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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

Akitu NZ Pinot Noir

London Wine Scene: Amazing NZ Pinot Noir Tastings, Denbies Wine Estate

It’s too hot to cook! These days I’m living on watermelon, cheese and ice cream, and occasional BBQ picnic.

So, to fill the gap, I thought I’d write up a post about my experience while I’m still savouring in my mouth the flavours of delicious Indian, Thai, Italian, Spanish, French, Hawaiian food I scoffed down, while drinking copious amount of wine around the busy London city.

First, I’ll start with my exam, because I know so many people are curious about it. The first classroom day was exciting to finally confirm that the fellow students, whose names appear at random online, were human not computer-generated avatars.

After the exam and a short break, tasting workshops started and we evaluated a series of wines according to SAT (systemic approach to tasting). I really need to give credit to Chris, my level 3 instructor, for the very helpful SAT sheet he created. The students at my table rushed to take a photo of!

wset

A lot more emphasis was put on assessing the quality of each wine compared to Level 3, and the introduction on the case study exam was completely mind-boggling. Intense study and research for the next 3 months!

Apart from tasting some great wines, the reason I study wine is to meet nice, fun, like-minded people. I got to know a guy from Sweden, who became my lunch mate during the course and introduced me to some really nice cafes down the street of the new WSET venue. It’s full of cool of cafes and I’m already looking forward to trying the other places on my next visit!

I was lingering after class, secretly hoping someone might propose, “Anyone want to do more tasting at a wine bar?”, and I heard a guy mentioning a NW wine tasting so I jumped at it, and we, four of us, headed down to Pop Brixton.

nz wine uk

Surrounded by these funky container boxes was a vibrant and cool space where savvy and laid-back foodies hang out. The tasting was at The New Zealand Cellar and I highly recommend you sign up to follow their rare events. You might rub shoulders with Jancis Robinson as it happened two days after I left London, grrr…

That evening was a tasting of Akitu wines, from Central Otago and Andrew, the owner of the winery and such a genial man, shared the stories behind his wines with a good Kiwi sense of humour. I got enchanted by his persona even before I tasted his wines.

Just having had an exam on viticulture earlier that day, we responded well to the geeky subject of clones, rootstocks, aspects, and soils, with cheeky giggles to each other. The story of NZ’s so-called ‘Gumboot’ clone. aka ABEL clone was very intriguing indeed! The deeper I get into winemaking, the more I realise how important these clones are!

akitu pinot noir

Holding a glass of Akitu’s A1 (2016) in one hand and A2 (2016) in the other, he explained the differences between the two. It sounds like R2-D2 and AI sci-fi characters, doesn’t it? Indeed, Pinot Noir WAS all about clones and scientific vineyard management.

A1 is made from the Abel clone parcels, therefore better tannin structure, mid&back palate and complexity. Not all Pinot Noir is made to age but this one is and A2 (2014) was just gorgeous and elegant with extra layers of earthy aromas and complexity. Now imagine how incredible A1 will become after a few years in the cellar!

Atiku pinot noir

Akitu, meaning ‘summit’ in Maori, probably translate to his pursuit of the utmost quality. The vine’s struggle to acclimatise on the geographically challenging site, trying to root deeper and deeper on the hard glacial schist soil, is reflected in the glass. What a remarkable work of art and science!

Thanking Andrew for the inspiring tasting, we sat down with our favourite bottle and pizza. We chatted about how impressive the wine was and how hard it will be to find better NZ Pinots after this. It was such a privilege to taste the product of such passion, patience and dedication to making the best terroir-driven Pinot Noir.

So, out of curiosity, we thought it’d be interesting to taste it against another NZ Pinot and asked Andrew for his favourites.

Devotus NZ pinot noir

We picked Devotus 2014 from Martinborough, which is a region I’m quite attached to because I used to visit there for an annual French festival and had my first escargot!!

Anyway, Akitu was preferred by the others for its purity and minerality and I quite liked Devotus for its rustic nuance. Both were fabulous and rare wines one would not easily come across so we enjoyed it with great appreciation.

nz wine uk

Look at all the delicious NZ wines made from different grapes!

