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spinach meatball

Spinach Kale Cheese Balls with Quick Harissa

What I love about my new neighborhood, which is one of the best areas as far as the livability goes, there is a huge park where you can jog or play tennis or all sorts of activities happen all the time. I watched a classical concert and Eurasia dance show all by chance. On top of that, you can eat a big open-buffet breakfast on a lazy Sunday morning. Every Monday a big, I mean a HUGE farmer’s market (you can check go on to Son Mastori and click on the link) and there is also an organic market every Wednesday. If not at those farmers’ markets, there is still a small indoor traditional market where I usually shop for my everyday needs.

“Let’s support small grocers!”

I never buy groceries at supermarkets. No matter how cheaper things are in supermarkets and no matter how many ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Free‘ deals there are to tempt me. I love the interactions with people. I don’t get ripped off in this neighborhood as I used to. Quite the opposite. People are super friendly, especially my local grocer, who I’ll take a photo of one day because he looks really funny. And there is a guy at the bakery, who gives me extra acibadem(bitter almond) cookies every time I go there. I made a joke to Mr.O that he might fancy me and got a fiery eye shot – yes, Turkish men are jealous creatures. There is even a bakery that makes good sourdough bread, Cadde Firin, which is way better than the chain bakery, Komsufirin, and there is a small shop owned by an old man that sells village eggs and cheese he’s proud of. Also, I can walk to the posh boulevard, Bagdat St, to shop for my wines and other things.

These days when I go to my local grocers, I notice bright and vibrant green spinach and kale, which I love. I once worked in a vegetarian cafe back in Sydney,  I was eating a spinach filo roll for lunch every day, sometimes spinach lasagna to alternate my menu. Give me spinach, I’ll cook it with rice and eggs, and serve it sprinkled with chili peppers. I put spinach in sushi, too!

When I buy spinach and kale, I blanch it immediately to minimise nutrient losses, and for a more practical reason that it takes up too much space in the fridge and if I see it later, I’ll feel overwhelmed. I wilt it in near boiling water quickly, rinse it in cold still water and squeeze out the liquid, which is not good for you, and keep it in a container and use it whenever I want it; throw it into various dishes including my typical spinach bean soup, which I cook with anchovies. What?? Yes, anchovies make everything taste good, umami, yeah! Spinach is also handy for making a quick omelet for a weekday lunch.

It’s good even for a weekday dinner. One evening I didn’t have anything to cook in the fridge except blanched spinach. I crave pasta all the time – who doesn’t?- but then, I look at my belly and go for a healthier alternative. So instead of making spinach pasta, I decided to put a bit more effort by turning it into a Turkish Italian dish. I first blended 1 cup of blanched spinach(or kale or a bit of both), 1 spring onion, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and 1 egg in a food processor and added a little buckwheat flour to be able to make it into balls – you can use bread crumb, of course. I pan-fried them, using my secret method, but you can bake them for 15 mins or so.

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In the meantime, I decided on the sauce. Rich creamy Alfredo!  Then, I look at my belly again….. and I improvised the Manti (Turkish ravioli) sauce, which is made of yogurt. I don’t like yogurt in main dishes, but I thought I could make creamy sauce using yogurt instead of milk. I melted a little butter in a pan and stirred it into yogurt with a little water and salt. It was looking good. So I went ahead to make the highlight of the dish, spicy harissa! Without the harissa, this dish might have been bland, or maybe not.

spinach-meatball-1

In a small sauce pan, I simply fried minced garlic, smoked paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander and chili powder, but the aroma was just like harissa, even the taste. I sprinkled dried and fresh mint and we ate. Hmm….is it Turkish or Italian? Well, a bit of both, and we liked it. It might be far from being authentic but it gives you the idea that Alfredo sauce can be made with yogurt and also whip up the delicious and aromatic condiment, harissa, not quite the rich smokey pepper paste but still…. SO GOOD when you want to spice up your dish and your mind. With some grated Pamesan cheese, you will hardly notice that it was made with yogurt. Don’t give up Alfredo pasta when you don’t have milk or cream and utilise what you have.

spinach-meatball-2

There are many recipes for harissa, so I won’t write down the recipe. Am I overestimating my readers? I’m sure if you’re reading my blog, you must know what cooking means. But don’t put tomato paste into my harissa, please. Behind this excuse is the truth that I don’t like writing recipes; I’d rather talk and think up recipes.

There is a story that when the most famous Turkish dish, Hünkar Beğendi, was served to the wife of Napoleon III, she liked it so much that she sent her chef to Topkapi Palace to learn the recipe just to be told, “An imperial chef only needs his heart, his eyes and his nose.”

