Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Panettone Bread Pudding

First of all, I have to thank our friend Trish for bringing us a beautiful loaf of panettone (which I had never tried before, but always wanted to) and therefore inspiring me to take on this recipe (This is kind of my version of Better Homes and Garden's bread pudding recipe).

Panettone is a type of sweet Italian bread that is traditionally enjoyed for Christmas. It has a wonderfully fluffy texture and a beautiful smell and may contain ingredients like different types of candied fruit, chocolate chips and some flavorings. Therefore it is actually a perfect option for taking the simple bread pudding to the next level.

Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)

  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
  • 5 cups (about 1/2 loaf) panettone, cut into 1 inch-cubes
  • Vanilla ice cream, for serving


  • Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  • Place the panettone cubes onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, stirring twice (every 5 minutes). This will dry the bread cubes and help them soak the custard and keep their texture.
  • In a bowl beat together the eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla (and the optional ingredients, if desired).
  • Add the bread cubes into the bowl and make sure they are all coated with the custard.
  • Pour the custard into a 2-quart baking dish (preferably a square 8x8x2-inch baking pan).
  • Bake in the 350 F oven for about 40-55 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean (Start checking after 40 minutes - do not over bake!).
  • Cool slightly. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Additional points:

  • If you can't find or do not want to use panettone, you can just use 5 cups of cubed regular bread - just do not skip the step of drying the bread in the oven first. Since panettone contains some ingredients and flavors, just adding a tablespoon of good old vanilla will do (although I would still add all the optional ingredients). But if using regular bread, I recommend that you add all the flavorings; plus, add 1/3 cup of your favorite dried fruit(s).
  • If you have never baked with cardamom before, definitely try it. It will fill your home with an enticing aroma.
  • Although it is always best to serve the bread pudding freshly baked, to serve the leftovers take the pudding out of the fridge and let it sit to come to room temperature; then heat each portion for 30 seconds in the microwave.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pudding with Mastic and Shredded Dough (Kadayifli Sakizli Muhallebi)

This clever recipe was passed to me by my best friend Pelin who got it from Hulya, one of her colleagues at work. Well, I'm eternally grateful to both for this recipe, because it combines two traditional and popular desserts in Turkey, Greece and Middle East: Kadayif and Muhallebi, which means it combines "crunchy" and "syrupy" with "soft" and "creamy"...Yum!..:)
Plus, it uses one of my favorite spices: Mastic (Mastic, Wonderful Mastic (Sakiz), which takes it to the next level. 


  • 1 3/4 sticks butter (divided into 1 and 3/4)
  • 1/2 lb. shredded fillo dough/Kataifi (Recommended brand: Apollo)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar (divided into 1 and 1)
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 4-5 oz. clotted cream or mascarpone cheese
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon smashed mastic tears (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

Directions: (Serves 8-12)

  • In a shallow pot, melt 1 stick of butter over medium heat. Add the shredded dough, breaking it up into pieces (do not break up too much, since it will break up further when sauteing) and saute until it starts turning color, stirring frequently.
  • Add 1 cup of the sugar and the walnuts and continue sauteing until walnuts are nicely toasted, stirring frequently (you will most probably start smelling the walnuts when they are toasted - be careful not to burn them tough). Set aside to cool down.
  • Put the flour in another pot; by adding the milk gradually, whisk flour and milk to make sure there are no lumps of flour left. Put the pot on medium heat, add the remaining 1 cup sugar and stir constantly, until it comes to a boil.
  • Add the remaining 3/4 stick of butter, the clotted cream or mascarpone cheese and the mastic or vanilla; remove from the heat; and mix with an electric mixer at medium speed for 15 minutes (This will give the pudding the desired consistency).
  • Cover the bottom of a 10x10 square or 9x13 rectangular serving dish (preferably glass or porcelain) with half of the shredded dough mixture. Pour the pudding over it to cover. Cover the pudding with the remaining half of the shredded dough mixture.
  • Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours for the pudding to set (overnight is always better).

Additional points:
  • To save time, you can cook the pudding and the kataifi topping simultaneously. Just have all your ingredients and tools ready by your side when you start cooking, since you need to check and stir both the pudding and the topping constantly. This way the cooking should all together take about 20-30 minutes.
  • This is a rich dessert; if you want a lighter version, you can reduce the amount of sugar and butter to 3/4 or even to half of above given measurements (both for the pudding and the topping).