On the same day Jancis Robinson was there, they had a big tasting of unusual NZ wines. Though I missed it, my London wine friend ran down there and reported on the scene, which sounded very exciting. I hope he didn’t mind me using his photos 🙂

Another interesting experience I had was visiting an English winery. Just before going to London, I listened to an interview with John Worontschak, who owns Litmus Wines and a wine maker at Denbies Wine Estate. Since I don’t know much about English wines, and with limited access without a car, I thought it would be a good compromise and a nice weekend out in the nature!

Denbies Wine

It’s a huge estate and well-maintained. We put our names on a tour booking list, had salmon with watercress sauce for brunch, and had a walk around to feel the energy of the vineyards.

The tour started with a film explaining about its history and viticulture, and then we moved to see production facilities while the guide explained about the champagne method of making sparkling wine.

Denbies wine

We were welcomed by another staff in the cellar where we tasted a series of wine, with matching food if you opt for it. Here I discovered so many crossings!

Bacchus, Reichensteiner, Ortega, Solaris, Dornfelder, Dunkelfelder, etc. All, created in Germany, are early ripening and resistant to fungal diseases, which are the two biggest challenges. However, thanks to global warming, these are being replanted with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir progressively.

The first wine, Flint Valley,  a white made from Reichensteiner and Seyval Blanc, was a very crisp, lively, floral with mineral notes, as the name suggests, and I quite liked it. Good start!

Surrey Gold is a blend of Müller-Thurgau, Ortega and Bacchus and more aromatic and slightly on the sweeter side than the first.  Rose Hill is a dry rose wine made from Dornfelder and Pinot, and was nice as well. But where is Bacchus wine, which I came here for???

I was told that I could taste more wines at the shop so off I went after taking a photo of this beautiful oak casks made from the oak tree blown down in the storm decades ago.

We tasted most of the wines on the shelf including award-winner sparkling wines. I’m not a fan of Pinot Gris but I quite liked theirs. It had fuller and more savoury on the palate, still being very refreshing.

Interestingly, their wines, English wines in general, are all low in alcohol ranging between 11 and 12% and still dry, sometimes too dry. This might be enjoyed by people looking for low alcohol, low calorie wines, which is a whole new topic! I also saw GinKing, a mix of gin and sparkling wine.

Wine trends are changing so fast, which I’m reading about everyday, and I’m worried that I might lose my eye sight at the end of the study! Sadly, I didn’t get to taste the Noble Harvest dessert wine, but I’m sure it’s good, judging from what I tasted, nor did I Litmus Pinot Noir.

During my stay, I visited wine bars almost everyday and tried as many wines as possible. Some of the wines have been shared on my Instagram, and I can say the London wine scene has changed a lot and I’ll share my thoughts on the changes in another post some time.

globe zucchini

Stuffed Globe Courgettes: Turkish Red Pepper Paste and Siyez(Spelt) Wheat

I’m sorry for having been slack in blogging. In case you’ve been wondering…

When you read this, I’ll be on the plane to or already in London for my first WSET Dip exam. Juggling work and study has been quite a task. So I thought I’d go a bit early to give myself a few days to cram. I hope all the wines to try AND the world cup won’t be too distracting!

Last month, I went on a spontaneous road trip, which combined many celebrations into one: hitting the 40s bracket, friendship, new adventures, etc. Gosh, what an ecstatic holiday it was!

I struggled quite a bit trying to get back to the grind after such a long crazy holiday with endless eating and drinking. But it was well deserved and that’s what life is about: being happy.

birthday Bodrum

A fabulous boat trip and swim in Bodrum and an unplanned catch-up with an old friend in Cappadocia… I came home with such lovely memories that I wished I could have been a full time traveller.

By the way, if you are in Bodrum, don’t miss the chance to take My Way Boat Trip and meet the lovely couple, who put their heart and soul into what they do. It’s a great way, not only for tourists but also for locals to enjoy the day in the sea with loved ones on special occasions.

