From Istanbul — Cool Food for Hot Nights

Even though I’ve never visited Turkey in the flesh, I’ve traveled there in my mind (and in my kitchen) many times. Most Americans are more familiar with Greek food than Turkish, but they are very similar, and both cuisines share many foods with Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon and Israel.

Most of the recipes I’ll be sharing were originally published in or have been adapted from the 30 Minute Vegetarian Turkish Cookbook by Sarah Beattie. I’ve check Amazon and the book appears to be out of print. If you can find a copy of it used, I highly recommend it. It’s not vegan, but it’s very vegan-friendly, and the recipes are all quick and easy, which is one of my requirements for summer cooking. There are a lot of classic Turkish dishes we won’t be covering here because they just take too long, and I’d rather give you a few easy, tasty dishes you can make and still have time to put your feet up in a hammock for awhile.

My other requirement for summer food is that most of it has to be room temperature or cooler. July and August are not times (in my mind) to be eating hot, stick-to-your-ribs stews. In hot weather, I like to do most of my cooking early in the day (before it gets too hot) or on weekends. Then, in the evening I just pull things out of the refrigerator in time to come to room temperature before serving, and finish up just one or two hot (but not heavy) things. Turkish cuisine lends itself to this style of presentation. Most meals consist of a mix of cold or room temperature meze (appetizers or little dishes) and hot meze, served with bread, rice, bulghur wheat or cous cous.

Another good thing about Turkish cuisine (at least some of the recipes I’m passing along) is that they contain a lot of garlic, which is supposed to be helpful in warding off mosquitoes. I hope it works better for you than it seems to for me!

A couple of notes: invest in good quality extra-virgin olive oil. You’ll taste the difference.

Make sure the tomatoes you use for salads are truly excellent. Don’t ever store tomatoes in the refrigerator before they’re cut – cold temperatures ruin their texture.

If you can find small “regular” eggplants, they are probably easier to stuff than the long slender Japanese type, but the Japanese ones are quicker to cook, and are very tender and delicious.

Parsley is essential to Turkish cuisine. Use the flavorful flat-leaf “Italian” type, not the bland curly parsley used as a garnish.

Recipes for good hummus, baba ghanoush, and falafel abound on the Web and in books, so I’m going to stick to more strictly Turkish dishes. A dish of good quality olives, tomato wedges, and some toasted pita bread will fill out a simple meal and make it seem more sumptuous. Serve luscious ripe fruit as dessert, with or without a drizzle of vanilla-flavored Silk soy yogurt.

Black Olive Salad
In this salad, firm Chinese-style tofu stands in for the more traditional boiled eggs

Recipe By:Lisa T. Bennett, adapted from 30 Minute Turkish Vegetarian
Serves 4
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

1 cup black olives
2 tablespoons capers
1/2 pound firm tofu, diced into 1/2” cubes (save the rest of the tofu for the Stuffed Mushrooms)
2 medium tomatoes, diced
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
lemon wedges for garnish

Use your favorite black olives. If they have pits, see note below. Chop the olives into bite-sized pieces.

Layer the olives, capers, tomato cubes, and parsley in an attractive bowl, and dress the whole salad with lemon juice. Toss gently. This salad doesn’t need salt because the olives are quite salty already. Let sit at room temperature to mellow, or chill if serving more than an hour later. Serve at or near room temperature for the best flavor.

Garnish with lemon wedges.

Notes: It is easy to pit olives by setting them one at a time on a cutting board. Use the heel of your hand to smash the flat side of a heavy knife or cleaver blade down onto the olive. When the olive is crushed, you can pull the pit out easily.

Capers are the pickled seed pod of a Mediterranean shrub.

Turkish Beet Salad
This salad is such a shocking pink, it would be worthwhile to make even if it weren’t so delicious! It looks especially nice in a blue bowl.

Recipe By Lisa T. Bennett, adapted from 30 Minute Turkish Vegetarian
Serves 4
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

1/2 15 oz can beets
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup plain soy yogurt (NOT vanilla-flavored)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
sea salt (to taste)

Drain beets. Grate them using a food processor to avoid staining your hands. Put the grated beets into a pretty serving bowl. Sprinkle on the vinegar. Add the yogurt and crushed garlic. Mix, and add salt to taste.