I’ll bring more exciting and inspiring posts soon. 🙂

Finding Best Jura Wines and Comté / Jura Gastronomy

Ok, let me take you on a journey of the Jura and its gastronomy including the wines and Comté. This region, shadowed by Bordeaux and Burgundy, is not very well-known. Even the cheese, Comté , is not as famous as its competitor, Gruyère. I threw this question, “Which cheese is the best among  and Beaufort ?” to French people. It’s a darn hard question if you’re a cheese lover. Ok, then, “Which cheese is stinkier Comté or Gruyère?” To my surprise, Gruyère. Hmm…my obsession with cheese led me to a Gruyère fruitière 2 years ago but it didn’t sweep me off feet as much as Comte did.

Before this trip, I visited by chance a Comte fromagerie, caves de affinage, where cheeses are ripened, but I didn’t have a camera with me at that time and only hoped to have another chance for a visit, which didn’t happen. I still remember the shock, the strong, sharp ammonia odor stinging my nostrils and then my eyes – I couldn’t keep my eyes open – when I walked inside the ripening room. I couldn’t believe the smell was real; no smell of cheese!

Wheels of cheese on different shelves were at different stages of ripeness and the older it ages the smaller the thickness is. We bought two big pieces, weighing approx. 850g each of young Comte, aged 8 months, and old Comte, aged 24 months. You would probably remember these appearing in a few previous posts as I gnawed at them little by little almost every day like a little mouse with a big tummy.

comte-2

Finally, we’re going to the town of Comte! On Day one, heading toward Poligny, I was so excited about tasting different Comte cheese. I relied on my local guide, Cyrille, for finding the best Comte fromagerie and he relied on his brother’s, which was very useful – “There are three stores in the square. Go to the one  in the middle.”

Standing at the small square with three fromageries in sight in a form of triangle. Which one is the middle? Well…sigh… but somehow my instinct pulled me towards this one, so we entered and did our first real tasting.

poligny-comte-1

Oh…this is it! I’ve found it finally! The Comte cheese there was not only delicious but also took my memory back to the very first Comte I had in Sydney that had cast a French cheese spell on me. It was nothing like other Comte cheeses I’d tasted up to that point. My endeavour had truly paid off.

How was the cheese different? The 18 month-old was super fruity and creamy, and 28 month-old super nutty and mushroomy. The 24 month-old, which we bought a small slice for gratitude without tasting in the shop, had a distinctive flavour of orange, pineapple and toasted nuts, and above all, had salt crystals as you might see in the photos.

That salt crystals aren’t so common in Comte cheeses as in Parmesan, but that is what I tasted and liked in Sydney. – update: I found a website of the fromagerie, Vagne, and it is located in Chateau-Chalon! I see myself going there one day. It looks very pretty.

poligny

Even though I’d found THE cheese, I still wanted to try some more just in case I’d find a better one – typical human nature, maybe just mine. The next one might be THE middle one Cyrille’s brother meant. Oh la la~~all of the Comte were so so salty, especially the first 32 month-old Comte, and I had to sneekily put the slices of samples given in my jacket pocket.

poligny-comte

Well, we might as well try the last fromagerie. There we bought Mimolette instead of Comte. By then, I’d developed the sense to detect good Comte cheese by the look and smell and none of their Comte looked nice and the actual taste was very bland. So we returned to the first shop and bought 3 kg of Comte cheese, some for me, some for friends, and some for charity auction – sounds weird. huh? 🙂

The night fell. It was too late to visit wineries so we went to a supermarket to familiarise ourselves with labels and varieties, then I spotted Chateau-Chalon and couldn’t take my eyes off the bottle for some reason. Before the trip, I didn’t study about Jura wines and wineries, which is my way of trusting my instinct and removing prejudices and allowing unexpected adventures to happen.

I bought the bottle to celebrate the first day of our wine trip after dinner, but fast-forward time, we didn’t get to drink it that night and opened it after the trip back at Cyrille’s house. I will tell you the conclusion: it was THE Jura wine I was expecting. Cyrille instantly fell in love with Chateau-Chalon and every time he sipped it, a big happy smile cracked across his big face. I will tell you more about Chateau-Chalon in another post so please bear with me and let’s experience the Jura cuisine.

poligny-wine

Poligny is a bit of a dead town and there wasn’t much going on. After visiting Arbois, we wished we had gone straight and stayed there. The only place I felt like entering among two options available was Casa…something, sorry I forgot, with a long pizza menu. But I was glad that they had some other dishes worth a try. The entrée with smoked duck breast, magret de canard fumé and Girolles, local mushrooms, was very delicious.

poligny-food

For the main, Cyrille got a horse steak and I got local river fish gratin cooked in Vin Jaune with Morilles, the expensive mushrooms. Cooking with Vin Jaune, why not? Hmm…it sounded better than it tasted, though the Morilles (Morels) were worth tasting.  And my dessert, fondant au chocolate, was great, too.