Ma'adra Turkish wine Rose

The best thing I liked about their tour is intimacy, attention to details and the quality of food and wine, which other usual touristic boat tours don’t care about. Upon reservation, I politely asked if I could bring my own wine, – can’t stand bad wine, especially on my birthday! – but was assured by the wine list he gave me.

Since my travel companion wasn’t into reds and it was hot, I picked Ma’adra Rosé, which is made of Kalecik Karasi and Syrah. Lovely!

globe courgette

Anyway, as friendship comes in different shapes and styles, Stuffed Vegetables, Dolma, come in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavours. At this time of the year, you’d probably see these cute globe zucchini at farmers markets. They are too irresistible to pass up.

Ok, I won’t lie to you. I made this last summer and it was sitting almost finished in the draft so I decided to post it with bits of holiday stories shoved in.

stuffed courgette

The pine nuts and dried fruit are pushed in and hidden inside the stuffing

This recipe is a mix of Turkish and Persian flavours, as usual. Koofteh Tabrizi was mentioned on my favourite food show and I, inspired by the idea, incorporated it into the stuffed zucchini I was planning to make.

I used 100% lamb and other major tweaks in my recipe were the spelt bulgur and red pepper paste. It strictly has only red pepper paste; no tomato paste.

Turkish salca

MIL just posing for a camera during the annual salca making

Turkish red pepper paste (biber salcasi) is the essential part of the cuisine along with tomato paste. I use this sun-dried red pepper paste a lot in cooking, which comes in various spicy levels.

So I mixed the ground meat with a big dollop of red pepper paste, which had a medium spicy level, along with ‘grated‘ onion, spices and bulgur, which had been soaked in hot water.

stuffed zucchini

It’s almost like having a big meatball inside the courgette. It’s meatier, containing very little bulgur, and heartier, bursting with rich flavours.

stuffed courgette

And there’s even a little surprise hidden inside! Tiny details always make a huge difference. Hubby said it was very delicious and had a nice and rich sweetness to it.

The combination of ‘grated‘ onion,  pomegranate molasses and red pepper paste probably did the trick. The reason why I grated onion instead of chopping? For texture, to make the stuffing hold tightly, and for evenly distributed flavour.

stuffed zucchini

Speaking of spelt bulgur, a gurme shop in Kadikoy, called Altinoluk, stocks a range of regional, organic and quality products including spelt bulgur from Kastamonu, sourdough spelt bread, potato bread from Bolu, pomegranate molasses from Hatay, etc.

I think it’s worth a trip to the shop if you’re a slow foodie. And I’ll see you after I get back from London with ‘pass’ smiles. I’m so looking forward to tasting good wines but not the exam…. 😦

Globe Zucchini Stuffed with Lamb and Bulgur

Ingredients

6 globe courgettes, hollowed

For the stuffing

500g lean ground lamb
1 onion, finely grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup of spelt bulgur, soaked in hot water, covered
1 Tbsp Turkish red pepper paste
1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 tsp dried mint
2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)

some pine nuts, dried fruit(date, prune, cranberries, etc.)
pine nuts, slightly toasted (optional)

Steps

1. Preheat the oven to 200’C.

2. In a large bowl, mix all the stuffing ingredients very well and stuff each courgette. Place some nuts and dried fruit and push them into the centre.

3. Put the lid on and place the courgettes in a baking dish.

4. Make a bowl of broth with 1 1/2 cup of water +1 tsp minced garlic + 1 Tbsp red pepper paste + 1 Tbsp olive oil, and pour it around and over the courgettes.

5. Bake for 40-50 mins and serve warm.

Alternatively, you can take the lid off and brown the top under the broil and put the lid back on when serving.

fava purslane salad

Spring Pick-Me-Up Food: Artichoke, Fava Beans, Purlane

Hello! I’ve been so swamped by study lately due to the crazy commitment I’d taken. The WSET Diploma is far more challenging than I’d thought, demanding a lot of my time. I hope it’ll get a bit easier as the course progresses and I get a better handle on the course frame.

