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Comforting (and gluten-free) Spinach with ground meat, onions & wholegrain basmati rice – Kiymali Ispanak

Comforting & delicious Spinach with ground meat, onions and wholegrain basmati rice - also gluten-free!

Comforting & delicious Spinach with ground meat, onions and wholegrain basmati rice – also gluten-free!

Kiymali Ispanak, Spinach with ground meat, onions and rice is one of my favorite comfort food that I turn to often. Spinach is a much loved vegetable in Turkey and often finds its way in boreks, savory pastries and also enjoyed with eggs. This dish, like other all-in-one pan dishes called “Tencere Yemekleri” in Turkish, is a popular one at home. Spinach, rice and ground meat are cooked together in the pan, with a generous tomato based sauce to dip your bread in. It is very easy to cook, delicious and you have a complete, healthy dish in a short time. This meal is also gluten-free if you use wholegrain basmati rice.

Scrumptious array of home cooked stews, stuffed vegetables, dolmas, koftes and more at traditional lokantas in Turkey

Scrumptious array of home cooked stews, stuffed vegetables, dolmas, koftes and more at traditional lokantas in Turkey

“Tencere Yemekleri” is also popular by the locals, enjoyed at  the traditional, local restaurants called “Esnaf Lokantasi”. Trays of mouthwatering precooked and gently heated bean stews, rice, vegetables cooked in olive oil, stuffed vegetables, spinach with onion and eggs and many more are displayed in a buffet style. This is slowly cooked “fast food”, Turkish style; all you need to do is to pick up your tray and point to the Chef, Asci, which dishes you would like to try. They are ever so inviting, healthy, delicious, great value and a wonderful way to sample some home style Turkish meals. We enjoyed this feast in Asik Restaurant in Didyma during our Culinary & Cultural Turkey tour this year; really a feast to all senses.

Kiymali Ispanak; Spinach with ground meat, onions and rice, a complete, healthy & delicious meal.

Kiymali Ispanak; Spinach with ground meat, onions and rice, a complete, healthy & delicious meal.

I hope you enjoy this favorite comfort food featuring spinach. I like to use all the stems and leaves of the spinach, once washed well. Plain or garlic yoghurt with crusty bread aside go really well with this spinach meal.

Bulgur and potato patties with spring onion; bulgurlu, patatesli kofte

Bulgur and potato patties with spring onion; bulgurlu, patatesli kofte

We also enjoy this potato and bulgur patties, bulgurlu & patatesli kofte, to go with this spinach dish; they are delicious to dip into wonderful sauce of the spinach meal.

Serves  4

750 gr/1lb 10oz fresh spinach, washed and coarsely chopped

2 medium onions, finely chopped

225gr/8oz/1 cup ground beef

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

90gr/3 ½ oz. / ½ cup wholegrain basmati rice, rinsed and drained

30ml/2 tbsp. tomato paste (or 1 tbsp. double concentrated tomato paste)

30ml/ 2 tbsp. olive oil

750ml/ 1 ¼ pints/3 cups hot water

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Plain natural yoghurt to serve

Red pepper flakes to serve

Heat the olive oil in a heavy, deep pan. Stir in the onions and cook until golden. Add the ground beef and garlic, stir and cook for a few minutes, until the juice from the meat is evaporated. Add the rinsed rice, tomato paste and the hot water, stir well. Once the mixture starts to bubble, add the chopped spinach and season with salt and ground black pepper. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat for about 25 minutes.

Comforting & delicious Spinach with ground meat, onions and wholegrain basmati rice - also gluten-free!

Comforting Spinach with ground meat, onions and wholegrain basmati rice

You can serve this delicious spinach meal with a dollop of plain yoghurt over the top, sprinkled with red pepper flakes. Fresh, crusty bread aside is ideal to mop up the delicious juices.

