Asure – Noah’s Pudding

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We’re in the month of Muharram according to the Islamic calendar. The first month of the Hijri lunar calendar. There is a strong and very common tradition regarding this month in Anatolia, Balkans and most other parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. Noah’s pudding is made in most homes and distributed to neighbors hoping that it will bring that household a bountiful year in return.

We believe that Prophet Noah and his people when they embarked on their voyage of salvation on the infamous ark, made this pudding from whatever they have left in stock onboard, fruits, grains, nuts and spices. The essential rule of making asure (pronounced ush-oo-rah) is that it should be made using at least seven ingredients and should be given out to seven different neighbors. There are other tips and tricks like boiling all the ingredients separately and soaking the legumes and other grains ahead of time, but this is it, basically, get seven ingredients: sugar, wheat, chickpeas, water (I don’t know if that counts as one), cinnamon, walnuts and dried figs. Make your pudding and hand it out to your neighbors hoping they won’t think that you’re some kind of psycho trying to poison them with that weird-looking blobby thing. My dear readers, try the recipe below or use it as a general guide, feel free to get creative and make up your own, as Noah’s pudding tradition -metaphorically- points out to diversity as a source of blessing. Let me know of any ideas that you come up with!

Ingredients: 10-12 servings (150ml each)

1 cup of wheat grains, soaked overnight and then boiled al-dente

1/2 cup of dry navy/lima beans, soaked overnight and then boiled al-dente

1/4 cup of corn kernels, (soak and boil if not canned)

1/2 cup of chickpeas, soaked overnight and then boiled al-dente

1/4 cup of rice, washed and drained

100g of dried figs, small variety, soaked and boiled until soft

50g of dried apple slices, soaked and boiled

100g of dried sultanas,

50g of black currants,

Zest of 1 lemon/orange,

1 tablespoon of lemon/orange juice,

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3 sticks of cinnamon,

8 clove buds,

1/2 teaspoon of allspice powder,

A dash of powdered cardamom seeds,

1/4 teaspoon of ginger powder,

1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg,

1 star anise,

A dash of powdered coriander seeds,

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2 tablespoons of rose water- edible type,

1,5 cups of sugar,

A dash of salt,

2 tablespoons of wheat starch, mixed with 1/2 cup of cold water

2,5 liters of boiling water (add more if need be)

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50g almond slices,

100g chopped walnuts/pecans

40g pine nut kernels,

100g of pomegranate seeds,

50g shredded coconut,

1 tablespoon of poppy seed,

What takes time is preparing all the ingredients, like soaking, washing, chopping and boiling… The rest is easy breezy. Add all the ingredients into a deep pot except for the nuts, pomegranate seeds, poppy seeds and shredded coconut. Save those for decoration purposes. Cook on medium heat stirring until rice cooks well, the mixture thickens and becomes glossy. Laddle into pudding bowls. When it cools off, top up and decorate with nuts, pomegranate seeds, coconut and poppy seed. Serve cold. Remember: Sharing and diversity is the key to a perfect asure.

Guvecte Sucuklu Kuru Fasulye – Navy Bean Casserole With Sujuk

There is one common rule all over Turkey in regards to cooking dry beans: You must serve it with rice. Apart from that, there is not much of a rule. Here, I’ll pass my favorite casserole recipe with navy beans. It’s more of a winter dish, but depending on the cravings of our household, i.e. my husband, I end up cooking dry beans in summer time as well. It is perfect if you can find an earthenware bean pot in order to achieve over-the-top flavor but you’d be fine with any casserole dish. 

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Icli Kofte – Bulgur Balls With Meat and Walnut Filling

This kofte is not just crafty stuff but definitely an artistic touch to your dinner tables. In Southeastern Anatolia elongated icli kofte is usually served fried and boiled round icli kofte is enjoyed in Eastern Mediterranean towns like Adana and Kahramanmaras. The recipes for the stuffing and bulgur mix do not differ much throughout Turkey. Various Arab countries have bulgur balls, called kibbah. The only variation between these and the Turkish version is the use of spices I suppose.

