A Prickly Pear Pick-Me-Up

25 August 2016

Move aside Bloody Mary – there’s a new hair of the dog on the block: Lord Venal’s Prickly Pear Pick-Me-Up!

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Lord Venal’s Prickly Pear Pick-Me-Up

After overindulging while celebrating Ukraine’s 25th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union, Knidos Cookery Club was in need of a little kickstart to the day. This was provided by Lord Venal with his patent Prickly Pear Pick-Me-Up.

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Prickly pears growing wild in south-west Turkey

Apparently, the prickly pear, which grows in arid regions on the Opuntia cactus, has properties that make it a perfect antidote to a hangover. This spiny fruit is full of vitamin C, so that may explain some of its health-giving powers.

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Peeling the prickly pear

Care must be taken to peel the pear properly as the spines are painful if ingested. Top and tail the prickly pear then slice the peel off with a sharp knife. Halve the pear and scoop out the seeds, or leave them in for a crunchier cocktail.

Lord Venal recommends the following for his pick-me-up:

Ingredients (makes two large cocktails)

3 prickly pears
200g honeydew melon
100 ml white rum

2 cm fresh ginger
Ice
100 ml cold water

Method

Peel the pears and slice the melon into small cubes. Put into a plastic container with the water and the chopped ginger and use a hand blender to juice the fruit.

Pour in the rum and ice and stir well. Serve with a slice of orange.

A Spicy Finger in Every Pie

18 August 2016

This week, Knidos Cookery Club is cooking with okra, another vegetable that arouses strong emotions in the love it or hate it camps.

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Okra – washed, dried and ready for action

Many are put off this green pod, also known as lady’s fingers, for its tendency to taste a bit slimy at times. This sliminess can be avoided by making sure that after washing, the pods are thoroughly dried before being cooked. Stir frying can also help retain okra’s natural crunchiness.

The origins of okra are unclear – South Asia, West Africa and Ethiopia all make claims to be the home of this vegetable. Okra was brought to Turkey by Arab merchants and is known by its Arabic name, bamya.  It’s often cooked with olive oil and tomatoes and served as a side dish in Turkey.

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Bhindi bhaji – dry okra curry

Our favourite recipe for okra is to prepare it Indian-style, stir fried with spices to make a dry bhindi bhaji, which works as a standalone dish or can be accompanied with a lentil dhal and rice combo.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

500 g okra washed and dried

250 g tomatoes

One medium-sized onion

One clove of garlic

1 cm fresh ginger

One teaspoon mustard seeds

One teaspoon cumin

One teaspoon dried coriander

One teaspoon cinnamon

One teaspoon turmeric

One teaspoon chili flakes

50 ml olive oil

Method 

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and tip in the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add the diced onion and garlic and cook for five minutes or so until just starting to brown. Add the spices (ginger, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and chili flakes) and stir well.

Throw the tomatoes into the spicy onion mix and cook for another five minutes or so until the tomatoes begin to break up. Now add the okra and stir fry for ten minutes, making sure the okra are well-coated with the curry sauce.

Serve immediately with a lentil dhal and basmati rice or chapatis, or both if you’re feeling famished.

 

 

Melon Almond a Go-Go

11 August 2016

As Knidos Cookery Club turns 20, we’re celebrating this week with a look at two of the mainstay crops of the Datça Peninsula – melons and almonds.

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This year’s almond crop has arrived!

This year’s new nut harvest is already arriving in the market. Datça’s almonds, badem in Turkish, are rightly famous in Turkey – I remember sitting at a terrace in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district, back in the days when it still had street tables,  and a guy came round selling fresh Datça almonds, cooled on a bed of ice.

In the Knidos area, almonds are widely used in cooking, in making soaps and creams and in Datça many cafes offer a milky ‘almond coffee’. Last week we had some mezes at Kasapoğlu Pansiyon in Ovabükü which came liberally sprinkled with almonds – one green bean dish and another made from grated courgette and yogurt.

The area around Knidos is perfect for growing melons, kavun in Turkish. The market is full at the moment with a green and yellow striped variety – I’m not sure what it’s called, but it sure tastes good!

