Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Ins and Outs of White Cheese or Feta/Beyaz Peynir!

I like to think of myself as quite an aficionado of white cheese. I really, really like it and have been known to take my own kalıp or lump with me when I travel!

all these places are in northwestern Turkey: Ezine, Edirne, Bayramiç and Trakya or Thrace
the prices are per kilo

I'm not a great fan of other Turkish cheeses as I find them all very similar - they may be örgü/plaited or sepet/ basket, but to my taste at least, they are much of a muchness.

But beyaz peynir: YES!

I remember years ago while on a THY flight, I read in Skylife magazine an article about white cheese and a place called Ezine. Now, I knew that I knew that place and I got very excited! T, I said to my husband, Ezine is that place that we drive through on the way to Assos (which is where we had recently acquired a stone house). Let's stop the next time we are driving through and check it out!

Ezine high street

Ezine isn't the most prepossessing of places and you could be forgiven for driving through without a second glance. 

BUT it is indeed renowned for the quality of its white cheese so stop we did! We were there again last Monday too for the weekly pazar and I took these photos.

On both sides of  the main street, you see shop after shop proclaiming its own special brand.

peynir means white cheese and peynirci means seller or producer of white cheese

White cheese, literally the translation of beyaz peynir, is without doubt an essential part of the Great Turkish Breakfast along with olives, tomatoes and cucumbers. I eat all of these on a daily basis and firmly believe that it's the best breakfast in the world!

If you think you've  seen this picture before, you probably have as it's the one at the top of my facebook Page-
I love it! The quintessential Turkish breakfast!

How do you choose your white cheese? The choice can be bewildering. When I first came here after having lived in Ankara, I honestly don't remember it being like now - must be the improvements in roads and transportation or something but now we have a huge variety of white cheese from different regions with differing consistencies and correspondingly different tastes.

a typical cheese selection on sale at Ezine market last Monday - did I buy some? Of course I did! Real
Ezine white cheese from Ezine Pazar!

Let's have a look at what's it all about:

  • White cheese can be made from the milk of either cows, goats or sheep: inek/keçi/koyun. By far and away, the most common and most popular is that made from cows' milk. This is probably because the taste isn't so sharp or pronounced as the others' and is the one that will usually be served as a meze in restaurants. My personal favourite is keçi mixed with a little koyun, a tangy goat and sheep combination.
  • Beyaz peynir comes in two consistencies: soft/yumuşak, or hard/sert. This is a personal choice, it really is, and can be a make or break factor. I like it on the soft side but not too soft, just to be fussy! If you buy soft, you should eat your piece every day otherwise your block will become even softer and in the end, will become unappetisingly mushy. 
  • It can be pretty salty so, just like overly salty olives, you wash your block of cheese under the cold tap at home and place it in a bowl of water - the water should come up no more than halfway.
  • If you buy it sert or hard, you should anyway keep it in a little water in a plastic container in the fridge. Every day you should turn it around so that one side doesn't soften up too much.
  • But again, the whole point is how fast you eat your way through your kalıp or piece of the cheese! If you chomp your way through fast enough, you don't need extra water around, but if you are not a serious white cheese-eater, you will need it as otherwise it will harden and turn yellow. Because I eat the stuff regularly and finish one kalıp every week, I don't do this.
  • The cheese can be full fat/yağlı or half fat/yarım yağlı. You will see variations too eg az yağlı which means just a little fat! As with all these things, the full fat one is the tastiest!
  • So basically white cheese is for breakfast, as a rakı meze in the evening and then in between times, for use in various börek/yufka or filo pastries,and other savouries including salads.
  • Yufka shops often sell a special soft white cheese called böreklik for making börek. It's certainly not essential to have this type: you can always use your usual kahvaltılık or breakfast variety. If it's hard, just grate it.

Trakya means Thrace.

A good cheese vendor won't hesitate to offer you a sliver of whichever cheese you are interested in - and more! I find the procedure wonderfully engaging and it does help you decide which one you want to buy!

This is what the spring pastures around Ezine look like at the moment.