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The sights of vineyards with yellow and red vine leaves on the way to Arbois the next day were really beautiful. We stopped at a couple of vineyards but none was open because it was All Saints Day.

poligny-vineyard

Straight to the town centre then.

arbois town

And start tasting some Jura wines. At the first cooperative, we tasted various wines by Domaine Rolet Pere et Fils. Browsing through the shelves, I saw Trousseau, which I’d been keen to try since I arrive in the Jura. Trousseau is another red grapes alongside more popular Poulsard and Pinot Noir. Jura reds are also quite good, which isn’t hard to figure out when you know the geography of France – it’s one hour away from the red Burgundy.

When tasting wines in Jura, you have to break the rule of white-first-then-red, because Jura whites are more powerful than reds. My previous tasting of Poulsard wines didn’t satisfy and one of the reason was the lack of tannins and complexity; Pinot Noir-like but without the Noir, I suppose.

I tasted Trousseau 2007 for the first time along with Poulsard just to compare, and Trousseau still won. It was quite different, more aromatic and earthier, though it looks the same, with its pale ruby colour. Even the red seemed to have a slightly oxidated taste, if I remember correctly. We moved on to the whites, Savagnin 2006, Vin Jaune 2005, and Vin de Paille. I thought they were all interesting but I couldn’t have any opinions on them as it was the first tasting.

But, though it was the first stop, we felt like we’d visited 5 places at least. Jura wines are pretty strong and tend to tire your palate more quickly even if I spat most out so you need to take it easy.

Next, we went to Domain de la Pinte, whose owner and producer was very helpful and patiently attended us.

arbois

Pinot Noir 2006, Les Grandes Gardes, aged 18 months in a barrel  was very firm and spicy with a good balance.The whites, Savagnin and Melon a queue Rouge, which I thought was a red wine, but it’s a local Chardonnay variety with a red stem; how interesting! It was very different to Burgundian Chardonnay, less buttery and nutty, but fruitier with higher acidity, which I liked about the wine.

arbois pinte

OMG, their Vin Jaune was just amazing, I mean really complex and elegant, not overly sweet and woody like some of the vin jaunes I’d drunk. It had a particular lingering taste that reminded me of exotic tropical fruits such as guava, the fragrant taste of both sweet and tart. As I was murmuring guava, the owner said, “coing?”, which means quince in French. Ah, yeah, that! Merci!

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Their Paradoxe is actually what would have been called Vin de Paille, had the abv was higher than 14%, but at 11.5%, this sweet wine made both Cyrille and me go, “WOW!”. It was unique; it was aromatic; it was delicious; it was memorable. It had all the characteristics of vin de paille but seemed to be more…how should I put it? More refined? I didn’t know the wines were biodynamic and whether or not the biodynamic thing has anything to do with the taste of the wines, we had a good time there.

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Quite a lovely ancient village, I thought. If I have another chance, I’d like to spend more time in the town and definitely stay in Arbois, not Poligny; it’s bigger and there are more things to do, and it’s pretty.

Jura wines are definitely not for everyone, but this journey had completed my adventure in search of wine and food in France. I’ve been to more places in France than Cyrille, for example, which makes me proud as a lover of French gastronomy and music. Driving while listening to Charles Trenet, imagine that! Sherry and Port wines… the aged, oxidated, woody and nutty wines, they are good when they are good.

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We explored a little more of the centre and, from there we made a spontaneous trip to Burgundy. I just wanted to revisit the area while the vineyards looked beautiful in all colours and to revise my previous Burgundy wine tours. We drove through Salin-les-Bains, Auxonne and all the way to Gevry Chambertin. Salin-les-Bains was a strange town, which was recommended by Cyrille’s brother, again, and we found nothing there except closed shops and a big fancy casino restaurant.

arbois-salines

Saying bye-bye to Arbois, we headed for Burgundy. I thought it’d be a good experience for Cyrille, who had never been to Burgundy and who likes Pinot Noir. Thank you for reading and you can look forward to my Burgundy, revisited! IMG_8881 copy

Life in the Vineyard – Part 3: Nomad Chef’s Food Story

Sarkoy, though famous for wine, doesn’t have much to offer in terms of food and, having realised that earlier on, I brought survival packages of foods, spices and freshly ground coffee and my travel mate, a Vietnamese Phin filter.

As you know, where Namie goes, there is food, not just food but thought-provoking food. Since I don’t like repeating a meal and my tummy has a limit for white bean stew (kurufasulye) and meatballs (kofte), I opted to cook instead of eating the food delivered to the winery.

I try to cook no matter how tired I am, as long as I can lift a knife. The process of thinking what to cook is a therapeutic mental exercise and my body benefits from the simple clean food I make.

Green Beans with Hazelnuts / Pesto Pasta / Garlicky Menemen with Cheese

Without fancy tools and pots, let alone a proper stove and a decent knife, I’ve been cooking just as fine as I’m a well-seasoned cook.

sushi

Spicy Tuna Sushi with Avocado

The food produced from my tiny kitchen with an electric single hot plate and a kettle is getting more sophisticated day by day, so I’ve decided to share my thoughts on what real food means.

Natural and Foraging

Whether it’s a farm or vineyard, you have to make do with whatever is around. Sorry if you’re one of those who rely on chia seeds, quinoa, cashew nuts and soy milk.