I love you, Mahlep!..

Mahlep is one of those spices which you think you do not miss or remember at all, until after a while you smell it again... It immediately takes you to places and sentiments... And you always fall in love with it all over again...

Just like nutmeg (another wonderful spice), although quite aromatic in the sense that "a little bit goes a long way", you are not hit by mahlep. It kind of sneaks its way into your heart, because some recipes are just not special or authentic without it.

I only started loving mahlep even more, when I learnt that it is actually the seed kernel of St Lucie cherries ground to a powder... So cute..:)

Please find more information about mahlep within the below link:

Mahlep is sold in ethnic stores where they sell Greek and Middle Eastern foods. But if you can't find it in stores, you can order it from this website:  bestturkishfood.com/
In fact, you can also find some other ethnic foods in my recipes in this online store.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Weekend Breakfast Oven Frittata

Frittata is an Italian style omelet which can be cooked on the stove top or baked in the oven (or both), and to which several ingredients can be added either before adding the eggs or with the eggs (not after, like a traditional French omelet). It is not served folded like a traditional French omelet, but rather cut into slices, almost like a pizza.

Making a frittata for your weekend breakfast is easy and, in a way, special, too. You can start preparing breakfast by putting together your frittata first; just pop it in the oven; and you can prepare the rest of the breakfast table while it bakes.

The ingredient combination in this recipe happens to be my daughter's favorite, so far our guests for breakfast also liked it; but you can most definitely create your own favorite combination, I just think it is important to put together a balanced mix of a cheese, a meat/protein (I would prefer deli meats), a veggie and a herb/spice.

Ingredients: (Serves 2-4)

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cubanelle pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup cured dried beef strips (bastourma), cut or torn into pieces
  • Sprinkle of salt
  • Sprinkle of ground black pepper
  • No-stick cooking spray (or melted butter to coat the skillet)
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  • Crack the eggs into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat to mix.
  • Spray an ovenproof 10-inch skillet with no-stick cooking spray. Pour egg mixture into the skillet. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

Additional points:

  • If you use more eggs (to feed more people) or use a narrower skillet (which will give you a thicker, fluffier omelet, if that's what you prefer), the baking time will be longer; therefore always check the doneness by inserting a knife into the frittata (start checking after 15 minutes).
  • The ingredients I used for above recipe did not need to be pre-cooked. But if you use a type of meat or vegetable that will not be cooked in the same time the eggs cook through, then you should definitely use pre-cooked meats and veggies. You can first cook/saute the meat and veggies in the pan, then add the egg-cheese-spice/herb mixture to the pan and put it in the oven. This recipe is actually a great way to use up bits of leftovers.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ground Beef Stuffed Peppers (Etli Biber Dolmasi)

Vegetables stuffed with meat are very common and popular specialties in many cuisines around the world. Well, here's a real staple from Turkish cuisine we cannot live without... The most wonderful thing about this dish for me is the unique green pepper flavor infused into the meat and into the juice/sauce, as everything cooks together in one pot... Eating the stuffed peppers with yogurt and a slice of fresh bread... A happy happy combination...

Ingredients: (Serves 6)

  • 1 pound ground beef (preferably 80/20)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped or grated
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup medium-grain white rice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 7 large cubanelle peppers (OR 14-15 small Turkish green bell peppers)
  • 1/2-1 cup water


  • Put the first 7 ingredients into a shallow bowl and mix gently with your hands (put on latex gloves for this task) until evenly combined. Set aside.
  • Cut and discard the tops of the cubanelle peppers. Cut the peppers in half, clean the insides (seeds and membranes) and put them in a shallow pot (with a lid) standing up (The end of one of the halves will not be flat; cut a very thin piece from that end to make it flat, so that it can stand up in the pot).
  • Stuff the peppers gently with the meat mixture, until they look completely full; do not try to squeeze too much filling into the peppers, otherwise they will fall apart during cooking.
  • Pour 1/2-1 cup water into the bottom of the pot, close the lid. Cook it over medium heat until the water in the pot comes to a gentle boil.
  • Lower the heat to medium-low (or to low, depending on the size of the burner - this dish should be cooked gently). Cook for 30-60 minutes until the rice in the meat stuffing looks cooked (the rice gets longer and becomes soft). Start checking after 30 minutes.
  • Serve the stuffed peppers with the juice in the pot poured over them as a sauce and with a dollop of plain yogurt.

