Turkish Red Lentil Soup

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We haven’t shared that many soup recipes on here, but soup probably makes up a good third of my diet. I love soup! This is just another reason why I was born to marry into a Turkish family. If you ever make it to Turkey (which I can’t suggest more highly), you’ll see that delicious soups are frequently served as a starter to evening meals and eaten for breakfast and lunch as well. Soup with every meal?! Basically my idea of heaven.

We’ve made and shared High Plateau Soup, another Turkish soup recipe before – it’s rich, creamy, and incredibly unique – at least for my American palate! This soup has entirely different flavors, very reminiscent of soups Selim’s aunts and grandmother made for us in Turkey. Red lentil soup (kirmizi mercimek çorbasi) is hearty and filling, easy to make, and delicious. Make for a week of lunches like I did, or maybe next Monday, if you subscribe to #MeatlessMondays!

Red Lentil Soup

(Adapted from Ozlem’s Turkish Table)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 3 red potatoes, cubed
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt & pepper
  • Lemon wedges, extra red pepper flakes, and/or  for serving if desired
Instructions: 
  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot.
  2. Once the oil is heated, add the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until softened and fragrant, 6-8 minutes.
  3. Add the lentils, potatoes, carrots, and stock to the pot. Simmer for ~30 minutes, until the lentils and vegetables are cooked.
  4. Stir in the cumin, paprika, and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes. Lower heat and cook for a 10+ additional minutes.
  5. Taste and add salt & pepper as desired.
  6. Stir in lemon juice just prior to serving.
  7. Serve with lemon wedges, mint, and/or extra crushed red pepper flakes.
Makes 4-6 servings.

Spinach & Feta Börek

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Now that we’ve started using filo dough (see: Baklava – we’ve made it twice since posting it!), we’ve gained a little bit of confidence in working with the thin, finicky dough. So I knew Selim would want to tackle börek next. He loves börek – although it’s kind of hard to say it’s his favorite food, because there are about a million different types of börek. In Turkey, börek is essentially any dish prepared with yufka, which is (depending on when and where you read about it) the same as filo dough, the precursor of filo dough, or a slightly different texture from filo dough. I’m not educated enough to know which one it is. I do know that börek is delicious in every form I’ve ever had it and that this spinach-stuffed version is a quite traditional one.

I was eating some of this börek for lunch the other day in a breakroom at the hospital, when someone said, “Oh wow that smells delicious… What is it, spanakopita?” I could feel my husband cringing from a floor away. We’ll pause to let him go on his rant about Turkish food – how he would’ve answered had the friendly, innocent question been posed to him.

Selim: Many Americans love Mediterranean food and seem to always associate this with Greek food. So somehow, this has turned into Greek food being the most beloved cuisine, representing an entire region. Even more so, I feel like Americans think that the Greeks were the originators and only true architects of so many of the best dishes of the Middle East and Mediterranean. In fact, many of your favorites, originated elsewhere: baklava came out of the Ottoman palace kitchens in modern day Istanbul, while hummus was first documented in 13th century Cairo. The vast reach of the Ottoman empire and centuries of trading routes surely contributes to the regional spread of cuisine – you can find dishes with very similar ingredients and preparations, but different names from the Balkans to the Levant, the Caucasus to Northern African. (This is not to say that there aren’t amazing Greek chefs or delicious dishes of Greek origin – the Greeks truly aren’t the subject of my rant.) I just hate that other cultures don’t get their due. Obviously, I’m biased as I’m ethnically half Turkish, but I wish Turkish cuisine was more recognized, available, and beloved in the US. So in short, while similar, this is börek, not spanakopita.

Spinach & Feta Börek

(Adapted from Sultan’s Kitchen by Özcan Ozan)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 lbs fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup clarified butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 3 eggs, divided
  • 16oz feta cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • ~20 sheets filo dough
  • Salt & pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Prepare the filling: cook the spinach briefly in boiling water over medium heat until wilted. Drain the water and squeeze the spinach to remove any additional water.
  3. Chop up the spinach.
  4. In a large pan oven medium heat, heat 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup clarified butter.
  5. Add the onions and spinach and cook for just 3-4 minutes until onions have softened.
  6. Allow the mixture to cool.
  7. Once cool, stir in the cheese, parsley, and 2 whisked eggs. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  8. Whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup clarified butter, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 egg, and milk.
  9. Brush this mixture on the bottom of a cookie sheet. Begin layering the filo dough, brushing each new layer with the butter mixture.
  10. Once halfway through the filo dough (~10 sheets), spread all of the spinach and cheese mixture out evenly.
  11. Resume layering the rest of the filo dough, brushing with the butter mixture as before, including a thorough coating over the last layer.
  12. Using a sharp knife, slice the börek into squares or triangles.
  13. Bake for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 degrees and bake an additional 20 minutes.
  14. Allow the börek to stand for 10 minutes before eating.

