Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions

Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions
Spring time always inspires me...

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A Trip to Turkey Cappadocia & Kırşehir

Ayfer and I taking a break
Last year in May 2019, I was sitting with my good friend Ayfer Yavi, a food history/culture writer and convivium leader of Slow Food Istanbul’yagmur boregi’. We were both invited to North Cyprus for the Komi Kebir Mediterranean Festival for the second consecutive time (lucky me). During a short break, while overlooking the sea, I promised her that in 2020, I will focus on Turkish cuisine and plan a trip together. Little did I know that the world would change completely. I had no goal in sight except participating in the Lebanese revolution and trying to keep sane while Lebanon was crumbling before my eyes — day after day. I shall quickly spare you the details and focus on the rest of the story.

One of my favorite food in Lebanon is Armenian cuisine. I have always included Armenian recipes in all my books, as the food has become part of our local culture. I am no stranger to the people and to the places where one can find these delicious fares. Throughout the years, I have shared very special moments learning and of course eating the foods of the Armenian community in Lebanon. In fact, when I was doing my food segments on local TV, I had the opportunity to do a few reports: Red pepper Season in Anjar, Mayrig restaurant, Sona at Tawlet, Ishkhanian Bakery, and High-Food ( since then has closed down). When the Armenians came to Lebanon, they brought their food culture with them. The principles are much in line with Turkish cuisine. Flavors, textures, cooking techniques may differ, but to understand one is to understand both. Thus, I am focusing in parallel on both in 2020. No politics involved.

"The world is an open table, we should enjoy it instead of focusing on how to separate flavors and faiths. Instead of praising the Armenians for their skill in olive oil dishes, the Kurds for meat, Turks for pastries, Ottoman Greeks for their seafood, we could coexist, with mutual respect to each other's values, faiths and way of life." As Musa Dagdeviren wrote in his book, The Turkish Cookbook.

With no travels in sight, due mainly to capital control of our local banks. I was literally stuck in Lebanon, not a good feeling, as I love to travel to food destinations all around the world. This is the best way to educate myself. I learn the culture, meet people, take photographs, eat the food and come back with a wider scope of the world. This has helped me shape my own philosophy of life. Soon after, I get an email from the civil society organization, Anatoliacadsa, inviting me to Cappadocia and Kırşehir Turkey to introduce me to their local cuisine. The project’s aim is to introduce food writers to the food and wine of Turkey. I was delighted to hear of such an opportunity. The universe answers to the energy one emits when one really wants to pursue a certain plan of action. It has happened to me in the past and I know it will continue in the future. I am confident.

The organizer asked me to suggest another candidate in Lebanon. I contacted Krystel Riachi Harb, as I follow her blog Notes of a Traveler; she could be the perfect applicant. Her husband is the winemaker of Sept Winery, which made perfect sense for him to join on the adventure. On the 5th of March, despite the rising fear of the coronavirus, we were on a plane to Turkey to discover the wonders of the food and wine culture of the region.


A Night Out in Istanbul

Our first stop was in Istanbul. We arrived late afternoon, dropped off our suitcases at the hotel, which was very well situated. We did not want to waste time so we met at the lobby early to wander on the streets to discover the locals and the food culture. We walked for a while, reaching Beyoglu to find the perfect place to have our first meal in Turkey. We all agreed that we wanted to avoid touristic eateries and searched for a restaurant where locals ate. By chance, we found the perfect place, a kebab house —Eski Babel Ocakbaşı. It was packed, mostly with rowdy Turkish men. I whispered to Krystel that we were the only women there, but of course, we didn’t mind. We ate very well.


We started with a few appetizers:

1. Hummus – very different from our Lebanese variety, no tahini is added or very little.

hummus, pickles, grilled vegetables
2. Two plates of yogurt – one plain and another seasoned with peppermint and garlic.

3. Ezme – a mixture of chopped tomatoes, onion, parsley, spices with lemon juice and olive oil. This was perfect with the kebabs, as the juices melted with the meat.

4. Turşu – pickles fermented without any vinegar. The process is made by placing the vegetables into a mild salt solution, which allows naturally occurring Lactobacillus to ferment all sugars present. The result is lactic acid, appearing as cloudy brine. I find it easier to eat this type of pickle throughout the meal in quantities.

