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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


This pesto recipe is from Giada De Laurentiis, with a few of my additional points and details. I just love the mouthwatering smell of this basil pesto filling the whole kitchen.
Pesto is not only a simple, yet delicious appetizer on toasted bread, but it can be used as a sauce or dressing on so many other things: Toss warm pasta in it, pour it onto grilled fish, dress your chicken salad with it, use it to make a pesto lasagna...

Just as overwhelming is the variety of ingredients that you can choose to create different types of pesto: You can use spinach or cilantro instead of basil (or a combination of all), or vegetables like green peas or artichokes instead of leafy greens; you can use other types of nuts, like walnuts or pistachios instead of pine nuts; you can make a "red" pesto with sun-dried tomatoes or roasted red peppers... The possibilities really are endless... After all, pesto is this fantastic combination of olive oil, parmesan and garlic; as long as you have the right ratio (which is key for any dip or spread) you can't go wrong with the taste.

Ingredients: (Makes about 1 cup)

  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves (about 1 oz.),
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup parmesan, finely grated


  • Put the pine nuts in a non-stick pan and toast them on medium-high heat for only a few minutes until they start to turn color and to smell (move them around in the pan a few times, so they brown evenly; and do not walk away at all since they may burn very quickly). Set aside to cool.
  • Put the garlic, basil leaves, salt and pine nuts into a food processor and process/pulse until they are finely and evenly chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the olive oil and process until there is a thick, yet smooth consistency, add more oil if necessary.
  • Transfer to a bowl and stir in the parmesan.

Additional points:

  • The amount of olive oil you will add also depends on how you are going to use the pesto. If you want to serve it as a spread, use less oil; if as a sauce or dressing, you may want to add more.
  • Try not to skip the step of toasting the nuts, the additional flavor of toasting does make a difference in the taste and texture of the pesto.
  • Fresh basil sold in grocery stores contains both leaves and stems, and sometimes there are a few flower buds, too. You need to discard the buds and the stems (and the leaves that do not look in good shape); that leaves you with almost half the package; for example if you buy a 4-oz fresh basil package/bundle, you will have 2 oz. fresh basil leaves to use for pesto.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hummus (Humus)

Here's another classic Middle Eastern dip I unfortunately learned to appreciate a bit late..:) BUT I will try to make it up by making this deliciousness often and eating a lot of it..:))

In my mind, a good hummus recipe is the perfect balance of all the necessary ingredients, ending up in a perfect consistency.
And for a proper consistency you need to start by peeling all the chickpeas, one by one... I know this sounds crazy, but you will not be able to achieve the right smoothness in your hummus, if you skip this step. This will take another 10-15 minutes of your time, but it will really make a difference; besides canned chickpeas are quite easy to pop out of their skin (do this in front of the TV, you won't know how that 15 minutes fly..:))

Ingredients: (Makes about 1 1/2 cups)

  • One 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed, drained, peeled
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Up to 1/2 cup water


  • Put all the ingredients, except water, into a food processor. Process until smooth.
  • Add water gradually and pulse until a smooth and spreadable consistency is achieved.
  • Serve with pita chips / toasted bread / vegetables.

Additional points:

  • Hummus can be prepared a day ahead of serving; it can be stored in the fridge for several days; just don't forget to cover it w/ plastic wrap. Bring it to room temperature before serving.
  • Some tahini brands are thicker than others, therefore sometimes you may need the whole 1/2 cup of water, other times you may not. That's why you should add the water gradually at the end and stop when you have the desired consistency.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chocolate Pudding

Which remains as one of my pleasant childhood memories is that my mom used to often make chocolate pudding for us... She used to use store-bought chocolate pudding mix, but it still tasted delicious and always made me very happy...

Chocolate pudding is a classic, a staple to have in your kitchen portfolio and the fact is making home-made chocolate pudding from scratch is really not much harder than cooking it from a mix.