 

Baklava

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Filo dough can be very intimidating to work with.  It’s hard to find, not used in American cuisine, and requires patience to handle.  We learned that filo dough originated in the kitchens of Topkapı Palace, where the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire once lived.  When people think of filo dough, most think of decadent sweets like baklava, but filo dough is also be used for savory snacks like borek (filo layered with spinach & feta).  We haven’t made borek yet, but trust us, it’ll be on the blog soon enough.

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Gate to Topkapi Palace

Naturally, when we started to make baklava, we had to call my father, Baba (Turkish for father), since he’s our resident Turkish food expert.  He loves the blog and hopefully will love the shout out as well.  He gave us some tips for how to make the best baklava possible and include how finely to grind the walnuts, how thick the walnut layer should be, and also that the best baklava sets for a couple days to really absorb all the sweet syrup.  Baba also shared a great story from when he was a child and my Babaanne (father’s mother = grandmother) would make baklava, she would have to lock the finished baklava in another room so my father and his siblings wouldn’t eat it all before it was perfectly set.  Of course, we had to try it as soon as we poured the syrup over it… but when we tried it again for breakfast the next day, we both agree that it only gets better as it sets for a day or two.

We hope you enjoy this decadently sweet treat, your sweet tooth will thank us.

Baklava

(Adapted from the cookbook Sultan’s Table, by Ozçan Ozan with tips from Selim’s father)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 3 cups + 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 cups (~300g) walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted, clarified butter
  • 40 sheets of filo dough (usually 2 packages)
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. (If you have clarified butter, melt the appropriate amount. If you only have regular butter, melt it in a saucepan and then skim off the foam and slowly pour the liquid into a bowl making sure to not transfer solid milk fats which are at the bottom.)
  3. Prepare the syrup: combine cold water and 3 cups of sugar in a medium saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes, then lower heat to a simmer. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in the lemon juice and allow to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, combine walnuts and 2 tbsp sugar in food processor. Process until “medium” ground – don’t let it get too fine.
  6. Now brush the inside of a large cookie sheet with clarified butter.
  7. Place a sheet of filo dough in the pan. Brush with another little bit of clarified butter. Continue in this pattern until you’ve placed half of the sheets (~20) of filo dough in the pan.
  8. Now spread the walnut mixture onto the top layer of filo dough. Drizzle with more clarified butter.
  9. Return to the pattern of layering dough and clarified butter until you use all of the rest of the filo dough sheets. Brush the top layer and the edges with clarified butter.
  10. Take a very sharp knife and dip it into hot water. Slice down halfway through the height of the dough into the size and shape of baklava pieces you want at the end.
  11. Bake for 25 minutes in the center of the oven.
  12. Lower heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.
  13. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
  14. Slice all the way through, along the lines you previously made.
  15. Pour the syrup over top, along the cut lines.
  16. Top with additional ground nuts if desired.

Spinach & Feta Gözleme

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What’s the first thing people think of when they think of Turkish food? Kofte is the first thing for most people, but there’s so much more! Don’t worry, we’re going to keep cooking our way through them and sharing with you here. Gözleme is one of the many great Turkish street foods. (Lahmacun is another that if you haven’t tried from our blog, you should soon!) So good in fact that it has spread from Turkey to the rest of the world. In Australia, there’s a fast food place, called Gözleme King, devoted to making different types of gözleme. This spinach and cheese preparation is a fairly traditional one, but gözleme can contain pretty much anything! In the future we’re definitely going to throw in some sucuk (Turkish sausage). But as is, this dish is amazing. The dough is soft, light, and just a bit crispy on the edges. And it essentially goes without saying that the warm feta brings it all of the flavors together perfectly.

