Quince Dessert (Ayva Tatlısı)

It's quince season, and I love that you can find them everywhere in Northern California. Quince is simply unknown to many Americans but for those of us from Europe/MidEast it's an indispensable part of Fall. Quince is an apple-pear like fruit with no sex appeal on paper; it is firm, really really firm (for example, you cannot just take a bite; you need a knife), and tart with a slight hint of sweetness! I like it raw the best, but it is also phenomenal in this highly classic dessert recipe. Quince dessert, my favorite, is a traditional Turkish dessert that uses a sugar based syrup. You can find them in most restaurants and patisseries in fall and winter all around Turkey.

Although ingredients and techniques-wise this is a simple recipe, it took me more than half a decade to post it because it is a hard one to perfect. You want the color red, without food coloring though, and the flesh to remain firm, after hours of cooking required for the color, yet not mushy.

Here it is:

for 6 people

3 quinces, pick ones that are yellow with minimal green spots., halved and cored
2 1/4 - 2 1/2 cups sugar (~1/2 - 3/4 cups sugar per quince, depending how sweet you want it) and yes, that's a lot of sugar but this is a syrup based dessert so...moving on
one red apple peel, any kind
Juice of one lemon
1 1/2 cup water (1/2 cup per quince)
4-5 whole cloves

-Fill a bowl with enough water to cover quinces when halved. Add lemon juice.
-Peel and core the quinces and save the peel and seeds for coloring. Put halved quinces in lemony water to prevent browning.
-When all are halved. Place them in a pot, cored part up, and add water, quince and apple skins, quince seeds. They will give the quince a nice red color. Add cloves as well.
-On medium to high heat boil them for 10-15 minutes.
-Then add sugar and cook for two hours on low heat. After an hour and a half flip the quinces over, cored part facing down.
-Place quinces in a serving plate. Toss aside peels, seeds, and cloves with a slotted spoon and pour the syrup on quinces. Set aside to cool down.
-Serve with kaymak, qaymak, clotted cream or, in the absence of all these, oh well, whipped cream, topped with chopped walnuts or pistachios.

Leek Fritters (Pırasa Mücveri)

Although "the" fritter, or mücver in Turkish, dish in Turkish cuisine is the zucchini one (here's the recipe), variations are popular as well. Among the different versions of mücver, leek is the best, if you ask me.

2-3 stalk leeks, washed and trimmed-the end dark green parts

3 eggs
1 cup feta
1/4 cup parsley, chopped finely
1/4 cup mint, chopped finely
3/4 cup flour
black pepper

1/2 cup frying oil (I use olive oil but you can use corn, sun flower, or canola)

-Put the leeks in a food processor or chop them well, very fine
-Mix all the ingredients. If the batter is too runny, add more flour.
-Heat oil in a frying pan on medium heat.
-Drop scoops of batter in hot oil. Make sure they don't touch.
-Fry them on each side until golden brown, 3-4 minutes.
-when done, place fritters on paper towel to drain excessive oil.
-Serve with plain yogurt or garlicy yogurt sauce. 
(For garlicy yogurt sauce beat 1 cup of yogurt with 1 clove of minced garlic and a pinch of salt.)

Sunchokes in Olive Oil (Zeytinyağlı Yer Elması)

This ginger look-alike, hard-to-peel root has many names in English among which I like sunchoke or sunroot the best. I liked the sun in those names but never really understood why a root that probably never sees the sun has that name, but then I saw the plant; it looks like, I thought, sunflower, and to my surprise it apparently is related to the sunflower plant. It is called yer elması, i.e. "earth apple," what French call potato, in Turkish.

Sunchokes, although not very common Turkey-wide, are very common in the Aegean and in Istanbul. The sunchoke season here in Northern California and in Turkey run from late November to to early Spring, and you can find them in stores and at farmers' markets. They are great in Turkish olive oil dishes (here's a recipe with orange juice) or raw in salads. This low in calorie, high in fiber root is quite rich when it comes to health benefits. It has a distinct sweet rooty and slightly nutty flavor, but it is not for everyone. I'm the only one who likes it cooked in my house. So you need to try and see whether you like it simmered in olive oil or raw, or like it at all. Below is a very traditional olive oil dish recipe.

serves ~4 people
1 lb sunchokes, peeled and left as a whole or diced
1 lb baby or regular potatoes
1/2 lb pearl onions peeled or one medium onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, diced or halved or 1 cup baby carrots
1/3 cup olive oil (yep, it is an olive oil dish and the amount is normal)
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 bunch fresh dill
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup water

-The hardest part of the recipe; peel the sunchokes. It is easier to peel them when left in water for 20-30 minutes beforehand. Leave them as they are or dice them.
-Put olive oil in a medium size pot on medium heat.
-When heated add pearl onions and sugar. Stir for 4-5 minutes until softened. Do not let them brown.
-Add sunchokes, carrots, potatoes, and half of the dill bunch, unchopped, for flavor.
-Stir for a minute.
-Add water, lemon juice, and salt.
-First let it boil, and then simmer it on low heat covered for 30-40 minutes, until cooked. If unsure, pierce sunchokes with a knife.
-Let the dish cool down in its pot with the lid on. Transfer to a serving plate only after cooled down.
-Serve with finely chopped fresh dill on top.

*This is an olive oil dish; it should be served at room temperature or cold. Olive oil dishes tend to taste even better the next day.

*I do like sunchokes in olive oil in round shapes, but you can cube or dice all the ingredients. It's just a matter of presentation.

For a non-traditional, or an almost Turkish, twist try with a splash of balsamic vinegar.