My experience of trying several different chocolate pudding recipes, longing for something similar to that childhood taste I was happy and familiar with, brought me to the conclusion that the best balance of taste and consistency in a chocolate pudding is achieved with good old whole milk and good old cocoa powder (Better Homes and Gardens recipe), and not with heavy cream or half-and-half and semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate which many chocolate pudding recipes use today; heavy cream and chocolate contain too much fat which make the end result look like a hardened ganache frosting or a very thick and heavy chocolate mousse and also leaves a bitter chocolate after-taste in your mouth (well, if that's what you're looking for, than go for it).

Two more things: 1) Always sieve the chocolate pudding through a mesh strainer, before putting it into the container(s); take your time and do not skip this step. 2) Don't judge the taste and consistency of a pudding before it has waited in the fridge for several hours; it should be really fridge-cold.

I love you, mom...

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 2/3 cups milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla


  • In a bowl beat the egg yolks. Set aside.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa powder and cornstarch. Stir in milk.
  • Cook and stir frequently over medium heat till bubbly (a gentle boil across the surface). Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.
  • Gradually stir 1 cup of the milk mixture into the egg yolks, then add the egg mixture to the milk mixture in the pan.
  • Bring the pan to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low; cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.
  • Stir in the butter and vanilla (until the butter is melted and incorporated).
  • Pour pudding through a fine mesh strainer into a serving bowl or individual bowls. Place a sheet of plastic on the surface of the pudding (to prevent a skin to form on the top of the pudding). Chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Blueberry Buckle

I am not a big fan of eating fresh blueberries (I accept, that's my loss); actually, at the time, my reason for trying this recipe was to make use of 2 pints of blueberries that were sitting around in the fridge and not being desired by anybody at home... But when they were used in this recipe, they became kind of special for me.

Soft, bread-like cake melts in your mouth along with the sweet, crispy topping and the jam-like blueberries which bring a wonderful sourness...Nice option from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook to satisfy your hunger and accompany your morning or afternoon coffee/tea.

Ingredients: (Serves 8-10)

For the cake:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
For the topping:
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut into 1/4" cubes


  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray a 9x9x2-inch or 8x8x2-inch or an 8- or 9-inch springform pan with no-stick cooking spray with flour. Set aside.
  • Combine 2 cups flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
  • In another bowl, beat softened butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the 3/4 cup sugar and beat till combined and light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well.
  • Add the flour mixture alternately with milk (start and end with flour mixture), beating till smooth after each addition.
  • Spoon batter into the prepared pan and try to spread evenly and smooth out the surface with a spatula. Sprinkle evenly with blueberries.
  • Combine the 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon. Cut in the butter cubes with your hands or with a pastry blender till mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over blueberries. Bake for 50-60 minutes.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone... One of my Italian favorites... A starter I almost never miss when I see it on the menu of a restaurant... I did not grow up eating minestrone, but to me, this soup is as heartwarming and fulfilling as any traditional soup I grew up eating... And it puts together all the ingredients that are good for you.

But lately it seems to me like the minestrone soups I try at restaurants do not taste like they used to 10-15 years ago... Well, maybe it's just me... Nevertheless, I decided to create my own at home...

Ingredients: (Serves 8)

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced
  • 1/2 cup potatoes, diced 
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 8 cups chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Salt
  • 1 zucchini, peeled and cubed (makes about 1 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups tomatoes, peeled and diced (or diced canned tomatoes, not drained)
  • 1 1/2 cups cut cauliflower florets, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cups cut green beans, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cups green peas, fresh or frozen
  • 4 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup mini dry pasta (like ditalini, elbow macaroni etc.)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups canned white kidney beans, drained and rinsed


  • Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot and potatoes and saute until onion is soft and the veggies are translucent. Add garlic and saute until it's fragrant.
  • Add the tomato paste, basil, black pepper, salt and the stock (add the stock gradually and mix to dissolve the paste in the stock).
  • Add the tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, green peas and cauliflower. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low (or medium - depending on the burner) and simmer until all the vegetables are almost fork-tender.
  • Add the pasta and the parsley, increase the heat to medium-high and boil the soup until pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes (this cooking time depends on which type of pasta is being used).
  • Reduce the heat and add the beans. Just heat through for a few minutes and remove from the heat.