Click here for my börek recipes: white cheese and parsley is a classic filling for these tasty savoury pastries which are so often served at tea parties!

Just to show you a typical plate of meze with the traditional triangle of white cheese. This place - Vira Vira in Arnavutköy, Istanbul - has a particularly delicious selection. It's a fish restaurant on the Bosphorus (go in summer and make sure you get a table on their upstairs terrace) with great fish and great service!

Highly recommended! It's our fave!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Snowpeas or Mangetout with Garlic&Ginger/Sarımsaklı Zencefilli Sultaniye Bezelye

Because I am lucky enough to be able to buy my vegetables fresh from the outdoor markets, I'm thrilled because spring is here! 

Nowhere is it more apparent than at the market.

Today's market was a little different as we went to Ezine pazarı, about half an hour away from Assos on the Aegean, where we are for a few days. 

How was it different? Well, obviously much more rural in every way, from the stallholders, most of whom were women dressed in their traditional colourful gear, to the shoppers themselves.  Istanbul is a very different scene where the market vendors are pretty much all male and the shoppers are certainly citified. 

I don't know if you know Ezine, do you? It's fairly typical of these small provincial towns - in summer shabby, hot and dusty, now somewhat redeemed by the beautiful green countryside around. But Mondays are real market days ie an event, and there is a pleasant buzz with folk from outlying villages coming together both to socialise and to stock up for the coming week.

enjoying a chat at the market today

Another difference between Istanbul and here is the produce itself. No fancy broccoli or brussel sprouts in this part of the world, that's for sure! And neither did I see any snowpeas/ mangetout known as sultaniye bezelye in Turkish which has rather a nice ring to it.  Well, I really didn't expect to!

snowpeas or mangetout done in garlic and ginger

I had brought some down with me and we had them last night. Rather optimistically we had thought we would go out for dinner but of course there was nowhere to go! It's far too early for the 'season' when all the little places by the seaside open up and serve fish and meze. Everywhere is closed and deserted-looking and actually it's rather cold in the evenings.  We decided in the end to eat at home which is where the snowpeas come in!

I love them: I love the way they look, the way they taste and the fact that they represent spring! If you see them, buy some for they won't be around for long!

All you need is some garlic and some ginger. I gave myself full marks when I discovered some in the freezer - because fresh ginger is again not something you would expect to find around these parts!

grating the ginger, as much as you like

Everything about this dish is very easy but there is one thing that is essential in the preparation of snowpeas and that is stringing them. And not only on one side but both. Even though they are young and fresh, they can still be a bit stringy so get out your sharpest knife. There is a little knack to being lucky and able to pull off the strings with your hand like this:

if you're lucky, you can pull both sides off at the same time, starting from the stalk end

Once that's out of the way, all you do is heat up some olive oil in a pan and gently sauté your crushed garlic - as much as you like - and grated ginger before adding the snowpeas. It's like a little stir-fry -  it IS a little stir-fry! Add some salt and stir a little. They cook very quickly. The idea is to catch them while they are still a bit crunchy and not too soft!

sautéing in the pan
Afiyet olsun!

These snowpeas are at their best served while still warm!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Know Your Olives!

As with everything, personal taste is the key. 

In Turkey you will generally find an amazing choice of olives in the local street markets although probably not in places inland away from the coast.

yesterday at Selami Çeşme pazar, Istanbul

Of course olives are ubiquitous in Istanbul and can be found in corner shops, supermarkets and the big hypermarkets like Carrefour. Not to mention little villages especially along the Aegean coast that you may happen to visit.

those pink ones marked pancarlı are pink because they have been soaked in beetroot juice

Olives are an integral part of the Great Turkish Breakfast! Along with white cheese or feta, tomatoes, cucumbers and perhaps rocket or parsley, what more could you ask for to prepare you for your forthcoming day? Just add a slice or two of fresh bread, maybe a boiled egg (organic, of course!) and in my opinion, you are all set!

wonderful Turkish breakfast outside in the garden in Selçuk last year 

Forget all those commercial cereals and think Mediterranean!