Additional points:

  • Since I cannot find Turkish green bell peppers here in America which are much smaller and have a thinner flesh than American bell peppers, I try to bring the cubanelle peppers to the size of Turkish bell peppers, because flavor wise cubanelle peppers are the closest to the bell peppers which are traditionally used for this dish.
  • If you can find Turkish bell peppers, do not discard the tops after cutting them off. After cleaning the insides and stuffing them with meat, put the tops back on the peppers and let them cook with the tops on. It is a wonderful embellishment for this dish; plus, it adds flavor and keeps the moisture inside.
  • By the way, you can definitely use a mix of other veggies to stuff for this dish, like zucchinis, eggplants, tomatoes etc. You just need to scoop out and clean the insides and cut them into a size to make them fit and stand up in the pot.

Rice with Collard Greens (Karalahana Diblesi)

This is a regional rice recipe from north of Turkey which is satisfying both as a main and a side dish, and you get the health benefit of the collard greens with it. If you do not like collard greens as a vegetable, try eating them in this dish... And you need to use real butter to make it authentic...

Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)

  • 1 16 oz-package frozen chopped collard greens, thawed OR 2 bunches of fresh collard greens, washed, stems discarded and finely chopped
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup medium-grain white rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 cups boiling hot water


  • Melt the butter in a pan or a shallow pot (with a lid) on medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until it is translucent.
  • Add the collard greens, mix and saute for a few minutes until they wilt down. Close the lid and lower the heat to low. Let the collard greens steam for about 15 minutes, until they are almost cooked through. Mix occasionally (do not burn the veggies, and always put the lid back on).
  • Turn the heat back up to medium-high, add the rice, salt, pepper and hot water and stir to mix. Let it cook for 4-5 minutes and stir occasionally. The rice will have absorbed most of the liquid during that time.
  • Lower the heat to low, stir one last time and close the lid. Let it cook on low heat for 18-20 minutes (do not open the lid during that whole time).
  • Turn off the heat, open the lid and stir very gently to fluff up the rice. Put a clean kitchen towel or 2-3 layers of paper towel over the pot and close the lid; let it sit for 15 minutes for the towel to soak up the excess steam from the rice.
  • Fluff up the rice one more time and serve.

Olive and Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade

This is a very easy and elegant party appetizer from celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis; quite a popular one among my party guests. I just slightly changed the ratio to my liking.
Serve it both with your favorite crackers and with endive leaves for a fresh and juicy crunch.


  • 5 oz. sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
  • 6 oz. pitted black olives (pitted and sliced is better), drained
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 heads endive
  • Crackers


  • Process the olives and sun-dried tomatoes (and the oil it was packed in) in a food processor until smooth, but still a bit chunky.
  • If the mixture is too dry, add more extra-virgin olive oil and pulse a few more times.
  • Spoon into a serving bowl. If not serving immediately, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 2 days. Be sure to bring to room temperature and mix it thoroughly before serving.
  • Cut the ends of the endive and separate the leaves, being careful not to tear them. Wash and dry the leaves completely.
  • Serve the dip with crackers and endive leaves.

Additional points:

The size of cans for canned olives may change from store to store. Some stores may have 8 oz-cans, while others have 6 oz-cans etc.
Same goes for sun-dried tomatoes; some stores have them in jars, others have them in cans; and all in different sizes.
So just try to reach above given ratio (5 oz. sun-dried tomatoes to 6 oz. olives) with the size of cans/jars you can find. You may even play with that ratio depending on which flavor (tomato or olive) you want to be more dominant in the dip.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sauteed Tilapia Fillets with Roasted Asparagus and Peasant Potatoes

This is a quick and easy weeknight dinner we regularly eat at our home.
Tilapia is a very versatile and inexpensive fish that's like a blank canvas; and this is probably the easiest, quickest way you can prepare it.
For picky eaters who do not like asparagus or other vegetables, roasting vegetables is not only an easy and healthy way to cook them, but it is also flavor-wise a whole different experience you should definitely try. This asparagus recipe is from Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten.
And to complete the dish with a carbohydrate, add my
Peasant Potatoes .

