News Flash: Sunday morning, August 01, 2010

It’s hardly news to us that gastronomes rate the varied cuisines of Turkey among the world’s greatest. Nonetheless, we’re very pleased to hear National Public Radio’s Bonny Wolf wax eloquent on the pleasures and multicultural influences to be found at the Turkish table .

Topkapi Palace Kitchen
Topkapi Palace Kitchen

Fried Zucchini with Yogurt & Garlic


16- 20 oz small, firm zucchini (about 3 or 4)
1 to 2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 Garlic clove, finely chopped
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Optional garnish: Snipped fresh dill or mint.


Wash and dry zucchini. Cut it on the diagonal into 1/4 inch slices.

In a small bowl, beat the yogurt with a fork or whisk until smooth. Stir in the chopped garlic and at least 1/4 tsp salt. Set aside at room temperature.

In a non-stick sauté pan, bring 3/4 Tbs of oil to a gentle sizzle over medium-high heat. TIP: Use a slice of zucchini to spread the oil evenly across the pan.

Carefully lay down enough zucchini slices to cover the bottom of the pan. The slices may touch, but should not overlap.

Adjust the heat to maintain the low sizzle, just enough to brown the slices. After 4 minutes, check browning on the underside of one slice. With a spatula, turn over slices as they brown.

Remove slices to a shallow bowl or platter as they are lightly browned on both sides. Continue to fry raw slices and add more oil, if needed.

When all the slices have been fried, gently combine them with the garlic-yogurt, a little salt and a few grindings of black pepper. Spread the mixture on a shallow platter and garnish with fresh dill or mint.

This dish is best made at least 30 minutes before serving. Enjoy at room temperature.

Serves 4-6, as one of an assortment of meze (appetizers) in a Turkish meal.

Lentil & Bulgur Croquettes (Mercimekli Kofte)

This recipe calls for fine bulgur*, parboiled cracked wheat, sold by Middle Eastern and some Caribbean grocers. If you use coarse bulgur, available in natural food stores, the recipe will require additional liquid and may not be as easy to shape. For this recipe today, we’ll grind easy-to-find coarse bulgur in a clean coffee/spice grinder.


1 cup of red lentils (actually they are a bright apricot color)
1 1/2 cups fine bulgur*
1 Large bunch of flat-leaf parsley
1 Bunch of spearmint (at least 3/4 cup of leaves, loosely packed)
4 – 5 scallions, including green tops
3 – 4 Tbsp fruity olive oil
1 – 2 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar (Turks would use pomegranate molasses* see end note)
3 Tbs tomato paste
1 Tbs minced mild green chili (to YOUR taste; a pickled jalapeno would also be OK)
3 Tbs ground sweet paprika
1 – 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice (preferably freshly ground)
3 – 4 Lemons (for zest, juice, and garnish)
1 tsp Salt (more to taste)


Spread out lentils on a large plate or baking pan. Examine them and remove any small stones. Put the lentils in a sieve and rinse them for a few seconds under running water. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine lentils and 1 3/4 cups of water. Over medium heat, bring to a simmer; reduce heat to low, cover and cook until most of the water has been absorbed. Lentils are done when they have turned yellow and have begun to disintegrate. (If necessary, add a little more hot water so that lentils are not a stiff paste, but just a little soupy.)

Caution: Keep an eye on the pot because the lentils will foam and can easily boil over. Remove pot from heat and stir bulgur into the hot lentils. Cover and set aside. The bulgur will absorb the remaining liquid.

Finely chop the scallions, along with the leaves and tender stems of the parsley and mint. (Discard any woody stems.) NOTE: A sharp knife will yield a better texture than a food processor!

Grate the zest from one lemon. Squeeze the juice from two lemons. Set aside.

After 10 minutes, uncover and stir the cooling lentil-bulgur mixture. Bulgur should be thoroughly incorporated with the lentils. The mixture will feel like a coarse, crumbly dough.