Or, of course, they can be part of a rakı meze spread in the evening like here in Assos at one of our favourite places, Yıldız Sarayı:

green olives along with patlıcan salatası/aubergine salad and other meze

A few olive facts:

  • Did you know that both green and black olives come from the same tree? The green ones are simply the unripened ones. If left on the tree, they will become black. Even so, a whole tree won't be stripped at the same time as it depends on how fast each individual branch ripens. 
  • In the Aegean region you will see whole families out in the olive groves from October on, picking olives by hand. It isn't easy to pick the olives as the weather can be bitterly cold. The season ends at approximately the end of January. Click here for more pictures and info about the Iznik olive harvest this year.
  • You cannot pop a green olive straight into your mouth however much you want to! It will taste too bitter. This is why you will see green olives with slits or cuts in them marked kırma or çizik. In fact, kırma means broken: the olive has been hit with a stone or hammer and literally broken. Çizik means slit: this time the olive has been slit with a knife. The reason is to release the bitterness inside. Those green olives will then be soaked in a briny solution which is changed every few days so that the olives are rendered edible. The ones treated this way will also be available for sale that much quicker.
  • In Turkey, the black olives from the Gemlik area just south of Istanbul are generally thought to be the best breakfast olives. Going down the Aegean coast as far as Ayvalık will bring you to the best area for olive oil. Sızma is what you should look for: ie virgin olive oil. This means the product of the first crushing.
  • The quality of the olive oil depends on the speed with which the olives were picked in the first place.
  • Olives are preserved in one of two ways: sele or salamura. The first means simply with salt: layers and layers of coarse salt are used. This is why sele olives have a wrinkled appearance and can be very salty when you buy them. 

notice the wrinkled appearance of these olives: this is because they have been preserved in salt alone

  • The second method uses both water and salt. In fact, they can all be pretty salty upon purchase. But don't let that put you off! When you get home, rinse them under the cold tap and put them in a bowl. Cover with cold water and leave overnight. Try one the next day: it may be OK but may need more soaking in clean water. Continue doing this until the excess saltiness has disappeared.
  • Once this point has been reached, you can pour olive oil over them and add a few slices of lemon too - this is just for your own pleasure.  You actually don't need to do anything as they keep extremely well just in a jar in the fridge and will keep for months like this.
  • Pricewise, you will see a lot of differentiation ranging from 5 TL per kilo all the way to approximately 28 TL. (These prices are as of yesterday). The cheaper ones will definitely be of inferior quality, probably softer than usual, the others just differ in size, location of the olive grove, ease of transport, and of course, overall taste and quality! Personally, I prefer my olives to be 'etli' which literally means meaty. This may sound a bit gross in terms of olives but simply implies substantial. 
  • So it is quite normal when out and about looking for olives to buy, to stop at a stall and sample a few first. If you do this, I think it would be polite to buy from that stall! But if you truly didn't care for the taste of those you tried, no-one would think any the less of you for strolling along to another vendor.

these pictures were taken at the same market in December

The choice is endless and it's all yours! With a little bit of experimentation, you'll soon discover your favourites!

Friday, 28 March 2014

A Different Take on Artichokes and Broad Beans: a Salad/ Değişik Bir Enginar ve Bakla Salatası

artichoke & broad bean salad with avocado and dill

This beautiful green symphony of a salad, like the beetroot one, was a direct result of my foray to the pazar on Monday where the artichokes were in such abundance. I love the way they are sold here, all cleaned and ready to go, floating in acidulated water. The vendor will put your purchases in a plastic bag filled with that water for the journey home and into the fridge! They can wait a couple of days like that till you want to use them.

enginar at Selami Çeşme market on Monday: 2½ liras for one

For years I used to buy them whole. At home I would boil them and we would dip them leaf by tender leaf into a thick French vinaigrette and suck the delicate fleshy tip of each one. But time marches on, preferences change and I now prefer the hearts.

you have to be quick: once out of the lemony water, they start to go brown

The good news is that you don't necessarily have to cook them the traditional Turkish way if you don't want to, even though they are quite delicious done like that (see links below). I remembered having a salad of chopped artichoke with broad beans at a party once and decided I would recreate it.