Sauteed Tilapia Fillets:

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

4 tilapia fillets
Ground black pepper
Flour, for dredging
2 tablespoons butter (or more, if necessary)
Vegetable oil/olive oil (optional)
Lemon wedges, for serving


Sprinkle tilapia fillets with salt and pepper on both sides.
In a large saute pan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. You can use butter only (2 tbsp), or both butter and oil (1 tbsp each)
In the meantime, put flour in a shallow plate. Dredge both sides of the fillets in flour to coat. Shake off excess flour.
Saute the fillets in the pan, 2-3 minutes on each side (or until each side develops a nice golden brown crust - add more butter or oil, if the pan gets too dry).
Serve with lemon wedges (by the way, these are also for asparagus and potatoes).

Roasted Asparagus:

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

1 pound fresh asparagus
1-2 tablespoons olive oil or no-stick cooking spray
Ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Break off the tough ends of the asparagus.
Place the asparagus on a baking sheet, preferably lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil (or spray with no-stick cooking spray) and toss to coat the asparagus completely.
Spread the asparagus in a single layer and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.
Roast the asparagus in the oven for 15-20 minutes until tender, but crisp.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mastic, Wonderful Mastic ! (Sakiz)

Before adding dessert recipes that have mastic in them to my blog, I just wanted to add this post as a dedication to my love for mastic !..:)

Mastic is basically the aromatic resin from the mastic tree which is originally native to the Greek island of Chios. It is widely used in the neighboring regions' cuisines, like Greece, Turkey, Middle East and North Africa; and is also the ancestor of today's chewing gum.

You can find a lot of interesting information regarding mastic within below links.





Mastic is sold in ethnic stores where they sell Greek and Middle Eastern foods. But if you can't find it in stores, you can order it from this website:  bestturkishfood.com/
In fact, you can also find some other ethnic foods in my recipes in this online store.

Mastic pieces (as the ones in the above picture) are called tears; and they are usually smashed before being added to desserts or pastries, which makes it easier to measure and incorporate them.

Definitely give these wonderful spice "pearls" with their distinctive, unique flavor a chance. You may find that for your custards mastic is an even better flavor than vanilla. Well, for me mastic tears are as valuable as pearls...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gemini's Meatballs

Like so many other homes, meatballs are a regular in our home, too.
This recipe combines all my favorite Mediterranean and Middle Eastern spices I would like to have in my meatball.
In fact, whenever I open the lid of that cumin bottle and its smell hits my nose, it takes me right back to my childhood: I see my mom at the stove, pan-frying meatballs and potatoes, and the air smells like corn oil, cumin and black pepper. I can taste the cool yogurt over the hot meatballs and fries...

I used ground chicken for the meatballs in the picture, but you can use any type of ground meat you like: Turkey, lamb, beef, pork etc. (I find that the 50/50 combination of beef and lamb is very good, too.) You can even mix and puree leftover cooked vegetables, or mix and mince raw vegetables, and use them as your base to make veggie balls/burgers.

Ingredients: (Serves 4)
  • 1 pound ground meat (chicken/turkey/beef/lamb/veal/pork or a combination)
  • 10 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder or 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder or 1/4 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon of each of the following spices: Dried oregano, ground cumin, ground black pepper, ground allspice.
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (a big pinch)
  • No-stick cooking spray (optional)
  • Preheat oven to 400 F.
  • Put all the ingredients in a large and shallow bowl, and mix with your hands until combined thoroughly.
  • Heat a non-stick skillet/grill pan over high heat. While the pan is getting hot, form the meatballs: You can form 4 big burger patties (one per person) and enjoy them between regular burger buns, or you can make up to 12-16 small meatballs. If you are making small meatballs, first roll them between the palms of your hands to form balls, press them gently to flatten them a little bit, so they can have more surface to brown for flavor.
  • Put the meatballs on hot pan (you need to hear a nice sizzle) and brown both sides for a few minutes (be careful not burn them, but do also not move or flip them until one side develops a nice brown crust, otherwise they may stick to the pan and fall apart) If you have a good non-stick pan, you won't need to oil the pan before sauteing the meatballs; but if you just want to be cautious, you can spray the skillet with no-stick cooking spray.
  • Transfer the meatballs to a baking sheet/pan (or if your skillet is oven-proof, you can take your skillet directly from stove top into oven) and finish cooking them in the oven for 20 minutes.

