Almost Turkish Recipes

Cretan Zucchini in Tomato Sauce (Domatesli Girit Kabağı)

Cretan zucchini in tomato sauce is a staple appetizer/meze on both sides of the Aegean coast.  I’ve been dying to recreate the recipe for years, but it was hard, if not impossible, to find those baby zucchinis in US. I was really excited to start my experiments when Trader Joe’s started to carry those tiny cute zucchinis a couple of years ago. However, it wasn’t until last summer when we ate, among many other delicious mezes, an incredibly divine version of Cretan zucchini with tomato sauce and cheese at Lal Girit Mutfagi on Cunda island that I finalized my own recipe.

serves 2 as a main course and for 4 as an appetizer
1 lb baby zucchini, ends trimmed
3-4 tbsp olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic, slices or minced
3-4 medium size tomatoes, grated OR 1 can of diced tomatoes (smoothen them in a food processor for 10 seconds)
½ cup water
Aged cheddar (or feta or any kind of cheese you prefer)

-Heat olive oil in a wide pot on medium to high.
-Add zucchinis, garlic, and salt. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes. To cook zucchinis evenly on all sides, shake the pot with the lid on a couple of times.
-Add tomato cook for 2 minutes.
-Add water and simmer on low for another 10 minutes or until zucchini is cooked.
-Once you turn it off, add cheese on top, cover and let cool down to room temperature.
-Serve as a meze/side dish/appetizer or as a main dish with rice, grilled meat, crusty bread, or all.

Tomato Pilaf (Domatesli Pilav)

One of the indispensable dishes of summer time dinner tables. It goes well with any kind of grilled meat and olive oil dishes. And as a bonus, it's one of the all time kid-favorite Turkish recipes. It was MY favorite as a kid. I could live on tomato rice, meatballs, and yogurt all summer. Last night I got the best compliment for my cooking ever: A five-year old, unfortunately not mine, told me my red rice was better than ice cream. Yes, that level of compliment!

serves 6-8

2 cups of rice (I find jasmine rice the closest to Turkish rice)
1 small onion, finely chopped, ~1/2 to 1 cup
3 tbsp olive oil or butter (if you use olive oil, you can have the rice cold the next day)
3-4 juicy medium to big size tomatoes, diced (hard to believe but in Turkey most people skin the tomatoes) or 1 can of petite diced tomato (when using canned tomatoes, I always put them in the processor for 5-10 seconds to make it smoother for my picky eaters)
1 tsp salt
a pinch of sugar (1/4 tsp or a little more)
1 tsp black pepper (optional)
3 3/4 cups of water or stock (vegetable or chicken)
finely chopped parsley to garnish

-According to the traditional Turkish style of making rice pilaf, rice is soaked in warm water for at least 20 minutes and then rinsed well to wash off the starchiness. Although I have been scolded by mom and various aunts over this issue, I do not soak or wash rice for no good reason other than laziness and lack of time.
-Saute onions in a steel pot with your preferred oil until soft. Don't let them brown.
-Add the tomatoes and sugar, and cook for 4-5 minutes until they acquire that dark cooked-tomato color.
-Add rice and stir for a couple of minutes.
-Add water or stock, salt, and pepper, if you're using any. Stir once. Turn the heat down to low to medium once it starts boiling.
-Cover and simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes, until it absorbs the water or stock. You might want to stir it once after 10 minutes if the water stays on top and the bottom is getting cooked.
-Once it's cooked. Take the pot off the stove and cover the top with a paper towel or a clean kitchen cloth. Do not stir it. Replace the lid. Let sit covered for at least 10 minutes.
-Now you can stir or fluff it up to distribute the oil evenly that sat on the bottom. Sprinkle chopped parsley and serve hot.

Roasted Eggplant Purée with Yogurt (Yoğurtlu Patlıcan Salatası)

Eggplants... we love them. We cook them in any way imaginable; we bake them, dry them, fry them, pickle them, purée them, roast them, split them, stew them, stir-fry them, stuff them, and even jam them--true story!

This side dish/salad/appetizer is a summer favorite and one of the easiest eggplant dishes to make. It is readily available at any meyhane/tavern/pub where they serve rakı, anise-flavored brandy. There are some rules associated with rakı culture and to have at least one type of eggplant salad/meze is one of them. At homes eggplant salad is usually prepared during mangal, i.e., barbecue. First eggplants are roasted and while the meats are grilled, purée is made.

Although in Turkish it is called salad, it is consumed either as a spread over slices of baguettes or as a dip for which bread morsels become scoops.

This recipe is one of the many variations of the classic eggplant purée which could be found across Mediterranean. For the classic purée simply skip the yogurt.

(1 big American eggplant makes 1 cup eggplant purée when roasted. You can decide how many eggplants to roast)

There's nothing written in stone. You can use more or less of everything.

1 big eggplant
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
~1/2 cup strained/Greek yogurt
1 clove of garlic, minced or smashed
1 tbsp parley or mint, finely chopped

-Prick the eggplant(s) a couple of times with a knife so they won't explode. On medium to high grill roast them until skin is charred and flesh completely soft. OR roast them in a pre-heated hot oven of 450F for 40-50 minutes.
-When cool enough to handle, peel the skin and mash the flesh well with the back of a fork. (Some people take the seeds out as well, but I leave them.)
-Mix in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and yogurt.
-Salt to taste.
-Garnish with parsley or mint.