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"...:))

Cranberry Nut Bread

I love using fresh cranberries in cakes, pies, cobblers etc. (I wish I could find fresh cranberries year around, and not only around Thanksgiving time. That's why I buy several packages in fall and freeze them to enjoy all year long.) They are like little pops of tartness in-between the sweetness of the dessert. And their bright red color just makes me so happy to look at.

Here's a good example from Better Homes and Gardens: This bread has a nice sourness from the cranberries and just enough crunch from the nuts. And adding a lot of lemon or orange zest seals the deal with a nice fragrance. Perfect to enjoy with your coffee/tea for breakfast or any other time of the day...

Ingredients: (Makes 12 servings)

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1 2/3 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 3/4 cup nuts, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons lemon/orange zest
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped


  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray the inside of a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with cooking spray with flour, set aside.
  • In a bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Make a well in the center. Set aside.
  • In another bowl beat the egg, stir in milk and oil. Add egg mixture all at once to the dry mixture. Stir just till dry mixture is moistened (batter will be lumpy, do not over mix).
  • Fold in the nuts, zest and the cranberries.
  • Spoon batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours or till a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean (Start checking after 45-50 minutes).
  • Let loaf cool in the pan until it comes to room temperature. Remove from pan.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Red Lentil Soup (Mercimek Corbasi)

Another favorite starter at a Turkish kebab restaurant... This soup will not only be a hearty, but healthy start to your meal (sometimes it is a meal in itself with a couple slices of toasted bread or some croutons), it will also satisfy your stomach and warm your soul, especially on a cold winter day.

Ingredients: (Serves 6)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 6 cups beef/chicken/vegetable stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)


  • Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and carrot, and saute a few minutes until onion becomes translucent.
  • Add the lentils and saute for another minute.
  • Add the stock and bring to a boil. Skim the foam that has built up on the surface of the soup.
  • Lower the heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the lentils are completely soft. Add the black pepper. At this point, taste the soup and add salt, if necessary (For me personally, the salt amount of the stock is enough, so I do not add more salt).
  • Process the soup with a hand blender to achieve a smooth consistency.
  • Optional: In a small saucepan, melt the other 2 tablespoons of butter. When it starts foaming, add the red pepper flakes, saute for a minute (the flakes will infuse the butter with their flavor and their red color. Do not burn the flakes). Pour it into the soup.

Proper Rice Pilaf

Rice is an irreplaceable ingredient/dish for many cuisines around the world. And here's a real staple in Turkish cuisine: Rice Pilaf.
One of my most pleasant childhood memories was staying over at my grandma's home together with the other grandkids and eating rice pilaf (with yogurt) for almost all the meals. Not because this was the only food grandma cooked, but because she made a delicious rice pilaf, this was all we wanted to eat, and we called it "Sugar Pilaf"...
My father-in-law used to say: "If a woman can cook rice pilaf well, she can also cook other dishes well", which actually meant that it is not as simple as it seems: A proper rice pilaf needs a proper recipe. Well, I'm still a work in progress regarding a lot of other dishes, but I cook rice pilaf almost every week which is very usual in a Turkish household.

Ingredients: (Serves 6)

  • 1 3/4 cups medium grain rice, picked
  • 4 oz. butter (1 stick)
  • 3 cups hot chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • Salt


  • Put the rice in a bowl and cover with warm (not hot or cold!) water and let it sit for half an hour. Before starting to cook the pilaf, rinse and drain the rice well (3-4 times to get rid of excess starch).
  • In a pan or shallow pot (which has a lid) melt the butter over medium-high heat, add the rice and saute for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Add the hot stock, stir, and let the rice boil in the stock for another 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently (the rice will absorb most of the stock during that time). Taste a little bit from the stock/rice at this point and add salt if necessary. (For me personally, the salt amount of the stock is enough, so I do not add more salt.)
  • Lower the heat to low, stir the rice one last time and put the lid on. Cook the rice on low heat for 18-20 minutes. Do not open the lid during that whole time!
  • Turn off the heat and stir/fluff up the rice. Put 2-3 layers of clean paper towel (or another clean and dry kitchen towel) over the pan, cover the lid and let it sit for another 15-20 minutes, so the paper can absorb the excess steam from the pilaf.
  • Fluff up the rice pilaf once more and serve hot.

Additional notes:

  • Give a try to a dollop of plain yogurt to accompany your rice pilaf.
  • The paper towel step is important; because it helps the rice grains look and taste as separate pieces which we aim for. We do not like the rice pilaf to clump up.
  • You can also cook this rice pilaf with plain hot water, instead of stock. In that case, you will have a whiter pilaf and feel the taste of butter more. Just add salt (to your taste) when adding the hot water to rice. The rest of the recipe is the same.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Devil's Food Cake


Here's one of my all-time favorite cakes (if not my most favorite !..:) that I have been baking for quite a few years now. (The recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens which I have slightly adjusted.) A lovely treat for people who like cocoa flavor. Yes, it's devilishly dark, and heavy on the cocoa flavor, but at the same time moist and light like a cloud.
It is always hard to resist a second piece: Once I made this cake for my daughter's Sunday school. The adults loved it, and the kids went crazy for it, helping themselves for second and third servings. One of the kids said, looking at the cake with excitement: "This cake is heaven!"..:)) And that's exactly what it is: A little piece of heaven...