After a couple of overseas trips, the realisation how far behind I was in the coursework threw me into panic for a period. While I was catching up on the course materials, May suddenly arrived, making me jittery again.

I have a lot going on in May, more travels, and the first exam is in June. So I’ve locked myself at home for the past week, trying to get as much studying as possible done. Today, I finally felt a bit of relief and thought I’d write something up here.

fava purslane salad

In between my study breaks, I still visit the weekly farmers market as it’s impossible to skip! However, these days, when I see lovely seasonal staple veggies, I have to turn away quickly to cut off the temptation for cooking them. What a dramatic change, huh?

I’m still trying to cook as much but simplifying things to save time.

marinated artichoke

No matter how busy I am, I can’t pass up the delicious artichokes, fava beans, snow peas and fresh garlic. I’ve stored away pickled artichokes and made green fig jam as usual.

I enjoy purslane quite a lot throughout the summer, either bought from the market or foraged. Especially my purslane salad recipe has been praised by MIL and hubby as the most delicious.

Purslane is such a nutritious weed packed with omega-3 fatty acid and antioxidant, and sometimes we eat it at breakfast for its tangy and peppery taste.

However, when it comes to cooking it, purslane salad is almost always made with yogurt and a bit of garlic, and I find it boring to be honest.

fava beans

I’ve made several variations of my original dressing for purslane salad and I think this one has been the best.

The most important bit in the dressing is grain mustard, ginger and zahter (za’atar)!  I’ve tried it with Dijon mustard, and with and without za’atar, but the winner is always the one with za’atar, which goes by ‘breakfast za’atar‘.

fava beans purslane

To peel or not to peel fava beans, it’s up to you. I prefer the bright green colour of the peeled ones and also, they’re easier to digest creating less of the gas problem. Plus, sesame is believed to reduce flatulence so, go figure!

fava beans

Fava beans can be boiled with the skin on for a minute or less, and then peeled, or can be quickly pan-fried for crunchiness. The smell of fava beans while boiling is distinctive; one loves or hates it. For me, it’s the scent of my childhood home; lots of fermented soy, that it!

Hope you will enjoy this super healthy weed with different flavours this summer!

Purslane Salad with Fava Beans and Za’atar

Ingredients

half bunch of purslane
1 cup fresh fava beans, blanched
fresh herbs such as wild thyme, mint

1 inch piece of ginger
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp grain mustard
lemon juice
1 Tbsp pomegranate molasse
1 Tbsp Za’atar
extra virgin olive oil

Steps:

1. Wash the purslane and snap off the leaf-heads and some leaves with small stems, and add into a salad bowl along with blanched fava beans and fresh herbs if using.

2. Make the dressing: Crush ginger, garlic and grain mustard into paste in a mortar and add pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and olive oil and mix well.

3. Pour the dressing into the salad bowl and toss it well, and top it off with the za’atar powder.

*Variations: You can use other kinds of beans or even artichoke and oyster mushrooms in place of fava beans.

Turkish pancake

You say Crumpet, I say Akitma! – Holey Pancake Day Out in Canakkale

One of our family rituals for spring is a visit to MIL’s village to collect some spring food items. The day always starts with the most anticipated breakfast with akitma. It’s meant to be a carb-loading day, which happens only once in a while, so why not just enjoy it?

Akitma is a pancake leavened with yeast, which fits somewhere between a pancake, English crumpets and French crepes. The texture and the holey appearance place it very close to English crumpets though. This cross-cultural root of akitma made me look deeper into the history of crumpets, pikelets, pancakes, etc.

akitma

The fact that akitma is eaten specifically in this Thracian region of Turkey coincides with Bulgarian pancake, ‘katmi‘, though the latter has more eggs.

I’m not a food anthropologist but it might be fair to say that akitma is the holy mother of  the later more-refined crumpets in the Victorian era?

