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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.

spinach-meatball-3

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

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.

Greek Wine Review: Why you should drink Greek wines

Hope you had a lovely weekend with nice food and wine. I spent the weekend without hubby so with extra time on my hands, I put together the information and write about wine. Of course, I’ll write about Turkish wines but let me start with Greek wines.

I’m a wine lover so obviously I love wine, not only reading and talking about it but actually drinking it.  So I drink a glass every day, which is my secret to good health but also entails…. money. I’m not rich but unfortunately my palate is.

I used to spend on average $150 by-monthly or even weekly at The Wine Society in Sydney, but here, even if I drink less, my monthly wine bill isn’t any smaller. To reduce my wine expenditure, I was buying many Spanish wines for a good value but then I discovered Greek wines after the trip to Lesvos a few years ago, and they have become my No.1 choice for every day wine ever since.

Not only do they offer value for money but also a wide range of style, and above all, they pair well with the type of food I enjoy. After my recent stock-up trip, I decided to write an overdue post on Greek wine for my personal note.

greek wine

You’ve probably noticed that more and more Greek wines are appearing at the shelf and wondered why. Some of the reasons are the story and tradition associated but recently they are re-emerging under the tags of organic, food-friendly, indigenous grapes, good value, etc.

Boutari Winery is very well-known so I’ll skip it. Semeli Wines, picked impulsively first drawn to the lovely label (I don’t normally pick colourful bottles though), and second to its blend: Agiorgitiko (ah-yeeh-yo-tiko), its intense summer red fruits and supple tannis supported by Syrah. Under  € 10, it’s a bargain and I’ll pick up its reserve on the next trip and some other Nemea wines.

You can do a photo tour of Semeli Wines on this blog.

But mostly, to me, Greek wines seem philosophical. I know it’s a cliche, but they really are a good complement to food and conversations. They are complex and linger in the mouth, giving a punch at the end.

greek wine

Poppy seed crusted salmon

Domaine Porto Carras , Limnio (PDO), for example, is of light body with ripe fruit and herbal flavours with bright acidity and delicate and discreet tannins, which you savour before and after swallowing. That’s what Limnio grape does to you, and though it’s good with red meat, it’s great with fish. So you can imagine how ancient Greek philosophers would have liked to drink this wine while ‘chatting’.

The grape originally comes from Limnos Island but nowadays they are gown mostly in Halkidiki Peninsula (Greek Macedonia). And Porto Carras is the biggest producer of it but also grows international grapes organically.

Tsantali Winery is another well-known winery and they make wines  with various Greek native varieties, especially Xinomavro, Krassato and Stavroto.

greek wine

Their Rapsini (PDO) is more structured and earthier due to Xinomavro, which is all the rage these days among wine enthusiasts due to its Nebbiolo quality. I certainly enjoyed it with roasted wild goose.

Greek wines are, to me, also feminine and capricious sometimes like Lesbian wines.

greek wine

I’ve tasted all the above wines, which I brought from Lesvos. What was common in all three was colour, which is pale ruby, and the lovely aromas of red fruit and flowers; strawberries, raspberries, red cherries, etc.,

Despite good reviews , I didn’t like Methymneos (100% Chidiriotiko (aka. Kalloniatiko)) as much as Makra, which is blended with Moschato Myrodato(aka. Muscat Hamburg), and  Daphnis & Chloe by Oinoforos Megalohoriou Winery. The latter is a blend of Mantilaria, Fokiano, Rikara.

wine-greek-2

Lesbian wines are mostly organic and natural, using only ‘first press’. Look at the pale ruby colour with the wide garnet-hued rim of Makara, meaning ‘the son of Helios’. How I liked the aromas in the glass; a bouquet of red fruits, honey, flowers, spices, balanced tannins and acidity, and the lingering aftertaste! It’s just perfect for summer evening with olives, ham, tomatoes, melon and feta cheese.

I was really impressed by Makaramade with good grapes grown in volcanic, mineral-rich soils and zero or minimal influence of oak. If you’re interested in the ancient term for natural and unadulterated wine, you can read all about it in here (It’s long but very interesting.) and here (about the history of amphorae)

Anyway, the biggest joy came at the end of the bottle. The sediment!

