Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Pepper-Walnut Dip (Muhammara or Acuka)

A favorite classic from my husband's childhood. The recipe belongs to my mother-in-law: It was one of those times when I watched her prepare/cook food and wrote down my notes and measurements (since she eyeballs everything). I'm glad that this recipe will hopefully get to live on.

This spicy hot appetizer is called Muhammara in Syria and Southern/Southeastern regions of Turkey while it is known as Acuka in other parts of Turkey.

Ingredients: (Makes about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 7 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 3 tablespoons mild pepper paste
  • 1/4 heaping teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon each of the following spices: Sumac, ground black pepper, dried oregano, dried mint
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 7 oz. (about 200 gr.) walnut, finely chopped
  • Crackers/pita chips/toasted bread, for serving


  • In a bowl, mix garlic, pepper paste, spices, breadcrumbs and lemon juice.
  • Add olive oil and mix well.
  • Lastly, add the walnuts and mix to combine.
  • Serve w/ chips etc.

Additional points:

  • The best way to mix this dip is just to go in with your hands and kind of knead it to combine. Just wear disposable latex gloves when mixing; I always keep them in my pantry.
  • Above recipe combines mild pepper paste w/ a good amount of crushed red pepper flakes for heat. Instead, you can also use hot pepper paste and reduce/omit the amount of pepper flakes (or not-if you want an even hotter dip!)
  • The size of the chopped walnuts matters a great deal for the right consistency. The dip should not feel "completely pasty" or "crunchy"; the walnuts should not be ground, nor should they be coarse, but they should have a presence. The size of the chopped walnuts should be about the size of coarse bulgur grains.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chocolate Pumpkin Pie

I love the creaminess and the subtle aroma of pumpkin in desserts, but somehow pumpkin pie was not in my list of favorite desserts until I added chocolate to the filling. This way you still have the nice texture of pumpkin, but the flavor is deeper, richer and, of course, chocolate always makes everything more delicious, flirting gently with all the pumpkin pie spices.

The origin of this recipe (without the chocolate added) is from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.
Ingredients: (Serves 8)
  • One single-crust pie dough (See recipe)
  • 6 oz (about 1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips
  • One 16-oz can pumpkin
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 slightly beaten eggs
  • One 5-oz can (2/3 cup) evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Whipped cream or mascarpone cheese, for serving (optional)


  • Prepare the single-crust pie dough.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  • Roll out the dough with your hands or with a rolling pin (dusted w/ a little flour) from center to the edges to a circle about 12 inches in diameter on a lightly floured surface (or on a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap that's big enough to accommodate the circle).
  • To transfer the dough, wrap it around the rolling pin and unroll it into a 9-inch pie plate (or transfer it with the parchment paper or plastic wrap and turn it upside down into the pie plate). Ease pastry into pie plate, being careful not to stretch it (if you stretch it, it will shrink right back during baking). Keep it in the fridge until you prepare the filling.
  • Melt the chocolate chips on a double boiler. Turn off the heat and let it sit, until the rest of the filling is prepared.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg (instead of using 3 different spices, you can also use 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice). Add eggs and beat lightly until just combined. Gradually stir in evaporated milk and milk, mix well. Add the melted chocolate and mix gently until combined.
  • Place the pastry-lined pie plate on the oven rack. Carefully pour filling into pastry shell.
  • Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let it cool to room temperature, and then store it in the fridge before serving. Serve with whipped cream or mascarpone cream.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pie Dough (Pate Brisee)

This is Martha Stewart's pate brisee recipe which is the French version of classic pie or tart pastry (with my additions, since I do not own a food processor, and you do not need to own one to make pie dough).
It is a good solid recipe which you can use for both sweet and savory pies and tarts.

Ingredients: (Makes 1 double-crust or 2 single-crust 9- to 10-inch pies)

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water


  • In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. - If you do not own a food processor, use your hands or a pastry blender to work the butter pieces into the dry ingredients in a bowl to achieve the same result.
  • With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. - If you do not own a food processor, add water to the coarse meal in the bowl gradually (first start with less than 1/4 cup, then continue adding 1 tablespoon at a time if necessary), and gently mix with your hands or with a fork, until you achieve moist clumps. - Form dough into a ball.
  • Divide the dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour before use. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.

Additional points:

  • Martha Stewart's "golden rule" for pies: Make it cold, bake it hot. To achieve a flaky pie crust, it's very important that butter and water are ice-cold (Some people even let the dry ingredients and tools chill in the fridge before making the dough). It is also a good idea to keep the pie pan in the fridge after you lined it with the pie dough until you prepare the filling (if you haven't prepared it already).
  • Do not add more water than necessary when you achieve the moist clump stage and do not overwork the dough, these would cause the dough to become tough; the dough will come together more as it chills in the fridge.
  • Pressing the dough into a disc (rather than shaping it into a ball) allows it to chill faster. This will also make the dough easier to roll out, and if you freeze it, it will thaw more quickly.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Zucchini Dip

This dip would be a nice and versatile option for an appetizer for any party, especially with dry white wine.
It would also be a great companion to Raki which is Turkey's national drink.

Ingredients: (Makes about 1 cup)

  • 1 lb. zucchini (about 2), peeled and finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving/dressing
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese or Turkish "lor" cheese
  • 1/2 cup plain thick, creamy yogurt/plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced/pressed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pita chips / pita bread / toasted bread, for serving

  • Put the finely grated zucchini in the middle of a clean kitchen cloth; make a bundle with the cloth and squeeze out all the juices (you can also do this job with your clean hands by the handfuls).
  • Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the zucchini, dried mint and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and saute about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until zucchini gets tender and caramelized (releases its juices and absorbs them back) and dried mint gives away kind of a toasted smell. Set aside to cool.
  • In a bowl, mix walnuts, garlic, yogurt, cheese and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to combine well. Mix in the cooled zucchini.
  • Serve it on a plate drizzled generously w/ olive oil, along w/ chips or bread.