Additional points:

  • You can add other vegetables that you like to this soup, like cabbage, broccoli, spinach etc. (Try to use 6 cups of veggies as a total - excluding onion and garlic) The key here is to cook all the vegetables to the same doneness, so that they are soft, but not falling apart or cooked to death, that they still have a bite to them, but do not taste crunchy and raw. And that's why you may need to add different vegetables at different points during the cooking process, adjust the heat and check on their doneness frequently.
  • Each ingredient in this soup should have a presence, but no disturbing abundance..:) That's why you can play with the above given amounts of vegetables, pasta and beans to your liking. Some people may like a more watery soup w/ fewer ingredients, while others prefer a stew-like soup.
  • Salt amount is up to your taste and health issues. The stocks I use usually have enough salt in them, so I personally do not need to add more salt.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Turkish Bean Salad (Piyaz)

Piyaz is a real classic in Turkish cuisine and sort of a necessary side dish/salad to go with meatballs, especially the grilled ones (Try Gemini's Meatballs).
Try to use the freshest vegetables to get that nice crunch inbetween the soft beans.
This salad becomes more delicious for me when I let it sit a little before serving, so the beans can absorb that vinegary dressing.
By the way, if life ever takes you to Istanbul, try to go to Ali Baba's Meatball Restaurant in Arnavutkoy, Istanbul. Yes, Turkey has traditional restaurants specialized in meatballs only; they serve only meatballs and side dishes that go with them. Even their desserts are specific, you kind of know which dessert(s) you will find when you go to a meatball restaurant.

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • 1 cup canned cannellini beans (or white kidney beans or navy beans or Great Northern beans - See: More info and comparison), rinsed and drained
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups tomatoes (about 2 small), cubed
  • 1/2 cup cubanelle peppers (about 1/2 pepper) or any other kind mild green pepper, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup onion (1 small), thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup parsley (about 1/2 bunch), chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 8 black olives, for garnish (optional)
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, sliced lengthwise into quarters, for garnish (optional)


  • Put all the ingredients, except for the eggs and olives, into a bowl and mix gently.
  • You can serve the salad right away or let it sit in the fridge for 1-2 hours for flavors to blend (do not let it sit longer or the salad will lose its freshness).
  • Garnish w/ olives and eggs and serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bulgur Pilaf -1 (Bulgur Pilavi -1)

When pilaf is mentioned usually rice is what directly comes to mind. Well, you can enjoy pilafs of other grains, too. And the second most popular and traditional pilaf in Turkey is the bulgur pilaf which I love as much as rice pilaf. It is easier to cook, but just as tasty and satisfying as rice pilaf.

This recipe is a very simple version of bulgur pilaf; some recipes add onion, garlic, tomatoes and other vegetables to the stock in which you cook the bulgur; others first saute the veggies, then add the stock and bulgur; you can even turn up the volume by adding some cooked meat to the pilaf. Me? I'm just happy to top my simple bulgur pilaf with some nice plain yogurt...

Ingredients: (Makes 6 side dishes, 4 main dishes)

  • 4 cups chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups coarse grain bulgur
  • Plain yogurt, for serving (optional)


  • Put the stock, tomato paste and vegetable oil in a pot; stir to dissolve the paste in the stock. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  • Add the bulgur and stir to mix evenly. Lower the heat to medium-low (or to low, depending what size burner you use), partially cover the pot and let the bulgur cook, until it absorbs all the stock, for about 15 minutes (check on it frequently and make sure the bulgur on the bottom of the pot is not burnt).