Afiyet Olsun,

Ozlem

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Simply delicious Aegean flavors;Eggplants, tomatoes, onions, peppers cooked in olive oil & Fascinating Didyma

Kusadasi Bay, Turkey

Kusadasi Bay, Turkey

The Aegean cost of Turkey has a special place in my heart. Perhaps it is the many happy childhood holidays we spent in local resorts in Ayvalik, Gumuldur and Cesme, where many Turkish families have summer houses. As soon as the schools close, we all would dream about the coast, swimming at the turquoise Aegean, playing for hours at the golden sandy beaches and the next ice cream – a piece of heaven.

Fig trees at the Ephesus

Fig trees at the Ephesus

Spring in the air at the Aegean region, Turkey

Spring in the air at the Aegean region, Turkey

 

I don’t have the chance to go back to the Aegean as often as I like and every opportunity is very welcome. Once a year, I host and organise a Culinary & Cultural tour to Turkey, aiming to show my homeland from a local’s perspective – I greatly look forward to these trips and enjoy every minute of sharing this special land with folks. It has been delightful to be back to the breathtaking Aegean region again this April. Spring has been in full bloom; artichoke fields everywhere; the silver, beautiful olive trees welcomes you along the way; fig trees surprise you at the Ephesus – such a beautiful, bountiful region. During our tour, we always enjoy the local cuisine and learn how to cook delicious Turkish food together. This time, we again stopped by the lovely Bizimev Hanimeli to cook  and enjoy delicious Aegean flavors with Hatice Hanim.

Hatice Hanim and family, at Bizimev Hanimeli

Hatice Hanim and family, at Bizimev Hanimeli

I have met Hatice Hanim a few years ago; always with a smile at her face, she has been sharing her love of Turkish cuisine and feeding a remarkable crowd everyday at their Bizimev Hanimeli Restaurant, as well as teaching the local cuisine to enthusiasts like us. It is a real family affair; her husband, son, daughter, daughter-in-law all involved running this wonderful business. I love the fact  that they grow all their fresh produce, herbs, vegetables and fruits  in their beautiful garden and make their own olive oil. It is very remarkable that they grew their business all by themselves with a lot of hard work and maintained the same friendly service and the offer of high quality, consistent, delicious food. When I asked Hatice Hanim what kept her going in tough times, she smiled and said;If you respect your land, the nature, treat your helpers, family well and keep your spirits up, you find a way at the end. Hard work with a kind heart opens the doors for you; always believe in yourself.” How true; her words sealed in my mind.

Cooking together at Hanimeli, near Sirince, Turkey

Cooking together at Hanimeli, near Sirince, Turkey

We prepared a delicous 4 course meal with Hatice Hanim, in just over 1 hour – look forward to sharing all these recipes in the coming weeks- .Using their fresh produce from the garden and the olive oil, we made this wonderful Zeytinyagli Patlican; Eggplants, onions, garlic and tomatoes cooked in olive oil; simple, seasonal ingredients produced such a delicious, memorable taste. We like to eat Zeytinyaglis, Vegetables Cooked in Olive Oil in room temperature. It is also delicious when served cold. I hope you enjoy it and can have a go sometime.

Zeytinyagli Patlican; Eggplants cooked in olive oil with vegetables

Zeytinyagli Patlican; Eggplants cooked in olive oil with vegetables

Zeytinyagli Patlican; Eggplants, Onions, Garlic, Peppers and Tomatoes Cooked in Olive Oil

Serves 4

3-4 small Holland (dark purple) eggplants/aubergines

2 medium onions, halved and chopped in thin slices

1 green pointy pepper, coarsely chopped

1 red pointy pepper, coarsely chopped

3-4 medium tomatoes, halved and sliced

5-6 garlic cloves, quartered

3 medium tomatoes, skinned and chopped finely or 14oz/400 gr Italian chopped tomatoes

45ml/3 tablespoon olive oil

Handful of flat leaf parsley

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to serve – optional

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the eggplants in zebra stripes. Cut each eggplant in half length wise and then about 1/2 inch thick slices. Lay them on a wide flat tray and generously season with salt. This will help the moisture to come out of the eggplants. Leave for about 15 minutes. Drain the water that came out of the eggplants and squeeze them with a paper towel to extract the excess water.

