CacIk for Summer Heat


It’s been HOT.

Dashboard doesn’t lie.

And, until it cools down, that’s all the narrative I can swing…

Turks use cacIk (pronounced JUH-juk) as a refreshing soup-able side or with additional water and ice and mint as a yogurt drink. I’ve used it also as a salad dressing. And thanks to my Uncle Joe, I had the sweetest garden-fresh cucumbers for this recipe!

Ingredients

  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and grated
  • 1 tbspn olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed

Instructions

  1. peel, seed, and grate cucumber; lightly salt and put aside
  2. mix remaining ingredients in separate bowl
  3. mix together and chill
  4. serve with sprig of fresh mint or dill

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For thinner cacIk (drink, soup, salad dressing), use a non-strained yogurt. For thicker, use a strained yogurt.

A (carrots) Rainbow of My Very Own

Once upon a time…before baby, when “date nights” were plentiful and leisurely meals were savored without a second thought as to what we’d owe the sitter if we linger another 15 minutes, we regularly frequented our neighborhood Turkuaz on the Upper West Side. With its warmly-lit, tented ceilings and its vast array of hot and cold small plates (and a spouse who could order in Turkish, which worked rather well for me…think Jamie Lee Curtis’s character in A Fish Called Wanda…), Turkuaz always delivered a delicious escape from the bustling city.

When Turkuaz first opened, at the start of the meal, they served a dip of carrots with yogurt – yogurtlu havuc salatasi – with warm pide bread. Loved it so much I had to run home and duplicate. And today I’m duplicating with rainbow carrots to create 3 different colored carrot dips.

Ingredients

yogurt sauce:

  • 4 cups of plain Greek yogurt
  • 3-4 cloves of minced/crushed raw garlic
  • 1 tsp salt (less or more, as desired)

carrots:

  • 3 pounds of rainbow carrots, separated by color
  • 5-6 tablespoons of olive oil

Instructions

yogurt sauce:

  1. in large mixing bowl, mix yogurt, garlic, and salt
  2. set aside

carrots:

  1. separate carrots by color (e.g., yellows, purples, oranges) – you’ll be making 3 separate dips, so have 3 small mixing bowls on-hand
  2. start with the orange carrots; in a food processor (another example of my culinary laziness – Turks would grate the carrots…but when I grate, I eat skin), finely chop orange carrots
  3. saute finely chopped carrots in 1 ½ – 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat to soften
  4. put aside in small mixing bowl to cool
  5. repeat for purple carrots…
  6. repeat for yellow carrots…
  7. after carrots have cooled, blend yogurt mixture to each of the softened carrot bowls, add additional salt to taste as needed
  8. garnish with fresh dill (my dexterity for garnishing was never…well, just see below…but these dips are so pretty, they can withstand even the clumsiest hand!)

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Turkish Coffee (when sleep isn’t on the menu…)

IMG_3278My kid didn’t sleep through the night until she was three…years…old. Sounds somewhat amusing, but, for anyone who has ever experienced similar long-term sleep deprivation, this is far from funny. Losing one’s cell phone because it’s in the fridge next to the cheddar cheese (what, isn’t that where you keep yours?), pouring orange juice into morning coffee, walking into walls, bursting into tears when the local pizzeria is out of fresh garlic topping, because, let’s face it, no one’s putting mercimek in the oven that night anyway (the lens of exhaustion makes one’s mild-mannered husband resemble the antichrist), and, oh, the blunder to end all sleep-deprived blunders: calling your boss, “mom” – all of these require some years and some distance to conjure an appropriate chuckle.  For these, and countless other “finest” moments, a Turkish coffee gets the job done.

This coffee is made of finely-ground, powder-like coffee, water, and sugar, and prepared in a special Turkish coffee pot, called a cezve, usually made of copper and with a long handle. It’s also customary, after drinking the coffee, to turn the cup upside down on the saucer, and then use the settled grounds in the cup to tell the drinker’s fortune.

