The Turk-Mex Chronicles: A Crazy Cactus Salad

5 September 2019

This week we’re cooking up a cactus salad with the main ingredient foraged from some wild prickly pear bushes in Turkey. In an earlier post we reported on some of the similarities between Turkish and Mexican cooking – they both love hot chilli peppers in their food, there’s plenty of beans used, fresh white cheese is a key ingredient and wrapping food in flat bread is popular.

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A prickly pear cactus growing wild in Datça, Turkey

A key area of difference is the use of cacti, a staple of Mexican cuisine. In Mexico the prickly pear paddles, known as nopales or napolitoes (from the Spanish for cactus), are used in a variety of dishes. They can be found in salads, as a taco or tortilla filling, simply grilled or scrambled up with eggs. They have a crunchy taste similar to green beans.

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Kaktuslu acili ezme

Whilst the prickly pear cactus grows all over southern Turkey, only the fruit – the prickly pears, are usually eaten and sometimes used in cocktails! We’re about to change all that with the first of one of our irregular ventures into the world of Turk-Mex cuisine…

How to deal with a thorny problem…

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We harvested a few cactus paddles from a secret location in Datça, Turkey. After harvesting, we put on our marigolds and removed the thorns with a sharp knife, sliced the pads up and then boiled them. Next we mixed then in with a spicy tomato sauce, aka acili ezme, to create this Crazy Cactus Salad.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

Four prickly pear cactus paddles (roughly hand-sized)

For the sauce:

  • One medium-sized onion
  • Three medium-sized plum tomatoes
  • One medium-sized green pepper
  • One garlic clove
  • One teaspoon capers
  • One bunch of parsley
  • One teaspoon dried mint
  • Three teaspoons red chilli flakes
  • Two teaspoons sumac
  • One teaspoon flavoured vinegar (such as apple or fig)
  • Three teaspoons pomegranate sauce

Method

Remove all the thorns from the pads with a sharp knife. Slice into 1 cm strips and then cut into 2 cm pieces. Boil in salted water for 8-10 minutes until cooked but still crunchy – cook them too long and they can go a bit slimy. Drain and rinse in cold water and then mix with the acili ezme salad (instructions below).

For the sauce:

  • Peel the tomatoes and de-seed (to peel: plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for 30 seconds then place in cold water – the skin should now come off easily). Chop the tomatoes, green pepper, onion, garlic and parsley as finely as you can.
  • Put all the ingredients into a bowl, add the herbs and spices, vinegar and pomegranate sauce and mix well. Leave to chill in the fridge for at least two hours before serving.

 

 

 

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A Badass Peach and Halloumi Salad

23 August 2019

In the dog days of summer, a persistent tap-tapping sound can be heard resounding around the Datca Peninsula. Look for people huddled over piles of green shells to find the source of the tapping. This summer’s almond crop is in and the best way to get to the badass nuts is by hammering the shell open – labourious but ultimately worthwhile work!

A Nutcracker of Knidos beavering away in the summer haze in Turkey

The almond, badem in Turkish, is an important crop on the peninsula – check out this post from a few years ago on the many uses for almonds. We got hold of some of this year’s crop and combined them with some grilled peaches and halloumi cheese to make a super-tasty summer salad.

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A badass peach and halloumi salad

We got the idea for the grilled peaches from a salad we had in Kaş, Turkey. We grilled the peach and halloumi slices on the barbecue until they took on the required charred appearance. The combination of the sweetness of the peach with the saltiness of the cheese is a winning one.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

  • 12 almonds
  • 250 g halloumi
  • One large peach
  • One large tomato
  • One bunch of rocket leaves
  • One cucumber
  • Two green peppers
  • Four spring onions
  • One teaspoon capers
  • One teaspoon dried thyme
  • Olive oil
  • Pomegranate sauce

Method

  • Cut the peach into eight slices and grill until just starting to char. Cut the halloumi cheese into eight pieces and grill until it goes a golden-brown colour.
  • Roughly chop the rocket leaves and slice the cucumber and green peppers and mix together with the capers. Dress with the thyme, olive oil and pomegranate sauce.
  • Slice the tomato into wedges and arrange with the peach and halloumi slices on top of the green salad. Just before serving, place an almond on top of each halloumi slice and put four in the middle.

Putting on the Piyaz: Turkey’s Versatile White Bean Salad

2 August 2019

Knidos Cookery Club has just arrived back at its home base on the Datça Peninsula in Turkey. We’re going to soak up some more culinary inspiration from the place where the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas meet around the ancient Greek settlement of Knidos.

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Piyaz – Turkish White Bean salad

To celebrate being back in Turkey, we’ve prepared a piyaz salad, one of the favourite dishes of Turkish cooking, that combines small white beans with some readily available staples of the local kitchen; namely tomatoes, onions, green peppers, parsley and lemons.

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Turkey’s çarliston peppers aka banana peppers

The secret of this dish is in getting the beans just right – not too mushy but not too firm either. They need a good, long overnight soak and some slow cooking to achieve the required consistency.

