50 g garlic scapes
100 g chickpea flour
25 g mixed fresh herbs
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon chilli flakes
One teaspoon turmeric
One teaspoon black pepper
50 ml olive oil
Grate the potato and courgette and mix together in a large bowl. Finely chop the garlic scapes and add to the bowl. Stir in the chickpea flour and add the herbs (use and fresh herbs you have e.g. parsley, coriander, mint) and spices and mix well so you have a smooth that’s neither too dry and crumbly nor too wet and sloppy.
Heat the oil in a frying pan. Form the mix into golf-ball sized patties and then put in the pan and flatten with a fish slice or spatula. Fry until golden-brown on both sides. Serve as part of a breakfast or brunch or in a bun as a burger with toppings of your choice.
This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’ll be taking an armchair culinary tour to the Middle East and looking at the origins of the humble falafel. Arguments abound as to where this street snack par excellence originated, but most likely it was Egypt according to the evidence.
The Egyptian version of this tasty bite is usually made with fava beans, known as fūl in Arabic, which is thought to be the base for the name falafel , whilst in other parts of the Mediterranean region chickpeas are preferred.
With both chickpeas and fava beans in short supply in Almaty at the moment, it was back to the drawing board to look for an alternative base for our falafel. While stocking up during lockdown in our local shop we came across a pack of millet and a spot of googling revealed that this would work just fine as the base for our take on the falafel.
We baked them in the oven rather than deep-fried them as it’s a lot less hassle. Be sure to use plenty of parsley, cumin, coriander and chilli powder to spice up the millet. The resulting falafel were crisp on the outside but soft and fluffy in the centre, just as they should be.
Be careful when cooking millet as it has a tendency to stick to the pan if you don’t keep an eye on it and stir regularly. We found it best to rinse and soak it for a few hours before cooking as this reduces the time needed to cook it.
Ingredients (makes 12-16 falafel)
150 g millet
300 ml water or vegetable stock
one garlic clove
one bunch of parsley
one teaspoon cumin
one teaspoon coriander
one teaspoon chilli powder
Sesame seeds to coat the falafel
Rinse and then soak the millet in a pan for four hours. Drain the millet and cover with water or vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Stir regularly as the millet will stick to the bottom of the pan if not watched carefully.
Finely chop the parsley, both leaves and stalks, mince the garlic clove and add to the cooked millet. Add the spices – if you want to give your falafel more oomph, double the amount. Mix well and then form into balls. Roll the balls in the sesame seeds and then place on a tray and oven bake for 20 minutes at 200 c, or until the falafel turn a golden-brown colour.
Serve in pita bread with salad and sauces of your choice or as part of a salad – we made one from cucumber, tomato, spring onion, celery, red cabbage and radish. These falafel will keep in the fridge for a few days so you can cook a large batch at the same time.
There were signs this week of life slowly beginning to return to some sort of normal. Cafes and terraces are set to open once again in Almaty from next week and the streets are busier. We’re not planning on changing too much at the moment and, in the meantime, we’re content to continue our armchair culinary travels.
Greece has been in the headlines this week with the news that its beaches are reopening and it’s preparing to open its borders to tourists next month. This news brought back memories of holidays in the Greek islands and the great food in the tavernas. One of our favourite dishes is briam (pronounced bree-AM) – a delicious stew of oven-roasted seasonal vegetables.
As usual, we’ve taken a few liberties with the recipe, omitting aubergines (usually a key ingredient) as they are not quite in season in Almaty yet, so foodie purists please look away. We’ve added carrot and spinach to the usual potatoes and courgettes and then cooked it slowly in a tomato sauce. We’ve also topped it with some breadcrumbs to enclose our briam.
The name briam has an interesting history – it is a borrowed word – there is no letter ‘b’ in the Greek alphabet, instead this sound is represented by combining the letters ‘μ’ (m) and ‘π’ (p) – ‘μπ’. Many Greeks call this casserole tourlou tourlou (all mixed-up), so briam could have come from Greeks who lived in Anatolia until the mass population exchanges in the early 20th century.
