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