5. Tulum – a special Turkish cheese served with a huge slab of butter and walnuts. I am no stranger to this cheese, as we have a Lebanese cheese that is very similar called Darfieh. I have spoken widely about the lost cheese of the Lebanese mountain in a regional conference during the event of Cheese organized by the international Slow Food movement on the making of our variety and had the opportunity to taste the Turkish version. We don’t eat Darfieh with butter.

Tulum cheese
6. Patlıcan soslu – a mixture of grilled eggplant, tomato, green pepper, garlic and tomato sauce. Anything made with eggplant I love. The Turkish version of our Lebanese moussaka.

Then we tried two sorts of kebabs:

Patlıcanlı Kebab
1. Urfa Kebab – minced lamb meat mixed with spices and hot pepper, grilled on skewers. The spice mixture and fat content ratio were perfect.

2. Patlıcanlı Kebab – minced lamb kebab with eggplant. The eggplants melted in your mouth. The meat had lots of fat, seasoned with salt and maybe pepper.

We drank Yeni Raki, an anise-flavored spirit popular in Turkey, which made perfect sense with our choice of foods. We shared stories and laughter, as we deciphered the recipes of each plate — food detectives! I even shared with them my story of how I got involved in the campaign production for Yeni Raki years ago in London. Quite a tale to tell!

Cheers!
We were offered a plate of fresh citrus fruit for dessert. The staff was really friendly, shaking our hands individually as we left.

We slept late, with full bellies, soon after reaching our hotel nearby. Our wakeup call was quite early, no time for breakfast, unfortunately. I gulped a cup of instant coffee offered in the room, not my favorite. We headed to the new international airport in Istanbul Havalimanı to catch our flight to Nevşehir, Cappadocia. There we met Paul, an American journalist who speaks fluent Turkish because he has been residing there since college.

Cappadocia

Our flight was not very long, about an hour and a half. We were welcomed by our host Kubra. We climbed on the bus and drove to our first destination.

Maher Harb
Our first visit was the ceramic museum, Guray Muze. The director took some time to describe the process of how modern ceramics were produced while walking us through the maze of the museum to appreciate Turkish archeological artifacts, contemporary, traditional and folk ceramic, they were well preserved, displayed and showcased. What a treasure! I was very tempted to buy everything at the shop. I chose two modest handmade pottery vessels. They would be perfect for our mountain house, reminding me of this wonderful journey.


The highlight of the museum was a brief experience of pottery-making. The feeling of handling the wet clay on my hands while the rolling pin spins are so relaxing and therapeutic. Do you remember the movie Ghost? It felt like that. I will definitely research on that subject. Maybe, a new hobby!


And suddenly, Krystel felt pangs of hunger… Our host quickly found a solution. It turned out to be a perfect snack overlooking the scenic view of the caves of Cappadocia. One word to describe the view: Breathtaking! We arrived to find hot tea with Turkish flatbreads, Gözleme. Gözleme is a traditional food made with unleavened dough, rolled thin then filled with different types of toppings. It is sealed and cooked over a hot griddle. Butter or oil is brushed on the surface. Ours was filled with cheese and wild edible greens.

Tea and snacks with a view
Dogs, cats and birds roamed around us. The dogs begged us for a piece of Gözleme. I was thrilled to see them and share my snack. I have noticed that in Turkey dogs and cats are treated very well. I am an animal lover, two dogs and four cats live with us. We consider them part of our family. I have so much respect for a society that treats its animals well. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.”


We listened to our guide attentively as he gave us some historical background of the region. I was no stranger to these facts. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I have been watching for weeks a Turkish series on Netflix, perfect timing before this trip. Serendipity you say… The series is called Diriliş: Ertuğrul, in English Resurrection: Ertuğrul. The show is in Turkish so my ear is getting used to the language, English subtitles are available. A quick description from Wikipedia “The show is a Turkish historical fiction and adventure television series created by Mehmet Bozdağ, starring Engin Altan Düzyatan in the namesake leading role. It was filmed in Riva, a village in Beykoz, Turkey, and premiered on TRT 1 in Turkey on December 10, 2014. The show is based on the history of the Muslim Oghus Turks and takes place in the 13th century. It centers around the life of Ertuğrul, the father of Osman I, who was the founder of the Ottoman Empire.” Some of my friends in Turkey do not share the same enthusiasm I have for the show. I can understand that because I would feel the same if someone told me they were watching Lebanese series.

