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!

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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.

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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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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.

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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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Girl on Fire – making sarma

I think you guys already know that I am a terrible chef.  In fact chef is a word that really should not be used when describing the food that is plated up by me at any time but over the past few days I have had the opportunity to learn a few other recipes that I hope I can make by myself over the coming weeks.

With my sister in law right next door the sound of my name “J-j-ja-a-a-n-n-e-e-e” calls me to drop what I am doing and come next door.  It is a win-win situation as I learn something and I eat something.  I prefer just to eat but learning something is good too.

Songul was preparing hundreds, literally hundreds, of sarma (stuffed grape leaves) for a school excursion and needed help with the preparation.  Honestly I was not really sure that I would be doing anything useful but I have now learned that if you do something over and over . . . and over again, you get pretty good at it.

The first part of my lesson was stealing vine leaves.  Yes I was sent on a stealth mission to pilfer vine leaves from the neighbour’s vines.  Up and down the street I went with My Hurley Dog and Songul’s 4 year old to grab vine leaves under cover of taking the dog for a walk (stealing vine leaves is a big sin here as everyone loves their sarma).  After collecting 3 bags full we returned home and started separating the leaves and collecting them into groups.

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Making the dolma is actually surprisingly easy.

Ingredients –

Vine leaves, 2 bags of rice, diced onion, grated tomato (which included part of my hand unfortunately), Nene’s chilli paste (not hot), parsley, sumac, cumin, salt, pepper, dried mint and lemon salt (mincemeat optional)

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Lemon salt is an excellent invention I had never heard of before.  I actually brought some at the market quite by accident, put it in my salt grinder and nearly vomited.  As salt it is filthy but Songul puts it in water for 5 minutes and it becomes a strong lemon juice equivalent without wasting a precious lemon.  Aahhh so that’s what you do with it, shame I threw mine out after the first disaster.

First things first.  Boil some water and drop the vine leaves in it for mere seconds.  This will soften them.

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Mix all ingredients (sans vine leaves) in a bowl and you are ready to roll (literally) and once I got started I was cracking at the rolling.  Really simple.  Vine leave, small handful of mixture, roll ‘em up.  Get in time with the Turkish music that’s blasting in your ear and you really have the motion.

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Now remember that we had to make hundreds of these things so I spent the next 3 hours on the floor rolling vine leaves.  As a fine art I could whip out two a minute.  Every 10 dolmas I would wrap in string and place in the pot.  Once the pot was full it was filled with water (maybe 1 cm above the top sarma) and boiled for 30 minutes.  We ended up filling 4 pots for the school excursion the next day.  I was told that the sarma was excellent (of course) but that mine were particularly sensational (I know they were just being kind).

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I often wonder why I never did a cooking course or why my mother never taught me to cook (although she too was no chef – I didn’t really know green beans were green before I moved out of home as they were always brown *sigh*).