Additional points:

  • The skillet part of this recipe is just to start the cooking and developing flavor by building those nice grill marks on the surface, and the oven part is to finish cooking the inside of the meat without over-drying it. Very often, people try to cook meatballs, steaks, burgers or chicken pieces completely in a skillet on the stove, but when the outside is already browned, the inside is still not cooked through; or by the time the inside is cooked, the meat has become very dry or burned. Therefore, I would highly recommend that you invest in a few different size oven-proof skillets; you will get tons of use out of these and see that they pay themselves off by providing you juicy, flavorful dishes using this technique.
  • It may be a bit off-putting to mix the meatballs with your hands, but unfortunately this is the only right way for this task. I wear thin latex gloves when mixing and just throw them away when I'm done, it keeps my hands (and everything else) clean and germ-free.

Chicken and Corn Chowder

I started cooking this soup at home, since my husband liked a similar one at California Pizza Kitchen which is one of our favorite restaurants: Adobe Chicken Chowder (I don't believe they have it on the menu anymore, since they update their menu frequently).
It is also a great way to make use of some leftover cooked chicken (or turkey) and of those bits of different foods, scattered in your fridge or pantry, you do not know what to do with at the end of the week.

Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 green sweet pepper, diced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 15-oz-can or 2 cups frozen sweet whole kernel corn
  • 1 medium potato, diced
  • 1 medium tomato, peeled and diced, or 3/4 cup canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander seed
  • 1 cup cooked chicken or turkey, cubed or shredded
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (optional)
  • Crushed corn/tortilla chips, for serving (Recommended brand: Mission)
  • Tabasco sauce, for serving


  • In a pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and pepper and cook until tender.
  • Stir in chicken stock, potato, tomato and 1/2 of canned/frozen corn (if using canned corn, drain it first). Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, partially covered, until corn and potato pieces are tender, about 10-15 minutes.
  • In the meantime, in a small bowl mix milk, flour, black pepper, ground coriander seed and ground cumin; make sure there are no lumps of flour in the mixture.
  • Puree the soup in the pot with a hand blender until smooth. Stir milk mixture into soup. Cook soup, partially covered, until thickened and bubbly, stirring frequently (about another 10-15 min).
  • Add chicken, rest of the corn and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook until heated through. Taste and add salt to your liking, if necessary.
  • Remove from heat. Stir in parsley and cheese. Serve with corn chips and Tabasco sauce.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Collard Greens Soup (Karalahana Corbasi)

This unique soup is native to Black Sea region of Turkey where my husband's family is from. But it happens to combine flavors that are not strange at all to America. I found for myself some short cuts to prepare this soup which still end up delicious and traditional enough to satisfy my husband's taste buds. Give this soup a try; it is full of healthy ingredients which will satisfy your taste buds, too.

Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)

  • 6 cups chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • 1/2 of a 15-oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 of a 16-oz. package of frozen chopped collard greens, or 1 bunch fresh collard greens, stems discarded and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 of a 15-oz. can cannellini beans (Northern beans), drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup sweet whole kernel corn (canned or frozen)
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • Put the stock in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the pumpkin puree and mix until smooth.
  • Add the sugar and the collard greens and stir. Bring to a boil.
  • Lower the heat, add the corn (if using canned corn, drain it first) and the beans. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the collard greens are cooked (they will turn from really dark green to yellowish dark green and soft). Taste the soup and add salt and pepper to your liking, if necessary.
  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan. When it starts foaming and sizzling, add the red pepper flakes and saute them for 1 minute, until they infuse the butter with their flavor and color (do not burn them!). Pour into the soup and mix.

Additional points:

  • For me personally, the salt amount of the stock is enough (since I prepare my stocks with bouillons), so I do not put additional salt. But you can, if you think it's necessary.
  • Originally this soup is made with hominy corn (white or yellow), instead of sweet whole kernel corn. You can find dried or canned hominy corn at ethnic grocery stores. If you make this soup with dried hominy corn, you need to soak the corn grains overnight and cook (boil) them until they are soft, but firm to the bite (just like you would cook beans), and then add them to the soup. That's why if you can find canned hominy it'll make your life much easier, you can add canned hominy to this soup at the same point when you would add the sweet kernel corn. Once you start using hominy in soups, you will be hooked; they have a wonderful bite to them.