The dressing used varies across Turkey from the basic lemon, olive oil and apple vinegar one favoured in Istanbul to the tahini-infused one from Antalya, paying tribute to the Arabian influence from the Middle East on the city’s cuisine. We have opted for the creamy, nutty taste of the latter.

Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)

  • 200 g dried haricot beans or other small white beans soaked overnight
  • 1 medium-sized plum tomato
  • 1 long, green pepper (e.g. çarliston pepper – see photo above)
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 lemons
  • Small bunch of parsley
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 50 ml apple vinegar
  • 25 ml tahini
  • 2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • Optional: Two boiled eggs or one avocado

Method

  • Cook the beans over a low heat until tender but not starting to go mushy. When cooked, drain off the cooking water, reserving 100 ml to make the dressing. Pour the vinegar and sprinkle the thyme over the beans and leave to cool.
  • After leaving for a few hours, add the vinegar the beans were soaking in to the reserved bean juice and then blend with the olive oil, tahini and the juice of one lemon to make a smooth sauce.
  • Finely dice the tomato, slice the pepper and onions into rings and chop the parsley finely. Add these to the beans.
  • Cover the salad and put it in the fridge for a few hours. Serve with wedges of the second lemon and sprinkle the red chilli flakes over the salad.
  • Just before serving, pour the dressing over the bean salad and season with black pepper and gently mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon.
  • You can garnish with quarters of boiled egg if you wish or, for a vegan twist, you can garnish the salad with slices of avocado.

Heavenly Halloumi

13 September 2018

As promised a few weeks back on Knidos Cookery Club, here’s another use for those tasty vine leaves. While jetting down to KCC HQ in Datça recently, we spotted a Cypriot recipe in an airline magazine for halloumi cheese wrapped in vine leaves and we decided to adapt it by using some of the Datça Peninsula’s key ingredients:

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Yep, that’s almonds, olives, thyme, capers and lemon. We mixed all these up to make our 5-star Datça paste which we then used to coat slices of our favourite squeaky cheese. After applying the paste, wrap the cheese slices with the leaves and then bake in the oven for 30 minutes or so until they look like this:

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Ingredients (makes four servings)

200 g halloumi

12 vine leaves

75 g almonds

150 g olives

One lemon

two teaspoons dried thyme

25 g capers

Method

Soak and wash the vine leaves to remove any taste of brine, and then cut the stalk from the bottom of the leaf. You’ll need about three vine leaves for each slice of halloumi.

Now prepare the paste – stone the olives and place the bits of olive in a small dish. Soak the almonds in hot water for a minute or so and then put in cold water and peel off the skin. Break and add to the olives.

Add the capers and lemon juice and the thyme and use a hand blender to make a smooth paste. Cut the halloumi into four slices and smear each slice generously with the paste. Wrap the vine leaves around the cheese and then place in a baking dish or on a baking tray.

Bake in the oven at 180 c for thirty minutes or so and serve while hot with a seasonal salad and a selection of mezes.

 

Pidemania: The Great Turkish Bake Off

1 February 2018

“April is the cruellest month” as TS Eliot put it, but I’ve always thought there’s a case for  February to be considered crueller. As winter drags on interminably in the northern hemisphere – we’re still six months away from August and the height of summer – those long, lazy days all seem so far away, especially with the mercury plunging into serious minus territory as in Knidos Cookery Club’s winter HQ in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

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Yum yum – Kaşarlı Pide

So, thoughts have been turning to warmer times and to distant memories of eating pide, Turkey’s take on pizza, under the shade of mandarin trees in Datça.

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or maybe Otlu Pide?

With KCC’s new oven up and running in Almaty, it’s high time for a Great Turkish Bake Off as we take on the pide challenge and bring a slice of the Turkish summer into the winter gloom of Kazakhstan. 

We’ll be making a standard Kaşarlı Pide, an open one made with a yellow cheese such as cheddar – See the three stages for assembling this pide above. 

And here is an Otlu Pide, a covered one made with various greens such as spinach and parsley and a ricotta-like cheese called lor as seen above.

Ingredients (Makes four pides)

For the base:

300 g flour

One teaspoon dried, instant yeast

125 ml cold water

30 ml olive oil

For the filling:

Kaşarlı Pide (makes 2)

200 g grated yellow cheese such as a mild cheddar

Pinch of red chilli flakes

Pinch of dried thyme

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Otlu Pide (makes 2)

One small onion

125 g spinach

25 ml olive oil

One bunch fresh parsley (around 25 g)

One bunch fresh coriander (around 25 g)

100 g ricotta cheese (or similar)

One teaspoon cumin seeds

One teaspoon red chilli flakes

Pinch of dried thyme

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Sprinkling of sesame seeds (or black, nigella seeds if you can find them)

Method:

Sieve the flour into a large, ceramic bowl, add the dried yeast, make a well in the middle and pour in the olive oil and slowly add the water and mix well so that all the flour is used up.

Knead for ten minutes or so until you have a stretchy, elastic dough. Put in an oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel and then leave it to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes or so until it is doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, prepare the filling for the Otlu Pide. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the cumin seeds, chilli flakes, dried thyme and black pepper and then add the finely chopped onion. Cook for five minutes and then add the chopped spinach, parsley and coriander and cook until it all begins to wilt. Allow to cool and then stir in the lor (ricotta) cheese.

