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.

A Fiendishly Figgish Chutney

22 September 2016

As another summer slips into the history books with the autumn equinox almost upon us, there’s a tang of vinegar in the air. The days are getting shorter and the nights cooler, and thoughts have started turning towards using the autumnal abundance of fruit and vegetables to make pickles and chutneys for the winter months.

In Turkey at this time of year people are busy preserving vegetables such as peppers, cucumbers, carrot, tomatoes, garlic, cauliflower and cabbage in vinegar and salt to make tursu, the ubiquitous pickle plate that adorns the dinner table.

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When Lord Venal was visiting Knidos in August he was very taken with the local fig crop and was inspired to knock up a jar or two of his Fiendish Fig Chutney.

He helpfully explained the difference between a pickle and a chutney; a pickle involves raw vegetables preserved in a liquid such as brine, oil or vinegar, whilst chutney cooks vegetables or fruits in a sugary vinegar base.

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Lord Venal hopes you’ll enjoy his spicy chutney with all types of cheeses and crackers.

Ingredients (Makes around 1.5 kg of chutney)

1 kg fresh figs

250 g raisins or currants

250 g onions

300 ml cider vinegar

200 g brown sugar

2 cloves of garlic

5 cm fresh ginger

one teaspoon coriander seeds

one cinnamon stick

one teaspoon cloves

one teaspoon turmeric

one teaspoon chili flakes

Assorted jam jars

Method

Chop the figs roughly and remove any stems. Throw them into a large stainless steel pan and add the vinegar, chopped onions, garlic and spices (remember to grind the coriander seeds, break up the cinnamon stick and peel and finely chop the ginger).

Bring to the boil and then allow the mix to simmer, stirring occasionally, for half an hour or so until the figs are softening. Now add the sugar and keep stirring until it’s dissolved. Cook for another 15 minutes or so until the mix starts to thicken. Unlike jam, as soon as you turn the chutney off it stops thickening, so turn the heat off when you reach your desired consistency.

While the chutney is bubbling away, sterilise the jam jars in the oven at 50°c for thirty minutes. Spoon the chutney into the jars while still hot and put a lid on when it’s cooled down a bit. It’s ready to eat straight away, but, like most things in life, it improves with age.