The more I eat it, the more I appreciate the honeycomb-like holes and spongy texture. Butter, honey, or anything put on it will be trapped in all those tiny holes, making it scrumptiously delicious!

akitma

I still haven’t figured out the origin of it, though it resembles Moroccan pancake, Beghrir. Out of curiosity, I put the word into Google Translator and it says ‘greedy‘. Makes sense!

This time, I asked aunt a few questions to verify whether or not baking powder or baking soda is necessary as suggested in many crumpet recipes. Aunt exclaimed, ‘No baking soda!’ 

According to the master of the holey pancake, if you cook it fresh, you don’t need to add an additional raising agent. Yeast and heat will be enough to create as many holes as you’d like. That confirmed why I didn’t like the metallic taste of the crumpets I made last summer.

Subsequently, that might also explain how baking soda or baking powder sneaked into the original recipe and eggs out over time as servants tried to make it with scraps of bread and biscuit dough.  It’s a mystery… anyway, from now on, only yeast and more butter for me!!!

There was a pot of milk the aunt freshly milked that morning and boiled for the batter, and gave us a glass full before sitting down at the table.

akitma

So this is the aunt’s family recipe.

2 cups of milk, 1 cup of  lukewarm water, one egg, 1 packet of yeast, a pinch of salt and  flour (add till it’s runny enough, 2 or 3 cups) to make batter to feed 6 people. Let the batter ferment for 30 mins and cook over high heat throughout for 3-4 mins and flip it over for 1-2 mins.

akitma

Grease the pan with oil rather than butter to prevent it from browning. When cooked, smear with butter generously and stack them up.

We were all stuffed but my big aunt started cooking the second batch to overfeed us. I lost count of akitma and I could hardly breathe at the end.

crumpets

The last piece was unnecessary but I sacrificed my tummy just to demonstrate to you how to eat akitma properly.

Traditionally, it’s eaten with cooked minced meat, and cheese and grape molasses or kaymak(clotted cream) and honey.

Homemade grape molasses was so delicious on homemade cheese and homemade butter. That was an ultimate ‘koy kahvalti(village breakfast)’ experience.

Turkish pancake

Don’t eat with a knife and fork like my MIL did; eat with hands! It’s no longer the Victorian century! It’s messy but that’s how you get the maximum satisfaction.

After digesting a little, we went outside and visited some other relatives while aunt put together eggs, chicken, yogurt, milk, and so on for us to take home.

baby sheep

When aunt opened the door of the barn, all timid sheep rushed out and ran about chaotically, crashing into each other. It was quite funny to watch.

 village life

When heading home, we took a wrong road by mistake but ended up enjoying the spectacular landscape and nature.

canakkale

The cattle, sheep, and goats were grazing happily, looking curiously at us.

canakkale

I’d wished I could have got out of the car and rolled around on the flower-laden pasture or had a romantic picnic with a nice bottle of bubbly.

canakkale

Perhaps another time but very soon… I really loved this secret scenic road, so green and peaceful.

I hope the weather is warm and flowers in full bloom around you right now. Why not plan a lovely picnic this weekend then!

semolina cake

Healthy Semolina Coconut Revani with Grapefruit Syrup – Tricks for Moist No-Sugar Cake

Yes, the title is correct. If you love the classic Revani soaked in a pool of syrup, it’s great! Otherwise, you’d be pleased to learn that you can replicate the decadent dessert without sugar yet as delicious as the original, which can be also healthy. You don’t believe me? Then, read on.

I say healthy because semolina is indeed more nutritious and tastier than normal flour. But the problem of baking with semolina is the gritty and dry texture it creates. So syrup is crucial in making it moist but the dense and heavy taste isn’t for my palate.

After several trials and errors, this is the best version that everyone loved. You might consider adding this to your Easter table if you want something traditional but with a modern twist.

It’s light and moist without compromising the taste, though Revani would turn in his grave seeing his favourite quintessential Middle Eastern dessert being adulterated.

grapefruit cake

Who is Revani? It’s said to be named after the 16th century Ottoman poet, Revani, who was the governor of Safavid Persia, Yerevan and brought to Istanbul to entertain the sultan.

