By Laura Fries
She is a small, dynamic woman, whose pointed features and feathered blonde hair cause audience members to proclaim her a mix between Joan Rivers and Dr. Laura. She heartily admits the resemblance, and just keeps on cooking. Joan Wood, caterer, world-traveler, and today, professor of Turkish cooking to students assembled at Central Market Cooking School, is the type of woman who lets little get in her way.
So when her husband - a general in the Air Force - was transferred to a base in Turkey, Wood packed up the kids, and the metaphorical pans, and headed off to her latest adventure: mastering the art of Turkish cookery. On this evening, she shares her experiences with the small group; most of whom were travelers like herself that longed for a reminder of the lands they once visited.
First up on her menu are cigra borek: tiny, taquito-shaped rolls of filo dough filled with a mixture of feta, dill, flat-leaf parsley, and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, all bound together with raw egg. To get rid of the sometimes too-salty tang of the feta, she advises the group, soak a block of feta in water for hours, occasionally changing the water, and taste-testing for doneness, so to speak. The feta mixture, dropped by the tablespoon onto squares of filo dough two or three layers thick, is then rolled into the cigar-shaped rolls, and fried in butter, the preferred cooking medium of the Turks, according to cookbook author Ayla Algar. The resulting rolls are crisp, golden, and light, a perfect contrast to the creamy cheese lurking inside. Algar's cookbook, Classical Turkish Cooking, which contains recipes for most of the dishes Wood prepared, points to cigra borek as a mainstay of the meze course, a tapas-like assortment of small dishes.
Adana kebabs, the quintessential street food of the Turks, are made in Wood's kitchen with ground lamb, heavily seasoned with parsley, grated onion, minced garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. The lamb mixture is throughly kneaded to distribute the spices, and to create a paste dense enough to stay molded on the skewers in a flat, sword-like shape. The kebab is served on top of pide bread, a flatbread coated with yogurt and sesame seeds before baking. Accompaniments are cacik, a tzatziki-esque sauce of yogurt, cucumber, lemon, and dill, and a sprinkling of chopped parsley soaked in fresh-squeezed lemon juice.
Pilic Tava, a subtly spiced chicken casserole, demonstrates one of the fundamental rules of Turkish cookery according to Wood: Don't stir. Chicken, first browned in a pan, is placed on the bottom of a casserole dish, then layered with browned eggplant, sweet and hot peppers, tomato slices, and slivers of garlic. A paste made from dried red chili peppers -a staple of the Turkish kitchen that lasts for months, according to Algar - is then slathered over the mixture. When it emerges from the oven an hour later, the chicken pieces should be lifted out of the dish carefully, and served with a "simple rice pilaf." Unfortunately, the chicken sampled that night was dry, but the spices and the delicately roasted vegetables more than redeemed the dish as worthy of imitation in a home kitchen.
Wood's pilaf was the perfect foil to the pilic tava: the delicate, soft rice was punctuated with sweet currants, and moist, sautéed pine nuts. "The Turkish are like the Italians: There is only one way," Wood had joked earlier, and in her kitchen, rice is prepared by first soaking it in hot water. Onions, pine nuts, and currants are sautéed in even more butter, and then the rice, and chicken broth are added. The resulting mixture is ready when the broth is absorbed, and receives a garnish of chopped scallions and even more parsley.
Last on Wood's menu is a yoghurt cake. Made ahead of time, the cake is soaked overnight in a simple syrup of sugar and water. The cake absorbs the syrup, fluffing out to create a rich pastry that simply oozes out sweetness. Held on the tongue, and pressed to the roof of one's mouth, it simply gushes: it's a delightful treat.
Wood, who has peppered her conversation liberally with anecdotes about her experiences, can't say enough good things about the country and its cuisine: "It was the best two years of my life." •
By Laura Fries
EVENT: Central Market Cooking School
Cigra Borek (cheese stuffed pastries)
Cigra Borek Recipe (makes 12 servings)
- 1 cup feta cheese or goat cheese
1. In a small mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add the crumbled goat feta and mix with a fork. Stir in the herbs, add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
2. If using phyllo pastry, you will need 8-inch squares. The size and thickness, one or two sheets of phyllo, will become a matter of preference, depending on how much phyllo you want to taste. Lay about 1 heaping tablespoon of cheese mixture on the bottom of each square. Roll over a couple of times, fold in the sides, and roll to close. Dab the edge with a little water to seal. Set aside until all borek are rolled. (*Can be made a day ahead, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated until needed. Can also be frozen for several months.)
3. Heat about 1/2-inch of oil in a sauté pan or skillet. Test the oil with a piece of bread. If it becomes golden quickly, the oil is ready, at about 350 degrees. Drop in the borek, being careful not to crowd the pan. Turn once or twice until borek are golden on all sides. Transfer borek to paper towels to drain. Serve warm.
Adana Kebab Recipe (makes 6 servings) Ingredients:
- 2 lbs boneless lamb, cut into cubes & chilled, do not remove fat! or 2 lbs ground lamb
1. Put the lamb pieces into a meat grinder or food processor. With quick pulses, process the meat until coarsely ground (can use ground lamb). Put the meat in a bowl and combine with onions, parsley, garlic, and spices. Knead for a minute so meat is compact and well mixed.
2. Ready 6 or 8 flat skewers and rub with oil. Divide the meat mixture into 6 or 8 equal portions. With dampened hands, mold the meat into the skewers in an elongated flat sausage shape.