We quickly set off to drop off our luggage at Elegance Cave Suites, a hotel in the center of Cappadocia in Göreme. This boutique hotel is made of cave and stone rooms – built in accordance to the historical structure of the region with a view of fairy chimneys. It was very cozy and the staff was super friendly. Friendly cats roam the hotel as if they own it. I befriended a fat male feline and cuddled him while waiting for the others to arrive.

Our next destination was lunch at a local restaurant near our hotel called Dibek.


Testi Kebab (pottery Kebab)
This restaurant is known to serve traditional home-cooked meals in a quaint, warm and charming refurbished house. “The site was built over 400 years ago. The ground floor was originally used as stables and storage area. The upper levels were the living quarters.” It was completely restored and redecorated in 2004. We entered the premises that led to a private room where we were seated on cushions around a table. Our host wanted us to taste Testi Kebab – a meat and vegetable dish slow-cooked in a sealed clay pot (testi). The pot is cooked for approximately two hours, more or less depending on the heat source. It is sealed with dough to ensure a pressure-cooker effect. The clay pot is brought from the oven to the table then the waiter breaks open the clay pot with a small hammer and slowly pours the stew on your plate, served with rice with a garnish of red cabbages. I asked the waiter to repeat the ritual again in a different setting suitable for photography. I don’t think he was pleased. Small bowls of spices were set on the table with sumac, oregano, black pepper, red pepper, salt, and mint. I love that! I added sumac and salt to bring out more pungent flavors. We tasted two types of salads: The shepherd’s salad and a green salad with red cabbage. Plenty of bread was served with pickles, which were lightly fermented. We drank Ayran, Turkey’s national drink made of yogurt, water, and salt.

Testi Kebab ready to eat

The Testi Kebab is made by adding the following ingredients into a clay jar:

    • Lamb shank (cubed); substitute with beef or chicken
    • Onion
    • Garlic
    • Green pepper
    • Tomato
    • Bay leaf
    • Thyme
    • Paprika
    • Sumac
    • Red pepper (mild)
    • Black pepper
    • Salt
      I have the intention of doing this recipe when I move to the mountains soon…I have collected pottery vessels and will find the right one, I am sure. Oum Ali built us an oven outside which could be a great way to heat the clay pot. I will add a cinnamon stick, some allspice, sumac, more onion, and garlic to the mix, a small chili pepper, maybe add cardamom pods or cloves. Our host asked us what we thought of the kebab: I felt that the cooking time should have been longer to get very tender meat, ours was chewy. The high temperature and pressure inside the clay pot is the secret behind the Testi Kebab. I wanted the flavors to scream, hence the reason why I would add more spices. I might add some olive oil to the mix too to tenderize the meat. If in season, I would also add a few strips of bitter orange skin to give a zesty kick. Apparently, after a bit of research and found out that beans can be cooked in a similar way, a great variation for vegetarians. I am open to suggestions here. Please comment.

       Clients enjoying their meal
      After a hearty meal, we were off again to meet Chef Cem Aydogdu and Chef Melih Icigen – two chefs/instructors and their students at the KUN University of Kapadokya at the culinary department. The highlight of our visit to the university was a cooking demonstration and a tasting. YES, more food. No one had told us that we were going to eat again! I would have left some space, regardless I made do and tasted all that was offered: Lentil soup, stuffed eggplant with burghul, eggplant dip with yogurt, and the main focus was Mutancana, an ancient dish favored by Mehmed the Conqueror – the seventh sultan of the Ottoman Empire who at the age of 21 conquered Istanbul, ending the 1000-year-old Byzantine Empire. If you are interested to learn more about his trajectory, watch The Rise of Empires Ottoman – a new series on Netflix, which again incidentally I had watched before my trip (again before I knew I was going to Turkey). I am sharing the recipe they made.