Layer the sliced onions, garlic, pepper and eggplants one at a time.

Layer the sliced onions, garlic, pepper and eggplants one at a time.

Pour the olive oil in a heavy pan and spread the half of the sliced onions and garlic. Then spread half of the sliced peppers and a layer of sliced eggplants over them.

Repeat the layering with the remaining vegetables

Repeat the layering with the remaining vegetables

Repeat the same layering procedure for the 2nd half of onions, garlic, peppers and eggplants, and pour over the diced tomatoes. If you have any remaining eggplant slices left, layer them over the top.

Add the sliced tomatoes and a handful of parsley over the top.

Add the sliced tomatoes and a handful of parsley over the top.

Spread the sliced tomatoes over the very top and place a handful of flat leaf parsley. Season with salt and ground pepper and cover the pan. Start cooking at a medium heat for the first 5-8 minutes, then turn to heat to low and cook for  a further 3o minutes, until all the vegetables are cooked.

Delighted with the outcome :)!

Delighted with the outcome :)!

The vegetables here has been cooked in their own juices over low heat, and each of them just melt in your mouth!  The cooked  eggplants, garlic onions so scrumptious, packed with flavor. Seasonal produce cooked this way are not only healthy, but also very easy and delicious too.

 

Zeytinyagli Patlican; eggplants cooked in olive oil with vegetables

Zeytinyagli Patlican; eggplants cooked in olive oil with vegetables

 

I hope you enjoy this delicious eggplant dish, as you see, delicious food can also be healthy and easy. A few good seasonal produce, some olive oil and fresh herbs can produce wonders. You can drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the dish before serving and decorate with sliced peppers if you like.  Traditionally, we like to eat Zeytinyaglis, Vegetables Cooked in Olive Oil, in room temperature or cold.

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It is very rewarding to cook together and share a delicious bite with others. We have a fabulous healthy eating event with my Turkish cookery demonstration on May18th; if you are in the area and would like to join us, please contact me, I would be delighted to have your company.

 Afiyet Olsun, May you be happy and healthy with the food you eat;

Ozlem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fascinating Didyma and Its  Exquisite Columns

Temple of Apollo, Didyma (Didim), Turkey

Temple of Apollo, Didyma (Didim), Turkey

We made it to the fascinating Didyma, at the Aegean region, Turkey, at a rainy, windy April day and the temple looked even more stunning and dramatic. The huge white-marble temple is simply amazing and so worth seeing. The gigantic Temple of Apollo at Didyma (Didim in Turkish) was among the most famous oracles in the ancient world, equal in importance to the oracular temple at Delphi in Greece. There has been a temple here since very early times, but the older structure was destroyed by Cyrus of Persia in 494 BC. Construction began on the present stupendous structure soon after.

Head of Medusa, Didyma, Turkey

Head of Medusa, Didyma, Turkey

 

Head of Medusa at Didyma – we have been comparing it with the Medusa at the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful base column details at Didyma

Beautiful base column details at Didyma

 

But most of all it was the delicate, exquisite columns of Didyma, that fascinated me.

Originally, 122 enormous Ionic columns surrounded the temple; today only three remain intact. Dating from the 2nd century BC, the columns are 60 feet tall (the height of a six-story building) and have a diameter of 6 feet at the base. Even the stumps of columns that fell are impressive in size and display beautiful carvings at their base, like designs of Daphne leaves.

It's all in the details - beautiful carvings at the marbel columns of Didyma.

It’s all in the details – beautiful carvings at the marbel columns of Didyma.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make sure to have enough time to walk all the way around the temple to get the full effect. Didyma is well worth visiting, hope you can make it here sometime.