The next bottle, Domain Hatzimichalis, comes from the Atalanti Valley in the Central Greece, and seems quite well-received. Their approach is modern and oriented towards full bodied wine.

Hatzimichalis greek wine

After the Cabernet Sauvignon, I recently tried their Bordeaux blend, Alfega. Both are oak-laden, rich bold wines with tertiary aromas due to the age (2008/2009), but I preferred the Cab Sauv, which seemed more integrated. They both are tannic and call for char-grilled BBQ steak.

The last wine, Medittera Winery, Mirambelo (PDO) is from Crete and made from Kotsifali & Mandilari, the perfect marriage (the former wife and the latter husband)

greek wine

As the name ‘aromatic vineyards, suggests, it’s an aromatic full body wine laden with fruit, dried herbs, spices and smoke. It’s a wine for a hearty meal and was good with roasted lamb intestines.

And there are always the bone dry crisp Assyrtiko from Santorini and lesser-known, delicately fruity and floral Moschofilero from Mantinia, Peloponnese and many more interesting wines to try in summer.

Keep on eye out for the organic Domain Spiropoulos or Troupis Winery for their lovely white and Rose wines!

I hope my introduction to Greek wines was helpful and I’ll certainly explore more wines beyond Duty Free shops and taste more when I hop over to Greece this summer.

If you want to learn more about Greek wines, you can read Passionate Foodie for more recommendations. If you’ve tried Greek wines or any of the wines mentioned, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Also, this might be an interesting read if you want to know about Greek wines.

The A-to-Zs of Greece and its Wine

Chasing the Season: Sardines Wrapped in Grape Leaves

These days a lot of photos of Ahi Tuna are circulating on social media, teasing me who can’t even get any fish. Commercial fishing is banned from May to September in Turkey to protect fish population. You can still get farmed fish, though. However, I won’t resort to Norwegian farmed salmon, so I’m hanging in there waiting for the healthiest little fish to appear.

And they have! But my stubborn FIL keeps saying firmly, “Not tasty yet. Wait till July!” 

Ahhh~~~ I know if I’ll be rewarded with big fat sardines if I wait a bit longer. I’m usually great at delayed gratification but not with fish. So one day I decided to risk upsetting him, – he’s very serious about fish – and bought some without telling him.

sardines

They were not as big as FIL would have liked but still pretty fat.

The farmers market is full of goodness. Look at the 5 different kinds of cherries! And here you go, the fresh green chickpeas.

farmers market

This is one of those vegetables that you buy subconsciously because it reminds you of a certain season and it’s a rare treat that you can enjoy for a very short period.

Green chickpeas are great to snack on; you don’t really need to cook them because they are delicate but if you must, you can blanch and toss them into salads or make green hummus.

green chickpeas

Another seasonal routine is pickling vine leaves while they are young and tender. You can buy them or go foraging, and I find the latter more fun, so I headed for the secret spot where local ladies pick them.

Normally, people here just wrap each fish or if you do a bbq, the leaves are spread on the grill to prevent the fish from falling off or sticking to the grill. In this case, the leaves will be burnt and you won’t eat them.

But at home, the fish is wrapped in the leaves and, to differ from the other recipes, I stuck a slice of fresh garlic and dried fennel tips. Since it was to go under the grill, I threw in some leftover onion scapes as well as some kale chopped up.

While the fish was grilling, I made the dressing, which is a simple combination of fresh garlic, chilli, parsley, lots of lemon and olive oil, but good olive oil.

I’ve learned that the most viewed post on my blog is The Best Turkish Olive Oil, which I wrote in 2014. I thought I should update the post because now Kursat olive oil, which I found 2 years ago is the only one I use, along with Ovilo.

Turkish olive oil

These two are the only fruity, grassy, peppery extra virgin olive oil that are worth buying as far as I’m concerned.

grilled sardines grape leaves

Lucky I was eating it alone because garlic was everywhere, in the fish, in the sauce and on the side! I can’t have enough of the green garlic!

Here, let’s talk a bit of the logic behind wrapping with grape leaves. It’s not only about the aesthetics. When you wrap sardines in grape leaves, first, you protect the delicate fish from sticking to the grill.