Divide the dough into four and roll each ball into a 30 cm by 20 cm oblong about 1 mm thick on a lightly floured surface. For the Kaşarlı Pide, spread the grated cheese over the middle leaving 2 cm around the edges and season with thyme, chilli flakes and black pepper. Fold the edges over and then fold again and pinch the ends together to make a boat shape. Glaze the dough with olive oil.

For the Otlu Pide, place half the filling in the bottom half of the rolled out dough then fold the top over and make into a parcel shape (as in the picture above). Glaze with olive oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake the pides in an oven pre-heated to 200 c for 20-30 minutes or so until the cheese bubbles and is starting to go brown and the dough is also starting to go a golden-brown colour. Serve straight from the oven with a salad of your choice.

One Pot Wonder: A Trip to Knidos

23 November 2017

Knidos Cookery Club recently entertained Professor Fox, that doyen of the Christchurch Antiquarians, who came over to Turkey to check out the ruins of Knidos and some archaeological sites in the Datça area such as Burgaz (Old Knidos).

Here’s a slideshow of our visit to Knidos:

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After the trip we needed something quick and filling so this time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’ll be cooking pasta in a tasty sauce using only one pan.

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KCC’s one pot wonder in progress

This one pot wonder saves time, energy and washing up, both important  considerations in the world of KCC after a busy day on the archaeological trail.

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KCC’s one pot wonder – the finished product

Ingredients (serves 2-3)

Three medium-sized tomatoes (approx 150 g)

50 g olives (any you have handy will do, we used some green ones)

150 g cooked chick peas

200 g pasta (penne, fusilli or spaghetti works well)

500 ml hot water

15 g capers

One garlic clove

25 ml olive oil

One teaspoon dried thyme

One teaspoon sumac

One teaspoon chilli flakes

Method 

Chop the tomatoes into quarters and add to a large, heavy-based pan with the olives, chick peas, minced garlic, olive oil, thyme, sumac and chilli flakes. Pour the water over the top, add the pasta, stir and bring to a boil.

Cook the pasta as per the instructions on the pack over a medium to high heat – you need to keep it bubbling away and stir occasionally. Keep cooking until the most of the liquid is boiled off, leaving the cooked pasta in the sauce.

The type of pasta we used took around 15 minutes to cook – try it as you go to get the type of taste you prefer. Don’t forget to stir in the washed capers to the pasta and sauce when it is cooked.

Serve straight from the pan and garnish, if you want, with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese.

I Heard it through the Grapevine

26 October 2017

Welcome to the 60th post on Knidos Cookery Club – to celebrate we took a tour to Datça’s very own vineyard to check out some of the local vintages on offer.

The vineyard is located on a hilltop on the main road into Datça and has a reserve range of delicious reds, going under the name of Cnidus, an alternative spelling of Knidos, and some  excellent red and white blends along with a superb blush wine.

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It has been in its present site since 2011 and has both south and north-facing rows of vines to take advantage of the sun’s rays from both sides. Look out for the round brick windmill on a hillside on the left as you drive into Datça – the vineyard’s on the main road just before the turn off to the town.

This boutique vineyard produces around 40 – 50,000 bottles of wine a year –  using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah (Shiraz) and the indigenous Öküzgözü and Boğazkere grape varieties to produce red wines and a blush, and Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the local Sultaniye grape to make white wine.

You can taste the wines in the windmill or in the beautiful garden with its spectacular views over the Mediterranean Sea and Greek islands on the horizon. You can also take a tour of the vineyard and buy wine in the shop at competitive prices.

Datça Vineyard’s wines are on sale in some restaurants in town and in two supermarkets – Erdi on the harbour front, and Dilge on the road to the town’s Saturday market.

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Green beans roasted with walnuts

With all this wine tasting to do, something simple was called for so this week we’re going to make a a quick pasta dish with roasted green beans and walnuts. It’s really easy to cook and there’s not much washing up either, leaving more time to enjoy the fruits of Datça’s vineyard!

Ingredients (serves 2-3)

250 g green beans

50 g walnuts

200 g pasta (penne, fusilli or spaghetti works well here)

One garlic clove

25 ml olive oil

One teaspoon dried thyme

Method 

Top and tail the green beans and cut into 3-4 cm slices. Put the beans in an oven dish, crush the walnuts and mince the garlic and scatter over the beans and then add the thyme and olive oil. Stir well and then put the dish in a pre-heated oven and cook for 30 minutes at 180 c.

While the beans are roasting, cook your favourite pasta as per the instruction on the pack. When cooked to your taste, drain and mix with the roasted beans and walnut and serve immediately on warmed plates with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan), if you’re a cheese fan.

As for the wine pairing, we’d recommend either a Silenus Chardonnay or a Silenus Blush – in Greek mythology Silenus was the god of wine making and drunkenness and the foster-father of Dionysos, the god of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness and wild frenzy – enjoy!