Almost Turkish Recipes

Green Pea Stew with Beef (Etli Bezelye)

Green pea stew is one of the most common stews in Turkish cuisine. It was usually made in the summer months when the peas are in season and deliciously fresh. However, with freezers becoming staple households people start to pod them and freeze for the winter months. And, no, canned peas are really not a thing in Turkey. The green pea stew is made in three different ways: vegetarian, with ground meat (it's waste of peas if you ask me), and with stew beef. When it is made in the summer, the stew is usually accompanied by cacık, yogurt mixed with minced garlic, grated cucumbers, fresh dill, a bit of olive oil and water, a sauce similar to tzatziki). However, it's good with just plain yogurt as well.

1/2 lb stew beef
1 lb fresh podded green peas (you can use frozen peas as well)
2 carrots, diced or halved about 1/3 or 1/4 inch thick
1 big or two medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced (I love red onions in stews, but any kind is fine)
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
3 tomatoes, grated or diced (fresh tomatoes or great but 1 can diced tomato would do as well)
1 tbsp tomato paste and 1 tbsp pepper paste (available at Middle Eastern stores-if you cannot find it double the amount of tomato paste)
1/2 bunch fresh dill, finely chopped
3-4 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

-Heat olive oil in a cast iron pot or a heavy bottom pot on medium heat. Add stew beef and cook until it releases and absorbs its juice-approximately 15-20 mins.
-Add onions and garlic and cook 5 minutes.
-Add carrots and tomato&pepper pastes and stir for another five minutes.
-Add tomatoes (or canned tomatoes if you're using them) and bring to a boil.
-Add potatoes, peas (see the note below), 1/3 of the fresh fill and hot water just enough to cover them all.
-Salt and pepper to your taste.
-Once it boils, cover and simmer on low for an hour.
-Sprinkle the remaining fresh dill on top and serve with white or brown rice or a crusty wholesome bread.

Note: I love using fresh peas. I buy them in pod from a local market and pod them or buy them fresh and podded (I like Trader Joe's Fresh English peas!) But you can definitely use frozen peas as well. If so, add them to the stew half an hour before you turn it off.

Easy Phyllo Pie (Kolay Peynirli Börek)

Turkish phyllos are thicker, a quality which makes it much easier to deal with them. The ones sold here at the markets are very starchy (great for desserts), really thin, and dry and break at every chance they have. If you're working on a börek [a general name for all savory phyllo pies in Turkish], that has a specific shape for instance rolls, rose böreks, the job becomes very challenging. Here's a recipe I've been working on, testing and tasting (what a torture!) for a while. Even if phyllos break it is fine, because the recipe requires to break them anyway.

10-12 sheets of phyllo sheets (usually one box has 20 sheets) I'd recommend to follow the instructions on the boxes for dealing with and thawing phyllos.
1 big egg or 2 small ones
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp butter
1 cup white cheese/feta
2-3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
red pepper flakes, optional
1.2 tbsp sesame seeds

-Grease a pan. I used a 9 inch round pan with relatively high sides, but you can use a rectangular or square pan provided the pan is smaller than the phyllo sheets.
-Place two phyllos on the greased bottom. It's ok if they break while doing this; just make sure the bottom is covered.
-Take 4-5 sheets, rip them into 3-4 pieces each and place them in the pan.
-Whisk egg, milk, and oil with 1/2 teaspoon of salt in  bowl.
-With a spoon sprinkle 1/3 of the milky mix on the ripped phyllos.
-Mix crumbled cheese and parsley and pepper flakes if you want some spice, and layer them on top of phyllos.
-Cut the butter into small pieces, and layer them on top of white cheese.
-Take another 4-5 sheets, rip them like the previous ones and layer on top of the cheese.
-Pour another 1/3 of the milky mix on top.
-Cover the pan with 2phyllo sheets,  tuck the overhanging parts of the phyllo in with the help of a knife.
-Pour the remaining milky mixture on top making sure it wets the corners as well.
-Sprinkle the pie with sesame seeds.
-Bake in preheated 390F for 30*40 minutes, or until golden brown.  

Savory Leek Cake (Pırasalı Kek)

This recipe is perfect for overcast winter-ish (We're in Palo Alto, cloudy sky is as winter as it gets!) Sunday afternoons. In Turkey, afternoons like this would be incomplete without a brewing teapot on the stove. And tea, of course, requires a companion. My favorite tea companions are not the sweet ones like cookies and sweet cakes, but savory ones such as borekspoğaças, or savory cakes (I'm dreaming about a whole new category for the blog on savory cakes). This recipe is a flexible one in terms of ingredients. You can replace mozzarella with white cheese or feta, or cheddar; you canskip the cornmeal and do all flour; you can add herbs; etc. You get the idea. In Turkey this cake is usually vegetarian or sometimes made with beef franks, but I love making this savory cake with Middle Eastern pastrami or pastırma. I think leeks and ME pastrami are a perfect couple. Yet, you can skip that completely or use crispy bacon bits, smoked ham, or whatever kind of meat you like.
(You can fortunately find Middle Eastern pastrami made in America, right here in California from Ohanyan's --If you're following this blog for a while you know that I don't do product endorsement, at all!)   

2 leeks, washed well and chopped as thinly as possible
2 tbsp butter or olive oil (this we will use to cook the leeks)
1/3 cup olive oil or sunflower etc (this one is for the cake batter)
1 cup corn meal or flour, they both work
1 cup flour
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese (you can use a different kind as well)
3 eggs
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp aleppo pepper flakes or any spicy pepper flakes (this is optional, but leeks love spice)
1 tsp or more salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup pastrami, chopped in however way/size you prefer

-Preheat the oven to 375F.
-Heat butter in a frying pan and add the leeks and cook ~10 minutes on medium. Leeks will first sweat, then wilt, and they will finally surrender. If you like browned veggie taste, you can brown them as well but I find the taste to be overwhelming for baking. Take them off the stove and let cool aside.
-Beat eggs well with olive oil and yogurt. Add cheese and pastrami then mix.
-In a separate bowl, mix flour, corn meal/flour, baking powder, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes.
-Add the eggy mixture to the dry one, and mix well.
-Pour the batter in an oven dish (I used a 10 inch round baking pan)
-Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes clean.

Set aside to cool for 5 minutes then enjoy with tea or an ice cold pilsner!