      KUN University of Kapadokya

      Mutancana

        • 3 tablespoons butter
        • 750 g lamb meat, cubed
        • 15 pearl onion, peeled
        • 1 tablespoon flour
        • 2 cups warm water
        • 1 cup Rezaki (local) grapes, substitute with ½ cup dried red currant
        • 2 tablespoons honey
        • 2 teaspoons sumac
        • Salt
        • ½ cup raw almonds, blanched and sliced
        • 4-5 dried figs, sliced
        • 5 dried apricots, sliced

          Melt the butter in a cooking pan. Add the chopped lamb meat. Roast the meat until it releases its own juices. Add the pearl onion to the pot and cook for a few minutes. Sprinkle flour and roast for another few more minutes. Add hot water and cook on a high fire. Add the red currant, honey, sumac, and salt 5 minutes before you take the pan from fire. Finely slice the pre-boiled and peeled almonds dried figs, apricots. Roast them for a few minutes in a pan and add on the top of the plate while serving. Pilaf rice can be served with this dish.

          Muntacana

          Food without wine, never… Especially that Maher was with us on this trip. Kocabag winery was our next stop. We started the tasing with white varieties and then tasted the red ones. My favorite was made with Okuzgozu, a local variety of grapes. Locals appreciate Leo’s, a few suggested we skip the others and try this one. The winemaker was very hospitable and friendly. I am sure Maher will have lots to say on the subject. I will share the link to his article once uploaded.

          Underground cave of Kocabag Cappadocian Wines
          Paul and Maher chilling
          We were told that if we have time, we would visit a carpet factory called Metis Carpet. Yet, it was not a done deal, but I insisted so much that this was not something that I could miss.

          Beautiful smile
          Silk cocoons
          Deniz Bulut, our adorable French-speaking host
          I am obsessed with colors and textures and wanted especially to learn more about the ancient techniques used to color silk and wool with natural flowers and herbs. I also wanted to see tribal and nomadic rugs. We were welcomed by an amazing host, Deniz Bulut, who spoke perfect French and is also the hotel manager of Acropolis Cave Suites. He had a lot of charisma and knew the subject well. He explained the process of silk-making, coloring, and weaving. Local women sat on pillows patiently working on their looms. Here the carpets are handwoven, some will take months to finish. Woolen carpets are woven on big looms, while the silk ones on smaller looms. The silk carpets are usually hung on walls, as precious as they are.

          Patchwork carpet
          I spotted a carpet made with patchwork and fell in love with it immediately. The only problem was its price! Never mind, I captured it through photography. At the end of our tour, we were offered tea and a viewing of twirling carpets to show how the colors change as they were rolled out. An experience I will never forget!

          Natural dye is used to color the wool
          At night, after a short break in the hotel, we walked down the street for a cheese and wine tasting. The cheeses were a disappointment, not that they were not good but because they were not local. I mentioned this to our host, and minutes later he sent someone to get us some Tulum cheese from a neighbor. I was so happy! We were also served soup: Eggplant soup. That was the first time I taste such a recipe. I was intrigued and asked the chef to share his recipe. He would not. He rambled on about, “special eggplants, special olive oil, special spices”. OK! I was mad. Anyway, nothing ever stops me from getting what I want, especially with recipes and food. On our last night in Turkey, in Istanbul, as I was walking through the streets I stopped and looked in a shop at a book. The book was in Turkish, but I opened it and what did I see? I opened the book on the page of the eggplant soup. A quick photo and translation and I had what I wanted. Cheers to the selfish chef who wouldn’t share with me his recipe. As I am writing this today, I have cooked the soup an hour ago. I altered a bit the recipe: I added a bit of cream, used white pepper instead of black, I garnished the soup with garlic and red pepper flakes fried in olive oil. The soup is amazing, the roasted eggplants are smoky and the texture is perfect comfort food.