3. Preheat a grill, grill pan, or broiler to hot. Brush the grill with oil. Brush the kebabs with melted butter and cook on a grill for approximately 4 minutes on each side, brushing again with butter after turning.
4. While the meat is cooking, heat the pide bread and cut into large pieces. If desired, brush pide with melted butter. Lay a piece of bread on each plate and top with a kebab. Top with some Parsley Relish and serve immediately.
2 bunches of flat parsley Juice of 1/2 lemon
1. Chop parsley leaves coarsely. Toss with the lemon juice.
Patlicanli Pillic Tava Recipe (6 servings)
- 1 whole chicken
1. Wash chicken pieces and set aside (use whole chicken or breasts, thighs, legs, or a combination of pieces).
2. Drain and slice tomatoes and reserve the juice (mix with water to make 1 cup).
3. Preheat oven to 370 degrees (can also be cooked on top of stove, as it is cooked in Turkey).
4. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a sauté pan. When hot, sauté the chicken pieces until nicely browned on one side. Turn pieces over, season with salt, pepper and crushed cumin seeds and brown the other side. Coat bottom of casserole with the remaining olive oil. Place chicken pieces in the bottom of the baking dish. Push several of the garlic slivers around the chicken pieces.
5. If using eggplant, peel a half inch wide strip of the skin lengthwise, leaving the next half inch with the skin on. Repeat until you have a striped effect. Cut eggplant lengthwise into 4 equal pieces, and then crosswise into 2 inch pieces. Put 3 or 4 tablespoons of oil in the pan the chicken was cooked in. Add the eggplant slices and fry a few minutes on each side. Lay the slices on top of the chicken pieces. Arrange the seeded chili peppers on top. Arrange tomato slices, or pieces, on top of the peppers. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and the remaining garlic slivers. Mix the red pepper paste with 1 cup of the reserved tomato juice and water mixed and pour over the casserole. DO NOT STIR!
Cover and cook over a low heat on top of the stove for about 1 hour, or bring to a simmer on top of the stove, cover, and place in a 370 degree oven for about 1 hour. This dish is delicious when served with a simple rice pilaf.
Red Pepper Paste:
4 or 5 dried chili peppers
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Remove from the heat.
2. Heat a heavy skillet. Pull the stems off the peppers and cut them open. Remove all the seeds and put the chilis in the skillet and toast for several minutes, turning frequently, until slightly softened. Remove from skillet and transfer to the boiling water. Soak in the boiling water for about 20 minutes.
3. Put soaked chilis and about 1/2 cup of the water in a blender and puree to a thick paste. Add a little more water, if necessary, to obtain desired consistency. Put skillet back on the heat and add a little olive oil. When hot, add the chili paste. Season with a little salt and cook for several minutes. Remove from the heat. Paste keeps in the refrigerator for weeks or in the freezer indefinitely.
Rice Pilaf (8 servings)
- 1 cups long grain rice
1. Place rice in a bowl, add 2 teaspoons salt, and cover with hot water. Stir and allow it to cool. Drain and set aside.
2. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan. Add pine nuts and sauté until golden brown. Add the currants and the remaining butter, broth, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add the rice, stir once, cover and cook on a high heat for a minute or two. Reduce heat and continue to cook until the rice absorbs all of the broth, about 18 minutes longer. Stir in the chopped scallions and parsley and remove from the heat. Place a napkin over the pot and put the pot lid over the napkin (the napkin will absorb the steam). Keep pot in a warm spot and allow to sit for several minutes. Serve carefully, being careful not to mash or break the rice.
- 3-4 cups flour
1. In a large bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups flour and yeast. Combine warm water, oil, and salt and a pinch of sugar. Add to flour and yeast mixture and blend well with a wooden spoon, beater or food processor. Add enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough. Knead until smooth. Cover and let rest for about 10 minutes. Form dough into one or two long, flat oval shapes. Or, you can make individual pita loaves. Just divide dough into as many pieces as you want. Place dough on lightly greased cookie sheets. Make indentations with fingertips all over the top of the dough. Cover and let rise for about 30 minutes. Brush with yogurt and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake in a oven, preheated to 400 degrees, for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on size of loaves you make, or until lightly brown.
Cacik (Turkish yogurt dip, makes 6 servings)
1 large English cucumber, peeled & seeded
1. Peel, seed and chop the cucumber. Sprinkle with a little salt and place in a strainer to drain for approximately 30 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels.
2. In a bowl, mash the minced garlic with a little salt until well blended. Add the yogurt, chopped cucumber, cider vinegar and lemon juice. Mix well. Taste and add lemon juice and salt if needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and generously drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the top. Sprinkle on the sliced green onions and chopped dill. Serve with kebabs.
Yogurt Cake and Lemon Syrup (makes 12 servings)
1 cup yogurt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease and flour a 10-inch cake pan.
3. Prepare Syrup: Add the sugar, water, and fresh lemon juice to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Set aside.
4. Prepare Cake: Mix yogurt and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl.
5. Beat the eggs and sugar together until light and thick. Add the yogurt mixture and flour mixture alternately, and blend well. Pour batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until center tests done. Allow cake to rest in pan for 10 minutes and then remove from pan to a rack. Use a fork to prick holes in the bottom of the cake to allow for absorption of syrup. Place cake in a deep dish and spoon the syrup over the top. Allow cake to sit several hours to absorb the syrup. Serve with a dollop of LIGHTLY sweetened whipped cream, if desired. •