In the Ottoman era, there was a word biryan, spelt büryan in modern Turkish, which refers to a side of lamb cooked slowly over charcoal in a pit in the ground – a speciality of Siirt in the Kurdish area on the borders with Iraq and Syria. This in turn could come from Persian, where biryan means roasted (notice the similarity with India’s biriyani). Whatever the name’s origin, it tastes great!
Ingredients (serves 4)
For the bake:
Two courgettes (approx 300 g)
Four potatoes (approx 300 g)
One carrot (approx 100 g)
200 g spinach
75 g breadcrumbs
For the tomato sauce:
One red onion
250 g tomatoes
One bunch of parsley
25 ml olive oil
One teaspoon mustard seeds
250 ml vegetable stock or water
Make the tomato sauce first. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan, add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop add the chopped onions and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. After five minutes reduce the heat and add the chopped tomatoes. Stir and simmer for ten minutes then add the stock, chopped parsley and capers. Cook until the liquid has reduced by half.
Cook the spinach for a few minutes until it is beginning to wilt and then set aside. Cut the potato, courgette and carrot into 1 mm slices and put a layer of potatoes, then courgettes and then carrots into a greased baking dish. Add the spinach and pour half the tomato sauce over the vegetables. Add another layer of potatoes and courgettes and then pour the remainder of the tomato sauce over the layers. Spread the breadcrumbs over the top.
Cover with tin foil and bake in an oven at 180 c for around 1.5 hours. After an hour, remove the foil and cook for another 20-30 minutes until the breadcrumbs go start to go a golden brown colour. Keep an eye on it to make sure the breadcrumbs aren’t burning. Serve immediately with a fresh salad – it’s also great when it’s cooled down a bit.
We’re heading towards the end of the second week of serious lockdown here in Almaty. Our local shops remain well-stocked with basics (we’re not supposed to go further than 500 metres form home) and the greengrocer’s reopened after closing for a week, so fresh vegetables are readily available.
For this week’s Lockdown Lunch we’re making kısır, Turkey’s bulgur wheat salad answer to the Middle East’s tabbouleh salad. Kısır is one of those dishes that everyone has their own recipe for, but the basic ingredients are fine bulgur wheat, onion, chilli pepper, tomato paste, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and pomegranate sauce.
We’ve added some radishes, tomatoes, spring onion and black olives to the standard package above that can be eaten as a main meal (you might want to add some nuts or beans for a protein punch) or as a side salad. If you are on a gluten-free diet, then you can use millet in place of bulgur wheat.
Kısır is easy to prepare and it benefits from sitting in the fridge overnight – leaving more time for all those Zoom parties and, of course, the Tajik football season, which kicked off last weekend.
Ingredients (for 3-4 servings)
100g fine bulgur wheat
200 ml vegetable stock or water
One medium onion
One medium tomato
One medium radish
One spring onion
One garlic clove
Ten black olives
Two tablespoons tomato paste
25 ml olive oil
25 ml pomegranate sauce
Few sprigs of parsley
One teaspoon chilli pepper flakes
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon sumac
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the cumin seeds and fry until they start to sizzle. Add the finely chopped onion and mashed garlic and cook for a few minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the chilli pepper and sumac and stir.
Add the fine bulgur wheat and stir to cover the grains then add the stock or water, Add the tomato paste, pomegranate sauce and the juice of half the lemon. Stir and bring to the boil. When boiling, turn off the heat, cover the pan and leave to stand for 30 minutes or so until most of the liquid is absorbed.
Fluff up the grains with a fork and add the grated radish, sliced spring onion and chopped parsley. Mix together and put in a salad bowl. Before serving, garnish with lemon and/or tomato slices and black olives.