Ingredients

  • 3 espresso/demitasse cups of water
  • 3 heaping teaspoons of Turkish coffee
  • 2-3 teaspoons of sugar for a “medium-sweet” coffee (remember how James Bond took his Turkish coffee in From Russia with Love?)

Instructions

  1. Simmer the ingredients in a cezve – the idea is to froth the coffee, without boiling it
  2. Serve in espresso cup (or, just take all 3 cups you brewed and put into one big, American-sized coffee mug!)

Really Bad Eggs…

Actually, menemen, the recipe I’m sharing today, is a delicious egg dish. The really bad eggs are my own…

So how do you know when your family is complete? Our “only” is quite an energetic and vivacious handful, and yet there’s a tremendous force from within – something resembling my intense morning coffee thirst…one cup, then another, then another… Thou shalt procreate. Again.

It’s a difficult question. And exceedingly personal. My head’s been going back and forth between two paddles in a game of table tennis. The first to “serve” were the old images of big Italian families, surrounded by bunches of children (all well-behaved, of course)…but then those images were volleyed back by my own need for individual pursuits and meaningful engagement in the world…which then got whacked back by the guilt of not providing my daughter with the sibling I perceive her to want more than the brownie in front of her…which then was blocked by the logistical mobility and financial flexibility that having one child affords…and then smashed by previously-dormant-but-now-fully-panicked inner stereotypes of onlies being selfish, unable to share or play well with others, never learning how to compromise…and finally counter-smashed by my defiance to keep from blindly bending toward any cultural or societal stereotype. No clear winner. Just a headache.

It seemed like a prudent course of action to return to the fertility clinic and see if I’ve still got game. The disappointing, although not surprising, truth: barely. And while that doesn’t render all the aforementioned musings moot, it puts a few extra obstacles in front of me.

It’s hard to let go sometimes. For so long, and with so many in vitro attempts, I weighed myself in eggs. But now it’s time to appreciate that I’m more than a mere carton of really bad eggs. Since it’s the season of Easter and renewal, I’ll just close with an egg hunt metaphor: if I persist in loving more fully those in front of me and in delving more deeply into the relationship I have with myself, I’ll find new life in places I didn’t even expect.

Here’s how to make menemen, eggs with tomatoes, onions, and peppers.

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 eggs
  • 3 peeled tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cubanelle peppers, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped

IMG_9971I throw everything to be chopped into a food processor because I’m lazy and a little clumsy when it comes to chopping, but Anne insists it’s better to chop otherwise the juices come out in the food processor instead of the pan.  (NOTE:  my daughter’s knife is a child’s knife…never put a sharp blade into the hand of a tiny person…although one could say the same for me…)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 – 1 ½ teaspoons salt

 

Instructions:

  1. In large skillet, sauté onion in olive oil on high, about 5 minutes
  2. Add peppers, continue to sauté
  3. Add tomatoes and salt and turn to medium heat for about 10 minutes until most of the water is evaporated
  4. Make little pockets within the veggies to rest the eggs and crack open an egg to each pocket
  5. Cover and cook on low heat for another 15 minutes, or until the eggs are fully cooked

The Great Kabak TatlIsI

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Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year because it’s the season of the pumpkin.  I love carving jack-o-lanterns, toasting pumpkin seeds, making (and eating) pumpkin pie, and smothering my face in a yummy, tingly pumpkin mask (does anyone remember The Great Pumpkin Mask that Sephora made some years ago?  Heaven in a jar…).

Some years ago, my mother-in-law gave me yet another reason to delight in the season with a recipe for kabak tatlIsI, a Turkish pumpkin sweet.  It’s easy – and its sweetness can be easily tailored to your own taste.

Here’s hoping the Great Kabak TatlIsI makes it to your pumpkin patch this year!

Ingredients

  • ~3 pounds of pie pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 tea glasses of sugar (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 glass of water (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 glass of crushed walnuts (about 1/2 cup)
  • whipped cream (optional)

Instructions

  1. peel and slice the pumpkin into thick wedges; set seeds aside for roasting, if desired
  2. arrange wedges into a shallow saucepan
  3. add sugar, add water to pumpkin
  4. cover and simmer for ~30-40 minutes – pumpkin should be tender but should not break apart at the least provocation…
  5. plate, pour over sugar syrup, sprinkle with walnuts…and enjoy!