It can’t be as natural as collecting purslane (semizotu in Turkish) between the vines – human herbicide! – and picking figs, nuts, and soon mushrooms. The winery is only 10-min drive from the Sarkoy centre but it feels more isolated without a car since minibus runs every 2-3 hours.

Grilled Salmon Purslane with Mustard Dressing

The vineyard has all sorts of herbs and I often think that the whole aromas of the vineyards are found in the glass.

The staff sometimes bring in meat and other foods for me and they say I’m tiny but eat so much! Well, it’s quite a physical job and I always feel hungry! Perhaps, because I’m not getting enough protein!

Food, when Shared, Tastes better

Though nature is a relish and beautiful gradient evening sky and stars your company, it can’t replace the chatter and laughter at the table.

chateau kalpak steak salad

Steak Pear Salad w/ Red Wine Cinnamon Butter Sauce

It’s been a great pleasure to introduce different cuisines and cultures to the people here. Although my effort is not appreciated by all, there’s at least one person to pour my foodie passion into.

Coming from Mersin, one of food capitals of Turkey, she shares the same enthusiasm for food and garlic. Everywhere I go in Turkey, I hear how they abhor garlic, and they eat raw onion with fish. A double standard, you’d say? I suppose Turks like Don Quixote over Three Musketeers.

The air in Provence is impregnated with the aroma of garlic, which makes it very healthful to breathe. (Alexandre Dumas)

fried rice

A fried rice … One day we had Tavuk Pilav delivered, which is shredded chicken breast on the bed of rice, is simply too white and plain to me. So I made Asian style fried rice with ginger, saffron and egg and guess what, she was stunned by the new concept of rice dish.

The first time I made fried rice, she was so excited until I cracked an egg in the centre. I watched the excitement suddenly fade from her face and turn into a horror. What’s the deal with the egg? She tasted it cautiously at first but ended up eating more than me!

In Turkey, the combo of rice and egg doesn’t exist, but in Asia, fried rice doesn’t exist without eggs. Likewise, can you imagine Pad Thai without an egg??

Chickpea Curry / Beef Green Beans Stirfry

The famous Sabirtasi icli kofte ( Kibbeh) I got from Istanbul was a treat I got from Istanbul as well as  the acibadem (bitter almond cookies) and coconut cookies from Hasanpasa Firin in Besiktas. People here have not even heard of the delicious acibadem!

We’ve been enjoying our coffee break with and fresh coffee my hubby sends, which gives an air of city life and a zest to the mundane village life. Interestingly, the weather is so great these days, much warmer than September.

Versatile and Classic

By this point, my lunch mates have grown in number and they’ve started asking, “What’s for lunch today?”

Limited kitchenware means ‘back to the basics’ and I’ve been rediscovering the all time classic favourites.

I made Tortillas with courgettes and leek, and cooked these dried green beans, which the Mersin girl liked more than her mum’s with eggs.

Not only do I introduce foreign dishes, but also Turkish dishes! One day I made Orange Celeriac (Portakali Kereviz), which they’d never even heard of, and they absolutely loved it. But instead of orange, I used a mandarin.

Well, I hadn’t cooked Bolognese for years! See how often classic comfort foods are ignored in the name of trends and classic dishes make a comeback in a natural setting.

It was simmered slowly with bay leaf, tomato puree, chilli and red wine for over an hour while I was in the shower. It would have been 10/10 with spaghetti. The next day I added some cheese to the sauce and it was heavenly.

No Waste!

Everything edible is appreciated on the farm. To nourish my body with some minerals and collagen, I saved some, which was otherwise bound to the Rolf, Arap and Boncuk, three fluffy residents living in the vineyard.

Minty Lentil Stew with Bone Marrow

Oh, roasted bone marrow… but since it’s only the marrow, I added it to the lentil stew. A bit of marrow made a huge difference to the whole flavour, deeper and tastier.

I really miss slow cooked, tender, juicy meat….

The Real Village Style

Since I’m surrounded by wine, I’ve been dreaming of making beef bourguignon, rabbit stew, coq au vin. braised wild boar in red wine. On the last day of harvest, in high spirits, I made a bold offer to cook duck, not realising what I was getting myself into.

“Namie, Namie, duck has arrived! Come and see!”

I rushed outside, excited about making Peking Duck or Confit, but to my horror, I found two live ducks sitting, legs tied up. My initial reaction was a big laughter. Is it some sort of a joke? Or they seriously expected me to slaughter them to cook?

Be quiet! We’re testing for malolactic fermentation here!

When someone asks for duck, you would assume that the person meant it for cooking, not for pets. Apparently not here. The initial joy and laughter were soon replaced by confusion and regret. Sometimes a whimsical joke can turn into a serious affair.

I’m an intrepid cook but I haven’t lived in the wild long enough to do the deed, and neither of the capable male workers. So, 4 days on, “What’s happened to the ducks?”  has become our morning greeting.