*So speaking of feta… Let’s talk about feta. I know so many people who loooove feta. I’m one of them, obviously. We could form a fan club if y’all want? But here’s the thing, a lot of people I know have only ever had the pre-crumbled, standard grocery store feta. I used to be one of them. As with many other things, when I started dating Selim, my narrowly bounded world of feta expanded. If you think feta only exists in its pre-crumbled form and you love it anyway, please go out and find some block feta in brine. Your world will be changed forever, I promise. (Mine was!) The flavor and texture are so much better – you’ll never go back. Sadly, not all of your standard grocery stores will have feta like this. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods usually do, but if yours doesn’t, try an international grocery store, a halal market, or a Middle Eastern specialty shop. While you’re there, try all the different types of feta and Middle Eastern cheeses, your cheese-world will be forever changed.

We have two go-tos when it comes to making Turkish recipes. The first is Ozcan Ozan’s cookbook that I’ve referenced on here before. But the second is a blog called Ozlem’s Turkish Table. Tonight’s recipe is adapted from there. It is a wonderful resource for all things Turkish food!

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Spinach & Feta Gözleme

(Adapted from Ozlem’s Turkish Table)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp + 2 tsp olive oil + more for brushing
  • 1 tbsp plain greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup water + more
  • 1/2 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups (loosely packed) spinach, roughly chopped
  • 6oz feta*
Instructions: 
  1. Begin by making the dough. Take 1/2 cup of warm water and stir in the pinch of salt and yeast. Allow to sit for a few minutes until it begins to bubble.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast mixture, yogurt, and 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add additional water by the tablespoon. (I used an additional 2-3 tbsp).  Using your hands, form into a big ball of dough.
  3. Once you have a ball of dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for several minutes.
  4. Divide into 4 similarly sized smaller balls. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for ~30 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Pour 2 tsp of olive oil into a pan over medium heat.
  6. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and onions. Sprinkle with the spices and stir.
  7. Cook just for 4-5 minutes until soft and fragrant, but not starting to brown.
  8. Add the spinach and a couple drops of water to the pan and cover. Leave covered for just a minute or two, until the spinach has wilted just a bit.
  9. Remove the lid and stir together well. Allow to cook for another minute or two with the lid off to get rid of any excess moisture.
  10. Remove to a bowl on the side. Mix in the feta.
  11. Now roll out the dough balls into large, thin, rectangular segments.
  12. Divide the mixture from the pan among the dough segments, placing in the middle of each piece of dough. Make sure to leave plenty of room around the edges for folding.
  13. Fold the dough around the mixture as pictured. (You want to end up with a little rectangular envelope.) Brush the edges with olive oil to help them stay together.
  14. Now, bring a large pan, preferably a griddle one, up to medium heat. [Don’t start until the pan is hot!]
  15. Brush both sides of each gözleme with more olive oil. Once pan is hot, place them on the pan. (You can do one at a time or if you’re more confidant in your skills than I am, as many as will comfortably fit in your pan.) Cover the pan and do not touch for three full minutes. At this time, flip to the other side, re-cover, and again, do not touch for three minutes!
  16. After this point, you may flip back and forth a few times, cooking another 4-5 minutes until dough is cooking and the outside crisped to your liking.

High Plateau Soup

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Do you love soup as much as I do? Are you looking for a little variety in your soup life? Then this might be the soup for you. A few years ago, we were in Turkey visiting Selim’s family. Over there, I basically hit the soup jackpot. Not only does Turkish cuisine include soup with most meals, which I think is a great idea, but I also got to taste several homemade varieties from Selim’s aunts and grandmother. These women sure know how to cook. While they didn’t make this particular soup while we were there, the flavors bring me right back to their kitchens in Istanbul.

If you’re reading the ingredients, you might be thinking two thoughts… 1) “Umm… isn’t yogurt supposed to be cold?” Or 2) “Uhhh… that sounds pretty simple. It’s probably not worth my time.”

Move past those thoughts. This soup is delicious! It’s creamy and comforting. It also has amazing flavor, belying its few ingredients. The flavor profile is unique, one not particularly familiar to the American palate. Give it a whirl; I’ll bet you’ll appreciate the introduction.