My own mother likes to add a dollop of whipped cream before the nuts…and since it’s a holiday, anything goes!

If at first you don’t succeed…PIRASA

Nine cycles of in vitro fertilization (IVF).  Nine.  For those who aren’t familiar, a single cycle of IVF medications and ultrasounds and surgical procedures and non-surgical procedures can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks, often necessitating breaks and more tests in between cycles, and the requisite holding-of-one’s-breath for an additional 2 weeks to pee on a stick.  And of course, as you may have already read from Yalya CorbasI, it ain’t over, even then…

So our statistical mantra, borrowed from Aristotle’s Cardinal Virtues, for bringing home baby was fortitude, and persistence.  Then, of course, getting baby to eat pIrasa requires a similar virtue.  PIrasa is a dish of braised leeks with carrots, rice, lemon juice, and a hint of sugar.  It should be love-at-first-bite, but, like many things in our lives, this took a few tries before Ayla looked forward to her leeks.

IMG_3037Ingredients

  • 3 tbpsn arborio rice, washed
  • 8 long carrots, cut on the bias
  • 6 leeks, trimmed and cut into 1-2 inch-wide pieces
  • 4-6 tbspn olive oil
  • 1 tbspn salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 1/2 cup boiling water

Instructions

  1. remove the outer layers of the leeks and trim off the bottoms and tops, then cut into inch/inch-and-a-half-wide pieces; rinse well
  2. heat olive oil in large saucepan on medium heat
  3. add leeks and carrots, stir then cover, and let them “sweat” as Anne says…about 5 minutes
  4. add rice, cover again for another 5 minutesIMG_8483
  5. add salt, sugar, lemon juice, boiling water; stir and cover
  6. cook on medium-low heat for about 25-30 minutes

This dish is one of my sister’s personal faves and is versatile in that it may be served warm or cold!

A Fig Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Turkish Figs with Walnuts & Hazelnuts (Incir TatlIsI)

In May of 2006, my in-laws took us on a road trip from Ankara to the Aegean.  The morning of departure was beautiful – warm, cloudless, dry…and far away from the realities of my infertility waiting for me back home in New York.

My brother-in-law bid us farewell and hurled the contents of his Hacettepe University water bottle at the car as we were leaving. It’s customary in Turkey to splash water on a car embarking on a trip to wish a speedy return, like the ebb and flow of a tide. And while typical to use a bucket – an instance in which more is better, or, at least more accurate to this example – his choice of vessel demonstrated his modernized, waste-not urban take on the tradition.

For the first couple of hours, the car window framed a rocky, semi-arid Anatolian terrain. On the stereo, Turkish/Arab hip-hop belly-dancing from an old cassette tape blasted over the soft roar from the open windows. “These are Tolga’s favorites,” his father shared with an inaccurate paternal pride.  The conversation then segued into why my husband wouldn’t shave his beard, why wouldn’t we consider buying a summer place in Turkey to be closer to the family who, of course, weren’t getting any younger (insert whatever medical test results his parents received the week before…), and then shifted to a bride – any bride – for Tolga’s happily-single younger brother. A few minutes later, a small herd of sheep waddled across the road, and Anne (mother) began poking Baba (father) to slow down.  “Yavas, Oktay! YAAAAHVAAAHSH!!!” (slow, Oktay, slow)  My father-in-law, who was already exceedingly cautious and uncomfortable behind the wheel, having had a government chauffeur for most of his working days, and, otherwise, a car without power steering, narrowly escaped a ditch on the side of the road.

We stopped to refuel – a couple of ounces of Turkish tea. Blazing sun cast an amber glow through prismed Turkish tea glasses nestled in small gold-painted porcelain plates, and warm proprietors served us in the traditional hospitality for which this country is known. Smiles beckoning us to linger, they offered pieces of sweet lokum, or Turkish delights, made with carrot and coconut, as a welcome gesture for the family with the touring American, who, glancing at her watch and counting the New York minutes, seemed to not quite grasp the concept of vacation. A quick stretch at a Garden State Parkway rest-stop with a Starbucks latte seemed to me a more suitable way to layover and not lose time…but it was early in the vacation, and I hadn’t yet understood that I wasn’t losing anything at all.

