What Time is it? It’s Salça Time!

I used to say that making salça (paste) with my SIL was the most fun you could have in the Village with your clothes on.  In fact, I even complained a few years back about my SIL’s family taking over my salça making duties and ruining my fun.  I take it back now.  All of it.  Salça making ain’t fun.  In fact, now I think that making salca is the equivalent of giving birth.  It’s long, painful, incredibly messy, it can take weeks of recuperation afterwards before you feel yourself again but, surprisingly, in the end, you’re prepared to go through it all that pain again next year.  And of course you’ve got all that fabulous salça at the end of it all.

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Well that day is here again and I was chomping at the bit to make our kırmızı biber salça.  200kg of kırmızı biber (red capsicum) ready to be transformed into salça by me, my SIL and her mother.  Oh, and My Hurley Dog who assisted by chasing kediler (cats) and rolling in the mess until he was stained red.  He is not happy right now and is well aware that a bath is in his immediate future.

Back to my story.  200kg of kırmızı biber is a lot of biber.  My SIL called me down at 5 am, not to start work but to help make the ekmek (bread) for kahlvatı (breakfast).  To me making the ekmek is more work than its actually worth.  I’m happy to nick to the market and grab a couple of loafs of bread for 1TL each!  After the ekmek we started on the salca and it was just freaking exhausting.  Toiling away (before the real heat of mid-morning hits) with the cutting, cleaning, mulching (is it called mulching) before lugging buckets of biber salca up three flights of stairs and spreading it out in huge bowls to spend the next ten days in the sunshine (I swear if it rains!).  Nine trips up those stairs today with two buckets each trip!  FML!

The stairs are now stained red.  My feet are stained red (blending nicely with my orange nail polish) and my hands are as red as my eyes.  I’m exhausted.  Time for a shower, a glass of red (same colour as my hands, my eyes, my dog and my stairs) and an early night (just like after I had a baby – well I didn’t have the glass of red but the rest stands true).

Quote of the day by my 7-year-old niece – “cok tatl” (“so cute”) upon finding a worm (or maybe a maggot) in one of the biber.  Don’t be horrified by the idea of a worm/maggot in the biber.  Anyone who has ever made salça is well aware that its luck of the draw with those massive bags of biber.  Some are good, some are bad and sadly, some are rotten.  Adds to the taste according to The Turk (although the worm/maggot in question did not form part of my salça I swear to you).

So, when I say next year that I am making salça someone point me to this post – and to the looney bin.

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Lemon of Troy

“And, with that, a mighty cheer went up from the heroes of Shelbyville. They had banished the awful lemon tree forever…because it was haunted. Now, let’s all celebrate with a cool glass of turnip juice.”

Strong words from the Shelbyville elder but here in Turkiye a cool glass of şalgam suyu really is just the thing to fix what ails ya!

Simpsons turnip

Let me tell you last night I visited a neighbour’s house and, after some discussion about my recent illness, I found myself being served rakı along with a large glass of şalgam suyu (turnip juice).  The look on The Turk’s face was priceless.  He knew I was going to have difficulty chugging both of these drinks down but chug them down I did because it would be considered rude to not do so.  I can see why they are served together.  The strong anise flavour of the rakı very much complimented the overly salty salgam but for me together or separate both drinks are very much hard for me to swallow.

Turnip Juice?  Seriously?

Yes indeed folks, although it is called şalgam suyu this little concoction is more correctly made with fermented carrots (yes I said that) as well as water, salt and bulgur flour.  Don’t get me wrong there is also turnip in the mix but it is only a very small amount.  During summer there are vendor’s all over Çarşı selling this famous concoction (which actually originates from the Mersin/Adana/Hatay region) and you know they are there before you see them by his unique music made by tapping the ladles to his own beat and singing at the top of his lungs.

In fact Adana even goes so far as to have a festival in honour of the wonderous şalgam.  The Adana Kebap ve Şalgam Festival, emerged from the tradition of enjoying kebab, with liver, şalgam and rakı. Originally it was called the Adana Rakı Festival but organisers had to change the name because of pressure from conservative anti-alcohol groups who wanted the Festival cancelled.

You can practically insert Mrs Lovejoy’s shrieks here, “But what about the children?!”

Oh and for those who want to know.  It is apparently good for you with vitamin B, potassium, calcium and iron.  It will help you lose weight, relieve stress and is an aphrodisiac.

turnip juice

I’m not sure if I will partake in a rakışalgam suyu throwdown again anytime soon but methinks this might be more to the stellar hangover than the freaky taste sensation.