Keep the mixture refrigerated until serving.

Lentil-Stuffed Eggplants

Recipe By Sarah Beattie, 30 Minute Turkish Vegetarian
Serves 4
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

4 small eggplants (about 5 in long)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 can lentils*
sea salt and pepper
7 ounces canned diced tomatoes (I love Muir Glen Fire Roasted!)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Bake the eggplants until they soften, about 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Turn heat up to 450 F.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan, and saute the onion and garlic ‘til nicely browned. Add the cumin.

Halve the eggplants lengthwise and make criss-cross lines on the flesh. Using a spoon, carefully scoop out the flesh, reserving the shells. Chop the flesh, and add to the onions. Fry for one minute. Add the lentils. Taste mixture and add salt and pepper to taste. Pile into the eggplant shells.

Place the filled shells in an oiled dish. Top them with tomatoes and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes. Serve hot or warm.
Notes: *or use 2 cups pre-cooked lentils. I used one 15-oz can of Eden lentils, which are cooked with onion and bay leaf.

Turkish Baked, Stuffed Mushrooms

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett, adapted from 30 Minute Turkish Vegetarian
Serves 4
Preparation Time: 20 minutes

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 pound firm tofu, crumbled
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegan parmesan (Soyco makes a nice one – look for the purple label)
3 cups mushrooms (12 oz package, stems reserved for the Lahmacun recipe)
2 tablespoon chopped parsley, divided

Preheat oven to 425 F. Use 1/4 cup of olive oil to liberally oil one large or four individual baking dishes.

In a food processor, combine tofu, reserved olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and vegan parmesan, and process until this forms a smooth mixture. The mixture will resemble cream cheese in consistency. Add 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley and mix into “cheese” mixture for color.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms (set aside for another use). Clean the caps by rinsing them under water and rubbing the tops of the caps to remove any dirt.*

Fill the hollows of the mushrooms either by using a small spoon, or by piping the “cheese” filling into the mushrooms with a pastry bag. Piping the filling in with a fancy tip makes them a lot prettier.

Cover the dish with foil, and bake the mushrooms at 425 F for 10 minutes. Serve them hot with a sprinkling of parsley.

Variation: add some chopped oregano, basil, thyme, or your favorite other herb(s) to the “cheese” filling.
Notes: *Contrary to what you might have heard, washing mushrooms will not cause them to absorb water and turn the dish watery. The only time it is unwise to wash mushrooms is if you will be serving them raw, as in a salad. Washing them will cause the mushrooms to go dark if they sit for long. If you are planning on serving them raw, just wipe the caps carefully with a damp cloth or paper towel. Otherwise, give them a thorough washing.

Turkish “Focaccia” (Lahmacun)
This one heats up the kitchen, but it’s worth it. Serve it on the deck or patio with a cold drink!

Recipe By Sarah Beattie, 30 Minute Turkish Vegetarian
Serves 4
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

2 1/2 cups (12 oz) bread flour (unbleached, whole wheat or a combination)
1 tablespoon yeast, instant
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup warm water
1 red onion, quartered
1 cup mushroom (any kind, including stems saved from other recipes)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small, hot chili pepper, seeded
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and pepper
4 tablespoons parsley, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 500 F.

In a food processor, using the dough blade, knead the flour, yeast, salt, and water until a smooth dough is formed, about 3-4 minutes. Add a little more flour if necessary to prevent stickiness. (Or knead the dough by hand for 5-10 minutes, or until it is pliable and stretchy.) Don’t bother to wash out the processor.

Using the food processor, switch to the chopping blade and mince the onion, mushrooms, garlic, and chili with one tablespoon of olive oil. Taste filling and add salt and pepper as needed.

Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Press or roll them out into 8-inch circles (more or less) on heavy, oiled baking sheets. Cover with the minced onion/mushroom mixture, pressing it down into the dough. Grind on a generous amount of black pepper.
Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake in very hot oven (500 F or as high as your oven will go). Bake ‘til crust is golden, about 8-10 minutes. Scatter parsley over lahmacun and serve.