Creamy Tomato Soup


Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 3 heaping tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 1/2 tbsp milk
  • 4 cups chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Shredded Kasseri cheese, for garnish (optional)


  • In a pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and mix until smooth. Cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and mix until smooth.
  • Gradually add the milk and mix, making sure there are no lumps left. Cook for 1 minute or until you see the mixture start thickening.
  • Gradually add the stock, mixing well after each addition and making sure the mixture is smooth. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat, taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Serve with shredded cheese.

Additional points:

  • I would personally use Kasseri cheese for garnish. But you can use any cheese you like, just make sure it is a type of cheese that melts nicely, since you want to see the cheese oozing out of the soup when you spoon it. (Yum!)
  • For me personally, the salt amount of the stock is enough (since I prepare my stocks with bouillons), so I do not put additional salt. But you can, if you think it's necessary.
  • This is supposed to be a creamy soup, so make sure you smooth out the lumps after each addition. You can also strain the soup before serving. And do not use skim milk, since you need some fat to achieve creaminess; you can use whole milk, half-and-half, 2% or even 1% milk.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tahini Dip

There is something genius about Middle Eastern dips and appetizers which combine ingredients that seem unexpected and unrelated, but the resulting flavors are unique and addictive; this dip is one of those combinations.
This is an easy appetizer to serve at your parties. By the way, it goes best with pita chips and dry white wine.

Ingredients: (Makes about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon water
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 tablespoons of plain bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • Parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)
  • Crackers or pita chips, for serving

  • In a bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients until smooth. (Tahini tends to separate and clump up, just like peanut butter; make sure there are no lumps before you add the rest of the ingredients.) Add salt, spices and breadcrumbs, mix until smooth. Lastly add the walnuts and mix.
  • Put in a nice little serving bowl and serve with crackers.

Additional points:
  • Nowadays, you do not always need to go to an ethnic store for tahini, you can usually find it at your regular grocery store.
  • Depending on the quality of the tahini, sometimes the mix can get too thick or too thin. If it gets too thin, add a bit more breadcrumbs; if it gets too thick, add a bit more water/lemon juice or olive oil, and adjust the salt amount to your liking, if necessary. It should have easily spreadable consistency.
  • The consistency is best when it is freshly made. But you can definitely make this dip one day ahead and keep it in the fridge (it actually holds for several days in the fridge). Take it out a few hours before your guests arrive so it can come back to room-temp consistency.

Basic Vinaigrette

This is a quick and simple dressing for your everyday salads. It is probably very similar to what everybody else is doing, but it is kind of special to me: I got this ratio from a friend's friend at whose house I once ate lunch. Ayse (Aisha) was a very nice lady and a great cook, and the salad she served at that lunch was sooo refreshing... Unfortunately a few months later she passed away unexpectedly... Now every time I prepare this dressing, I send her a little prayer...


  • 6 to 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard (optional)


  • Put all the ingredients into a jar or plastic container (with a lid). Close the lid very tightly, and shake vigorously. Pour onto salad and toss.
Additional points:

  • You can use any type of vinegar you like; from white wine vinegar to balsamic vinegar; you can even use pomegranate molasses. All these give a nice kick.
  • For this ratio I personally add a good 1/4 teaspoon salt. But it is really a matter of taste (and health), so adjust the salt amount to your liking.
  • Add the mustard if you want a more creamy dressing.
  • It is different from person to person how much dressing they like on a certain amount of salad. Just to give you an example: For me personally, above given amount easily covers one head of coarsely chopped lettuce (4-5 cups).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chicken Piccata

I first ate this Italian classic, which name I occasionally used to hear before, at our neighbors and good friends Alex and Adam's home with great curiosity and pleasure. Since then it has become a regular and one of our favorites in our household, too.

Lemon, capers, parsley and butter: One of the best flavor combinations in the world... (Some piccata recipes also add white wine or garlic; I say there are plenty of other recipes where you can add those ingredients, just do not mess with the balanced flavors of this recipe...:)))
Below recipe is sort of my combination of Alex's and Giada De Laurentiis's recipes.