Easy enough, very easy, in fact: cut them up into small pieces - mine were very fleshy so I cut each into 6 triangular shapes - and place in a pan. Cover with cold water and the juice of 1 lemon and boil till tender, at least 35 minutes.

Meanwhile take your broad beans/bakla which I bought already shelled, wash them and place in a second pan. Cover with water and boil till done. I didn't remove the skin after they were cooked as they are so fresh and young at this point. Later in the season, you will probably need to do this, however.

broad beans or bakla

Place both in a dish like this:

cooked and mixed

Add some chopped spring onions and fresh dill, as much as you like. Pour over a well-seasoned vinaigrette made from olive oil, lemon juice, and a spoonful of French mustard while the freshly cooked vegetables are still warm.

The final touch is the sprinkle of chopped spring onions and dill. The vibrant green enhances the appearance of the salad and both add taste and texture! Just before serving, I added some sliced avocado and lemon as you can see, for even more flavour and contrast. 

spring artichoke & broad bean salad - you can't get fresher than this!
 Afiyet olsun!

If you're into your artichokes this season, here are some further ideas:

There's bound to be one that strikes your fancy!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Time for Beetroot Again!

one beautiful beetroot with just enough stalk left so as to avoid 'bleeding' during boiling

Just back from my regular Monday morning market in nearby Selami Çeşme where the beginnings of spring were very much apparent at all the stalls.

I don't know about you but I was definitely starting to feel a little jaded at the thought of yet more leeks and celery root so the piles of artichokes with their attendant broad beans as well as first sightings of those funny çağla or newly-picked almonds still in their fuzzy green coats, mounds of strawberries and more, really cheered me up.

There was lots of beetroot too, pancar in Turkish, something I am really partial to, so I bought a bunch and ran the usual gamut of abla, don't cut off the stalks, they are great with eggs! Not to be swayed this time, I resolutely insisted that I didn't want those pesky things ...

NB try to ensure that all the beetroot in the bunch are more or less the same size.. smaller is better.

Click on this link for my previous post on Beautiful Beetroot and meanwhile here are some beetroot and market pictures:

so much stuff!
this vendor really wanted his picture taken with his beetroot and was very pleased with the result!

Once home, I washed them, cutting off any remaining stalks but neverthless leaving some to avoid the beetroot's beautiful red colour 'bleeding', and then boiled them.

After peeling and chopping into rough pieces, I added a dressing of olive oil and white balsamic vinegar with a little French mustard. It's best to add the dressing whilst the beetroot are still warm.

If you google beetroot salad, a host of pictures will appear and you will see that many salads look sort of lost in translation with all the vibrancy of that gorgeous dark red colour gone. Be careful when testing for doneness not to make too big or deep a cut with your knife as the colour will literally pour out!


Afiyet olsun!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Muffin Borek/Muffin Böreği: Teatime Delights filled with cheese, tomato and peppers!

When I saw the name of this recipe, I had to smile: just for me, I thought: a muffin disguised as a borek! This is a real Turkish recipe, I didn't make it up!

muffin borek/muffin böreği

However this borek is different: it's not made with the usual yufka/filo pastry but this time with frozen puff pastry or milföy as it's called here - mille feuilles by any other name!

For me this certainly simplified matters yesterday as I had a packet of Superfresh milföy hamuru in the freezer. Some friends were coming round in the afternoon so this would be the perfect savoury element to offer along with tea and something sweet, I thought.

the corners of the puff pastry are held together with a toothpick

I am not one for using ready-made items in the cookery department. Put this down to having lived here in Turkey so long where I found myself in the position of having to make everything myself or do without. However, things have slowly but surely changed in terms of what is available now but old habits die hard.

Anyway, the good news is that this puff pastry is brilliant: it couldn't be easier to use particularly in this recipe as you don't even have to take out the rolling pin! These muffins are light, crisp and definitely moreish; the filling is made with ingredients that you are almost bound to have on hand especially if you live here eg white cheese or feta! 

simply assemble them all in a bowl and mix 

So I give this recipe for muffin borek the thumbs-up and will definitely be making them again.

ready to serve: muffin borek/muffin böreği - how do they look?