I can totally understand the ecstatic feelings the bite of revani might have induced, along with wine. But we are living in a world surrounded by sweets, which used to be reserved for special occasions, hence a bit of modification.

I love grapefruit for its lovely aromas and I add it to salads and mineral water. But I haven’t thought of making a cake with it in place of orange or other citrus fruits.

semolina cake

But wow, it certainly added extra layers of flavours to the cake in comparison to the cake made with an orange.

A typical recipe for Revani calls for 4 cups of sugar, yes, 1 cup for the cake and 3 cups for the syrup!! It’s definitely responsible for the high rate of diabetes in middle eastern countries.

By revising the recipe, you can cut down the sugar dramatically and here are the tricks I used.

1. Add yogurt and vegetable oil: Yogurt gives extra moistness and creaminess and so does vegetable oil instead of butter, though fat has less impact on the texture.

2. Rest the batter: After mixing the wet and dry ingredients, let it sit for 30 mins. This allows semolina to absorb some liquid and plum up.

3. Use honey for the syrup: 4 tablespoons of honey was sufficient to achieve the acceptable level of sweetness.

4. Microwave it: if your cake turns out to be a bit gritty, especially when you use only semolina, pour some diluted juice over the sliced cake and microwave it for 10 sec. It will make any gritty semolina cake moist like spongy.

The trick #4 was discovered by accident and saved my very first batch that turned out to be too gritty. Apart from those four tricks, adding a bit of flour and vegetable oil made the cake lighter and moist, too.

My version has coconut flakes, real vanilla bean seeds and orange blossom water, which bring beautiful aromas, making it lovely just to smell.

semolina cake

There are many different variations throughout middle eastern countries, using almond flour, no yogurt but more eggs, or no eggs as in the Egyptian version, basbousa, with lavender, cognac, Cointreau or whisky.

I was so proud of my Revani, which earned me credits from friends and family. It will be my to-go recipe to impress people.

Semolina Coconut Revani
with Grapefruit Syrup

Ingredients

1 ²⁄3 cups fine semolina
¹⁄3 cup all purpose flour
¹ ⁄2 cup coconut flakes
2 tsp baking powder
¹⁄4 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 ¼ cups yogurt
½ cup coconut oil or other vegetable oil (or melted butter)
1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds from a vanilla pod
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup grapefruit juice

4 Tbsp honey (1/3 cup)
¾ cup grapefruit juice (freshly squeezed)
1 Tbsp orange blossom water (optional)

Steps:

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C(350F). Line the bottom of an 9 inch square pan with baking sheet.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the melted butter or oil, eggs, yogurt and the zest.

3. In a small bowl, mix semolina, coconut flakes, salt, and sugar, and add it to the wet ingredients and whisk until combined to smooth runny batter. Let it sit for 30 mins.

4. Sift in the flour and baking powder into #4 and mix to combine.

5. Pour the batter into the pan, tap on the counter to remove any air bubbles and bake for 25-30 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

6. While the cake is baking, make the syrup: place the honey and grapefruit juice in a saucepan and simmer for 5 mins. Remove from heat and add the blossom water, if using.

7. When the cake comes out of the oven, let it cool for 5 mins and cut it with a sharp knife into a desired shape. And brush the syrup over the top of the cake. I found that brushing, compared to pouring, worked better to control the amount of syrup.

8. Allow it to cool and serve it or keep it in the fridge for several days.

If you want more inspirations, you can check the links below.

Semolina Coconut Marmalade Cake

Really Rich Revani Cake

“Revani” Semolina Cake Soaked In Syrup

Turkish Revani

duck confit

Making Duck Confit at Home in Gascon Style: Ultimate Slow Food, A Tradition to Preserve

Yes, I repeat. Duck Confit is the easiest yet the most misunderstood food in the world. Let me explain why in this post and show to how to tackle the most sublime epicurean delight, which some might consider ‘too classic’.