If you want to know about the fate of the ducks, please stay around, and of course, for the last story of the internship and making my own wine at Chateau Kalpak.

cabernet sauvignon

Life in the Vineyard – Part 2 – Harvest

Today marks one month of harvest work at Chateau Kalpak. I came back here with a small suitcase of clothes and a big bag filled with my pantry essentials. After 2 weeks here, the temperature dropped suddenly and most of the clothes I’d brought became unsuitable, not only for the weather but also for the work I do here. Red wine stains everywhere!

Luckily, our sweet staff has given me some of her old clothes so I’m managing to survive so fa r. More than surviving really… I’m revitalising my inner soul and body here. I wake up every single morning, thanking to the nature and thanking to everyone who made it happen.

Hubby is missing my food so much! And my in-laws are looking after our dog. My in-laws visited me and saw how happy and exuberant I looked and confirmed how happy people are when they do what they love.

Chateau Kalpak

Vineyards at sunrise

No matter how old you are and what obstacles you have, you’ve got to live your dream after all.

While most wineries have finished the harvest, we still have a few more parcels to be harvested including Petit Verdot, with which I’ll be making my own wine! People here even call that parcel ‘Namie’s parcel‘.

I’ve stayed here through the ripening seasons, observing the changes in the colour, size and taste of the grapes and also witnessed some wonderful natural phenomena, mesmerising and blissful sunsets and awesome lightnings.

grapes

For the LEARN part, this winery has been everything I’ve hoped for. I’ve been learning a lot more than I’d expected, it being a small boutique winery that produces world quality fine wine.

Putting textbook knowledge to practice has been such a wonderful and valuable experience. There are many ‘oh, wow’ and ‘hmm’ moments that prompt me to read and study more, consolidating my wine knowledge, which is exactly what I was looking for.

grapes

Picking berry samples for the ripeness test, for example. It sounded cool so I volunteered, only to regret 10 mins later. Walking up and down the slopes and between the rows of the vines under the hot sun, picking over 100 berries…. well, not as cool as I’d thought! I’ll hide somewhere when it happens again – and I did mange to hide the second time.

Then, you’ll squeeze the grapes by hand and do a Brix and Ph test. Fascinating though, how pure grapes smell and taste, so that you can imagine what kind of wine they will make. Normally, you pick a bunch for a test but here you pick individual berries from different clusters, positions and vines.

grape harvest

Finally, the harvest started and the ladies were hard at work! Two of my favourite ladies posing for my photo, haha. We had so much fun together during the bottling in July and they love me so much that they keep bringing me jam, olives and other food.

While 10-15 village ladies and men were busy at the sorting tables upstairs, I was busy downstairs where the grapes fell into tanks. So busy and exhausted have I been that I’ve been hitting the sack around 9.30pm every night.

pump over

I appreciate wine even more now and you should, too! It’s A LOT of work to make good wine.

THREE times a day, doing the pump-over, alternating between the normal pump-over and aerated PO and doing the analysis for temperature and density(?!) 3 times day. Haha, now I’m talking like a wine geek. Wait till I get to TA(total acidity).

Pump-over might sound tedious but for me, it’s fun because I enjoy the process of smelling it for its progress, and also the feeling that I’m responsible for the wine! Everyday is a joy for me, debunking the myth and theories about winemaking through hands-on experiences.

How grapes from different parcels ferment differently, giving different aromas, and how you figure out the wine has completed fermentation or is struggling to ferment, etc.

When the alcoholic fermentation ends, we test for residual sugar, alcohol content and free SO2. I was very keen on chemistry at school and voila, I’m being a chemist finally! Bravo to me!

Tasting the 2015 vintage before transferring into oak barrels

At one point, new barrels arrived and got filled with old vintages. Tank tastings, barrels tastings, all kinds of tasting are the best part of the job. I always wish there were more tastings! Whenever the English speaking enologist comes each week, I get so excited about doing tastings.

A little secret to reveal…. When we did the tasting today, they liked the wine from a particular vat and I couldn’t help but to smile myself; That’s the one where I dropped a bucket and almost killed myself trying to fish it out!!! Don’t underestimate the power of CO2, guys!

barrels

Perhaps the only thing missed here is the communal love for wine. Wine is a product, bitterly admitting that it’s a commodity in the modern day, but to me, it started as a culture 15 years ago and it will remain so forever.

However, in Turkey in general, the cellar hands don’t really have the same love and passion for wine as the winemakers do and things get a bit frustrating.

They might not share the same passion but they are sweet and lovely people. I’m teaching Korean to the handsome French looking guys and English to female staff. Why men want to learn Korean? I have no idea!

kalecik karasi

Kalecik Karasi before going onto my cheese platter

Tasting different grape varieties, especially the rare Cabernet Franc, Kalecik Karasi, Petit Verdot, etc. is also so exciting. What grapes are you eating tonight? Petit Verdot! How luxurious to have a whole bunch of Petit Verdot on your cheese platter, huh? When they finally harvest Petit Verdot and wonder why they have less grapes this year…..oh, well!