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half and pounded into 1/4-inch thick cutlets
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Flour, for dredging
  • 5 tablespoons butter (2+1+2)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (2+1)
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup brined capers
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 8-12 oz. dry spaghetti or any other type dry long pasta (optional)


  • Optional: Boil salted water in a large pot, add the spaghetti and cook for 10 minutes (or according to package instructions).
  • In the meantime, season chicken cutlets with salt and pepper on both sides. Dredge in flour and shake off excess.
  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter with 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter starts to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and saute both sides for 3 minutes each. Transfer to a plate.
  • Melt 1 more tablespoon of butter and add 1 more tablespoon oil and saute the other 2 chicken pieces the same way, transfer to plate and cover to keep warm.
  • Into the pan add lemon juice, stock and capers. Bring to a boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor.
  • Lower the heat and return all the chicken to the pan (along with all the juices in the plate), and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Optional: Add the spaghetti into the pan and swirl to coat with the sauce. Transfer the chicken (and the spaghetti) to a platter.
  • Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and half of the parsley into the sauce in the pan and whisk. Pour sauce over chicken (and pasta) and garnish with remaining parsley.

Additional notes:

If you choose to have pasta w/ this chicken, be aware that the pasta will absorb most of the sauce and the pasta itself will also be delicious, but you may not have a lot of extra sauce left to serve with the chicken pieces. If you like extra sauce on your chicken, you may try to double the amount of the sauce ingredients (lemon juice, capers, parsley, chicken stock, butter), leaving the chicken and pasta amount the same as given above.

Okra with Ground Beef (Kiymali Bamya)

There is a separate section in Turkish cuisine that contains vegetable (stew) recipes cooked with ground meat (usually a mixture of ground beef and ground lamb - but feel free to use any type of ground meat you like or have in hand to make these recipes your own), which is really a great way of making the most of both vegetables and meat in hand.
These are the recipes you will come across in this blog that end with "...... with Ground Beef". And below recipe is one of them.
You use a rather small amount of meat (which is relatively costly) to cook the vegetables with. This way you can make at least 3 vegetable dishes out of 1 pound meat; sometimes ground meat is really the gift that keeps on giving...:))
You get the full health benefit of eating vegetables, accompanied by a delicious broth that is full of meat and tomato flavor.

Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)  
  • 6 oz. ground beef (preferably 80/2)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 cubanelle pepper, diced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or butter
  • 1 lb-package frozen cut okra
  • 1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1-2 medium-size tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • Heat 1 tbsp. vegetable oil or butter in the pot. Add diced onion, cubanelle pepper and ground beef. Breaking up the ground beef and mixing it with onion and pepper, 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 tomatoes, okra, salt (I personally put 1 teaspoon salt), pepper and lemon juice.
  • Add 2 more cups hot water and bring to a boil over medium heat (pot half-covered with the lid). Lower the heat to medium low (or low, depending on the burner you use) and simmer until the okra is tender (but not falling apart). Add more water along the way, if necessary (This is a stew, it should not be a dry dish).
  • Enjoy with a slice of toasted bread on the side to dunk.

Turkish Bulgur Salad (Kisir)

This tasty bulgur salad is sort of the Turkish version of the Middle Eastern tabbouleh salad (If you mention tabbouleh in Turkey, probably very few people would know that name, but everybody knows the name kisir.) It is originated from southeastern Turkey, but it's very popular all over the country, and everybody has their own little different way of making it; although sometimes I wonder why people do not put a lot of veggies in kisir, it is a salad after all...
This salad is a more hearty version of tabbouleh, you can serve it as an appetizer or a side dish, but it is so satisfying, in my family sometimes we also eat this as a main course: Serve a cup of yogurt, a few slices of bread, a few slices of radish and several lettuce leaves with kisir, and you got yourself a meal !... Of course, do not forget to put extra red pepper flakes on the table, in case some people like it really spicy hot!... Try this and you'll be hooked like so many others...