Muffin Borek/Muffin Böreği

Makes 8

(I made 1½ times this recipe to fill my muffin pan)
from Marifetli Mutfak Tuzlu Hamur Işleri: Lezzet


8 squares mille feuilles pastry/milföy hamuru
150g white cheese/beyaz peynir/feta
1 tomato, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped (if using a thick-skinned type of pepper, half would be enough)
2 long green peppers, sweet not hot/çarliston biber
chopped parsley/maydonoz or dill/dereotu, optional
ground black pepper/karabiber
flaked red pepper/kırmızı pul biber
1 egg yolk
nigella/çörek otu
sesame seeds/susam


  • Pre-heat the oven to 190C/375F NB this is important for this type of pastry to bake successfully)
  • Grease your muffin pan and place a square of pastry in each hole.
  • Mix the white cheese, chopped tomato, red pepper, green pepper, chopped parsley or dill if using, ground black pepper and flaked red pepper in a bowl and fill each square. Bring the corners of each one together and secure with a toothpick. 
  • Brush with a little beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with the nigella and sesame seeds.
  • Place the muffin pan in the middle of the pre-heated oven and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Afiyet olsun!

Why don't you give these delicious little muffins a try and serve with çay?

Turkish tea in those shapely glasses is always a welcome sight!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Firik Pilaf/Firik Pilavi

Turkey is very much a country of grains.

Many of these grains are used for thick, heart-warming soups in the rural areas and consumed for breakfast. Otherwise they are used in various dishes eg stuffed vegetables, as well as in pilafs.

Now, let's take pilafs: I imagine that for most of us, pilaf signifies a rice dish, right? 

However, here in Turkey, it can denote a dish made from bulgur/cracked wheat or, as in this recipe, a particular type of cracked wheat known as firik /pron: frick.

firik pilavı/firik pilaf just resting in the pan after cooking

I don't know how I came across it but for certain now at least in the major supermarkets you will find packets marked firik bulgur along with the various other packets of rice and grains. 

You may already know that I am totally in love with bulgur. It is so much easier than regular rice: it isn't temperamental, doesn't go soggy, and stands up to reheating like no man's business! It's also very healthy.

Here is a recipe that combines regular bulgur with firik, as well as an interesting addition of chickpeas. Make it as a side with any meat dish. It can regularly be found in southeast Turkey: plain like this or cooked with lamb.

here we have regular bulgur side by side with firik

The firik adds an extra dimension in terms of texture: a sort of nutty crunchiness. I highly recommend it not only for its taste but also for its rarity value! You know what: it makes a change from regular rice and bulgur dishes and that's what I like about it.

coating both the bulgur and the firik in the melted butter

As my friend said: it's like the new quinoa - just like pomegranate molasses is the new balsamic! Even in cooking, we have our trends ...

Firik Pilaf/Firik Pilavı

Serves 8


1 cup firik
2 cups large-grain bulgur/pilavlık esmer bulgur
1 cup boiled chickpeas/haşlanmış nohut
2 tbsp butter
5 cups hot water
1 tbsp salt


  • Melt the butter in a saucepan and add both the firik and the bulgur. Over a low heat, stir until coated.
  • Add the salt, boiled chickpeas and hot water. Cover the pan with the lid. Cook on a low heat until all the water has evaporated.
  • Remove from the heat and stir. Replace the lid and let sit. 
  • Serve hot (the heat will be retained).

firik pilaf ready to serve

Afiyet olsun!

I served the firik with grilled steak and a fresh salad made with lettuce, cucumber and a type of Turkish radish:

That radish is great because it's so pink! I made a dressing of mustard, white balsamic vinegar and olive oil. But I couldn't resist sprinkling a bit of sumac on top and just before serving, a drizzle of pomegranate molasses!

Once again, ENJOY!

Buy a packet of firik today and give it a try!

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