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Update 9/19/16: We were invited by Genie, at Bunny Eats Design, to add this recipe to her monthly link-up. Once I got over the surprise that someone out there actually read our blog (much less someone who’s blog I’ve enjoyed reading prior to this point!), I read about her link-up. It’s called Our Growing Edge and encourages participants to attempt food-related personal challenges. I love this! This post and recipe certainly fit into that goal, as I’m always wanting to create dishes true to Selim’s Turkish heritage. This month’s link-up is hosted by Chrystal at The Smallwood Parsonage, with the theme of Family Recipes. You don’t have to be invited to join – see here. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be reading through posts from past link-ups instead of studying. 


High Plateau Soup

(Recipe adapted from Sultan’s Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook, by Özcan Ozan)
Ingredients: 
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup uncooked rice
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 10 fresh mint leaves
Instructions: 
  1. Place the stock, rice, and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Stir in the paprika and salt.
  2. Decrease heat and cook at a low simmer for 20-30 minutes, until rice is cooked.
  3. Meanwhile, mix the yogurt, egg yolks, and flour together.
  4. Stir the yogurt mixture into the soup slowly. Chop up the mint leaves and add to the soup. Turn the heat down to low and cook for another ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
Makes 2 meal-sized servings or 4 servings as a starter or side to another dish.

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Lahmacun

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What is lahmacun you ask? Let’s start with pronunciation. If you’re American (or not Turkish, really), I can almost guarantee your guess is wrong. In Turkish, the pronunciation of ‘c’ as we English speakers know it, doesn’t really exist. If you see a ‘c’ in a Turkish word, think of it as an English ‘j.’ Easy enough? But wait! If you see this letter: ç, forget what I just said. Ç = ‘ch.’ The ‘c’ in lahmacun doesn’t have a tail on it, so it is pronounced as a ‘j.’ Therefore: “lah-mah-june.” 

Now that we can all say it, what is it? Well it’s the epitome of delicious Turkish street food. It originates from Southeastern Turkey (although that is debated by some, as is the origin of pretty much every beloved food I’ve ever heard of…), and is popular in Turkey, Syria, Armenia, Lebanon, and other surrounding areas. It is essentially a meat-topped flatbread. In the US and Europe it is sometimes referred to as a “Turkish pizza.” That’s a reasonably accurate description I suppose, although to me the biggest and most obvious difference is that lahmacun isn’t covered in cheese as your traditional pizza is. Lahmacun can have a variety of toppings and therefore recipe variations, but at its core it is pita dough, baked with spiced meat on top. When purchased from a street vendor, they are commonly rolled up around a salad of sorts, but can also be eaten flat as we did tonight. Lamb is more traditional than beef, but since I had beef at home, that’s what we went with today.

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Lahmacun

(Recipe adapted from Sultan’s Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook, by Özcan Ozan)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups hot water, divided
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Olive oil
  • 12oz ground beef (or lamb)
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 can (14.5oz) diced tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 10 turns fresh ground pepper

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Instructions: 
  1. First, prepare the dough. In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar, and 1/2 cup of warm water. Let sit for ~10 minutes until frothy.
  2. Add 1 cup of flour to a larger bowl. Pour the yeast mixture over top and stir. After combined, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Now add the remaining flour, remaining water, and salt. Mix with a spoon in the bowl until you have a well-combined ball of dough. Then turn out onto a lightly floured, clean, dry counter-top. Knead the dough for 10+ minutes. The dough should be firm and elastic.
  4. Pour just a tiny bit of olive oil onto a paper towel and swipe around the bottom and side of a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow to sit for 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size.
  5. While your dough is rising, prepare the meat topping. Combine all of the rest of the ingredients. (Note: the ground meat used by Turkish cooks for this dish is more finely ground than how it is generally sold in the US. I used the back of a fork and smashed the meat a little bit to make it a bit finer.)
  6. After the dough has risen, roll it out on your floured counter-top, so it is a long log. Using a sharp knife, cut into 8 equal chunks. Meanwhile, preheat your over to 450 degrees.
  7. Smash each chunk of dough with the heel of your hand so it is fairly flat. Then roll out with a rolling pin. The dough should end up slightly smaller than the size of an average dinner plate.
  8. Top the dough with your meat mixture, leaving ~1/2 inch edge.
  9. Place on a pizza stone or a flat cookie sheet. Bake on top rack for 10-12 minutes. The meat should be browned and the edges of the dough golden and a bit crispy.
This makes 8 large pieces.

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