It’s been wonderful to be physical and be natural in this amazing place. I don’t think I can go back to a sedentary job after this. Up next is the food I’ve been cooking up in the tiniest kitchen in the world!

baked fig

Baked Fresh Fig, Cheese, Lavender Filo Pie

Morning air is getting crisper and I watch the vine leaves changing their colour everyday. I have no idea how fast summer has slipped away without having a proper swim!

Despite the hectic daily routines at the winery, I thought I’d be respectful of those who are wondering about my whereabouts and waiting for delicious stories. I’m far from my kitchen and real life, and am living a dream life.

I’ve lived through the full ripening seasons here and the harvest has started and the daily work leaves me little time to go online. I’ve learned and am still learning a lot and I’ll share my experiences here once the most important part of the harvest ends.

Are the figs still around?

Before coming back to the winery for harvest, I had a short break at home. Whenever I’m back, I just dive into the kitchen and get cooking, though there’s no one else to eat with.

Farmers markets and streets were full of figs and other forest fruits that show up for a short period, and vegetables for making preserves. I had so many figs everyday, and when I felt I’d just about enough of them, I saw those tiny firm figs neatly arranged in a fruit tray, just perfect for making jam and I couldn’t resist them.

fig jam

So I made fig jam with cinnamon and cardamon this time. So my minimal preparation for winter was done, though I had to pass up gherkin, pickled cucumber.

fig jam

There were still a few giant figs sitting in the fridge and I’d decided to cook them.

Fig upside-down cake, fig tart, camarelised figs and cheese wrapped in prosciutto….. so many options to choose from! My final decision was to make a small appetiser to go with wine.

fig and cheese

The figs were far too big so I baked them like a pie in ramekins lined with filo sheets. I usually stuff them with goat cheese or blue cheese but since I had a huge log of Tulum cheese my in-laws had brought from the Black Sea recently.

fig cheese

The Black Sea Tulum was different from the Tulum cheese aged in goat’s skin from the eastern Anatolia, specifically Ercinzan. It was milder and with a high portion of cow’s milk to sheep milk.

fig and cheese

But you can use any cheese as you like, from mild fresh goat cheese to sharp blue cheese or gooey brie. Since Mr.O didn’t like the tulum cheese, I had to make it edible somehow to finish it!

baked fig

Each fig was stuffed with cheese mixed with a touch of cinnamon, lavender, cardamon and walnuts.

Then, it was baked for about 30 mins. In the meantime, I cut up some bacon and cooked it to crispness and decorated for an extra taste as well as presentation.

baked fig cheese

You’d probably wonder what the combination of salty cheese, sweet fruit and baking spices would be like. It’s like eating an appetizer and a dessert at the same time. How convenient! It was a perfect little snack for the earthy red wine I was drinking at the time.

Just today I came up with an idea of  ‘Nomad Chef‘ theme for my blog posts during my stay at the winery. I’ve been cooking everyday in the small studio and I found it quite amusing how I still manage to cook up fabulous dishes with foraged ingredients I find at the winery and with minimal equipment. Well, let’s see if that happens. I hope you’re making the most of lovely autumn weather!

parmesan okra

Two Delicious Okra Recipes You should try

Okra aka. lady’s finger. Do you like it or hate it? Hubby wouldn’t even look at it. My encounter with the strange vegetable was in Turkey and I’d had some dishes with it but had never been so keen till I listened to the podcast, Leah Chase: The cook who changed America.

Though I’ve never had the Gumbo stew, I can imagine what it’s like and it sounds delicious. Okra, originated in Ethiopia, is found in many dishes in south east countries and many with seafood as in this.

by Bake with Paws

There’s a plenty of Indian okra dishes, too, including this one, which looks yummy and healthy.

dahi bhindi

by Hebbar’s Kitchen

Here in Turkey, it’s called ‘bamya‘, and usually cooked with tomato based stew with or without meat and is, as usual, overcooked. So unless you trick yourself to like it, many people get put off by the slimy texture. The longer it’s cooked, the slimier it gets.

So it’s useful in stews and soups as a thickener and I sneaked some chopped okro(plural) into baked beans for English breakfast one morning. And guess what? It went unsuspected by the dubious palate of hubby’s. The point learned here is that you cut up okra small rather than using it whole or half so that the slimy liquid will be released and mixed into the broth.

You can see dried okra hanging along with dried peppers, eggplants, etc. in spice shops. I might be buying them this winter to make some stews!

But while it’s in season, I’ll share two easy recipes you can use to enjoy the healthy vegetable and get to know it or even get to love it. The cooking tip is to wash and dry them well before cooking. Please excuse the photos! Until I get back my camera, I can’t take nice photos 😦

Parmesan Crusted Okra with Spicy Aioli

baked okra

I bet everyone will love this and it’s so easy to make. All you need is 1 egg, grated Parmesan cheese, cornmeal, rice flour(optional), and olive oil, garlic and chili powder for aioli.