 Ingredients: (makes at least 12 serving)

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups cold water


  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray the baking pan with no-stick cooking spray with flour. (See additional notes below for baking pan options.) Set aside.
  • Mix flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda in a bowl, sifting each one. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, mix oil, sugar and vanilla (with a hand or electric mixer), till well combined.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
  • Add dry mixture and cold water to the wet mixture alternately, starting with the dry mixture and ending with the dry mixture, and beating after each addition (just till combined and there are no lumps).
  • Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the oven for about 40-45 minutes, or till a wooden toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.
  • Let the cake cool to room temperature in the pan before serving.

Additional notes:

  • This cake works with all the following baking pans: 1) Two 9x1 1/2-inch round baking pans (this option is ideal for building a cake with frosting) 2) One 13x9x2-inch baking pan 3) One 9-inch bundt baking pan.
  • Following points are important in order to make this cake light and fluffy: 1) To sift all the dry ingredients, 2) Not to overwork the batter when mixing the dry and wet mixtures, 3) Using vegetable oil, instead of butter.
  • Devil's Food Cake is wonderful on its own, but if you feel like you need something extra for serving, use a dollop of either whipped cream or, even better, mascarpone cream.

Red Lentil and Bulgur Soup (Ezo Gelin Corbasi)

Ezogelin soup (or Ezo Gelin soup) is a common and popular soup in Turkish cuisine attributed to Ezo, The Bride, from Gaziantep (a city in southeastern Turkey) who had a very sad and tough life in the first half of the 20th century.

I never skip this soup when we go to a kebab restaurant in Turkey. It's a comforting start and an indicator of a wonderful meal that's going to follow... And I'm happy to cook and serve this at home to my family as a healthy first course.

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup red lentils, washed and drained
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons fine bulgur, washed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper paste (hot or mild)
  • 4 cups chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint
  • Salt, black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)


  • Heat the oil in a pot over medium-high, add the onion and saute until it becomes translucent.
  • Add the lentils, bulgur, tomato paste, pepper paste, stock and dried mint. Bring to a boil (mix occasionally to make sure the paste dissolves evenly in the stock), reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils become soft (This should take less than half an hour). Season to taste with salt and pepper (For me the stock is usually salty enough, so I do not add more salt). Turn off the heat.
  • Process the soup with a hand blender to achieve a smooth consistency.
  • Optional: Heat the butter in a small saucepan. When it starts foaming, add the red pepper flakes, saute for a minute (the flakes will infuse the butter with their flavor and their red color). Pour it into the soup.
  • Serve the soup hot with lemon wedges on the side (to be squeezed into the soup).

Additional notes:

  • If you like a chunkier soup, just skip the hand blender step. This makes it, in my opinion, more home-style.
  • 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"...:))

Friday, October 8, 2010

Simple Red Sauce

This is a quick, simple and versatile red sauce I developed for myself with only a few ingredients that, I believe, are essential and delicious enough to accompany the pasta I cook every week (well, some weeks everyday..:)) I also use this sauce for other Italian dishes, like chicken parmesan or lasagna.

This sauce truly makes use of tomato paste, one of my favorite ingredients and, in my opinion, one of the most underused ones in American cuisine. Tomato paste is concentrated tomato flavor to the fullest in a little can; one tablespoon tomato paste has easily the flavor power of 2 tomatoes. It not only gives great flavor and color to dishes, but it also adds consistency.
The sauce also has its slightly tangy flavor coming both from the tomato paste and the dried basil, and it is ideal for people like me who do not like chunky tomato pieces in their pasta sauce.

Ingredients: (Enough for 1/2 lb. pasta)
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 6 oz-can tomato paste (makes about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried basil
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper (optional)

  • In a saucepan, heat the butter and olive oil, until the butter melts, over medium heat.
  • Add the tomato paste and hot water, stir to dissolve tomato paste (you do not want lumps of paste in your sauce!).
  • Add garlic powder, dried basil, salt and pepper (I personally add 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt and no pepper) and stir to combine.
  • Cover partially and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat.
  • Lower the heat and simmer for about 10 min., until the sauce turns from dark red (which is the raw tomato paste color) to a lighter red. (Add more hot water, if you think it's necessary.)
  • Enjoy with your favorite pasta.

Additional notes:
  • You can substitute 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder with 2 cloves of minced fresh garlic, if you want to. Just add the fresh garlic after you heat the oil and butter and saute only for 1 min., until it gets fragrant (not until it's burned!).
  • Some people may find 2 tbsp. butter and oil each too much for this amount of sauce, in that case just add 1 tbsp. of each.
  • The amount of water you are going to use really depends on how thick or thin you like your pasta sauce. That's why I gave a range from 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of hot water. Just experiment with it to achieve the consistency you like. You can also add the water of the pasta you are cooking. (Just remember: Sauce can wait for the pasta, pasta can't wait for the sauce.)
  • The number of pasta servings from a 1 lb-package of pasta is up to how big a pasta lover you are. Some days I cook this sauce along with a whole package of pasta and eat it for all three meals of the day (I know... I'm crazy!..:) So you can double or triple this recipe for more pasta or for other dishes you may want to use.
  • And lastly, you can also make this sauce with canned tomato puree. Instead of a 6 oz-can tomato paste and hot water, just use a 15 oz-can tomato puree. You can add more water if you want to thin out the sauce, but I would not recommend adding more than 1/4 cup hot water; more would make the sauce soupy.