31 January 2014

Saksuma...or Possibly Imam Beydeli

If you look up this recipe online it's called 'saksuma' but most menus I've seen list it as 'imam beydeli' (which the internets say is actually stuffed aubergine and frankly, if I'm going to faint over anything-imam beydeli means 'the imam fainted'-it's going to be sauteed lamb stuffed in an eggplant). But whatever it is, it's yummy and you should make it.


Saksuma, or whatever it's called, is a pretty standard appetizer menu item in Turkey. It's served cold (or room temp) and usually with bread but is good to just eat up too. I also like to eat it with a salty beyaz or goat cheese.


And bonus, it's really easy to make. The only issue I had with it is that I have only one small sauce pan and I needed to make a big batch of it.

What you need:
-1 aubergine
-1 large cooking onion
-1 red pepper
-3 tomatoes
-couple bulbs of garlic
-tomato paste
-olive oil

  • First alternately peel the aubergine, chop it in medium sized chunks, then soak it for about 30 minutes in salt water. While that's soaking, rough chop the remaining veg. 
  • Drain, rinse, then pat dry the aubergine chunks. Heat olive oil and brown the aubergine on both sides.
  • Add the garlic, onion, and red pepper (and a little more olive oil if need be) and saute for like 2 minutes...kind of just long enough that you think it's all melded a bit.
  • Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and salt and saute on low for maybe 5-ish minutes. I like the onions and red peppers to retain a bit of texture so I cook just until they're tender. 
I've never eaten it hot because it's supposed to be served chilled but I imagine it would taste just fine warm.

This amount makes enough to be an appetizer (especially if served with bread and/or cheese) for 2-4 people or a side dish for 2.Now you make it :)

29 January 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week - Leona Merlot/Kalecik Karasi

One of the advantages of my move from Cevizlıbağ to Galatasaray is the proximity of multiple, larger, and more well and varied stocked grocery stores. I think I've bought more wine in this last week than I did the entire previous year when getting wine was a bit of an odyssey. I was halfway through bottle ... let's not mention a number, when I thought it might be fun to start reviewing Turkish wines for the blog!

Alcohol here is not cheap. There's an alcohol tax which I heard could be as high as 70%. So add that to the high import taxes and buying imported wines is now a special occasion deal. One of the few things I miss about the States is that for a non special it's Tuesday I need some wine bottle I wouldn't pay more than $8-10. And thanks to Trader Joe's I wouldn't have to! It's remarkable how much I'm willing to pay for a regular bottle of wine has increased.For those not familiar, Turkish wines are very hit or miss. And more often you're missing than hitting. My uncle makes better wine in his basement. Seriously. It's maddening to have to pay so much for experimentation but I'm not living without wine so I'll do it.

I fairly recently discovered a red Turkish wine that I have (so far) liked regardless of vintner or year; Kalecik Karasi. Thus my mission at Carrefour the other day was to find a bottle of Kalecik Karasi for under $15, which really wasn't all that easy. I ended up with a bottle of Leona.

Unfortunately I didn't notice until I got home that it was a Merlot/Kalecik Karasi. Sigh.

Maalesef (your Turkish word of the day; means 'unfortunately') there was definitely more of Merlot than Kalecik Karasi to the wine. The first glass was very brash and I shouldn't have drunk it sans food, I don't think. I woke up the next morning with a fierce migraine and spent the day lying down with an ice pack on my head. Which on the one hand meant that I had an excuse to not go out and then have to climb back up the five flights of stairs to get to my apartment.

The following day (so fully two days after first being opened) it was actually a bit better. It was softer, I was able to drink it and remain migraine free, and it went pretty well with my dinner of sauteed garlic, shallots, and cherry tomatoes with wilted spinach and goat cheese over spaghetti. The third day open it was getting a little dodgy though and I don't think it would have been drinkable on day four. So I sacrificed myself on the wine alter and killed the bottle. Reminded me of working at a theatre in DC. For a while we ran our own concessions and the artistic director had a thing about not allowing us to serve wine that had been opened longer than the previous day. So if you worked on day two and there was still open wine at the end of the night it went home with you :) Furtively of course so as to not rouse any 'open container' legal issues. Lauren used to wear this pullover that had a front pouch and would come home with two-four bottles stuffed in it!