Additional points:

  • If you do not use stock regularly, feel free to use water in the same amount and season it with salt and pepper according to your taste.
  • In my family, we like the bulgur pilaf a bit on the creamy, clumpy side (like the one in the picture) -kind of like risotto- this is also how my mom used to make it. Some people, on the other hand, like it drier and grainier which is more like a restaurant-style bulgur pilaf; that is just as good and requires a whole other recipe (which will be added to the blog soon)...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pastor's Ragout (Papaz Yahnisi)

This dish originally comes from the northwest cuisine of Turkey and is a lovely product of different cultures in that region.

There are different stories about as to why it is called "pastor's ragout":
Some say it was cooked by Christian minorities in that area during Ottoman Empire who used to make this dish with wine, and when Ottomans adapted it into their cuisine, they used vinegar instead.
Others say it was a Turkish dish and a pastor from the minorities ate this at a Turkish neighbor's home and loved it.

Well, it doesn't matter where it comes from; it is just a little story to tell while you are eating this dish! Enjoy!

Ingredients: (Serves 2-4)

  • 20-25 oz. beef for stew, cut into 1" cubes
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup water, plus more if necessary
  • 1/2 of a 14-oz-package frozen petite whole onions (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar


  • Heat the oil and butter in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the beef, black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon salt and saute over medium-high heat until the beef cubes are seared (the meat will release its juice and then absorb it back and the cubes will turn nicely brown - be careful not to burn them, though).
  • Add 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook (simmer) the beef cubes until tender. If necessary, add more water in small amounts along the way to prevent the stew from drying.
  • Add the onions, garlic cloves, vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon salt (and more water, if necessary) and continue simmering until onions are translucent and tender (soft to the bite, but not falling apart) for about 15 min.

Additional points:

  • Since meat is the main ingredient in this dish, quality/tenderness matters. Try to buy the best quality stew meat you can afford. For this dish, i/o buying regular "beef for stew", I buy "beef for fondue".
  • If you like cooking w/ wine, you can substitute vinegar w/ wine (red or white).
  • Some recipes also add spices like cinnamon, cumin and allspice. You may want to experiment with these spices when cooking this dish.
  • Salt measurements given above are suggestions; you may adjust them according to your taste and health issues. Instead of using salt and water, you can also use beef stock (in that case, do not add salt during cooking; taste it at the end, then add salt if necessary)
  • You can substitute petite onions w/ pearl onions.
  • Meat may take a long time 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 meat with 1 cup water, in 50-60 minutes, depending on the toughness of the meat; then I add the onions etc. and cook for another 15 minutes. A newer, more modern version would probably take much less time.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Spinach with Ground Beef (Kiymali Ispanak)

Vegetable stews of Turkish cuisine are simple, light, healthy and delicious. Here's another one cooked with spinach. Don't forget to have plain yogurt on the table; this stew is served warm with cool yogurt which truly complements the spinach beautifully.

Ingredients: (Serves 3-4)

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 6 oz. ground beef (preferably 80/20)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 lb/16 oz spinach, fresh or frozen
  • 1/4 cup rice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups hot water (plus more, if necessary)
  • Plain yogurt, for serving


  • 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 spinach, pepper, salt and rice. Add the rest of the hot water and stir to combine.
  • Bring to a boil over medium heat; then lower the heat and simmer until the spinach and rice are cooked (spinach turns from bright dark green to yellowish dark green and rice grains become longer and completely soft to the bite). Add more water along the way, if necessary, to prevent the stew from drying, and depending on how thick vs. soupy you like your stew.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Daughter's Green Salad

My 10-year-old daughter loves the kitchen almost as much as I do. She is also a fan of salads and fruits. When your child is a fan of something healthy, I guess it's your obligation to encourage it.
So, this salad is her "creation" that she enjoys as a main course just by herself. That's her hand in the picture sprinkling parmesan cheese on her salad..:)

Ingredients: (Serves 1-2)

  • 1 head romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped (makes about 4 cups)
  • 1 cubanelle pepper, coarsely chopped (or any other kind of mild green pepper)
  • 1 apple, peeled and cubed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese (preferably finely grated)


  • Put all the ingredients, except parmesan cheese, into a medium salad bowl and toss well to combine.
  • Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the salad and enjoy.