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Roux

Finding the perfect burger in Mersin can be a little tricky.  I mean unless you yourself have ever had the perfect burger replicating it can be a little tricky and, let’s be honest, a lot of the chefs here in Mersin are chefs … here in Mersin … so may not have had the good fortune of having enjoyed the perfect burger elsewhere.

burger 1

And we all know that joy of the perfect burger.  It’s a thing of beauty.  A satisfying mess of all things delicious.  Beef (good).  Cheese (good).  Grilled onion (good).  For an Aussie nothing says a good burger like beetroot (not so easy to get here in Mersin unless you grow it yourself) and delicious, fresh avocado smeared onto that bun (goooodddd).  Honestly there are few things culinary that can be relied upon to do their job as effectively as the perfect burger.

Of course I can try and replicate the perfect burger here at home.  In the Village the local butcher makes a pretty mean patty with a delicious mix of herbs and a pretty decent ratio of meat to fat but as close as I can come it just doesn’t cross the line as a winner.

I recently visited the newly rebranded Roux Restaurant in Mezitli.  I originally went there last year, in fact the expats had their Christmas party there, but with the change of ownership it was time to re-visit and check out their new menu.  It always has been a burger restaurant but with the addition of chef Gamze Sener who had previously worked at Movenpick Hotel in Istanbul the menu is a punchy, modern version to drool over.

So you are wondering ‘how was the burger’?

Pretty damn good.  I had the Hot Tamale burger which was a definite two-hander consisting of thick beef patty cooked to perfection with gooey cheddar cheese oozing over the meat, a mountain of fresh avocado and oodles of chilli and pickles to top it off.  It came with home-made chips (crisps) and a little side salad.  It was totally more-ish.  Don’t fret if you are not a fan of the burger (I know right??) the menu also has vegetarian choices, pasta dishes, fish and chicken to tempt your taste buds.

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My only complaint was that my glass of wine was not full enough but after discussion with the waiter he saw the error of his ways and the glass of wine was filled to a more ‘Janey appropriate’ level.

I know that many of you will visit family in Mersin over the next few months so do yourself a flavour favour and visit Roux.  You will not be disappointed and you might just find me sitting there in a corner, cheese dripping down my fingers as I make my way through the menu (I will definitely need to purchase some larger pants).  Next time I’m having the Jack Burger.  I’ll let you know how it is.

Roux

All photos courtesy of Roux Restaurant, Adnan Menderes Bulvari, Fatih Mahallesi, 30012, Mezitli, Mersin

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It’s Not Easy Being Yesil

Following on from yesterday’s post about making sarma I thought I would dwell a little on yet another of my food fears  *deep breath*.

chard 4

When I was a kid I had a prejudice against anything yeşil (green).  It was never going to cross my lips.  It was poison I tell you – POISON!  A lot of my numerous food issues can be put down to the fact that my mum was a terrible cook.  Green beans were always brown.  Peas too.  Broccoli was just gross – who wants to eat miniature (brown) trees anyway?  And spinach?  Puke!  I also had my well known prejudice against domates and patlıcan but as we have already previously discussed my very obvious need for therapy I return to the story at hand.  Yes, a prejudice against anything yeşil.

Being my mother’s Daughter I too am no chef (and certainly not to the standard of a Turkish Housewife) so it was always going to be a trial living here in Mersin where home delivery is just about non-existent (although for some strange reason there is a home delivery service for Burger King and Macca’s).  So with my numerous and varied aversions to pretty much everything and the fact that I am a crap cook leaves my menu choices, well, I am going to say it, pretty limited.

Thankfully The Turk’s family took pity on me and fed us on a regular enough basis so that we didn’t starve as well as giving me a few cooking lessons so that I was self-sufficient (or perhaps because they were sick of feeding us).  Of course living in Mersin many of the meals are green based meaning I had to overcome my prejudices and learn to embrace yeşil.

In the first few months of winter many of the farms here in Mersin have a green leafy vegetable growing, so similar to spinach that I assumed that was what it was.  Naturally with my aversion to the colour of baby poop green I have never grabbed any but while visiting Auntie Muriel recently she gave me a big bunch of the ‘spinach’ to take home and cook for The Turk.  It will make his heart stronger she cries.  It turns out that the spinach was in fact not spinach it was something called pazı (Chard) which of course I had never heard of before but as The Turk is still feeling poorly I thought I should use some of this magical green stuff to help him spring back into health.

