The end of each month is always interesting because we know it is time for an Ethnic Exploration post. A good friend of Amir’s ventured to Turkey and brought back an assortment of spices and herbs. Hearing about her trip and the foods she ate made Turkish cuisine seem like the way to go for this month’s foray. So many interesting flavor combinations, yet at the same time, using some of our favorite ingredients. It’s never hard to figure out what cuisine to tackle next; it’s harder to figure out what we’ll make. After a bit of research and a trip to a local market, we had it all figured out.
Turkish food is truly a mixture of various cultures from different regions as it is considered to be Eurasian. It is a country surrounded on all sides by Greece, Bulgaria, George, Armenia, Iran, Syria and Iraq to name a few. Needless to say, the influences from a variety of cultures show themselves in the Turkish culture. There are still a number of ingredients that typically get lots of use, and they include meats, eggplants, tomatoes, nuts, lentils, dried and fresh fruits and a variety of spices. Yogurt is a huge key player when it comes to dairy. It is often served alongside meat and vegetable dishes, eaten on its own with rice or bread, blended into a beverage or used in cakes or pastries. We wanted to choose dishes that utilized many of these ingredients and were fairly well known. We decided to try karniyarik–a baked, stuffed eggplant dish overflowing with meat and fresh vegetables. On the side, we would have cacik–a cucumber yogurt dip very similar to Greek tzatziki and Persian maast-o-khiar. For dessert, a molasses halva, which is a classic dessert.
Although Los Angeles does have a Turkish community, we had a difficult time finding a specific Turkish market. It may be that they are not located in our area, or perhaps most of them have been grouped into Middle Eastern markets. Those are not hard to find at all, and we found a perfect one in Westwood. Jordan Market is nestled on a busy strip of restaurants, local bakeries, coffee shops and other stores in West Los Angeles. It is by no means a large store, but it is packed with goodies. The
We wandered around the store grabbing items here and there. The produce was very fresh and vibrant, with an interesting variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Huge persimmons, Japanese pears and fat pomegranates were nestled in amongst lush green parsley, cilantro, dill and other herbs. Next to the produce, there was a glass case full of desserts, cold meats, prepared foods and meats. Barrels of raw nuts and dried fruits lined the floor and sat stacked in containers. We are impulse buyers and always want to try something new, so it was hard to resist tossing new items into the basket.
This market did not have specialty items that we could not find elsewhere, so it served as a source of inspiration and information. We spoke with the manager about halva, as it was our chosen dessert, and neither one of us had ever had it before. It is a sweet that has various forms depending on what part of the world you may be in, but in Turkey, the most popular version is made with semolina flour and pine nuts. It is known as irmik helvası and will traditionally be served after funerals as a comforting dish for those in grief. They sold an imported halva with pine nuts in the cold case, and there were also commercially produced brands from California in stock as well. The simplicity of this dessert sounded appealing, so we left pondering which type of halva we would make.
With ingredients in hand, it was time to cook. Amazing Turkish recipes are easy to find, and the great thing is that they tend to be straightforward and consistent across the board. This could also be due to the fact that we chose fairly classic dishes, so they maintain an air of authenticity and traditional flavor. The main dish, karniyarik, literally means ‘split belly’ in Turkish, and it is one of the most well known dolma. Dolma refers to any stuffed vegetable, so don’t limit yourself to just grape leaves. Eggplants stuffed with a mixture of beef or lamb, garlic, onions, tomatoes and parsley are baked until soft. The dish is usually served with a cucumber yogurt dip for levity and refreshing flavor, and it goes perfectly with the meat. Finally, the halva was dessert. A recipe for a molasses and walnut halva sounded like the perfect way to end the meal. This dishes merely cracked the door into the world of Turkish food.
1449 Westwood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Karniyarik (Adapted from Give Recipe) – Serves 8
8 medium eggplants
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 tomato, deseeded and diced
1 tomato, deseeded and sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1. Peel alternating strips of skin off the eggplants, being sure to leave some on for color and texture. Split each one slightly down the middle and use a spoon to scoop out some of the flesh. Place the eggplants on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
2. While eggplants bake, shake a few drops of olive oil into a frying pan. Once hot, add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent. Break up the beef and add it to the pan, along with the salt and pepper. Cook until the meat browns, approximately 5-7 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the parsley and tomatoes. Once the eggplants have finishing their first round of baking, stuff them with the beef filling. Top each one with strips of bell pepper and the sliced tomatoes, then return to the oven and bake another 20-25 minutes or until the peppers have softened.
Cacik – Serves 8
16 ounces Greek yogurt
4 Persian cucumbers, grated and squeezed dry
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
Turkish Molasses Halva (Adapted from Allrecipes) – Serves 8
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup molasses
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1. Set the water, molasses and salt to a boil over medium high heat. Remove from heat once boiling.
2. In a medium boil, stir the hot, melted butter into the flour until the dough forms uniform crumbles. Pour the molasses mixture into the bowl and stir well, breaking up any clumps of flour. Add the walnuts in towards the end and combine well.
3. Pour the mixture onto a piece of wax paper or parchment paper. Roll the dough into a 12″ log and allow to cool. Slice into 1/2″ pieces and serve with coffee, tea or ice cream.
Click HERE for the printable recipes.