When it is cool enough to handle, put the mixture into a large non-reactive bowl. Add all the chopped herbs, salt, dry seasonings, 2 Tbsp olive oil, lemon juice, tomato paste, and 1 Tbsp of the balsamic vinegar. Mix thoroughly with two spoons or with your hands. Pinch off a walnut-sized lump of the mixture and form it into a rough oval. Set aside, and after five minutes, taste for salt, tartness, and texture. If it seems too dry, you can add any or all of these: a little more water, balsamic vinegar, or olive oil.

When the mixture has the right taste and texture, form it all into small ovals. May be made the day before serving. Keep chilled and serve as an appetizer or light meal with fresh greens (arugula, butterhead lettuce, or hearts of romaine). Garnish with additional lemon wedges. Drizzle with more olive oil, as desired.

Grape Leaves Stuffed with Rice (Yalanci Dolma)


1 jar grape leaves packed in brine (40-50 leaves)
1 cup short or medium grain white rice
1 large yellow onion, diced
Fruity olive oil (to sauté onion and dress finished dolma)
Bunch of flat-leaf parsley
Bunch of dill
1 1/2 Tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tsp freshly ground allspice
1 Tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tsp salt (more, to taste)
½ cup toasted pine nuts
½ cup dried currants (if unavailable, substitute raisins, chopped)
2 – 3 lemons
2 cloves garlic
Garnish: Fresh dill sprigs, lemon, & tomato wedges


Put currants in a glass and barely cover with water. Allow them to swell. Grate the rind from one lemon and set aside.

In a toaster-oven (@ 275-300 F), toast the pine nuts in a dry pan. Watch carefully and remove when they are fragrant and have barely begun to color (about 7 minutes).

Finely chop the stems of the parsley and set aside. Separately, coarsely chop the leaves: 1/2 cup of stems and 1/4 cup of leaves is fine, but a bit less or more won’t matter.

Do the same with the tender dill stems and fronds (½ cup of stems and ¾ cup fronds).

In a large pan over medium heat, sauté the onion and herb stems in 2 Tbsp olive oil. As the onion begins to color, add the cinnamon, allspice, pepper, and salt. Add the rice and stir until it is coated with oil. After about 5 minutes, rice will begin to turn opaque.

At this point, carefully pour in one cup of water and let rice simmer on low heat. Stir occasionally until water is absorbed. Stir in the currants and their soaking water. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

Drain and reserve the brine from the grape leaves. On a flat surface, unroll the leaves. Snip off any long stems and reserve any torn leaves to line a 2 – 3-quart lidded pot (not aluminum).

When the rice is cool enough to handle, stir in the parsley leaves, dill fronds, lemon zest, and pine nuts. Take one grape leaf, vein side up, with the broad end of the leaf towards you. Depending on the size of the leaf, place a heaping tsp (or more) of the rice in the center of the leaf.

To roll up a leaf:

Fold bottom third of leaf over the rice, then fold each side towards the middle on a slight diagonal, to cover the mound of rice. Now, grasp the covered rice-mound and, with a little pressure, roll it away from you, tucking in the pointy side edges of the leaf as you roll. The tip of the leaf will be in the middle of the dolma, like the sealed flap of an envelope. Roll firmly, but remember that the rice will increase in volume as it cooks making each leaf a tight packet.

Place each dolma “flap-side down” in the leaf-lined pot. Pack tightly in concentric circles. When you have completely covered the bottom of the pot, begin another layer.

Use all the filling. If there are any leftover leaves, you can repack and refrigerate them for weeks in the brine or use them for lining your serving plate later.

Slice each garlic clove into 4 – 5 slivers. Cut the lemon whose rind you grated into 8 wedges and tuck them with the garlic throughout the packed dolma.

Since the leaf brine is pleasantly tart, you may use some of it or just water to deglaze the rice pan and get every bit of flavor into your dolma. Whatever you choose, pour 1¼ cups of liquid into the packed pot to simmer the dolma.

To prevent the leaves from unrolling as they cook, place a heat-proof ceramic or glass plate, slightly smaller than the diameter of the pot, atop the rolled leaves.

Over medium heat, bring the pot to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cover the pot. Set timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, check that there is still some cooking liquid, adding a little more if needed. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Virtually all liquid should have been absorbed.