Happy Travels,

Ozlem

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Ezme; Delicious Spread of Tomatoes, Onions, Peppers and Herbs with Red Pepper Paste

Scrumptious spread of Ezme; makes a great appetizer and goes really well with grilled meat and vegetables.

Have you ever tried the delicious Turkish mezze, Ezme? This tomato based delicious appetizer has a wonderful mixture of sweet, spicy and acidic flavors and it is one of my favorite mezzes served in the kebab houses at home, a very memorable gastronomic experience.

Humble and fresh ingredients like tomatoes, onion, peppers transform to a magical taste with a touch of red pepper paste and extra virgin olive oil.

Ezme is a very typical Turkish mezze, served in kebab houses throughout Turkey. With a touch of hot red pepper paste and extra virgin olive oil, these simple but fresh ingredients like tomatoes, onion, herbs and good olive oil produce this surprisingly complex yet refreshing and a very more-ish mezze. You can make Ezme ahead of time, so it is very entertaining friendly too.

Biber Salcasi; Turkish hot red pepper paste add a lot of flavour to dishes; you can also easily make at home too.

There are quite a few variations for Ezme; my favorite is the way it is done in the Southeast Turkey, where my roots are from.  Biber Salcasi,  Turkish red pepper paste is a major staple in the regions of Gaziantep  and Antakya and a little of this wonderful paste adds such a rich, complex flavor to the Ezme. You can find red pepper paste in Middle Eastern stores, online Turkish market Tulumba.com also carry it. You can also make red pepper paste in your home, easy and delicious. An important trick to Ezme is to rub the red pepper paste and tomato paste to the onions with your hands so that the paste infuses; these also soften the onions and make them more palatable.

 

Ayran; Turkish traditional drink of yoghurt, water, salt and ice. A few fresh mint in Ayran gives a great refreshing taste to it.

You can serve Ezme over crackers or pita bread as an appetizer; it can also accompany kebabs, grilled meats and roasted vegetables beautifully too. Why not try Ayran, delicious Turkish traditional yoghurt drink to accompany this wonderful feast?

Serves 4                                   Preparation time: 15 – 20 minutes

4 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, halved and seeds removed

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2-3 small spicy pointy green peppers –(use less or more depending on how spicy you like)

15ml/1 tbsp red pepper paste (or a little less if you prefer less spicy) – If you can’t get red pepper paste, you can add a touch of spice with 1-2 tsp red pepper flakes

15ml/1 tbsp tomato paste

Juice of half a lemon

Handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Handful of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

30ml/ 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Rub the tomato and red pepper paste to the onions so that the flavours blend well; this also softens the onions and make them more palatable.

Combine the red pepper paste and tomato paste with the onions in a bowl. Knead and mix them well with your hands so that the paste infuses to the onions; this also softens the onions and make them more palatable.  If you can’t get red pepper paste, you can add a touch of spice with 1-2 tsp red pepper flakes and infuse them to the  onions with the tomato paste.

Ezme is ready to be enjoyed; though not traditional, I like to add a few walnuts over Ezme when serving, for extra texture and taste.

Stir in the tomatoes, peppers, parsley and mint, combine well. Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil over. Season with salt and ground pepper and give them all a good mix. Cover and keep in the fridge until serving. It would be best if you can let the Ezme sit for an hour or so before serving; this will help the flavors mingle & settle.

You can prepare Ezme ahead of time; it tastes even better the next day!

Ezme is delicious over flat bread, crackers, pitta bread. I like to add a few walnuts over when serving, love the added texture and taste it adds.

Though not traditional, I like to sprinkle a few walnuts around Ezme when serving; I love the added texture and taste walnuts brings to Ezme.

I hope you enjoy making your own Ezme, and that it brings happy memories of your visit to Turkey or inspires for a visit! : )

Afiyet Olsun,

Ozlem

 

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