This time round we’ve filled some filo pastry triangles with some fresh leafy greens. Inspired by Central Asia’s kok samsa, a small, deep-fried pie filled stuffed with chopped up greens, our take on this popular street snack mixes some peppery radish leaves with some tart sorrel-like leaves, leek and carrot.
A few weeks ago, we left Datça’s weekly market laden down with a selection of leafy greens – called ot (grass) in Turkish, including a bunch of radishes complete with leaves and an unidentified bunch of greens with a tart, lemony taste.
Further inspired by Turkey’s otlu pide and otlu börek, we chopped up a leek and fried it in olive oil and then mixed in some grated carrot before adding the leafy greens and spices. To make these pies you can use any leafy greens – Swiss chard and spinach also work well here.
Then we wrapped the filling in filo pastry, which can be bought from your local supermarket or Middle Eastern grocery shop – or you can try and make your own – here’s some tips on how to do it.
Ingredients (makes 6-8 samosas)
12 sheets of filo pastry (approx 15 cm x 15 cm)
One bunch each of sorrel and radish leaves (use spinach and/or Swiss chard if you can’t find these)
50 ml olive oil
One teaspoon dried thyme
One teaspoon sumac
One teaspoon cumin
Sprinkling of nigella seeds
To make the filling, heat 25 ml olive oil in a heavy-based pan and cook the chopped leek over a medium heat until translucent. Add the grated carrot and cook for five minutes, stirring regularly. Add the herbs and spices and the roughly chopped greens and cook until the leaves are wilting.
Place a layer of filo pastry on a flat surface dusted with flour. Brush with olive oil and add another sheet, brush with oil and then add one more layer. Cut the layers of filo into two triangles along the diagonal.
Place a generous dollop of the filling in the middle of each triangle. Fold the edges of pastry over, brushing with more oil, to create a triangle-shaped pie like a samosa. Repeat the process until all the filling is used up.
Place the pies on a greased baking tray and brush with more oil and sprinkle nigella seeds over them. Place the tray into a pre-heated oven and bake at 200 °C (gas mark 6) for 30 minutes or until the pies are golden brown in colour. Serve straight away with a salad of your choice.
This week we’re cooking up a cactus salad with the main ingredient foraged from some wild prickly pear bushes in Turkey. In an earlier post we reported on some of the similarities between Turkish and Mexican cooking – they both love hot chilli peppers in their food, there’s plenty of beans used, fresh white cheese is a key ingredient and wrapping food in flat bread is popular.
A key area of difference is the use of cacti, a staple of Mexican cuisine. In Mexico the prickly pear paddles, known as nopales or napolitoes (from the Spanish for cactus), are used in a variety of dishes. They can be found in salads, as a taco or tortilla filling, simply grilled or scrambled up with eggs. They have a crunchy taste similar to green beans.
Whilst the prickly pear cactus grows all over southern Turkey, only the fruit – the prickly pears, are usually eaten and sometimes used in cocktails! We’re about to change all that with the first of one of our irregular ventures into the world of Turk-Mex cuisine…
How to deal with a thorny problem…
We harvested a few cactus paddles from a secret location in Datça, Turkey. After harvesting, we put on our marigolds and removed the thorns with a sharp knife, sliced the pads up and then boiled them. Next we mixed then in with a spicy tomato sauce, aka acili ezme, to create this Crazy Cactus Salad.
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
Four prickly pear cactus paddles (roughly hand-sized)
For the sauce:
One medium-sized onion
Three medium-sized plum tomatoes
One medium-sized green pepper
One garlic clove
One teaspoon capers
One bunch of parsley
One teaspoon dried mint
Three teaspoons red chilli flakes
Two teaspoons sumac
One teaspoon flavoured vinegar (such as apple or fig)
Three teaspoons pomegranate sauce
Remove all the thorns from the pads with a sharp knife. Slice into 1 cm strips and then cut into 2 cm pieces. Boil in salted water for 8-10 minutes until cooked but still crunchy – cook them too long and they can go a bit slimy. Drain and rinse in cold water and then mix with the acili ezme salad (instructions below).