But as a devoted listener of A Taste of the Past, I have deep appreciation for traditional foods. This post inevitably made me dig into the album of the best moments in my life.

It was supposed to be written before the duck season in February, or even earlier. Despite its delay, I thought I’d post it after tucking away my second batch of duck confit this week at the winery, in the deepest corner of the fridge, not to be tempted and open it up any time soon. It will sit there for at least one month to further develop the true confit flavours.

If I can make duck confit with a small convection oven, so can you! Neither slow cooker nor sous- vide is required.

duck confit

Imagine numerous dishes I can make with this a few months down the road, consequently making my trip to the winery extra joyful. This is really a great food to have on hand. This deliberately forgotten jars will show up in those moments when you need special treats or when you’ve run out of inspirations for cooking.

chateau la menotte

Duck Parmentier(aka.duck shepherd pie) for example!

So today, I’ll try my best to bring to you

The air and flavours of Gascony and the Pyrenees

gascon food

Just like fermented food, ‘to confit‘ is an ancient method of cooking meat or fruit for preservation. It may sound daunting, but you will be surprised to learn how easy it is to make it at home and how versatile and life-saving it is!

One corner of my pantry is full of duck confit and pate brought in my suitcase from France but my overseas trips have become less frequent these days, and in addition, the taste of store-bought confit has stopped satisfying.

duck confit

So, when my friend tipped me off that a nearby ecological farm has geese, I couldn’t resist it. We were going to make it together so we got FOUR geese, two each, but I ended up making it all by myself.

Since meat price had gone up, it actually turned out to be more economical to eat goose meat and consequently healthier. So we’ve been eating our way through little bits of goose meat in rice, stew, pizza, pasta and so on.

duck confit

Am I pressing too hard here to inspire you to make this decadent duck confit? I’m sure one or two people out there will appreciate it and pick up some useful tips here!

If you have ever searched for duck confit recipes, it’s most likely that you get a beautifully plated leg of duck confit in the results, not the actual recipe for making the confit. Even the ones I found weren’t very practical, if not traditional.

What makes my recipe credible is the fact that I learned the art in the heartland of duck confit, Gascony, near the Pyrenees, close to the birthplace of of D’Artagnan, Lupiac!

I wholeheartedly recommend you visit Gascony to immerse yourself in true gastronomy and look deeper into the cherishable tradition in the company of laid-back, unorthodox Gascons! It’s a festive activity, where families and friends spend 2-3 days together, cooking, feasting, chatting and having fun.

This experience set me straight on the whole issue regarding foie gras and duck confit. There was a vegetarian chef, who came all the way from Paris to learn the tradition, and it was truly a curving point in my culinary travels.

So here you go, the most practical

Step-by-step instructions for making duck confit at home.

I’ll share my experience from ‘then’ along with my recent photos.

1 whole duck or goose (or duck legs only)
Coarse salt
2 bay leaves, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 1 sprig of rosemary or thyme, 1 star anise(optional)
2-3 cups duck fat (top it off with extra virgin olive oil)
sterilised jars (important!)

duck confit

#1. The most important step

is to cure the meat with coarse salt for 12-24 hours in the fridge. The longer, the saltier, and the longer it keeps. With a refrigerator and an easier access to duck meat all year around these days, you may want to shorten the curing time and aim to store for up to 6 months instead of 1 year.

And you don’t need garlic, onion or other seasonings because the meat will have its rich unique flavours – you can always make sauce to serve with later – plus, the simpler, the longer storage.

goose breast

I deboned the two geese – to learn how to de-bone a duck, watch this video – and separated breasts, legs, wings and necks, and since I couldn’t fit all pieces, I saved the breasts for later. I could have made pastirma (dry cured duck breast ham!). But you can confit breasts and all parts.

duck confit

While the meat was being cured, we hiked the Pyrenees, which was one of the best memories up to this day.

garvanie

If you can cross over to Spain, like Napoleon did until he got baffled by Cirque de Gavarnie, which is named after the amphitheatre-like valley, and its size from the bottom(800m diameter) to the top(3000m diameter) is just impressive and out of this world.

gavarnie

What a breathtaking and magnificent view! We managed to get down before we froze to death and headed home passing the Napoleon Bridge, which was built in order for him to have access to cheap Spanish wines.

