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.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Creamy Potato Salad

I've looked and looked for quite some time for a good, foolproof potato salad recipe... The fact is I'm not a big fan of mayonnaise (maybe that's my loss..:)), therefore I used to tend to like potato salads with lighter vinaigrette dressings, but this one changed my mind about potato salads with creamy mayo dressings. It's mostly because I use yogurt which makes it lighter, and the dressing also has a good balance of mayo, yogurt, mustard and the spiciness of the black pepper, the sharpness of the onion and the aroma of the fresh dill.
I think it is a staple for summer barbeque parties, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do...

Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)

  • 3 lbs. medium russet potatoes, peeled, quartered lengthwise, then cut crosswise into about 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons mustard
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper


  • Place the potatoes and 2 tablespoons of salt in a large pot of water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are barely tender when pierced with a knife (do not wait till the end of those whole 10-15 minutes, check on the potatoes frequently).
  • In the meantime, prepare the dressing: In a large bowl, whisk together the mayo, yogurt, mustard, dill, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
  • When the potatoes are done, drain them completely in a colander. Add the warm potatoes and the chopped onion into the dressing bowl and toss well (but very gently) with a plastic or wooden spoon. Cover partially and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the potatoes to cool down completely and the flavors to blend. I recommend tossing the salad gently one more time (and maybe even transferring it into a different serving bowl) before serving.

Additional points:

You definitely would not sacrifice the flavor at all if you use low-fat mayonnaise or low-fat yogurt for this recipe. You can also use your favorite mustard, whether it is Dijon or yellow mustard.