The title might have daunted people who don’t know or haven’t had all of the three ingredients, Jerusalem artichoke, quail, and saffron. I enjoy shopping at my tiny local market, where grocers got to know me better now and put all the veggies and fruit in one bag, not like the Turkish way, which is one plastic bag per item. My new neighborhood is much friendlier than the previous, and especially the veggie man, when I buy fresh herbs, sticks each bundle to my nose to smell and puts them into separate bags, saying “It smells nice, doesn’t it? I don’t want to spoil the nice smell so I’ll put them separately. Ok?” Fair enough.
Also, he knows by now that I buy only the quantity I need. “How many carrots? Two?” “How many cucumbers? Three, enough?” The grocers at the Kadikoy market would be so annoyed if I did that and charge extra for punishment, maybe. When I went there after the trip to Safranbolu, I saw a big pile of fresh Jerusalem artichokes and just bought them without knowing what to do with them. It seems to be getting into the season of root vegetables and I came home with celeriac, beetroot, radish, and the Jerusalem artichoke. The first time I ever had it was in soup at a friend’s place in Paris. At the height of my culinary interest, I was put to a challenge where I had to guess all the ingredients in the dishes she made. I got all correct except the soup and she sort of made sure I wouldn’t get it. I thought it was made of taro, not tarot, which I used to eating as soup growing up and has a similar sweet and nutty flavour. I had no clue at that time even though she showed me a picture of it. But I really liked the soup and perhaps my purchase was a knee jerk reaction to the memory. It was an inspiring evening and I still remember her kitchen so packed with all sorts of kitchenware and tools, which amazed me.
I asked the grocer how I could cook them and he said I could cook like potatoes.
While getting rid of some stuff in the freezer, I found four quails and decided to cook them, though it was a shame to cook them for an ordinary weekday meal. Inspiration was needed to cook this unfamiliar veggie. I thought I’d simply bake with the meat to know their natural taste, but with bay leaves, cinnamon stick, and mandarin peels. As much as the sunchokes(another name for Jerusalem artichoke) mattered, I was excited to try the saffron I bought from Safranbolu. It seemed genuine. The intense honey and earthy fragrance with a vague metallic note hit my nostrils. I peeled the sunchokes with a thin tea spoon as I would for ginger, radishes and potatoes. Unlike other gourmets who have all sorts of tools and gadgets, I work with minimal equipment.
The quails….I got confused about how to place them, legs up or legs down?
I guess it’s legs down, or split. It looked so obscene in the end. Oh, no! Lucky, I wasn’t serving this to other people but lucky Mr.O. Is it a crime to eat two quails per person? Mr.O says he needs 6 of them. Pfff……quails got wasted on him, it felt. But he loved the saffron risotto so much that he, for the first time in our eating-together-history, repeated “Wow, it’s great. I really like it.” voluntarily without me threatening him with a fork pointing at him. Maybe the saffron affected his brain to respond positively as Turks are not known for being good at complimenting others. I need to add saffron in every dish perhaps?
He asked how many saffron thread I’d used and I said I used 10 and his eyes opened wide with “WHAT???” I said, “Safranbolu is only a 6 hour drive.” :p So did we feel the happiness saffron promises? My Iranian guests all say that they add saffron to tea and it makes people happy and it’s also used to treat depression and so on. Maybe we did, maybe we didn’t.
So, how did I make the amazing risotto? Most importantly, you soak the saffron threads in lukewarm water for 1 hour or so. Then, follow the usual steps, frying chopping onions, pour in the saffron water and more water (or chicken stock) and a splash of white wine, and boil till rice is cooked to al dante or your preference. At last, add some cream or butter or both, and grated Parmesan cheese. What I did differently was to use special Turkish butter I’d mentioned before, Susurluk tereyağ, the tangy airy butter.
It’s been a long time since I last talked wine. Over the last summer, I quite often drank wine made with a particular grape variety , called Kalecik Karasi. I’d compare this grape to Pinot Noir and its red fruit-forward taste with low tannins and relatively high acidity makes a perfect pairing for many dishes I often eat. We drank Plato by Sevilen that night and it was good, though it’s not an everyday drop. If you want more affordable Kalecik Karasi, you can try one made by Turasan, which in my opinion expresses the core characteristics of the variety quite well.
Update: I’ve just learned that soaking saffron in alcohol and water together extract more pigment.