Additional points:

  • Lor is a traditional Turkish cheese, a type of unsalted, inexpensive white cheese, made from the whey left over from kasar and mihalic manufacture (which are some other types of traditional Turkish cheeses). It is used in some traditional desserts and as filling for savory pastries; it is also consumed as bread spread. If you are interested, you can find lor at bestturkishfood.com or at Greek/Middle Eastern food stores. But for this recipe, you can also easily substitute it w/ ricotta cheese.
  • If you can't find or don't want to look for Greek yogurt, just put the same amount of regular plain yogurt onto a mesh strainer, place the strainer on top of a bowl. Let it sit in the fridge for a few hours; you will see that the water drips down from the strainer and collects at the bottom of the bowl, while the yogurt gets thicker (or if you do not even have that much time, just let it sit from the beginning till the end of this recipe, and add the yogurt at the end).

Shepherd's Salad (Coban Salatasi)

Shepherd's Salad is a very classic and very popular salad in Turkey, especially in summer when the vegetables used in this salad are at their peak. It's light, refreshing and easy to make, and it goes great with almost any type of meal, from a summer buffet/barbeque to a lamb roast dinner in winter...
You will find that this is a very juicy salad; the dressing does not only cover the ingredients (like most salads), it also collects at the bottom, combined with all the juices from the veggies, especially the tomatoes. And that's where the bread comes into the picture, most people love dunking their bread into that delicious juicy dressing.
Ingredients: (Serves 6)
  • 1 cup cucumber, finely chopped
  • 1 cup onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup Cubanelle pepper (or any other type of mild green pepper), seeded and thinly sliced
  • 3 cups tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 cup parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
  • 1/2 heaping teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sumac (optional)
  • Put all the veggies in a bowl/serving bowl.
  • Put the olive oil, lemon juice and salt into a jar or plastic container (with a lid). Close the lid very tightly, and shake vigorously. Pour onto salad and toss.
  • Optional: Sprinkle the salad w/ dried oregano and sumac, and gently toss once more.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Green Lentils with Ground Beef

Beans are not only protein that's good for you; they can also be real comfort food, and this is one of mine.
My mom used to make this dish for us, and at that time I did not know what comfort food was, but now that I cook this for myself and my family, it comforts me by reminding me of my mom and my childhood, and by filling me up...

Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)

  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6-7 oz (180-200 gr) ground beef (preferably 80/20)
  • 1 small onion, diced + 1 small onion, sliced into rings
  • 2 cups dried green lentils, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
  • 3 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 heaping teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups hot water, plus more if necessary


  • Heat vegetable oil in the pot. Add diced onion and ground beef. Breaking up the ground beef and mixing it with onion, saute over medium-high heat until onion is translucent and ground beef is no longer pink.
  • Add the tomato paste and 1 cup hot water; mix lightly to dissolve the paste in water.
  • Add the lentils, salt, pepper, the onion rings (these give extra flavor) and the rest of the hot water, and stir to mix.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat (to medium-low or to low, depending on the size of the burner). Simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are soft to the bite. Check the stew frequently and add more hot water along the way, if necessary, to prevent it from drying.

Additional points:

  • This lentil stew should have a consistency that's kind of thicker than most vegetable stews, it looks more like a hearty sauce, but it should never ever be dry.
  • Beans may usually take hours to cook until tender. That's why I always cook this kind of stews in a pressure cooker. It obviously reduces the necessary water amount and cooking time considerably, but these vary from model to model. I use a primitive model which still works for me after 15 years. Mine cooks this dish with 3 1/2 to 4 cups water, in about 35 minutes. A newer, more modern version would probably take much less time.

Caprese Salad

You do not need a lot of words: Just look at the beautiful colors of this salad!.. It easily can be the decorative center piece of the dinner table.

Although it is called "salad", Italians serve this as an appetizer; and the simple ingredients represent the colors of the Italian flag.

Ingredients: (Serves 5-7)

  • 1 ball fresh mozzarella (about 8 oz.), cut into 1/4" slices
  • 2 tomatoes on the vine, cored and cut into 1/4" slices
  • A few fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces or cut into ribbons
  • Toasted bread, for serving (preferably sourdough bread)

For dressing:

  • 8 tablespoons olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon or 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Generous drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt over the salad


  • Layer the mozzarella and tomato slices on the serving platter in an overlapping manner (Be careful not to break the mozzarella slices).
  • Pour the dressing over the salad (the amount you use is up to your liking), or just sprinkle a little bit salt and drizzle some olive oil.
  • Garnish w/ fresh basil leaves. Serve it w/ toasted bread.

Additional points:

  • The reason I choose vine-ripened tomatoes to use for this salad is because the size of these tomatoes is very close to the size of the typical fresh mozzarella balls, so they create a uniform look on the plate; but you may choose any other type of tomato you like, too.
  • Some people may like only olive oil in this salad, others may prefer the tangy flavor of the dressing. The amount you want to use is really up to you.
  • Here's also some information on how to cut fresh basil leaves (or other leaves) into ribbons (which is called chiffonade).
  • It's important to cut the tomato and especially the mozzarella really into slices as thin as 1/4"; chunky pieces may be too big a portion for most people. You can use a specific cheese slicer or an expensive mozzarella/tomato slicer or just a very sharp serrated knife.