On the advice of Songul, SIL extraordinaire, she immediately gave me the secret recipe for chard – Kis sarmasi or stuffed winter greens!  Anything stuffed is delicious to be honest.  Having already mastered the art of the sarma I immediately knew what to do.  Stuff ‘em!

If you want to try your hand at Kis sarmasi let’s go:

20 piece pazı (chard) – cut into two or three size dependent

200gm kıyma (mince meat)

3 cups pirinç (rice)

2 finely diced soğan (onion)

2 grated domates (tomatoes)

2 tablespoon salca (biber paste)

1 bunch finey chopped maydanoz (parsley)

2 teaspoons dried nane (mint)

Cumin, tuz (salt), karabiber (pepper) for taste

Limon tuz (half cay glass mixed with water)

Zeytin yağı (olive oil)

From there it’s pretty simple; mix all the ingredients before slowly adding the olive oil.  You want the oil to cover everything but not get too sloppy.

Sear the chard leaves (or vine leaves) for about 30 seconds until they are semi-soft (soft enough to manipulate).  Then fill and roll.  And fill and roll.  And fill and roll.

Place the little parcel into a large pot and cover with water.  I pour in a little more olive oil and limon tuz (as needed) before placing a heavy plate over the sarma. Leave on medium simmer for 40-50 minutes.

This recipe made approximately 60 kis sarmasi, devoured by family in no more than 10 minutes.  Yah me!!!  _________________________________________________________________________

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Time for Baba

We have already delved into my childhood trauma of domates so today I thought I would open the door on my next therapy session – my complete retching disgust of patlıcan (aubergine or eggplant or just bleugh!).  I mean seriously even this photo of my finished recipe of Baba Ganoush cannot make it look even slightly appetizing!

babaganoush 2

Patlıcan is not a food that I would voluntarily consume.  It is slimy.  It is bitter.  Cooked it looks a bit goopy.  All black and weird and just ugh!  And just who would want to eat something that is named after an egg but is a plant?  Does that even make sense?  And while I am at it where did the name pineapple come from?  Practically everyone else in the world calls them ananas (including here in Türkiye) but again some crazy person came up with the idea of calling it a pineapple.  Salak!

The fact is that as a kid (and a teenager and even an adult) I hated patlıcan and refused to eat it.  It was running a very close second to domates as my most hated food and I was thankful that my mother did not cook anything “foreign”.  Just to clarify “foreign” also included Spaghetti Bolognese so the idea of anything really weird like eggplant in our evening meal would be practically unheard of (although I do have hazy memories of sitting down to liver or kidneys in our little orange Formica kitchen on more than one occasion).

The first time I came to Türkiye I tried “Baba” for the first time.  Wary (as it was made from a most hated vegetable) but surprised.  I loved it.  Back in Sydney I would have never made it.  I mean why bother to prepare it from scratch when you can get it home delivered by practically any Turkish or Middle Eastern restaurant for a reasonable price – and it would no doubt taste better too.  Here in the Village though home delivery is scarce (although not unheard of) but regardless I love “Baba” here because I get to make it myself – any excuse to mangal.  The Turk has questioned before whether Daughter and I are pyromaniacs.  Whenever anyone in the family is thinking about having a barbeque we are there chomping at the bit to get around the flames.  Me for “Baba” and Daughter … well I actually DO think she might be a pyromaniac but that’s for another day.

Like most of my recipes they were passed on to me by either my darling mother in law (who I still miss every single day) or my sister in law Songul.  I do not use specific quantities or measurements I just keep adding ingredients until it tastes pretty damn good.

baba

So what you need:

2 patlıcan (aubergine), 2 biber (pepper), as many yeşil biber (green chilli) as you can handle and 3-4 domates (tomato)

4 sarımsak (garlic) cloves

Limon (lemon) juice

A good dollop of nar eksisi (pomegranate molasses) and another good dollop of zeytin yağı (olive oil).

Tuz (salt) and karabiber (pepper) to taste

To make “the Baba” you toss the patlıcan, biber and domates onto the coals of your mangal to chargrill them.