          Eggplant Soup 

          • 2 eggplants
          • 1 tablespoon butter
          • 1 tablespoon olive oil
          • 1 teaspoon flour
          • 3 cups hot water
          • 1 glass milk
          • 1 pinch salt
          • 1 pinch black pepper
          Roast the eggplants on medium fire on a gas range. Roast for 20-30 minutes, turning as it roasts. Alternatively, you can roast the eggplant in the oven. Preheat oven to 400° F (200 C°). Place eggplant (sliced lengthwise) on a foil-lined baking sheet. Rub with olive oil. Peel the eggplant and slice. Melt butter and olive oil, add the flour and cook for 2 mins. Add the diced roasted eggplants and cook for 2 mins stirring. Add the water and cook on low heat until thickened. Add the milk and cream (if using) stir and boil for 2 more minutes. Finally, add salt and pepper. Stir and remove from heat. Serve warm.

          The next morning we woke up early to the sound of the morning prayer. Our meeting was set at the lobby of the hotel before breakfast. Luckily, I had a balcony in my cave/stone room. I opened the door and saw multi-colored balloons flying above the skyline. What a beautiful sight! We gathered together and walked to a site up the road where the view was spectacular, breathtaking to say the least! After our morning walk, we sat down to eat breakfast back at the hotel, where a generous open buffet was served.

          Cappadocia skyline

          Tulum cheese for breakfast with honey
            
          View of the balloons flying off

          The Goreme Open-Air Museum

          Fresco inside caves

          We went on to visit the Goreme Open Air Museum. “The Goreme Open-Air Museum resembles a vast monastic complex composed of scores of refectory monasteries placed side-by-side, each with its own fantastic church. It contains the finest of the rock-cut churches, with beautiful frescoes (wall paintings) whose colors still retain all their original freshness. It also presents unique examples of rock-hewn architecture and fresco techniques. The Goreme Open Air Museum has been a member of the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1984, and was one of the first two UNESCO sites in Turkey.” One of the churches onsite is named St. Barbara Church, you can imagine my surprise. It dates back to the 11th century. It is such a humbling experience to visit this site, very peaceful and serene. Luckily, we went early, had the place to ourselves before tourists took over an hour later.
          photo Maher Harb
          As we drove back to town to pick up our host Kubra to head to Kırşehir, I noticed an open-air bazaar in the center of town. I quickly pleaded to be dropped off to live the experience. When I travel around the world two main attractions are inevitable: a farmers’ market and the local flea market. Old artifacts were displayed on the ground. I wanted to buy everything. I was tempted by an old church bell; unfortunately, it weighed 40 kg and was priced for 1,000 USD. Not in my budget! Then I spotted a wooden antique dough bowl box. I collect vintage artifacts that have to do with bread making. I was afraid to be disappointed with a high price. I asked the vendor what the bowl was used for and how much he would sell it to me. He only spoke Turkish, so a young boy came to help us out. He said to me, “hamur”. Hmmm, what is "hamur"? Then the boy said, “It is dough”. I must have this!!! Price, please? He said 100 Turkish Lira… I made a quick calculation; it turned out to be 15 USD. I couldn’t believe it. Quickly I gave him the money before he would change his mind.

          40 kg bell - wish list
          Our bus driver showing us his vintage car
          Traditionally, in the past, bakers and farmhouses in Turkey and other Eastern European countries used this type of bowl for bread making. The ingredients were mixed and kneaded into dough, then covered with a cloth and left to rise. The use of wooden bowls was preferred as the wood held the heat generated by the fermentation of the yeast. I examined mine carefully and recognized that it was a vintage piece because it bears individual marks of use, including small cracks, patches, and wormholes. I could just imagine a cute Turkish grandmother kneading her dough, a scarf on her head, using all her muscles and strength to provide her family with bread. A quick search on the net on littlethings.com, I found this, “dough bowls were more than just a kitchen utensil. They symbolized the two most important facets of early American life: family and farm. In fact, dough bowls were so significant to families that husbands commonly carved them by hand as wedding presents for their new brides.” Also in alabamapioneers.com, “The dough bowl was each woman’s equipment for crafting biscuits, yeast rolls, or piecrusts, and was a symbol of her mastery of the womanly cooking arts. Having it made especially for her greatly increased its value”. These sites refer to early American settler’s use of the box. How romantic! I was literally jumping for joy. The bus came to pick me up the moment I had the wooden bread bowl in my hands. Maher couldn’t believe my luck, as he accompanied me during this quick bazaar trip. I could already envisage this beautiful piece in our mountain house in Lebanon. I couldn’t wait to tell my son the great news, as we share the same passion for bread making. This box will probably become his in the future. Ah yes, also… Later I tried to put the bread bowl in my suitcase, but it was too large. Luckily, Krystel brought a larger suitcase on the trip and was kind enough to let me invade her space.