I cut them in two shapes and cubes worked better. Just dip them in an whisked egg – you can mix it with buttermilk or yogurt if you like – and roll them in the Parmesan mixture, and grill at 220’C for 10 mins till browned and turn them over and grill for 5 mins. That’s it!

parmesan okra

This will make a great party snack and I couldn’t stop eating them! You can season the crumb mix or egg wash with salt or dried herbs if you like.

Indian Okra Stir-Fry (Bhindi Masala)

Indian okra

Look at the busy fingers of hubby’s! He can’t say he hates okra any more! MIL recently came back from her two-week trip to India, and brought some spices.

You can make your own spice mix or use garam masala and add a bit of turmeric powder, chili powder and chaat masala if you have it. Once you toss it well with spices, add cornmeal and rice flour, which is to give crispiness while cooking.

Stir-fry it over high heat for 10-15 mins till browned and crisp, and enjoy it with cold beer!

Speaking of beer, if you don’t have a fear for deep frying, why not try ‘Beer Battered Fried Okra‘? And then, you can eat it as it is, or roll up some sushi, or season it with the above Indian spices, OR stuffed them and fry them if you can be bothered! Creativity has no limit…..

Life in the Vineyard – Part 1

As I mentioned in the last post, I was at Chateau Kalpak Vineyards to help out during the Art Festival, and I’m back home for a little break. The festival was wrapped up successfully with the public exhibition on the last day. A group of journalists visited during the festival so there should be an article in a Turkish magazine somewhere, but I’ll also share the atmosphere and some art works by the artists when I return to the winery where my camera still is.

In the meantime, you can have a peek at some random photos I took.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t blog because WiFi wasn’t available in the studio. Even if there had been WiFi, I wouldn’t have been able to. Because I was crazy busy throughout the one-week long workshop, multitasking around the clock; serving, cooking, photographing, interpreting, and drinking, etc. I also led a winery tour for the first time and it was fun!

The reward was waking up to this beautiful view every morning and sipping wine on the terrace, watching the sunset in the evening, and I felt blessed every day. It’s never too late to live your dream, truly!

Chateau Kalpak …. I first visited this winery in 2015 and was impressed by the wine, which still remains as the best Bordeaux blend in Turkey, and perhaps, one of the best outside Bordeaux, as proven by many medals won at Concours Mondial Bruxelles and the top rating as the best producer in Turkey from AWC Vienna. The fact that I’m doing my internship at the very best winery and by a very methodical, perfectionist, francophile winemaker seems like a rare opportunity, if not a dream.

During my early morning stroll, I witnessed, again and again, how meticulously the vineyards are being managed. His wines are not certified as organic, – in fact, he has no interest in it – however, he does what he thinks is right and takes care of the vines with science. There’s no irrigation, no pesticide, no herbicide, no sulphur, and everything is left to the nature but with a high tech control system in place.

Chateau Kalpak

In the winery, where science meets art, all equipment is of the highest quality and, according to Bulent Bey, the owner, there’s no compromise for good quality. He’s planning to change the remaining stainless tanks to oak vats this year.

The barrels are made mostly from very old Hungarian and French oak and steam bent slowly for 48 months and all his wines spend 36 months in barrel before bottling. Each grape variety grown in a different parcel is fermented in barrels of different types and sizes, and you can never predict what and how much of each will be blended till the very end. It’s the artist’s decision and the blending is done by repeated blind tastings. The ultimate aim for the specific barrel choice is to maintain the pure expression of the fruit instead of masking it with aromas from toasted barrels.

If you thought working in a winery was all fancy and glamorous, think again. I look like a mine worker, right? Haaa, now I understand the term ‘cellar rat‘, but I felt more like a monkey, climbing barrel stacks, which I happen to be so good at!

I didn’t expect I’d be cleaning the messes that fermenting wine leaves behind, fruit flies and mold, and rescuing the barrels whose silicon corks fly off due to the pressure from fermentation. But it’s all very exciting!

Smelling and tasting wine at different stages of fermentation and figuring out how it changes, and so on. I got to sample some 2015 Cabernet Franc being fermented in a botti, which was truly delicious. I hope a blend of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot will be made one day.

For my non-Turkish readers, let me explain about this area. It’s called Şarkoy, and not only does it have breathtaking scenery but also, its reputation for producing great wines dates back to the Greek and Roman times. So in and around Sarkoy is the most sought-after site for vineyards. It’s just that the once-dead wine culture is taking a sluggish revival due to the alcohol restrictions introduced by the current government. However, every winemaker is working hard every day, hoping that it will find the ancient glory again one day.

The view from the winery is especially stunning and one never gets tired of it, and I wonder if the vines feed on the view as well.

Chateau Kalpak

It’s on high altitude and it’s windy, and it’s so chilly at night I couldn’t stay outside to watch the night sky. All these factors make it possible to extend the vine maturation period for an extra month, hence the concentration of aromas and flavours in grapes.

