I am learning to speak French, a must when living in France with children at school with lots of French homework. I go to a class once a week. At Christmas we had a bring and share, started talking about food and how everyone came from different places – Turkey, Argentina, Belgium, Scotland, Canada and Britain (born in Ireland to Scottish parents and brought up in North London – British is the best way to describe me!) – maybe a fun way to learn French would be to cook together, cooking food from home whilst talking in French. So today we got together and did the cooking (but didn’t really do much French).
We started in Turkey. On the menu was Mercimek Köftesi, Köfte Kebab (as close as you can make it at home – proper köfte needs to be cooked over a wood or coal fire), accompanied with a very Turkish tomato salad, followed by Mastica pudding.
Eda was our amazing hostess and teacher. The recipes were all in her head taught to her by her Grandmother or taken from a handwritten notebook of recipes that belonged to her mother. Nothing was measured – it was all done “au pif” which in spoken French means by instinct. The recipes below are put together by me watching and scribbling so a little “au pif” might be needed in the making!! Eda – please tell me if I have anything wrong.
Start with 1 cup of red lentils (either split or whole) in a pot and add 2 cups of water (you may need a little more). Boil the lentils until they are soft but don’t let them get too dry.
Take off the heat and add ½ cup of fine bulgar wheat mixing this in well. Tip into a bowl with a small plate sitting on top of the mixture and leave to cool, allowing the fine bulgar to absorb the remaining moisture and swell while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Finely chop 1½ yellow onions into a pan with 1½ espresso/turkish coffee cup olive oil and sauté gently until soft. Add approx 75ml of tomato coulis or 3 tablespoons of puree and 50mls of water. Also add a teaspoon of spicy pepper paste. Cook until the onions are cooked.
Once cooked, mix into the lentil and wheat mixture. Add sweet paprika, ground chillis, black pepper and salt to taste. Mix it well and then allow to cool.
Carefully, wash, trim and finely chop 4 spring onions. Wash, dry and finely chop a generous bunch of flat leaf parsley. Once the lentil mixture has cooled, add the parsley and spring onions. Knead the mixture until sticky and make into balls. Place on a bed of lettuce.
OVEN BAKED KÖFTE KEBAB
Proper Kebab cannot be made in a kitchen, it needs the real hot coals or embers of a fire for the real taste. But this is the next best thing if all you have is a regular oven to cook with.
Finely chop 1 large onion, 2 cloves of garlic, ½ a red pepper and a generous bunch of flat leaf parsley. Eda used a blender for this so it was really finely chopped. This was mixed with 500g minced beef, a drizzle of olive oil, black pepper, ground chillies and sweet paprika. This mixture was kneaded together in a bowl.
Hot pepper paste was smeared on the bottom of a flan case (this could be tomato puree for a milder taste. The meat mixture was then spread in the flan case and squashed down. It was cut into wedges with a non-serrated knife and decorated with the remains of the red pepper and tomato wedges. It was put in the oven at 200C for 20-30 minutes until the meat had shrunk away from the edges and was cooked through.
Turkish Tomato Salad
This was so simple but requires the sourcing of some very Turkish ingredients. Sumak is a spice that is widely used in Turkish, Persian and Middle Eastern cooking. According to the good old internet, it used to be used much more widely in Europe until lemons were introduced by the Romans. It has a wonderful smell. The other ingredient in this salad is Nar Eksisi which is a syrupy sauce made from pomegranates and it smells divine. Not so easy to come by in Maisons-Laffitte. If you are reading this in London, I am sure it wouldn’t be too hard to find a Turkish or Middle Eastern shop or buy it on-line.
Simply, peel and chop 2 tomatoes and finely chop ½ a white onion (not yellow). Mix in a bowl with your hands then add the sumak and Nar Eksisi.
These white crystals are the resin from a plant found in Greece and Turkey. It has a very distinctive taste and if you look it up on the internet it is reported to cure all sorts of ailments.
Eda introduced us to a pudding flavoured with this and it tasted really good – whatever health benefits it may or may not have.
50g oil (Eda used a mixture of olive oil and a flavourless vegetable oil) was put in a pot with a Turkish coffee cup or espresso cup of plain flour and 1 litre of milk with 6 tablespoons of sugar. This was heated while whisking until it was a custard like in consistency.
3 large crystals of gum mastic were crushed and then added to the the custard. Using a hand held electric whisk this mixture was whisked for 10 minutes. It was then poured into a serving dish and placed in the fridge to set. For best results leave it overnight in the fridge but we probably left it in the fridge for 2 hours or so and it tasted great to us – maybe not quite as set as it would normally be. A sprinkle of cinnamon was an optional addition which I thought worked really well. The subtle taste of the gum mastic was lovely and we all had seconds.
My turn next!! How in the world will I follow that? Scones have been requested so I had better get practicing. What will I do for the main course? You will have to watch this space.