          Carpets on the streets of Cappadocia
          Kirsehir

          We drove off to Kırşehir, which took about an hour and a half from the hotel. The aim was to experience their local food traditions and culture. We had a meeting set with Eyüp Temur, the Kırşehir city deputy manager of culture and tourism at a local restaurant, Ağalar Konağı. We were seated quickly and got down to business immediately – food tasting that is! The local press came to cover the event with photography and video interviews.


          Small plates came coming at a fast pace, while our host, poor Kubra, translated and explained everything to us.

          The gang hard at work
          Here is what we tasted:

          1. Cullama – a dish made with a cooked combination of flour, tomato paste, chicken broth, cooled to room temperature then topped with shredded chicken breast, seasoned with red pepper flakes fried in butter.


          2. Grape molasses – sweet and sour grape molasses, locally produced and very much esteemed by the people. Our host told us if someone is quirky around here, they call them molasses brain. When soldiers wanted to avoid mosquitos in summer in their tents, they would put grape molasses next to them for the flies to stick to the surface. He also spoke of villagers during a fire: They are more willing to save their stocks of grape molasses then to save their family. Of course, he was joking, but this goes to show how important grape molasses is to locals.


          3. Kırşehir Kaman Walnut – the best-tasting walnuts I have ever tasted in my life.

          4. Mixed salad – cabbage, tomatoes, maybe onion. I was surprised to see florets of broccoli.

          5. Çirleme – a hearty stew cooked with chickpeas, dried apricots, grape molasses, a hint of tomato paste and shredded beef. Sweet and sour using local ingredients.


          6. Yufka bread – it was bread deep-fried. I would have preferred that it wasn't.

          7. Yogurt – yogurt here is made using natural starters that date back in time. The taste is tangy, fresh and wholesome. I wish I could take some home with me. It reminded me of the yogurt I tasted in Sri Lanka last year.

          8. Cemele Pepper Dolma – stuffed local peppers. The taste was out of this world. I think it was my favorite dish so far in Turkey. The stuffing was made with onion, burghul, tomato, and red pepper paste. I prefer the use of burghul instead of rice. It has a more authentic flavor to it.


          9. Okra soup – a warm soup with tiny okra. In Lebanon, the okra is a bit longer therefore it is rarely used in soup. I love okra and really enjoyed having it served this way.

          10. Manti – I am no stranger to Manti, here it is boiled as opposed to baked. A nice variation.



          11. Leg of lamb with burghul – the leg of lamb was perfectly cooked, and I loved the fact that it was served with burghul cooked with lots of butter.


          For Dessert

          12. Baklava – a Turkish variation, different from what I am used to. It is not flavored with any rose or orange blossom water. It was a bit heavy.

          13. Ahi halva – balls made of a mixture of cooked butter, grape molasses, flour rolled in sesame seeds. It was really good!

          14. Hosmerim – balls made with a mixture of sugar, butter, oil, and flour, garnished with walnuts.

          Baklava, Ahi halva, Hosmerim

          A relaxing moment in the sun

          As we went outside to sip Turkish coffee, Eyüp Temur wrapped up the philosophy of food and culture here in Kırşehir.

          "If you are cold, eat grape molasses. If you are hungry, eat walnuts. If you are sad or happy, listen to folk music".  

          More about folk music later...

          We strolled around town with our guide. He led us to the Ahi Evran Shrine and Mosque led by the Ahi Brotherhood, "a fraternity and guild which for more than half a century was also a beylik in 14th century Turkey". We were welcomed by everyone, women quickly covered their heads and all took off their shoes to visit inside.