Turn off the heat. Remove weighting plate and drizzle 1 – 2 Tbsp flavorful olive oil over the hot dolma. Recover pot and let it sit for at least 30 min.

Serve the dolma slightly chilled or at room temperature. Drizzle with lemon juice, more olive oil and a pinch of salt, if needed. Serve garnished with lemon and tomato wedges and snipped dill.

Rice-stuffed dolma* are best made ahead, at least a half day before serving. Refrigerated, they will keep for a week.

*Cooks of the Eastern Mediterranean make many other stuffings for leaves and vegetables. Stuffings without meat are frequently called yalandji, yalanjia, yalantsi etc., all derived from the Turkish word for “false”.

Fasulye Pilaki
Turkish White Bean Salad


Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion, sliced thinly
1 Medium Carrot, sliced thinly
2 – 3 Cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbs. Fresh marjoram, finely chopped (or half that amount, if using dried)
Antep pepper (Turkish chili pepper flakes which are moderately hot & sweet. Substitute Italian dried peperoncini)
1 Bay leaf
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 Cup crushed tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1/2 Lb. dry white beans, cooked till barely tender
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Additional olive oil
4 Tbs. Fresh mint, finely chopped


Heat a sauce pan (at least 1 quart) over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan, then saute the onion, carrot, garlic, marjoram, Antep pepper, bay leaf, and cinnamon until the onion begins to wilt and the seasonings are very fragrant.

Add the crushed tomatoes, cooked beans, and enough water to barely cover the beans. Simmer the mixture, leaving the lid on the pan but slightly ajar to let steam escape. When the carrots are nearly done to your taste (we like them al dente), turn off the heat, remove the lid and let the mixture cool. Season with salt and pepper as necessary.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a splash of fruity olive oil and a sprinkling of mint. Have some good crusty bread at hand to soak up the sauce.

Walnut and Red Pepper Dip (Muhammara)

Muhammara is an Arabic word meaning reddened. Better known in Syria than in Turkey, this version is from Gaziantep, the gastronomic capital of southeastern Turkey, not far from the Syrian border.


3 very ripe large red bell peppers– seeded, cored, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 fresh mild green chili (seeded & cored)—or a few slices of pickled jalapeno
¼ cup ground sweet paprika
10 oz broken walnut meats
3 – 4 slices good bread–white or whole wheat
(Day-old is OK; it will be toasted and broken up to go into the spread)
Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
1 small clove of garlic
Very fruity, extra-virgin olive oil
Optional: 1 – 2 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses*
1 large lemon (for zest and juice)
Salt to taste (at least 1/4 tsp)


In a toaster-oven (@ 275-300 F), toast the walnuts in a dry pan. Watch carefully and remove when they are fragrant (8-10 minutes).

Lightly toast the slices of bread.

Roughly chop the parsley stems and garlic and put into a food processor fitted with its metal blade.

When the nuts and toast have cooled, break the toast coarsely into the food-processor. Add the nuts, parsley leaves (about ½ cup) lemon zest, & juice, green chili, paprika, and salt. Pulse to get an even, crumbly mixture.

Begin adding the red pepper chunks, pulsing as you go. When you have added them all, pour in 2 – 3 Tbsp olive oil and process. If the paste is too thick, add 1-2 Tbsp water. Pulse. I prefer a little chunkiness, but you can process longer for more smoothness. Taste for salt and sweetness. You may add a little of the optional balsamic vinegar to balance the flavor.

Make and chill at least 2 hours before serving. To serve, spread the muhammara no more than 1” deep on a shallow platter. Drizzle a little more oil atop and garnish with parsley. Enjoy as a dip for endive, fennel, celery, or thin slices of bread.

* Pomegranate molasses, nar pekmez in Turkish, is pomegranate juice that has been heated to a syrupy consistency, a process that preserves it and concentrates its flavor. Used sparingly in savory dishes, to spike other flavors, it is well known in the kitchens of Turkey’s Arab borderlands. Though it lacks the viscosity of nar pekmez, balsamic vinegar is a serviceable substitute.

When you visit Turkey, you’ll discover that Turks are enthusiastically engaged in preserving and teaching these traditional recipes. Watch a short video on the topic.