Final verdict on the Leona Merlot/Kalecik Karasi...I wouldn't buy it again. It was in the right price point and the KK influences softened the overall horribleness that is Merlot...but not by enough. Next time I'll read the label more carefully!

23 January 2014

It's Been A Year Now...

One year ago today I arrived in Turkey. It was my third trip here but there was one big difference this time; I was here to stay. I came to Turkey for work; knew almost no one; spoke no Turkish; and outside Sultanahmet knew nothing about the city. So much has changed since then! I got fired in July, which isn't as bad as one might think; I have quite a few good friends now, Turks and other foreigners alike; speak some Turkish (although it could always be better); and feel pretty comfortable navigating more of this city of roughly 14 million* people.

European Fortress in Bebek
My first year here I lived in a neighborhood called Cevizlibağ. People barely even know where it is and everyone asked why on earth I took an apartment out there. The short answer was because I had a fever. I arrived in Turkey with severe bronchitis. I had a hacking cough, a fever, was leaking mucus from my eyes...it was not pretty. It was cold here and I still had to go to meetings with other organizations, project participants, and the bleeding US government. So when I told some new Turkish acquaintances what I was looking for in an apartment and there was one available in their building I jumped on it. I just wanted out of the hotel.

Rustem Pasa Camii

Living in the middle of nowhere aside, I had a pretty darn good year. In March I started taking Turkish classes. This proved really helpful because the guys in my building management office speak almost no English. We used Google translate a lot. Mostly I talk to cab drivers, waiters, and people in the market so I'm pretty good with food words and asking for receipts. I need to take my cat to a vet and get her shots and spayed. I don't know that word but I figure if I tell a vet that I don't want my cat to have babies (which I can manage) that he'd get the right idea.


St. Saviour in Chora church
And while I haven't visited as many places in Turkey as I was hoping to this year, I have got to a few key places including Ephesus (which after three visits I could guide you around blindfolded), Şirince, and Pamukkale. Pamukkale was very, very cool. I've also made it outside Sultanahmet and explored different parts of Istanbul itself, including the Prince's Islands and Eyüp. I haven't made it to Feshane or Miniaturk yet but they're on my list! I've also taken advantage of being so close to Europe and have visited Greece, the UK, Georgia, and the Czech Republic this year.

Buyukada-Prince's Islands
I am now also the happy mama of a Turkish street cat which I adopted from some friends. Last weekend some fantastic friends helped me move into a 5th floor walk up and in the process I briefly lost my cat, Sherlock. I was inconsolable for a day until I found her. She was, as they were certain, hiding in my old apartment but I'd given up hope when, after the move, I went back and still couldn't find her. All the moving fuss freaked her out.

And speaking of my move...I managed to get an apartment I first saw when some friends (I have so many of those now!) lived here. Aside from the five flights of circular stairs which will kill me one of these days (either expiring, breathless going up or falling down-likely the latter) it's a fantastic little place.

Part of what makes it so wonderful is its location. I'm now smack in the middle of the popular Istiklal street. There's a great wine bar just across the street, fantastic restaurants everywhere (even some that serve pork!), all manner of shops and markets, and my church and several of my friends are now all in walking distance!

Even Sherlock approves
And most importantly:

Aside from a few hiccups 2013 in Turkey was pretty good to me. Hoping 2014 is even better!

* Wikipedia lists the official population as 13.85 million. It's so much more than that.

21 January 2014

Küçük Aya Sofia

The Küçük Aya Sofia, or Little Haghia Sofia is a really lovely and peaceful little mosque located in Sultanahmet. It was actually built several years before the Haghia Sofia, in 527 BC to be precise, by the Emperor Justinian.

Although I'm sure it would be a surprise to Justinian to know that he built a mosque as he was pretty sure he was building a church dedicated to Saints Sergius and Bacchus.

One of the things I particularly like about this mosque is its stillness. Unlike many of the more well touristed mosques in Sultanahmet, the Küçük Aya Sofia is a bit of a hidden gem. It's not purposefully hidden, in fact it's listed in most guidebooks, I just don't think a lot of people bother to seek it out.

I also really enjoy the gallery, although the stairs up to it are horribly uneven, railless, and covered in slippery carpet. But every time I visit this mosque I carefully make my way up them (and even more carefully make my way down) because the view from the gallery is beautiful.

I took these pictures ages but have just been really lazy about posting them. Hopefully I'll be a more timely, and more frequent! poster in 2014!