          Ahi Evran Shrine and Mosque
          We continued to the Uzun Bazaar, in the middle of the town. We visited a spice shop and spent time asking questions and tasting some unknown spice, herb or sweet. I bought two different types of red peppers: a mild reddish one and another that is dark because it is brushed with oil after drying. Our guide wanted to stop there the visit to the bazaar, but I continued walking, fascinated by all those little shops. I looked for a goat collar with a bell attached to bring home to put in my car. Everyone thought it was a strange request, but I insisted. I love to hear the sound of those bells clinking, it reminds me of days spent with goats in the countryside in a small island in Greece called Kea.

          Roasted chickpeas


          Spice shop
          Dried peppers and eggplants
          All types of red ground red pepper
          In my element
          An important destination in Kırşehir is the Neşet Ertaş Museum. Neşet Ertaş is known as a renowned folk poet. We arrived at an old refurbished mansion, where the museum is housed. Exhibits of the heritage of Turkish folk music are showcased with an emphasis of his work. I don't understand the Turkish language, but when I heard his music, I was deeply touched. It reminded me of the Portuguese Fado, which I appreciate a lot too.


          Sheer poetry
          We finished our tour of the city at the Hamidiye Mosque, a very modern take to decorating a holy place. It was beautiful, simply breathtaking. I felt peace as if I was in nature. The ceilings are painted with the colors of the sky, the walls with trees and plants. The floor is covered with a grassy green carpet. Anyone could feel humbled in such a setting. It's simple and inspires spirituality.

          Hamadiye Mosque
          We jumped in the car for our ride back, snoozing along the way. We were to eat tonight a special meal prepared by the chefs we met at the university: Chef Cem Aydoğdu and Chef Melih İçigen at Local Sinasos in Ürgüp/Nevşehir.

          Recording every detail of dinner
          Here is what we were served:

          1. Tandır Çorbası – A slow-cooked vegetable soup with garlic, onion, wheat grain, green lentil, chickpeas, tomatoes, green pepper, cooked in beef stock, seasoned with dried mint and red pepper flakes fried in butter. It really hit the spot, as it was getting cold outside. Very nourishing and full of flavors.

          Tandır Çorbası
          2.       Kabak Çiçeği Dolması – Stuffed pumpkin blossoms with strained yogurt infused with fresh mint. The pumpkin blossom was stuffed with a mixture of rice cooked with olive oil and onion, seasoned with cinnamon, allspice,  with currants, and pine nuts. The plate was garnished with pumpkin seeds.
          Kabak Çiçeği Dolması
          3.       Zeytinyağlı Yerelması – Jerusalem artichoke with olive oil. A simple entrée with a hint of lemon juice and zest and a drizzle of olive oil served with lentils “al dente”, cooked pearl onion with a garnish of chopped parsley. The balance of lemon and olive oil was very shy, I would have preferred more lemon and more salt to give more flavor. I spoke to the chef about my concerns. He said that he would use dill or wild fennel as a garnish too, and his original recipe is with orange juice, which would have given a better result. For this dinner, he only wanted to portray local ingredients. 

          Zeytinyağlı Yerelması
          4. Ayva Dolması – Stuffed quince with bulgur and dried fruit. The quince was stuffed with a mixture of cooked burghul with apricot, apricot seeds, dried currants, seasoned with cinnamon and allspice. I am very excited to make my own version, as we have a tree in the mountain full of fruit during the season. After a quick search on the net, I found a recipe with meat too.

          Ayva Dolması

          5. Incik Kebababı – Slow cooked lamb shank with boiled potatoes, grilled oyster mushroom and garlic with a garnish of fried parsley. The meat just melts in your mouth.

          Incik Kebababı
          6. Üzüm Pekmezli Cevizli Kayısı Dolması Kalaba Yoğurdu Ile – Sun-dried apricots with walnut and grape molasses with Kalaba yogurt.

          Üzüm Pekmezli Cevizli Kayısı Dolması
          7. Tahin Pekmez Suflesi – Grape molasses and tahini soufflé. Here is another fantastic idea to try. I love molasses: grape, apple, and especially carob. I think this is the start of something great. I love to travel around the region and find common ingredients to use in different ways. I will try to create a similar version. Watch the video, it will make you hungry.


