Subways are for Sujuk

Vegetarians, steer clear. This post is about meat – red, spiced, unadulterated meat.

It was a typical subway rush hour, with typical rush-hour accessories: folded newspapers, iPads, travel mugs, messenger bags. And then there was something completely out of the ordinary.

A few straphangers away, a man in a trench coat leaned on the train door and unabashedly pulled from his backpack something that resembled a balloon animal, minus the head. It was half a foot of hardened, dark red sujuk. And he started to gnaw on it voraciously.

Sujuk, or sucuk, a dried, spiced sausage in Turkish and other Middle Eastern cuisines, is typically fried and served for breakfast with eggs or diced on top of toast – hardly a late afternoon subway snack.

And I was mistaken in presuming to be the only one who took notice: a couple minutes later, a woman within arm’s reach of the sujuk, shuffled her way back toward the opposite door, as if recalling the dramatic irony of A Lamb to the Slaughter and deciding that a hunk of meat, whatever the animal of origin, was a formidable weapon.

I asked him how it was he came to be munching on this snack as opposed to the usual mainstay bag of potato chips. Evidently, his aunt was just visiting from Turkey and had smuggled her homemade sujuk through security.

A quick digression: have you ever been stopped by airport security for edible items? Ironic, but not three weeks prior to this encounter, all bottles of my daughter’s ready-formula and jars of baby food for a continental U.S. plane ride had to be disrobed of labels and opened. Meantime, Turkish Teze, draped in tasseled scarves, clenching rolls of edible animal contraband under her arm, innocently eluded all international airport check-point personnel. I’m guessing she slipped them a slice in exchange for safe passage.

Here’s my favorite way to enjoy sujuk – sliced length-wise, pan fried, snug inside an Italian roll.

sucuk sandwich

So, in case anyone is reading this, how do you like your sujuk?  I’d love to hear!

BabaAnne’s Kuru Fasulye

Kuru Fasulye

BabaAnne, my husband’s fiery-haired grandmother, had me on the edge of my seat that entire afternoon. She and I were meeting for the first time the summer after he and I were married in 1999.  She knew me only as the reason her grandson didn’t return to Turkey and so had more than one withering glance for me.

After preliminary inspection, she barely acknowledged my presence. Cigarette in one hand, Turkish coffee in the other, she sat in a parlor chair in her Istanbul apartment like royalty in a room of onlookers, nodding her head in approval, sipping her coffee, as Tolga’s father shared family updates. Using just a couple of Turkish words carefully practiced on the airplane, I attempted to show my interest and enthusiasm.  Her dark eyes peered at me from over the horizon of the coffee she sipped.  Yeah, my parents had this great idea, go meet the family…no, I can’t go with you til next year, but I’m telling you, they’ll LOVE you… were my husband’s words, like a sweet-sounding refrain morphing into a minor chord as I sat across from her.

Known for being stubborn, opinionated, and exceedingly judgmental, I didn’t see how this would end well.  But she was also known for her kuru fasulye, a white bean stew that, despite my many formidable attempts, I’ve never been able to duplicate. She was the type for whom you’d forgive any character flaw in exchange for her beans. Using simple ingredients, a large saucepan showing years of wear, and a heavy wooden spoon, she transformed those tiny beans and chopped veggies into a heart-stopping, mouth-watering stew.

I took plates from the kitchen with the intention of setting the table.  Without warning, she turned on her heels, glared at me, waved a boney finger in my face, and only relinquished a lip-pursing after I slowly lowered the plates back down to the counter, never averting my eyes for a second, as if returning a bone to a ferocious dog about to pounce.

The stew was served with tomato rice pilaf and freshly-baked pide, a Turkish bread that resembles a round Sicilian slice of pizza, but without the sauce and cheese, and the aroma of the freshly-baked pide and the simmering beans was like nothing I had ever experienced. As I lifted the first bite toward my mouth, I can’t be sure, but I think there were church bells ringing…and fireworks outside her balcony…and a parade marching down the street.  It was THAT good.  Suddenly I didn’t care if she despised me.  As long as she fed me.