Once they are charred and soft through I peel off the skin (usually burning my fingers in the process) before cutting them up.  Some people mash or use a blender on the vegetables but I prefer a more rustic Baba plus the quicker it is finished the quicker I can consume it.  Before you go any further let the patlıcan drain for a little while to remove some of the excess juice that they build up during cooking.  Once drained I add way too much sarımsak (garlic) as well as the juice of one limon, and nar eksisi.  I season with tuz ve karabiber and finally add the zeytin yağı (olive oil) – check the consistency as it can get a little runny if there is too much olive oil.  Some people use tahini in their “Baba” but not me.  I am not a huge fan of it at any time (unless I am making hummus of course but that recipe is yet another therapy inspired post).

This recipe is so simple and I try to make it at least once a week (like I said any excuse to mangal).  If there is no mangal going on outside I can make “the Baba” by cooking the vegetables in the oven (cut a few slices into the vegetable to speed up the cooking time) or sometimes I cook it using a közmatik (a great little Türk invention to cook your patlıcan perfectly on the stovetop) but I prefer the really smoky taste that they take on when cooked on the mangal plus the flames that draw me in like a Siren calling a sailor to his death – OMG maybe I am a pyromaniac!

This, yoğurtlu patlican and acile ezme always makes up part of my meze when barbequing.  A night with the family just isn’t complete without it on the table.  I can’t get enough of it!

Afiyet olsun!

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Looking for Lychee

Driving in Mersin is a bit of a hit and miss situation for me most of the time and I don’t mean being hit or missing other cars, dolmuş or pedestrians.  This is more of a situation where trying to find where you are going is literally impossible.  Street maps just don’t exist.  Directions are either shouted at you by a crazed local or at best scribbled on the back of napkins and my GPS in the car spends most of its time telling me I am either driving in the deniz or going through a fecking mountain.  The city itself isn’t very wide, you can drive from the beach to the foot of the hills in probably 15 minutes but to drive the length of the city can take you a good two hours from go to woe!

Mersin city

Right now our little expat group is in the midst of arranging our Christmas party and in order to do so we have been zipping around checking out a few different restaurants.  This week we went to check a relatively new restaurant named Lychee.

Lychee should have – SHOULD HAVE – been relatively easy for me to find.  It was on a main road, a road that I travelled regularly, and the restaurant looked huge so common sense tells me that it will be pretty easy to locate.  Yes?  NO!

When I say that this restaurant is located in a vortex or perhaps a black hole, you need to believe me.  When I also say that I could never go on The Amazing Race because I can get lost in the confines of a paper bag you should believe that too.  No really. My body has no internal GPS system actually I have no sense of direction at all.  This could possibly be a chronic medical condition.  It will be named “NoSense-itus”.  It is definitely hereditary and although I don’t know who precisely I can blame (being adopted and all that) but I think its a condition that should be researched so future generations are saved from this affliction.

The plan was to go to Lychee for lunch on Wednesday and me, being terribly efficient, thought I should locate the restaurant to ensure that I will have no problems finding it on the day (as I do tend to misplace myself on a regular basis).  I looked up its website.  A bit confusing, not really about the restaurant, more about some kind of food consultancy group.  What the what?  So I went to my backup plan of Facebook.  Facebook really can be considered the new Google for Mersin restaurants.  Google may not have the information (as restaurants here rarely have websites) but Facebook bloody well will because everyone loves to ‘check in’.  But on their Facebook page the restaurant’s address is noted as “centre”.  Centre?  Centre of the city?  Centre of the universe?  Centre of the vortex? What the feck is centre?

My first attempt to locate the restaurant was a complete failure.  After punching in the address into my GPS in the car I arrived at vacant land about 4 blocks from where the actual restaurant was finally located.  My second attempt, using Google maps, was more successful.  I made it to the location but still couldn’t find the restaurant.  I parked my car and even walked up and down the block but the restaurant still remained hidden in the vortex opening only to those who are worthy.

Feck my life!

“This place does not exist!” I shouted for the world to hear.

“Ummm yes it does stupid Aussie girl.”

*Sigh*

And of course the masses were right.  After standing on the street and calling out “Abracadabra” the restaurant appeared before me, like the Room of Requirement (Muggle nerd alert).

Lychee collage

Having finally found it I just want to say, the restaurant was lovely.  The service was good, although initially the waiter was slightly traumatized by my wanting a bottle of wine with only one glass (in fact the waiter sent the manager over to check that it was my intention to drink the bottle myself.  Really?  You will consume all of this?  Ummm don’t judge me mate just bring me the bottle!).  The food was European cuisine and delicious, in fact there were way too many options for just one visit!  The cocktail list was as long as my arm and (apparently) sensational.  The prices were spot on, in fact they were downright reasonable compared to the prices at Marina (just saying).

