Almost Turkish Recipes

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.

Slow Cooked Beef Stew (Etli Güveç)

Güveç (Gue-vech) is a Turkish term that defines both slow cooked stews and the clay pot, glazed or unglazed, that they are cooked in, just like tagine. The stew could be vegetarian or with meat: chicken, beef, lamb, or goat. The vegetables used in this dish vary depending on the season it's made.

Traditionally the dish is prepared by layering the ingredients in an order that they will cook; meat at the bottom and tomatoes on top, and no water is added because the clay pot and its lid are sealed with dough so the delicious steam doesn't escape. And the güveç is cooked slowly for 1,5 - 2 hours in the wood fired clay oven that most houses had in their backyards in the past. After crackıng the dough around the lid, the stew would be served over rice with a nice loaf of bread and yogurt on the side. It's really hard to describe the deliciousness of meat and/or veggies cooked slowly in their own juices in a clay pot.   

As you can imagine, nowadays not many people have clay ovens in their backyards. Some people still keep the tradition by sending their güveç to either neighborhood bakeries or, in rare instances, to few existing güveç bakeries that specialize in baking güveç. However, most people who still fancy the dish and the clay pot, like my mom, cook it at home on regular stoves (most kitchens in Turkey feature small size ovens that would not accommodate the height of a clay pot). My mom prepares the dish in her half a century old clay pot which is almost black now rather than clay color due to the usage and love it got over the years. She still makes a small amount of dough to seal the lid to the pot and uses a heat diffuser that distributes the heat evenly so the pot doesn't crack.

I gave up on clay pots after I broke two in suitcases trying to bring them here to the States. So the following recipe is an authentic "almost" Turkish one, since I opt for a cast-iron pot instead.

It is completely up to you how much of what you will use in this dish. The tricky part is you cannot make a small batch because even if you add one of each vegetable they add up. So make the dish, get some bread and a good red wine and invite friends over. I usually make a very meaty stew, since my younger clientele is still quite picky about veggies, so they flavor their buttery rice with only meat and juice from the stew.

1 lb stew beef or lamb (You can use chicken as well, but I rather have it vegetarian than with chicken)
1 medium to big size onion, diced
7-8 cloves of garlic, peeled
a handful of green beans, or less, trimmed and cut into ~2 inch pieces
1 eggplant, peeled in stripes or not and cut in cubes
1 zucchini or summer squash, or both, cut in cubes (in Turkey they peel zucchinis, I don't.)
1 potato, peeled and cubed
3-4 peppers, shishito, sweet Italian, anaheim-if you like spicy, chopped (but never ever use American bell peppers, please!)
3-4 medium tomatoes, chopped or grated. You can use grape or cherry tomatoes as well, just halve them
1/2 cup water (because cast iron and I am not making dough to seal it)
1/4 - 1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbsp tomato or pepper paste, optional (some add tomato or pepper paste for the color)
Parchment paper

-Take a biggish cast iron pot. Place meat at the bottom, and layer up the rest in this order: onion, green beans, couple of garlic cloves, eggplant, more garlic cloves, zucchini, garlic cloves, potatoes, peppers, and finally tomatoes.
-Mix salt and water and add to the pot. If you want to use tomato paste. Mix it in the water at this stage.
-Pour the olive oil evenly on top.
-Cover the top of the veggies with parchment paper tightly. We're cheating and using it in lieu of dough. Place a heavy plate on top; small enough to go in the pot but wide enough to cover as much of the surface as possible.
-Finally place the lid.
-Bring the stew first to a boil and then cook on low for 1,5 hours. Lamb cooks faster than beef. So cook for 1 hour for lamb and 1,5-2 for beef.