Second, the leaves will prevent losing the omega-3 goodness, and third, if you’re those who are fussy about eating skin, the skin will come off easily sticking to the leaves, in which case you risk losing the benefit no.2. So the choice is up to you.

Having said that, I can convince you to eat the leaves by saying that the grape vines are actually very healthy, packed with nutrients good for blood, bones, skin, eyes, and brain!

The kale grilled with the leftover oil in the pan I’d cooked the fish in was a bit crispy and tasted a bit like seaweed. You probably know what I mean. That’s why many fine restaurants serve fish with fried kale, which is yummy.

I still have lots of grape leaves in the fridge so I’ll be wrapping whatever I find! Cheers to the glorious hot summer!

fig jam cheese platter

Tradition vs Reality: Unripe Fig Jam and Summer Scents

Summer finally! I’ve started to drink white wine! Especially this kind of job can’t be done without wine, can it? I miss those gypsies (or flower ladies) peeling and selling them in streets of Istanbul. I couldn’t see any peeled ones being sold here. So? I decided to do it with skin on but still had to trim them.

unripe fig

Alas, I immediately regretted my decision as soon as I got on to it. Why? The sap was sticky! Yes, I was wearing gloves but still it was sticking to the gloves and everywhere.

I mainly followed this recipe and this and this (video) when I could easily ring up my recipe source! Basically, you need cleaning out the bitterness, squeezing the little figs and a heck of sugar.

photo by GiveRecipe

I’d seen this jam flashing the vivid green colour and had only tried it once because of the sugar. I am human and I do like desserts – I eat sweets after every meal! – but there’s a level of sweetness I can tolerate. I always ask ‘az serbet(less syrup)‘ when ordering kunefe (Turkish hot cheese dessert).

However, recently I had a nice homemade one at a breakfast a couple months ago and got hooked! So I was planning to make it this summer, but less sweet.

So this was my improvisation of adding a modern kitchen trick to the old tradition: less sugar and lots of lemon seeds. I save posh muslin teabags for occasions like this 🙂 I recycle everything, and I even take the vacuum coffee bag to a roastery for a refill, not to mention plastic bags to markets.

Ok, I didn’t expect my jam to be bright green as in the photo because I didn’t use slaked lime, which goes by the names of calcium hydroxide, lime water, pickling lime, kıraç(Tukish). It’s sometimes used in desserts such as pumpkin and walnut preserves. Sure it’s not dangerous to use it since you rinse it out, but since I was a bit sceptical, I didn’t use it. ‘Traditional’ doesn’t always mean ‘healthy’, right?

BUT…..

fig jam

Not PINK!!! What’s happened???? All I could think of was that the figs were wrong.

I rang up my recipe source, and yes, my gut feeling was right. These figs were a purple type; you were supposed to use a green type. But how would I know which is from a green or purple fig tree? You would assume that the village ladies who sell them surely know the right type, wouldn’t you? Was I cheated? Lucky, I used only half of it (1kg) in case of an unexpected disaster.

rose jam

Anyway, it was done, and I couldn’t change the result but at least I could disguise the mistake as an invention. So I added rose petals that I saved to make rose petal jam. Since it was already pink, I thought I’d make it even pinkier!

Well, there is no difference in taste whether it’s green or pink but I was very disappointed especially after such hard work. I only read about picking male figs not female, but no one had warned about different types of figs. A lesson learned.

unripe fig jam

So Ta-Da! Fig jam and Rose jam in one go by accident, haha! It went well with feta cheese at breakfast. AND It made a nice complement to a cheese platter. By the way, the blue cheese in the second photo below is the one I made two months or so ago and I was finally tasting it. It was delicious!

To add more delight, the Greek semi-sweet Rosé wine made with Moschomavro (black Muscat) evoked the scent of rose even further! It was very aromatic, reminiscent of  Gewurtraminer, mingling with clove and carnation from the Roditis variety.

fig jam cheese platter

So, will I make the fig jam again next year? Oh, well, maybe not! It seems wiser to get it from a relative or friend who makes it well. But if you want to give yourself a challenge, I recommend you try it because it’s rewarding as is everything homemade. At least now I know what it’s like to make that little pretty green preserves.

About the wine and the cheese in the picture is up next…