The search continues for our Christmas party destination but Lychee is definitely now on rotation and will be visited by us ladies again soon (again assuming the vortex opens for me).

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The Art of Salça

When I first arrived here in Mersin I threw myself into Village life.  I helped harvest the nane and maydanoz from the bahçe.  I helped make the peynir (which was a story in itself) and I helped my mother in law make the salça.

Making salça (paste) is a bit of a pain in the ass to be honest.  It is messy work – so messy – but the end result is rewarding to say the least.

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Since my mother in law passed away making the salça is the one thing I continue to do each year as a bit of a celebration of her life.  I remember how happy she was that first year with me and my SIL sitting together, covered in flies and literally surrounded by kırmızı biber (red capsicum).  I remember my BIL delivering the 100kg of biber that morning and me going “seriously?”.  It was a very long day (and half of a very long night) cutting and cleaning the kırmızı biber before making the paste.  The next three weeks were spent checking my precious biber that had been mulched to ensure that they dried sufficiently to make the paste and finally salting to ensure perfection.

I have continued with the tradition for the past two years since my MIL’s passing.  This year was a little different however.  This year my SIL’s family decided to ‘help’ me and so, without my knowledge, set about preparing the biber for me.  I was devastated.  They don’t get that of course.  They were merely being helpful but to me they ruined the one piece of my mother in law that was something I treasured.

The Turk gets so frustrated with me each year and can usually be heard yelling “why don’t you just buy it at Migros?”.  Yes it is messy and a little smelly.  Yes my clothes are ruined (in fact I have a salça making outfit) which is stained a very attractive red colour and yes the roof top is also stained from an initial overflow of mulched biber but the end result is totally worth the hassle.

bbiber

Here is a shot of my MIL that first year.  She was one happy lady with the end result.

I have been asked for a receipe but I really don’t have a one to provide to you.  Like most of my recipes it relies on knowledge handed down by my MIL (or SIL) to me.  Basically we get a butt-load of bibers (photo 1) which are then cleaned and cut up (keep the seeds in unless they are seriously rotten).  A little old lady will then magically appears with a machine (seriously every year this woman arrives on my doorstep – the biber faerie – as if by magic) and all our bibers (or domates) are put though the machine to mulch them.  We then transfer the liquid up to our roof where it is salted and mixed.  It will stay in the first receptacle (photo 3) which is basically for pieces of wood with covered in plastic.  Once the liquid is partially dried (usually takes about a week) it is swapped into the huge plastic bowls (photo 4) where it stays for 2-3 weeks and is mixed 5 times a day to ensure it doesn’t burn in the sun.  100 kilos of biber make about 15 kilograms of salça which is about 5 containers which, of course, you then give to your numerous family members leaving you with two jars.  These will last me 12 months.

A recent incident with an overturned horse cart filled with domates also enabled me to use my salça skills to make some top notch tomato salça.  Double high fives for me today!  The final salça still to be completed is my hot chillies.  They are still drying (a longer process to ensure that they are as spicy as feck) but should be ready next week (if the weather stays warm – which it will after all it is Mersin).

The memory of my MIL will continue to live on in our meals with her salça – also known by me as Nene Salça.  It didnt matter what she cooked it was always superb – no doubt thanks to her salça.

Quick addition to this post – for those of you wanting to see my salça pants (also known as village pants) this is the only photo I could find.  They are now put away until next year but perhaps a sneaky paparazzi can crack a few shots before my security guards chase them away LMAO!  I did learn that day why I should wear long sleeves AND long pants when cutting up the biber.  I was literally covered in bites so now I’ve got a very attractive top that in no way matches my pants but works just fine.  Thank you to Daughter for showing my how to copy my Instagram photo – I am so computer illiterate.  I put this photo on Instagram because I thought it was hilarious.  The men sit there drinking their cay while the women work their asses off.

biber pants

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Wok China Restaurant

Just how far would you go for a decent Chinese meal?  Is it across the street?  Maybe it’s a few blocks from home.  Nice eh?  Back in Sydney I wouldn’t have needed to go far at all but here in Mersin?   Here in Mersin you need to leave the city.  Yep despite living in a city with a population of 1.1 million people you need to get on your bike because nowhere in this city of 1.1 million can a person get a decent Chinese meal (and the first person who mentions Blush to me will be banned from my site).  So where does a person need to go?  Does it require airfare and a passport?  No just a car, some travelling companions and the willingness to travel to the city of Adana (85 kilometres east of Mersin) to hunt out the elusive Wok China Restaurant.

chinese 2

Was it worth it?  Hell yeah!  Coupled with a good 4 hours spent shopping at M1 (seriously where does the time go?) and a quick drive through the city we arrived at Wok China Restaurant exhausted but totally psyched for our Chinese banquet.

