Almost Turkish Recipes

Thracian Roasted Eggplant Salad (Tunçilik)

During summer months roasted eggplant salads are very common in Thrace, where my hometown is. Thrace (Trakya in Turkish) is the northwestern corner or the European part of Turkey. Thrace is a historical and geographical region that spreads over Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey. The Turkish part is the Eastern Thrace. Eastern Thrace, in years, witnessed major waves of migration, population exchanges--like the two big ones after the Ottoman-Russian war and the Lausanne Treaty--which created the marvelous ethnic, cultural, and culinary mosaic of the region today.

My favorite jewel of this culinary mosaic, Tunçilik, is one of the many different versions of roasted eggplant salads or mezes (=appetizer) that's made in the region. Tunçilik is a specialty of the southwestern part of Turkish Thrace around Tekirdağ.

for 6 people
4 eggplants
5-6 mild green peppers (New Mexico Hatch, shishito, banana, Anaheim, or even poblano) or red peppers,
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
6-7 tbsp of vinegar
3-4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
There's nothing written in stone. You can use more or less of everything listed up here. Whatever you do, make sure you use all the ingredients. There's no such thing as Tunçilik without parsley, peppers, or tomatoes, or vinegar. Make it less vinegary or more oily or peppery, but have all the ingredients.

-Roast eggplants and peppers on a grill until soft and charred, or in an oven at 450 Fahrenheit. Roast tomatoes along with eggplants and peppers for 4-5 minutes.
-Let them cool first. If you cover them with a paper bag or place them in a paper bag, they will sweat and peel much more easily. Then peel eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes. And seed them. (I leave some charred skin on for extra smoky flavor)
-Chopped them all finely.
-In a bowl place chopped eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and parsley.
-In a small bowl, mix crushed garlic, vinegar, olive oil, and salt. Add this on vegetables.
-Mix well. Taste. If you think you can handle a little more garlic and vinegar, do not hesitate to add more.
-Tunçilik goes well with  grilled red meat/poultry or vegetables or with any kind of grain. And do not forget to soak the juice with a slice of good and preferably crusty bread.

Zucchini with Rice (Pirinçli Kabak)

Light zucchini dishes in olive oil are the best for hot summer days, especially when zucchinis are in abundance just like now. This one has been one of my favorites with yogurt on the side since my childhood. In my adult life, it makes a perfect lunch. Since it's cooked with olive oil you can have it warm or cold, but preferably cold. The dish is usually made with the addition of fresh tomatoes; however, I don't like to cover the flavor of dill and mint, so I don't use tomatoes or tomato paste. If you want some color in your zucchini dish, add 2 grated tomatoes or 1 can of petite diced tomato before adding zucchinis. Let it cook for 3-4 minutes and then add zucchini and water. With rice, mint, and dill, this dish it appeals even to those who don't like zucchini.

4-5 medium size zucchinis, scraped and cut in 1/2 inch quarters
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
2-3 tbsp or 1/4 olive oil
(2 carrots, cut in quarters--if you're using any)
(2-3 tomatoes, grated--if you're using any)
2 tbsp white rice (the amount of rice varies between 1 tbsp to 1/3 cup, and accordingly it turns out to be a zucchini heavy or rice heavy dish.) You can opt for quinoa, bulgur, or no grains at all. 
1/3 cup fresh mint, chopped or 2 tbsp dried mint flakes
1/2 bunch dill, chopped
water, double the amount of grain: if you use 2 tbsp rice, use 4 tbsp water; if you use 1/4 cup rice, use 1/2 cup water, etc.

-Heat oil in a broad and shallow pot. Saute onion and (carrot, if you're using any) until soft, but don't let the onions brown.
-Add zucchini and garlic. Saute until zucchini softens.
-(Add tomatoes now, if you want a colorful dish. Cook until they darken in color. ~5 mins)
-Add water. Wait until it starts boiling and then add rice (If you add rice before it boils, then rice turns mushy).
-Add salt and mint.
-Cover and simmer on low until rice is cooked, approximately 25 minutes. Check now and then to make sure i has enough water. If it doesn't, add some boiling water. 
-Add dill after you turn it off.
-You can serve it warm or cold. If you will serve it cold, let it cool down in its pot, lid closed.
-It goes well with yogurt and fresh bread. It makes a great lunch.