Green Peas with Ground Beef (Kiymali Bezelye)

Here's one other example of a vegetable stew from Turkish cuisine everyone regularly eats and loves growing up.
You do not have to add potatoes and carrots, some people use green peas alone; but let me tell you, besides adding color to the dish, potato and carrot also add so much flavor, it really does make a difference in the end result; plus they also cut a little bit through the sweetness of American green peas.
Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)
  • 8 oz. ground beef (preferably 80/20)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 lbs. green peas, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cup potatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups hot water (plus more, if necessary)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed (optional)

  • 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 veggies, pepper, salt and dill weed. Add the rest of the hot water and stir to combine.
  • Bring to a boil; then lower the heat and simmer until the veggies are cooked (soft to the bite, but not falling apart). Add more water along the way, if necessary, to prevent the stew from drying, and depending on how thick vs. soupy you like your stew.
Additional points:
  • This dish is actually easier to cook in a pressure cooker. It obviously cooks the food with less amount of water, in a shorter amount of time. When using pressure cookers, the amount of water you should add and the cooking time vary from model to model. I use a very simple, primitive model which still works for me after almost 15 years. Mine cooks this dish with 2 1/2 cups water, in about 35 minutes. A newer, more modern version would probably take much less time.
  • The salt amount above is obviously a suggestion. Please adjust it depending on your taste and health issues. 

Fruit Crisp

This is one of my favorite go-to desserts from Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It's easy, light, appropriate for any season of the year and there's still something special and comforting about it.

It is also a great way of making use of the fruits in your fridge which are not so fresh anymore or which aren't exactly in season, therefore not so sweet and enjoyable as raw fruits.

Juicy, sweet and warm fruit, crunchy oat crisp, topped with the contrastingly cold and creamy topping... All these different textures, plus the aroma of the fruit and the spices...

Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)

  • 5 cups fruit, like peaches, apples, pears, plums, apricots, berries etc., peeled and sliced if/when necessary
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar (depending on how sweet the fruits are)
  • 1/2 cup regular rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon or cloves or 1/4 teaspoon of a combination of all or any of these spices
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts or coconut flakes or 1/4 cup of combination of both
  • Vanilla ice cream or mascarpone cheese or whipped cream or clotted cream etc. for topping


  • Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  • For filling, thaw fruit, if frozen. Place fruit in a shallow and big enough baking dish. Stir in the granulated sugar. Set aside.
  • For topping, in a medium bowl combine the oats, brown sugar, flour and spices. Cut in butter till mixture resembles coarse crumbs (you can do this with your hands or with a pastry blender). Stir in the nuts/coconut. Sprinkle topping over filling.
  • Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or till filling is bubbly, fruit is tender (you can test with a toothpick), and topping is golden brown. Serve warm topped with ice cream etc.

Additional points:

  • You can use different fruit combinations for this dessert, depending on the season. My favorite combo for summer is peaches and plums; you can do an apple and pear combo for winter. In both cases you can also add some berries (fresh or frozen); for example I throw in a handful of frozen cranberries (which I buy fresh and freeze around Thanksgiving every year), they are like pops of juicy sourness inbetween the sweet fruits. Make sure though that the fruits you combine have the same kind of softness/firmness, otherwise one may get too mushy while the other stays crunchy during baking; or you can cut the softer fruit in thicker pieces while you slice the firm one more thinly.
  • Try to really use brown sugar for the oat topping. Of course, if you don't have it, you can always substitute it with regular granulated sugar, but you achieve a darker and crunchier topping with brown sugar.