After dinner, we drank Turkish tea.  At one point, I excused myself to take the extra folding chairs from the dining room table back to the balcony where they belonged. A faint call to prayer echoed from the nearest mosque through the open door. It was time to leave, and my father-in-law took his mother’s hand, kissed it, and then touched it to his forehead, as a respectful gesture for the one who cared for and fed him as a child. My mother-in-law kissed her, and when it was my turn, she suddenly beamed at me, taking my hand for a firm handshake, and then clasped my face with her hands to kiss me on both cheeks. I was convinced she was glad to get rid of me. But as we walked back to the car, my father-in-law explained, quite surprised himself at her declaration on our way out, that my unintentional gesture at the end of the visit – returning the folding chairs to the balcony – was the gesture that won her. And I chuckled, as I imagined myself as Luke Skywalker launching my proton torpedo at the almost-impossible Death Star target.

Today, our daughter Ayla resembles this spitfire in both looks and “charm.” So in honor of this feisty lineage, her kuru fasulye, imitated but never equaled:


  • 2 cups dried white or small lima beans
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 green frying or cubanelle pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbspn tomato paste
  • salt and pepper to taste


The beans:

  • Soak the beans overnight in a large pot with 2-3 inches of water above the beans themselves
  • The next day, rinse and change the water, adding more water and boil, with lid covering only partly, cook on high for about 10 minutes
  • After the boil, remove the white foam with a wooden spoon (my mother-in-law believes this keeps the beans’ gasses to a minimum, although I haven’t been able to confirm from my own personal gastrointestinal experience…)
  • Sieve the beans, running water over them

The sauce:

  • Chop onion and pepper, peel and chop tomatoes
  • Sauté veggies in olive oil in a large saucepan, medium-high for about 15 minutes, give or take, enough to “kill” the onions
  • Add tomato paste and continue to stir


  • Add beans and 1 tea glass of water (special note:  liquids – and sometimes even dried goods – are measured, imprecisely, in tea glasses, which is roughly 4-5 ounces…as I hone the measurement further, I will provide updates!
  • Bring to a boil
  • Salt to taste

Serve with your favorite bread or pilaf.

A kofte by any other name…

When I was in the 3rd grade in 1981, I drew the shortest straw and was assigned to write a country profile on Turkey. I knew nothing about the country, other than the obvious name-sharing with our traditional Thanksgiving bird.

It was my least favorite of all the reports I did that year. My rendering of Mehmet the Conqueror resembled later-years Van Gogh, as I got lost in trying to draw the turban and forgot his ear.  3rd grade report drawing

Then in 1997, I met a Turkish man who changed my life. Previously, having sworn off romantic love, I had decided that men were like hamburgers. We have one burger in the United States. You can get this burger with a myriad of different toppings – tomato, onion, pickle, cheese…and it has a different name based on the toppings combination. But essentially it’s the same burger. The same shape, roughly the same ingredients, most always eaten between the same tedious yet innocuous burger bun.

And then I met Tolga. And, shortly thereafter, experienced a savory explosion – a Turkish burger, or kofte.

Tolga explained that each region in Turkey has its own kofte, which isn’t merely the same burger with varying toppings. It’s an entirely different take on the burger itself. Texture, shape, spice – before the kofte is plated, you already know it will be something unique, something extraordinary.

If I can de-clutter and organize years and piles of recipes on sticky notes, Mercimek in the Oven will share my passion for Turkish food, a unique and extraordinary cuisine, and include a few personal anecdotes and traditions along the way…and, maybe even preserve some edible heritage for my 3-year old daughter, Ayla.  And the blog title? A coy Turkish euphemism for having sex – and a playful undercurrent for the subjects of food, family, and fertility!

Hosgeldiniz! I warmly welcome your comments and recipe variations!