#2. The next day,

you shake off the salt and prepare the fat for cooking the duck.

What internet recipes never tell you is this. Mincing the fat! This is the secret.

Yes, it’s A LOT OF fat. But you need a lot of fat to submerge the meat in oil. Trim any excessive fat and process it. It helps render the fat quicker, AND most importantly, you waste nothing and are rewarded with an amazing treat at the end!

duck confit

I added the duck fat I’d saved from the last can of duck confit to the minced fat. Duck fat is a wonderful thing and is the only animal fat that is in a liquid form at room temperature. It’s healthy fat so you don’t need to freak out!

If you don’t have access to duck fat, you can top it up with extra virgin olive oil, med quality. Don’t worry, it won’t go to waste because you’ll use up the fat in cooking after eating the meat.

And you render the fat over the stove and when the fat starts to simmer, add the duck. You can turn the heat to is lowest possible and keep cooking OR pop it into the oven, preheated to 95-110’C (200-225F), and forget about it for 4-6 hours.

The cooking time varies depending on the meat of course. Mine was wild goose so it took good 8 hours at 110’C but the duck you buy from a market will take 4-5 hours(lower temp, longer cooking, therefore more succulent)

goose confit

While the duck is cooking, you feast and celebrate with food and drinks. Or go about your daily affairs, if not home and only if you feel like it, you can turn around the meat from time to time.

Floc de Gascogne is a regional aperitif (a bi-product of Armagnac) and drunk chilled with salty charcuterie, and of course, a tasting of Armagnac in a different year; 1988 and 1994. And of course, the local wine, Madiran, made from Tannat.

Like I said, it is an ultimate slow food and no waste food tradition. I was so stunned when the roasted rib cage was served in front of me at the table. Everyone worked on it, taking every bit of the meat of the bone. And the green beans cooked in the duck jus were the best I’d tasted in my life!

I cooked the remaining bones and made ‘rillettes’, shredded meat similar to pate. You can throw in some green or dried beans and make casserole. Yum!

#3. Now the meat is ready to go into the jar.

I know you will want to eat it right away! However, fight the temptation and wait for a few weeks. Your patience will pay off with bountiful flavours that will stick out with you for the rest of your life.

duck confit

Only legs, or a leg and breast or only breasts, with necks and bits thrown in to fill the space.

duck confit

And then pour the fat into each jar to cover the meat, and bring out more local wine to celebrate the treat that I’d mentioned above. Graisseron!

Fishing out every pieces of meat and straining out the fat, you get this delightful little treat, graisseron in French.

It’s the scratchings left at the bottom of the pot and it’s insanely delicious.

Save this by all means and eat it on crusty bread with a glass of light red or use in cooking vegetables.

duck confit

#4. And the final stage of sterilisation comes.

It’s an important stage for long storage of your precious duck confit. It’s done at 100’c for 2-3 hours.

In our modern lifestyle, I’d skip this stage but I made sure the jars were sterilised before being stuffed.

duck confit

These are the goose confit and rillettes I made and the geese, so big, didn’t fit into normal jars so I had to find bigger jars. As you’ve noticed, this one has more brown liquid of gelatin because I cured the meat less, hence more water content in the meat. I didn’t plan to keep it for too long since I had another batch to make.

The bountiful jars of duck confit are like treasures. Because of the effort involved and the memories shared, you’ll appreciate every jar, savouring every bite with gratitude and joy. That’s the essence of duck confit in the era of commercialised, fast, processed food that we’re accustomed to. No wonder the Gascons are known as boisterous; they have the best food!

I’ll share some photos when I start opening the jars. So exciting!

You will have no shortage of duck confit photos on my blog. Here and here.
Cheers to the most sublime slow food, Duck Confit!

duck confit