My grandma was an icli kofte master and she was famous for it in the town we used to live, I even remember strangers (friends of friends of friends and so on) dropping by our house on the days she made kofte. Yes, it requires a lot of time and skillful hands, but it is totally worth it. Here we go:

Ingredients:

3 cups of fine grind bulgur (parboiled cracked wheat, you can find it in the organic food section of your supermarket or at Middle Eastern grocery shops)

500g of lean minced beef or lamb (ask your butcher to double grind it, it’s crucial)

2 onions, finely grated

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Yumurtali Ispanak – Eggs With Spinach

It’s good for you, it’s green, leafy, crispy and aromatic. It releases its aroma when heated. Turks like it with yogurt, nutrition experts advice against this as yogurt will block the absorption of iron in spinach. If you wash, drain and prepare spinach leaves beforehand, eggs with spinach recipe serves as a very quick and fulfilling lunch or dinner, a very healthy option indeed. Here comes one of the most homely, motherly recipe of Turkish cuisine.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons of butter

1 medium size onion, chopped finely

1/2 kg spinach leaves, washed, drained and chopped into 1 inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 large free range organic eggs

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Karnabahar Oturtma – Cauliflower Medley

Cauliflower is not everyone’s favorite vegetable, I know. Daughter of a close friend put it bluntly when she was only 2, by saying “Please mom, I can’t eat flowers or trees” when offered cauliflower for the first time. For some, it is the sight of this pretty vegetable, for others it is the smell that is off-putting. For me, cauliflower is one of those saponin-flavored beautiful winter vegetables. Au gratin and this medley recipe I’m giving here are the two most common ways of cooking cauliflower in Turkey.

Ingredients:

100 g butter

1/2 kg minced beef

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Etli Lahana Sarmasi – Cabbage Rolls With Meat

A winter classic in Turkey and neighboring regions… Spices and herbs used in the meat stuffing varies from town to town, whereas soft and glossy texture of the cabbage remains the same. I made it my grandma’s way, cooked the rolls with the sourest quinces.

Ingredients:

1 medium size whole cabbage (try to pick the less veiny, thin layered and soft cored ones)

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Lakerda – Cured Fish in Olive Oil

During our last meal in Cunda, before the mesmerizing effect of the lor tatlisi arrived, we were knocked down by a couple of meze dishes. One was lakerda, which is among my a dozen seafood favorites and a new acquaintance for my husband. I was reluctant to tell him that it was raw fish in fact, I know he would do anything to avoid it if he knew. The plan worked well. The delicacy turned him into a humming bird soon enough so I told him what it really was, two seconds of hesitant silence was again followed by num nums. He liked it so much that he asked the restaurant owner to pack a jar of that goodness for us to take home.

A properly-made lakerda tastes divine. Fatty fish fillets, cured with salt, then soaked in extra virgin olive oil… The type of fish differs. What we had was akya, garrick fish that is. A more desirable fish for pickling would be large bonito, called torik in Turkish. It takes around two weeks to cure the fish. Cleaning is the tricky part, no blood should remain in the flesh.

It is best served cold with olive oil, red onions and dill. It makes me thank God for living in this part of the world.

Lor Tatlisi – Creamy Cottage Cheese With Sour Cherry Jam

Lor tatlisi is an unforgettable Cunda treat… 2 weeks ago, my husband and I had a short vacation to the northern Aegean coastal town of Ayvalik, more specifically an island called Cunda. We stayed in an old Anatolian-Greek house, now turned into a hotel with only 7 rooms. Hotel’s decoration had an antique touch to it and the house itself was built from a local stone called sarimsak tasi. It had a very high ceiling, wooden floors, gorgeous wooden windows, vintage heaters with flower patterns and antique furniture.

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Zeytinyagli Bamya – Okra in Olive Oil

One last recipe from the summertime. Perhaps, I’ve heard over a hundred people say that they like the taste and aroma of okras but they hate the gooey texture. The best way to avoid the sticky slimy texture is to keep the pods intact, only peel the most outer skin on top and leave the cap intact (the holes inside shouldn’t be seen so that the mucilage will not come out of the pod), to add lots of lemon juice and not to stir it while cooking. Here’s the recipe to a flowy clear okra dish.

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Kavun Dolmasi – Stuffed Melon

These days, the hype in Istanbul is (not-so) fine dining restaurants that claim they serve Ottoman palace cuisine. Are all of those places bad? Of course not! Some are very genuine and not overpriced considering the food they serve. But for others, all I can say is “overrated”! Kavun dolmasi or stuffed melon is one of those dishes that existed since the 15th century, maybe even earlier. I guess it is Persian and Armenian influence what made Ottoman cooks combine meat and fruits, which when done right creates an excellent balance of flavor. The trick to this recipe is picking the right size and type of melon, small, round, aromatic variety that is, adding the right amount of spices and nuts and using good quality minced meat (preferably lamb meat ground with a chopping knife) with a good amount of fat content.

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