Turkish Moussaka (Patlıcan Musakka)

The moussaka, originally an Arabic dish, has been prepared and served in differing ways across the Middle East for centuries. However, it's the Greek version, modernized and de-Turkified in early 20th century, that is well known in America and, unfortunately, the only version one can find at restaurants. I say "unfortunately," because the Greek twist i.e., the Béchamel sauce on top, makes this already deliciously heavy dish way heavier than most of us can handle.

The classic Turkish moussaka consists of fried slices of eggplants, ground beef, tomatoes flavored with onion, garlic, sweet green peppers, tomato paste, and olive oil. However, there are many variations in the Turkish version as well: some use the more traditional lamb and some use chicken, an act I believe should be banned. Some add potatoes to eggplants (another bannable variation) and some use zucchini instead of eggplants.  What follows is, of course, an "almost" traditional Turkish recipe. What makes it almost is the kind of eggplant available in US and how we will prepare it.

The eggplant variety in Turkey that is used for this dish is similar to Italian or Holland eggplants, smaller and longer than the American or globe eggplants. The eggplants are peeled in stripes and cut in half an inch thick slices before deep fried for the classical version. The American eggplant makes giants slices, three or four of which would cover a whole dish. For this reason we will cube them instead of rounds. Fried eggplant is absolutely "the" best; however, it also is very heavy and greasy. Lately the dish is prepared by baking rather than frying. So these changes in preparation makes it an almost Turkish dish.

This is not a difficult dish to make; it's very forgiving. Yet, it's a time consuming one. However, it's so  very much worth the time and effort. I've been making moussaka for dinner parties and potlucks for years, and I've never ever had any leftovers.

serves 4-5
2 globe eggplants, cubed (peeling in stripes is optional)
1/2 lb ground beef
1 big onion, diced
5-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
2-3 green or sweet peppers, sliced
2 tbsp tomato paste
3-4 tomatoes, petite decided or grated (or processed in the blender)
1/4-1/3 cup olive oil for eggplants + another 1/4 for the sauce
salt and black pepper
1/3 cup or more parsley, chopped

-Preheat the oven to 430-450 F.
-Put cubed eggplants in a bowl. Add salt and 1/4 or 1/3 cup olive oil. I love my olive oil and I use 1/3 or even more. Toss and mix well to make sure the cubes are covered in olive oil. Next, spread them over an oven tray layered with parchment paper or not. Bake until brown approximately for 20-25 minutes. Try to resist the urge to open the oven and check on them.
-Heat 1/4 cup olive oil on medium in a big pan or heavy bottom pot. Add ground beef and cook thoroughly until it releases its juice and soaks it back. While cooking crush the ground beef with the back of your spoon, wooden spoons work best for this. The ground meat should not be clumped at all.
-Add onion and peppers and cook on medium until soft but not browned.
-Add tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes stirring.
-Add crushed tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper.
-When the tomatoes are cooked, i.e., they changed into a darker red, add one cup of boiling water.
-Simmer for five minutes.
[We will finish the dish by baking so we need an oven proof dish.]
-If you are using a heavy bottom pot (I use a 3.6 qt casserole dish) for the sauce, you can just add baked eggplant cubes into it and mix.
    If you used a regular pan. Find an oven proof dish, place eggplants at the bottom and spread the sauce on top evenly. You can also place sliced tomatoes on top for a nice presentation.
-Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350-360 F.
-Sprinkle parsley on top and serve hot with rice and yogurt.

Tips: You can skip the oven part and just simmer for 10-15 minutes after you put together the eggplant and the sauce. But baking adds an incredible flavor to moussaka.

You can prepare the dish or the eggplants and finish it the next day.

If you want to make it traditional, fry the eggplant cubes until brown.