We’ve decided to attempt something unusual for the 20th edition of Knidos Cookery Club – stuffed melon. This dish was popular in the palaces of the Ottoman Empire, drawing on a Persian and Armenian-influenced fusion of sweet and savoury tastes.

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Plov in a melon

The Knidos Cookery Club version is fully veggie-friendly and uses mushrooms in place of meat, along with rice, dried fruit and fresh Datça almonds. The end result is basically plov in a melon, a most unusual taste sensation!

Ingredients (serves 4)

One melon (honeydew or similar – not watermelon!)

125 g rice

25 g orzu or pine nuts, if you’re feeling flush

One medium-sized onion

One garlic clove

100 g almonds

75 g mixed dried fruit (raisins, currants, chopped apricot, chopped fig)

250 g mushrooms

50 ml olive oil

One teaspoon of cumin, cinnamon and red pepper flakes

Salt and black pepper to season

Method

Wash the rice and soak for an hour or so. Heat 25 ml olive oil in a pan and cook the orzu or pine nuts until golden brown. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with oil. Pour in 300 ml cold water, add a pinch of salt and cook until all the liquid is absorbed.

Heat the rest of the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook until translucent and then add the peeled almonds. Keep stirring for five minutes and then add the mixed dried fruit and one teaspoon of cumin, cinnamon and red pepper flakes.

Chop the mushrooms up and then pour into the sizzling mix. Stir regularly – you don’t need to add any liquid as the mushrooms contain a lot of water. Cook for ten minutes or so and then turn off the heat. Mix in the rice, blending well.

Prepare the melon by cutting it in half and scooping out the seeds. Then scoop out the flesh, leaving about 1 cm inside the melon. Stuff with the rice mix, arranging some almonds on top.

Place the melon halves in a shallow dish, add 100 ml warm water and bake at 200°C or gas mark 6 for one hour.

Serve a quarter of the melon to each person with an Uzbek-style salad of sliced tomatoes, onions and chili pepper  – achik chuchuk.

 

 

 

Capering around Knidos

4 August 2016

This week in Knidos Cookery Club the focus is on capers,  the unripened flower buds of Capparis spinosa, a thorny evergreen shrub that is native to the Mediterranean region.

This wonder bud can be used to add taste to a variety of dishes from pastas and pizzas to salads and stews. They can be preserved in brine, sun-dried or salted to allow their complex lemony flavours to come to the fore.

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Capers preserved in brine

A few weeks ago, Knidos Cookery Club was treated to a tasty lasagne topped with salted capers from the kitchen of Mr Alan in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. On returning to Knidos, our tastebuds awakened, the Saturday market and the local shops were scoured and a jar of capers in brine was tracked down.

We spotted a Nigel Slater recipe in The Guardian recently for a tomato, olive and French bean tart – we decided to give it a go with some modifications, using some Datça capers in place of the olives. Here’s what the finished product should look like:

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Ingredients (serves 3-4)

100 g filo pastry (yufka)

500 g tomatoes (any sort or a mix)

25 capers

20 green beans

25 ml olive oil infused with dried thyme

Seasoning: pinches of salt, black pepper, cumin, dried thyme

Method

Grease a large baking dish with some olive infused with dried thyme and place a sheet of filo pastry in the dish. Brush with more oil and put another layer of filo pastry – continue oiling and layering until pastry is used up.

Thinly slice the tomatoes and layer on the pastry base. Dot with capers and season with pinches of salt, black pepper, cumin and dried thyme.

Put the dish in a pre-heated oven (200 °C/gas mark 6) and bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry starts to go a deep golden colour. Keep an eye on it to make sure the pastry doesn’t burn.

While the tart is baking, cook the beans in boiling water for 4 minutes.

When the tart is cooked, arrange the beans in a criss-cross pattern on top of the tomato and caper base. Serve with a green salad – we had a  purslane, rocket, sorrel, cucumber and onion salad dressed with lemon, olive oil and pomegranate sauce.