          The dinner was amazing, a lot of effort to give us a taste of local flavors. We walked towards the  Seraphin Hotel for a glass of wine. Maher and his wife Krystel wanted to introduce Lebanese wine to our hosts. He brought with him a white variety made with local grapes – Obeidi .  Obeidi is an old indigenous grape variety with a hint of jasmine in its bouquet. Maher was impressed with me that I guessed that! YES! We toured the luxurious setting of the hotel, visiting the cave rooms, the heated indoor swimming pool, sauna, hammam room. It's the perfect setting for a honeymoon. The staff was very friendly and welcoming. It was a perfect destination to end our trip to Cappadocia.

          The next day we woke up early to catch our plane back to Istanbul. There, our host Kubra had arranged a special lunch at Rulez, a restaurant owned by two women. We celebrated International Women's Day with a lavish lunch. The food at Rulez can be best described as a Turkish fusion modern cuisine with a twist, using local products to cook their food. Definitely my type of food philosophy.
           
          Cat spotted in a local bookshop in Istanbul
          Women's Day lunch at Rulez
          Pelin Dinçer Met & Necla Tepekule
          The dishes started to arrive, as Pelin served us a local red wine called Ancyra, very smooth and easy to drink. It went perfectly well with the food served. I will admit I have a weak spot for wines that include the Syrah grape variety. We were off to a good start. The bread basket was filled with homemade sourdough bread, also an important detail that I look for when eating in a restaurant. Often, the bread is overlooked and this is a major weakness.

          We were served a delicious menu in our honor:
           
          1. Siyah Mercimek Köftesi – an amuse-bouche that really impressed me! It is made with yellow and red lentil mixed with green fresh herbs, burghul, squid ink and sea fennel. 

          Siyah Mercimek Köftesi
          2. Tahini Köz Patlıcan – roasted eggplant with tahini and yogurt flavored with carrot, baby spinach, beetroot, and lavender. It is served with tiny crispy bread. Maybe my favorite, especially the bite with lavender. 

          Tahinli Köz Patlıcan
          3. Pancar Salatası – beet salad with arugula, dried fig, goat cheese, saffron oil, sliced almond, and yellow poppy seeds. 

          Pancar Salatası
          4. Ada Çaylı Su Böreği – Sage pastry with traditional Aegean cheeses, fresh herbs with crispy baklava dough. Comfort food at its best! 

          Ada Çaylı Su Böreği
          5. Çiğ Köfte Tartar – raw meatball tartar with burghul, vegetables, cherry glaze, and roasted pepper sauce. 

          Çiğ Köfte Tartar
          6. Musakka – fried, grilled and roasted eggplant, lamb and veal, served with sliced almonds. 

          Musakka
          7. Tirit – slow-cooked ribs with homemade sourdough bread with yogurt. This is a recipe that I want to explore, as it feels like peasant food. The taste was rich, hearty. 

          Tirit
          8. Sulu Köfte – juicy meatball with mashed potato, potato soup, seasoned with cardamom, thyme with coconut milk. I would use thyme or cardamom, not both together. Cardamom makes more sense, as it goes well with coconut milk. 

          Sulu Köfte
          9. Sebastian Eleştirisi – feta cheese, milky turmeric, rice pudding with hazelnut. 

          Sebastian Eleştirisi
          10. Revani – crispy semolina with mint pudding, pumpkin seeds with orange cream and orange segments.

          Revani
          A friendly guest visits as we eat our lunch
          Head Chef Mehmet Sahin, sous Chef Necmi Sarıbağ
          We said our goodbyes with a heavy heart, strolling down the road to take advantage of our last hour in Istanbul. The streets were full of people enjoying their Sunday break. We knew it wouldn't last, as the Coronavirus would reach the world soon. Rumors of Lebanon locking down made us anxious. We took in these precious moments and headed to the airport to catch our ride back to Beirut. The future was uncertain, but the memories we had in Cappadocia would give us the energy to face the worst. Future plans would be postponed to Turkey, but I will never lose hope. Until we meet again for more food adventures ...

          If you would like to read more about this adventure through another angle, here is Paul's article:

          4 comments:

          Unknown said...

          Well done I really like your article

          Barbara Abdeni Massaad said...

          Thank you!

          Tan said...

          This is more than a piece Barbara, this is article .)) Congrats

          Barbara Abdeni Massaad said...

          Tan :) Happy you read it!