It also has a big lavender field and Bulent Bey loves using it in tea. Vast sunflower fields add more beauty to Şarkoy in summer along with vineyards and olive trees. I truly treasure this part of Turkey and all the way to Assos, and I hope many people get to experience this natural beauty.

sunflower field sarkoy

If you are a wine and nature lover, then, you should definitely explore this region following the Thracian Wine Route, whose app can be found online.

You can read more about the wineries on The Guide Istanbul but to relieve you from the long reading, I’ll run you through a brief guide.

If you’re after great white wines, try Arcadia, Chamlija and Vino Dessera. For new world style reds and Rosé, try Chamlija, Chateau Nuzun, Barbare and Suvla, and for old world style reds, try Chateau Kalpak and Gali, which also happen to have the most stunning views.

What you should keep in mind, though, is that the wine route isn’t very well developed ‘yet’, so it’s advised to call the winery prior to the visit and get detailed directions and the road condition. The road leading to the winery can be quite tricky to drive with a normal car and not all wineries have English speaking staff or wine tastings.

octopus

Living the dream: Wine&Art, Octopus Carpaccio&Romesco

With the solstice and Ramadan behind us, summer is getting into a full swing here. Many people are already on their summer holiday or are busy planning for it. Mr.O and I are also pondering the idea of doing a road trip along the Aegean coast in August to mark our 5 year romance. BUT it all depends on how things will pan out, especially the winery job I’ll be taking from the next month.

What? Winery? Yes, you heard me right! I’ll be working in Chateau Kalpak Vineyards from July till the harvest. How about that! I’m so excited! Finally my dream is being realised, and what’s even more exciting is the fact that the winery is very prestigious and my absolute favourite in Turkey. It will be a precious experience and a huge leap before jumping into a WSET Diploma. I won’t give away so much at this point so keep following my journey as I live my dream.

To start off, I’ll be assisting with their International Art Festival and Workshop, which will kick off on July 2. Wine, gastronomy and art in such beautiful vineyards!

If you’re around, please come say hi, or wait with patience till I share some photos and interesting stories later.

So, that’s the most exciting news in the last week, and now I’ll present a special Octopus Carpaccio recipe that will impress your guests, even people who shy away from octopus. This also goes by Octopus Salami and it’s pretty to look at and delicious to eat.

octopus carpaccio

The plate was laid with summer flavours. The aromatic tangy peach and the sweet smoky flavours of Romesco sauce all complimented the sweet taste of octopus.

romesco

Hubby and FIL both love octopus and were very impressed with this recipe. It’s an artistic and interesting way to serve octopus, a change from the usual grilled version.

octopus

I bought two big octopuses and froze them, 4 legs in each bag, last month because my fishmonger said they won’t be available in summer as most will be sold to touristic places.

I took out one of the batches and simmered it with bay leaves, black peppercorns and red wine vinegar over the lowest heat for 40 mins as shown in this video. The idea of stuffing it in a plastic bottle was just brilliant!

octopus salami

This is what you get when you take it out of the bottle, and let me tell you, this is worth the effort and it’s actually not even as complicated as it sounds. Now that I’ve tried it, I’ll keep in mind what pattern it’ll create when putting it into the bottle.

As for the classic Catalan sauce, Romesco, I’m a sucker for roasted red peppers, but not so much for them raw. I usually char-grill a batch on the stove top and use it in various dishes from a nice simple tapas with goat cheese and muhammara (red pepper walnut dip) to pasta sauce. On this occasion, I made this sauce, thinking of making a prawn tapas.

octopus

The Romesco sauce might not be crucial in this dish but why not? It added extra colour and flavours and you can use this versatile sauce for fish, meat, sandwiches or a party dip for the whole week. Try mixing a couple of teaspoons with Turkish pepper taste (biber salca) and tahini, for example, for a quick breakfast condiment. Oh, it’s so yummy!

octopus

It’s a plate of art, don’t you think? Please make sure to drizzle a generous amount of olive oil and lemon before serving. I might try grilling the surface or serving it with a different sauce next time. As you can follow the link above for the octopus recipe, I’ll leave a quick recipe for my Romesco sauce.

Romesco Sauce

Ingredients

2 red bell peppers
1 medium tomato
½ cup blanched almonds
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 dried chili, seeded
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 TBSP sherry or red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon sea salt
fresh parsley or basil (optional)

Steps:

1. Roast in the oven or char-grill the red peppers on a gas stove until black and blistered.
2. Place them on a plate (covered to keep the steam) till cooled down, and peel the charred skin and seeds.
3.  In a food processor, add all ingredients, including nuts and olive oil, and pulse until smooth.

Tips: You can roast the garlic and nuts to add depth of flavour, and hazelnuts or cashew nuts also work well. To blanch almonds, you can either soak them overnight or drop them into boiling water for just under one minute and peel.