Almost to Marmaris, in a daring gesture that tried my road-trip-patience, my husband detoured to Aphrodisias, an archaeological site southeast of Izmir, which was not on our prescribed agenda and would take us at least two hours out of our way. He grinned at me and turned off the main road toward the ancient city.

AphrodisiasBaba, assuming his position as appointed tour guide and master of Turkish history, art, and architecture (and making up whatever he couldn’t conjure from memory…), shared details in his broken English about the site and its significance.  But his voice faded into the background as we came upon a towering structure – a tetrapylon, a magnificent gateway into the ancient town in front of the Temple of Aphrodite.  Evidently, it survived multiple earthquakes, including ones from the 4th century and the 7th century. The stone archway, stationary and steadfast, seemed also alive in a magnificent, upward stretch. On the ground, tiny purple flowers burst through the stone cracks of amazingly preserved intricate etchings, juxtaposing possibility amidst the harshest of conditions. This was going to be my sign. And I’m not about signs or fated moments. I’m pragmatic, task-oriented, even slightly cynical in deep-down places. But this was going to be the symbol of something transformative, something that is created, regardless of situation or environment or innate ability. And Aphrodite was going to be my patron goddess of fertility.

Fig TreeAnne found a place to sit under a large, green fig tree – larger than any I’d ever seen. Figs have always had a special place in my family. My mother’s family have shoots of a fig tree that came from my grandmother, who transported it down to the Jersey Shore from the Bronx, and before that, from Brooklyn (ostensibly, it may have come over from Italy during one of my great-grandfather’s many travels across the Atlantic, but, for lack of confirmation, we leave it as having originated in Brooklyn…). Fruits from the tree’s descendants are enjoyed by my family every September, so it was unusual to be in a place where they were ripening in May. The fig – in its abstract a symbol of fertility, and in its familiar a personal harvest ritual – was rolling around in my mind as I stroked the soft, furry leaf within reach. Aphrodite, a tremendous force for change, was beckoning me to inhale the air, drink in the soil and surroundings, and move beyond the fears and frustrations and evidence-based in-vitro success rates under which I’d been trapped for months.

At the time, I still didn’t know if I’d ever be able to have a baby, but in that moment, intoxicated by some semblance of a Dionysian and ancestral sensory overload, I felt myself surrendering…giving up a tight grip on how my life was going to unfold. Can figs and ancient temples do all that?  Well, I find that surrendering is helped along in no small part by something called incir tatLIsI (fig sweet or dessert)…and a ton of whipped cream… incir_tatlIsI

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of dried Turkish figs (fresh figs work *beautifully*, too, and require less water, if you can get them)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts and hazelnuts
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • fresh lemon juice

Instructions:

  1. Simmer figs in water for 20 minutes, drain water, let cool
  2. Chop nuts – however you wish! (This recipe originally came to me with a 20-minute debate on the best way to chop nuts: Baba painstakingly sliced each nut by hand citing nebulous Turkish elders as his authority, Anne secured them in a zip-lock bag on the counter and then whacked them with a ladle on the kitchen counter…all with a little too much pleasure, I might add…and, then, being a geek with kitchen gadgets, I took out my trusty food processor to loosely grind them on a low speed)
  3. In a bowl, mix the nuts, half the sugar, and cinnamon
  4. Take each fig and gently remove the stem tip with a sharp knife; the figs will be fragile, so proceed slowly
  5. Stuff the figs with the mixture
  6. Place into a wide saucepan, aligning them like cozy relatives, until the pan is full, then add ¼ cup water and the remaining sugar and squeeze fresh lemon juice over the lot before covering and placing back on the stove over medium heat for 15 minutes.
  7. Enjoy with whipped cream

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:

Ingredients:

  • 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

Instructions:

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

Now:

  • 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.