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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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.

Lemony Artichoke and Avocado Pasta

4 July 2019

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re serving up a lemony pasta that combines artichoke hearts with avocado slices in a tomato sauce.

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The earthy flavour of the artichoke goes well with the zingy lemon zest in this healthy and easy-to-prepare pasta dish.  We hadn’t tried artichoke and avocado in the same recipe before, but, on this evidence, we can assure you that it works perfectly!

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

  • Two green peppers
  • Six small tomatoes
  • 25 ml olive oil
  • One lemon
  • Four artichoke hearts
  • One avocado
  • 150 g dried pasta
  • 50 ml water

Method

  • Heat the olive oil over in a heavy-based pan a medium heat and fry the sliced green peppers for five minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and cook for five more minutes. Add the water and reduce the heat so the sauce is simmering. Place the artichoke hearts on top of the sauce, cover the pan and steam for 30 minutes.
  • While the artichokes are steaming, cook the pasta according to instructions. Prepare the zest of one lemon by grating the skin. Squeeze the lemon into the pasta sauce. Remove the artichoke hearts when cooked. When the pasta is ready, drain it and mix with the sauce.
  • Put a layer of pasta and sauce in a bowl, place an artichoke heart in the middle, arrange avocado slices around the artichoke and sprinkle lemon zest over the dish before serving.

KCC 100: You Can’t Run Away from Pravda Punch

13 June 2019

Welcome to the 100th post from the weird and wonderful culinary world of Knidos Cookery Club! To celebrate this occasion, we’ve come up with a rose-tinted cocktail, Pravda Punch.

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You can’t run away from Pravda Punch…

Last Sunday saw Kazakhstan’s new president win a vote marred by allegations of rigging. The election campaign came to life when peaceful protestors put up a banner at Almaty’s marathon in May calling for a fair election and warning “От правды не убежишь” (You can’t run away from the truth) in Russian.

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“You can’t run away form the truth” banner at Almaty Marathon, April 2019

To celebrate both this act and our 100th post, we’d like to raise a glass of Pravda (Truth) Punch in the hope that one day there will be free and fair elections in Kazakhstan.

How to make your own Pravda Punch:

  • 3 ice cubes
  • One part raspberry vodka
  • One part Martini Rosato
  • Two parts cucumber Sprite
  • Two parts still lemonade
  • Mint leaves
  • Slice of lemon

Put the ice cubes in a tall glass and pour raspberry vodka over them. Add the mint leaves and muddle with a wooden spoon. Add the Martini Rosato, cucumber Fanta, still lemonade and stir. Add a slice of lemon and serve.

Hummus to the Power of Turmeric

30th May 2019

Welcome back to Knidos Cookery Club, or KCC to those in the know. This time we’ll be whipping up some hummus spiked with the super-spice turmeric – it’s easier than you think and once you’ve tasted homemade hummus we’ll be surprised if you settle for a shop bought one again.

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Turmeric-infused hummus all ready to go with carrot and cucumber slices

There are a lot of claims around the eastern end of the  Mediterranean Sea as to where hummus originated, but  ownership of this dip has now become truly international – we first came across this turmeric-infused version in Mexico earlier this year.

You’ll need some tahini (sesame seed paste) to make this recipe, but don’t worry if you can’t track any down – it’s simple to prepare your own batch of this nutty-tasting spread. Toast 50 g of sesame seeds in a frying pan (without oil) over a low heat and shake continuously until they turn from white to a golden colour. Then mix with 50 ml of olive oil in a blender and, hey presto, you have tahini. Add more oil for a runnier consistency.

Ingredients (makes around 300 g)

  • 250 g cooked chickpeas
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 teaspoons tahini
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Juice of a lemon
  • 25 ml chickpea water
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 0.5 teaspoon cumin or caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon paprika or chilli powder

Method 

  • Place all the ingredients into a bowl, except for the paprika and cumin (or caraway) seeds. Mix with the blender setting or with a hand blender. Keep mixing until you have a creamy, smooth paste. If needed, add  more of the reserved chickpea water or lemon juice to achieve a smoother consistency.
  • Allow to chill in the fridge for a few hours then mix in the cumin (or caraway) seeds. Sprinkle the paprika over the top and serve with slices of cucumber and carrot.

 

 

 

 

Make Time for Tabbouleh

2 May 2019

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re taking advantage of some fresh, seasonal ingredients to make one of our favourite springtime salads, tabbouleh.

This winning combination of freshly-picked herbs, vegetables, lemon and olive oil with a grain such as couscous or bulgur wheat, that origianets on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, makes for a light, fresh-tasting dish that works well as part of a meze platter or alongside a selection of barbecued food.

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It’s easy to prepare, giving you more time to lounge in the sun with a glass of chilled wine while making the most of the long evenings.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

  • 100g grain – couscous or bulgur wheat (coarse or fine both work well here)
  • 200 ml vegetable stock
  • One medium red onion
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • One bunch of fresh parsley
  • One bunch of fresh mint
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 25 ml olive oil

Method

  • Heat the vegetable stock until it’s boiling and then pour it over the couscous or bulgur wheat. Cover and leave to stand for 30 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
  • While the couscous or bulgur wheat is soaking, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Dice the onion, quarter the tomatoes, finely chop the mint and parsley and squeeze the lemon.
  • Mix all the ingredients together and then add the olive oil and stir well. Leave to stand in the fridge for 30 minutes and then serve.

 

 

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.