Ingredients: (Serves 4) 

  • 1 cup fine bulgur
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoons pepper paste (hot or mild)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mint
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2-3 medium-size tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1-2 cubanelle peppers, seeded and diced
  • 3 small dill pickles, diced (like: Vlasic Snack'mms), or 1 small cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, minced
  • 5-6 scallions, finely chopped, or 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (and/or pomegranate molasses)
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Lettuce leaves, for serving (optional)

  • Put bulgur in a large pot (with a lid), pour boiling water over it, and quickly stir to make sure that the bulgur is wet all over. Close the lid and let it sit, while you prepare the other ingredients (this is a good time to start cutting all the veggies, and the bulgur will absorb the hot water and soften in the meantime).
  • When you are done with your prep work, check the bulgur (it should be soft, but al dente - not soaking!). Add tomato paste, pepper paste, all the spices and salt to your taste (I personally add 1 full teaspoon salt for this amount of bulgur) and mix - for this step, it is best to use your clean hands for mixing, so the pastes and spices are evenly distributed into the bulgur, I sometimes put on latex gloves to save myself all that hand washing, they work great!
  • Add all the veggies, olive oil and lemon juice/pomegranate molasses and mix (try not to squish the veggies).
  • You can eat the kisir by itself, or serve it with lettuce leaves, so people can stuff the salad into the lettuce leaves and eat it with their hands.

Additional notes:

  • Originally kisir should be eaten really hot (spicy hot), but it is a matter of taste, so you can totally skip adding the red pepper flakes or add much more than just 1/4 teaspoon. The idea of serving it with lettuce leaves makes real sense when kisir is really hot, because eating it stuffed in fresh, juicy lettuce leaves balances the spiciness in a wonderful way.
  • Pepper paste and pomegranate molasses are the two ingredients that make this salad authentic. You can find them in most ethnic/Middle Eastern grocery stores. But if you can't find them, just use more tomato paste instead of pepper paste, and lemon juice instead of pomegranate molasses. By the way, you can use pomegranate molasses also in other salads as an acidic element, in place of lemon juice or vinegar, it has a nice sweet & sour taste.
  • You can double or triple this recipe, just go easy when you are adding the olive oil and lemon juice at the end before just dumping the double or triple amount of liquids, you do not want to make the salad soaking wet, add the liquids gradually and check the wetness as you go.
  • Do not skip seeding the tomatoes, otherwise you will end up with a very wet salad.
  • Do not add more cumin than above ratio. A little cumin goes a long way. More may ruin the taste.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yogurt Soup (Yayla Corbasi)

Here's another popular classic from Turkish cuisine where yogurt is a real staple. We not only use yogurt as a condiment, a side dish or an ingredient for appetizers, we also cook and bake with it.

The exact translation of this soup's name is "Plateau Soup". In the old days when refrigeration was not available, it was difficult to keep milk fresh and it was therefore turned into yogurt as soon as possible. Plateaus were cool and consequently the best yogurt could be found in these high plateaus.

Give this unique soup a try... Who knows, you may become a yogurt lover for life...
I obtained this recipe from another great food blog called Binnur's Turkish Cookbook and have slightly revised it to my liking.

Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)

  • 6 cups chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup rice, washed and drained
  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

  • In a pot, bring the stock to a boil over medium-high heat, add the rice and cook until the rice is soft (this will take about 20-25 minutes).
  • In the meantime, in a bowl, mix yogurt, milk, egg yolk, flour and dried mint until smooth.
  • After the rice is cooked, pour a few ladles of the stock into the yogurt mixture in the bowl.
  • Lower the heat and add the mixture in the bowl slowly into the stock/rice in the pot, stirring slowly to mix.
  • Cook/simmer for 10 more minutes on low heat, stirring from time to time. Taste and add salt, if necessary (For me personally, the salt amount of the stock is enough, so I do not add more salt). Turn off the heat.
  • Optional: Melt the butter in a small saucepan. When it starts foaming and sizzling, add the red pepper flakes and saute them for 1 minute, until they infuse the butter with their flavor and color (do not burn them!). Pour into the soup and mix.

Additional points:
  • This is supposed to be a delicate, creamy soup. Do not skip the step of adding a few ladles from the soup into the cold mixture in the bowl -which is called "tempering". If you add the yogurt mixture into the hot stock all at once, the yogurt curdles, the egg turns into scrambled egg and you will have lumps of mixture in the soup...Who wants a soup like that?..
  • It's also important not to boil the soup any longer, after you add the yogurt mixture into the stock, since this will also cause the yogurt to separate.
  • The last step of adding butter and red pepper flakes is optional. But this is a very traditional finishing touch for soups in Turkish cuisine. In fact, my mother-in-law says "Cooking is not finished, until the butter sizzles"...:))