[The following paragraph is going to make me sound like one of those pretentious prat restaurant reviewers!  I am not an asshole but you have been warned!]

Despite the fact that we had to wait for our alcoholic bevies (a sacrilege in my mind) the food was delivered with a flourish, freshly prepared and delicious.  Beginning with a plate of sushi (courtesy of the chef), followed by various stir fry’s including a pretty good Szechuan Beef and a fantastic Chilli Chicken our taste buds were definitely tempted and my waistline was definitely growing ever larger.  The thing to remember with Chinese food being cooked by a Turkish chef is that it is Chinese food prepared by a Turkish chef so the dishes may not be quite as authentic as they could be or perhaps should be.  Having said that every single dish served was distinctly Chinese – not a kebab in sight!  The effort was definitely there and the staff were all lovely so put aside your expectations as you walk through the door.  It may not be exactly what my memories conjure up when I recall my last Chinese banquet but it was definitely more than I had hoped for.

photovisi-download (1)

Price wise, it was very, VERY reasonable.  We ordered 4 mains plus rice and noodles, a couple of rounds of drinks and 3 separate orders of takeaway (Daughter was desperate for me to bring home spring rolls) and we still spent much less than we would have here in Mersin.  Does this say anything about the prices of the high end restaurants in Mersin?  It sure does!  I have said before that the only people who can afford to eat at the high end restaurants here are international drug barons but of course we still go to them as there are no other western style restaurants to be found.

To those of you in Adana get over to Wok China and have an excellent feed.  To those of you in Mersin – let me know when you are going and I’ll tag along!

wok china

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Mum’s Doing a Lamb Roast

We recently got Digiturk and I have been watching the Home and Entertainment channel, sometimes in Turkish and sometimes in English.  It was a rare occurence to watch any of these shows back in Australia and now I find myself with an addiction that cannot be quenched and sadly that addiction is – cooking shows.  I know.  I need to find a support group.  Like most addictions I cannot get enough of it and worse still it has resulted in me attempting to replicate whatever I have seen on the screen.  Desperate attempts at ridiculously difficult cakes, fancy pasta dishes and over the top dinners generally results in a messy kitchen, inedible food and a very grumpy Turk.

food collage

Yep all I have really achieved by subjecting myself to this new addiction is the realisation that I really am a crap cook and really, really miss good western cooking.  Here in Mersin it is hard to have this desire for western fare fulfilled.  Don’t get me wrong there are a few good western style restaurants in the city but their dishes are not quite to the standard that you would get in your home town.  For me it is a roast dinner.

Side note – Aussie readers.  Who remembers this commercial of Naomi Watts (before she was famous) “Mum’s doing a Lamb Roast”.

To follow in Naomi’s footsteps and in light of my drooling desire for a good roast last night we feasted on a leg of lamb with all the trimmings.  We had potatoes and oodles of roasted garlic.  I made a mint sauce (which kind of sucked) and finished it off with peas and carrots.  Finally gravy.  Yes I had some gravy sauce squirrelled away for such an occasion.  I heard the moans in the audience – no I cannot make my own gravy although I have tried on many, many occasions (my mother would be so disappointed in me).  Yes I used the juices, I added the flour and the Vegemite (probably an Australian thing) but my gravy always tastes horrible and lumpy and doesn’t thicken so gravy mix I will continue to use until I become Nigella Lawson.

Speaking of Nigella and again as a cooking show virgin I don’t really know how these things go but honestly this chick is sexing up everything that crosses her plate.  The episode I watched yesterday had her sprouting these beauties “This meat is so soft in my mouth”.  The Turk turned to me in surprise and said, “I bet her husband prefers when the meat is hard”.  Not sure who is more inappropriate Nigella or The Turk!