For the sauce:
Peel the tomatoes and de-seed (to peel: plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for 30 seconds then place in cold water – the skin should now come off easily). Chop the tomatoes, green pepper, onion, garlic and parsley as finely as you can.
Put all the ingredients into a bowl, add the herbs and spices, vinegar and pomegranate sauce and mix well. Leave to chill in the fridge for at least two hours before serving.
It’s believed that corn was first domesticated in southernMexico around 9-10,000 years ago. From there it slowly spread across the Americas before finding its way into Europe in the 16th century; brought back by the explorers who had landed in what became dubbed ‘The New World’.
These tasty fritters can be served like a burger in a bun, wrapped in a tortilla, stuffed into a pita bread or just plain with a jacket potato and some salad for a healthy snack that can be eaten at any time of the day.
Ingredients (makes around 8 large fritters)
One corn cob
Three tablespoons wholemeal flour
75 ml olive oil
Two teaspoons cumin
Two teaspoons red chilli flakes
Two teaspoons dried thyme
One teaspoon turmeric
Bring a pan of water to boiling and then switch off the heat. Soak the corn cob in the boiled water for five minutes and then put in a pan of cold water. Remove the kernels by slicing downwards with a knife on the sides of the cob.
Grate the courgettes into a large bowl and mix with the flour, herbs and spices, reserving 25 ml of the olive oil for cooking. Add the corn kernels and mix well. Leave the mix to stand for a few hours in the fridge.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan. Take a golf ball sized scoop of the mix and put it into the pan and flatten it with a spatula. Cook over a medium heat for five minutes and then flip over and cook for another five minutes. Alternatively, you can bake the fritters in the oven for 30 minutes at 180c or grill on a barbecue.
Knidos Cookery Club has just arrived back at its home base on the Datça Peninsula in Turkey. We’re going to soak up some more culinary inspiration from the place where the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas meet around the ancient Greek settlement of Knidos.
To celebrate being back in Turkey, we’ve prepared a piyaz salad, one of the classic dishes of Turkish cooking, that combines small white beans with some readily available staples of the local kitchen; namely tomatoes, onions, green peppers, parsley and lemons.
Turkey’s çarliston peppers aka banana peppers
The secret of this dish is in getting the beans just right – not too mushy but not too firm either. They need a good, long overnight soak and some slow cooking to achieve the required consistency.
The dressing used varies across Turkey from the basic lemon, olive oil and apple vinegar one favoured in Istanbul to the tahini-infused one from Antalya, paying tribute to the Arabian influence from the Middle East on the city’s cuisine. We have opted for the creamy, nutty taste of the latter.
Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)
200 g dried haricot beans or other small white beans soaked overnight
1 medium-sized plum tomato
1 long, green pepper (e.g. çarliston pepper – see photo above)
1 small onion
Small bunch of parsley
50 ml olive oil
50 ml apple vinegar
25 ml tahini
2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
Optional: Two boiled eggs or one avocado
Cook the beans over a low heat until tender but not starting to go mushy. When cooked, drain off the cooking water, reserving 100 ml to make the dressing. Pour the vinegar and sprinkle the thyme over the beans and leave to cool.
After leaving for a few hours, add the vinegar the beans were soaking in to the reserved bean juice and then blend with the olive oil, tahini and the juice of one lemon to make a smooth sauce.
Finely dice the tomato, slice the pepper and onions into rings and chop the parsley finely. Add these to the beans.
Cover the salad and put it in the fridge for a few hours. Serve with wedges of the second lemon and sprinkle the red chilli flakes over the salad.
Just before serving, pour the dressing over the bean salad and season with black pepper and gently mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon.
You can garnish with quarters of boiled egg if you wish or, for a vegan twist, you can garnish the salad with slices of avocado.