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How to Barbeque like a Turk

I know how to barbeque.  I am a good Aussie girl and was taught the art of barbeque by the Zen Master of Barbeques – my Dad.  His barbeque boot camps were the stuff legends were made of and anything he put on his barbeque would be cooked to perfection every single time without a drop of beer ever being spilt.  Yep I was taught by the Master and have crazy barbequing skills but here, in Turkiye, all my rad skills taught to me by my Dad are thrown out the window.  The reason?  In Turkiye a barbeque just isn’t a barbeque – its Mangal!

Mangal means to barbeque but it also is the name of the itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny apparatus that the Turks use to cook their barbeque on and let me tell you a mangal is, in fact, an event.  To mangal takes time.  Preparation of the food and preparation of the barbeque itself – it is a commitment but the end results are always a party for your tastebuds.

Adana mangal

Like households all over the world a caveman-like primeval instinct will take over a Turkish male and it is for him to prepare fire while the females slice and dice in the kitchen preparing the meats and salads.

Watching Turkish men prepare the mangal is an experience in itself.  First they disappear into the nearest forest hunting firewood returning with, in their expert opinion, what is the best firewood ever collected.  If there is more than one Turkish man then they will need to be fierce debate over the quality of their firewood because, of course, it’s all about the size of the wood isn’t it ladies?  Once half a forest has been accumulated by our men it is time to stack the mangal.

Stacking an art form and has been known to cause WWIII on more than one occasion (in our family at least).  Like that age old question of “what came first the chicken or the egg” with mangal it is all about how you prepare the fire to get the ultimate heat.  The correct mix of charcoal briquettes and firewood set in the correct manner should ensure the perfect mangal which should, in theory, ignite with ease and, after its initial blazing inferno, should burn down to a grey ash – the perfect heat for cooking.

BBQ 1

While all this is going on I can usually be found in the kitchen helping (or hindering) my sister in law who is frantically prepare enough food for an army.  Tavuk (chicken) is usually coated with salcha (biber paste), kimyon (cumin) and kırmızı biber (paprika) while the balik (fish) will be marinated in a little zeytin yağı (olive oil) and limon (lemon).  My favourite, and usually my job when and if I ever put down my glass of wine, is to prepare the mincemeat kebabs.  These are so simple that my sister in law knows I won’t stuff them up.  Ready?  It’s as easy as mixing the kıyma (mincemeat), karabiber (black pepper), toz biber (red chilli powder), kimyon (cumin), onion (soğan) and kırmızı biber (red capsicum/pepper).  I use as much or as little as I like as there is no exact recipe so basically I can’t fail.

BBQ 3

Returning with the meats to the mangal which should by now be the hot coals and ash (remember grey ash is the best ash) the men come into play again where they stand over the food and discuss everything from politika to futbol.  One of us ladies have to appear and warn them that the meat is going to be overdone to which we will receive a hearty tamam or tessekuler and a request for another bira.  I usually laugh about now because it doesn’t matter where you are beer is always a pre-requisite for a barbeque.  A final argument about too much tuz (salt) or perhaps how many times the meat has been turned ensues before finally a mountain of meat is hauled off the mangal and to your table which is now full with numerous salads and ekmek (bread).

BBQ 2 (2)

Don’t forget you also need plates of meze to finish off your barbeque.  A quick and easy one and a favourite of mine is Biber Ezmesi.  Cook your biber (no not Justin but probably justifiable) on the mangal as soon as the initial inferno has died down.  Once cool quickly peel them and cut them finely as well as a couple of domates (tomatoes).  You can cheat and use a blender on low but my sister in law swears that cutting by hand makes all the difference.  Mix them with zeytin yağı, nar şurubu (pomegranate juice), two cloves of sarımsak (garlic) and maydanoz (flat leaf parsley) and you have a wonderful meze or relish to add to your table.

biber-ezmasi

If you are travelling to Turkiye this summer make sure you find a restaurant that serves mangal or, even better, buy your own mangal (they are incredibly cheap) and go to your closest piknik spot and prepare your own.  Most butchers sell the mincemeat already prepared with spices for kebabs and even the chicken coated in salcha.  Grab some lamb ribs and marinate them in olive oil and lemon – amazing – or maybe head to the fish market and haggle with the fish mongers for the best fish the Adriatic has to offer.

BBQ 5

If you are unsure what to buy ask your closest Turk and he will give you his expert mangal advice.

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