Turkish delight

Istanbul is a fascinating city! Split between Europe and Asia, it has such a rich history. A Greek trading city in its early history, it successively became the capital of the Roman, the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires. It is also the second largest city on the European continent after Moscow, with over 14 million inhabitants.

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2 mosque café

By pure chance (but also a bit thanks to Tripadvisor) we picked a hotel in Boyoglu.
I immediately loved this neighborhood, with its antiques, designer shops, cool cafes and steep streets. It is walking distance from the buoyant historic quarter of Sultanahmet but yet very laid back.

2 café

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2 shop tour 2

We stayed at Faik Pasha Suites & Apartments, a very charming boutique hotel. Every morning we would enjoy a few pieces of Yufka (flat bread) with some Çai (black thee) on a nice covered terrace overseeing a little garden, in the company of a friendly cat. Cats are everywhere, so numerous but apparently really well feed and healthy. We couldn’t help but take some interesting specimen in picture. One had such a worried expression imprinted on his face; it was hilarious. When visiting the market, a colorful stall caught my eye with what I believed were nice dried fruits and spices. But when I looked a bit closer I realized there were all different types of cat food. Incredible! We also found out that Istanbul cats love a good cup of coffee, as you can see on the picture picture.

2 cats

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You need at least three days to enjoy the many wonders of the city. The first day we took a ferry to the Asian side. The highlight was sitting on pillows overseeing the Bosphorus while sipping on Turkish coffee. The second day we crossed the Galata bridge toward the historical quarter. I was really impressed by the Hagia Sophia, even though a very large scaffolding currently prevents enjoying it fully. The world’s largest cathedral for a thousand years it was converted into an imperial mosque when the city fell into hands of the Ottoman Turks. A special atmosphere also emanates from the Basilica Cistern, an impressive subterranean construction dating from the 6th century. Unfortunately, we could only admire the Blue Mosque from outside as we were discouraged by a very long line and it was later closed to tourists.

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2 medusa shop 2

In terms of restaurants, there is so much to choose from! We tried both ends of the spectrum from trendy Lokanta Maya, very nice but a bit pricey to traditional Refik and its delicious mezze and shish kebab. The many rooftop terraces are also a great way to enjoy fantastic views of the city by night. At the 360, up a very nice open staircase, sexy sailors served us delicious cocktails, whereas we went for some specialty coffee at Galata Konak Cafe.

2 mezze

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The last evening we went fully local in a small bar with live Turkish music. The singer would choose hers songs from a pile of napkins handed over by members of the audience who would throw their arms in the air at the sound of their favorite tune. What a great way to end our stay in such a lively and colorful city!

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Pomegranate, cucumber and goat-cheese salad
(Serves 4)

Fresh-pomegranate-juice stands flourish on every street corner. When we got back I absolutely wanted to cook something with pomegranate. Plus this fruit is moderate in calories and a good source fibers and antioxidants.

1 pomegranate
1 cucumber
1 small goat cheese (crottin)
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar of Modena

Open the pomegranate by scoring it with a knife and breaking it open. Separate the seeds from the peel and the internal white pulp membranes which gives it a sour flavor. Cut the cucumber in small cubes without pealing it, add some salt and leave to sweat for a few minutes. Remove the excess water from the cucumber and mix with the pomegranate seeds and the herbs. Season with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Thinly slice the goat cheese and add on top of the preparation right before serving.

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Chicken, apricot and almond tajine
(Serves 4)

I’ve been cooking this tajine for years. The use of chicken makes it less fat and quicker to prepare: not need to let it simmer for hours as a regular tajine. And the smell of orange and cinnamon immediately takes you on a journey to oriental lands!

4 chicken breasts, sliced
175 g / 6 oz dried apricots
25 g / 1 oz almond powder
25 g / 1 oz toasted flaked almonds
1 onion, sliced finely
2 garlic cloves, sliced finely
70 cl / 1/3 cup chicken broth
zest and juice from 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp liquid honey
3 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper

Sauté the chicken slices in a medium pan / casserole with a tbsp of olive oil. Once golden, set aside. Sauté the sliced onion in the same pan on medium heat with an extra tbsp olive oil. When softened, add the garlic and the spices and stir for a minutes or two. Add the chicken, the chicken broth, the orange juice and zest, the cinnamon stick and the honey. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over a gentle heat for 20 more minutes. Add the dried apricots and two tbsp of fresh chopped mint, cover back and continue simmering for 10 more minutes. Add the almond powder and stir until the sauce thickens. Sprinkle with the remaining fresh mint and toasted flaked almonds before serving.

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Fig, grape and pomegranate tart with light almond sugar crust pastry
(Serves 8)

A light sugar crust pastry is a challenge I absolutely wanted to meet. I am quite satisfied with this version. Crispy and savory! The combination of fig, grape and pomegranate with a nice orange syrup worked out pretty well too.

For the light almond sugar crust pastry (preparation starts one hour ahead)
1 egg
50 g / 1/4 cup butter, cubed at room temperature
75 g / 1/4+1/8 cup low fat greek yogurt or fromage blanc
2 tbsp brown sugar
60 g / 1/2 cup almond powder
200 g / 1+1/3 cup flour
1 pinch of salt

For the filling
50 g / 1/4 cup low fat Greek yogurt or fromage blanc
zest and juice from 1 orange
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp caster sugar
6 figs
300 g seedless grapes (red or white)
1/2 pomegranate seeds
2 tbsp Xeres vinegar

To prepare the sugar crust pastry, start by whisking the egg in a bowl. Then add the butter, the Greek yogurt / fromage blanc and the sugar and mix well with a wooden spoon. When the butter starts to mix with the other ingredients, add the almond powder and mix well. Add the flower and a pinch of salt and finish combining using your hands. You should obtain a slightly sticky dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

On a floured parchment paper covered surface, roll out the pastry dough to fit your tart pan. Line your tart pan (I keep the parchment paper underneath to prevent sticking) and prick the base with a fork. Cut out a piece of parchment paper and line the bottom of the tart. Place beans or any oven proof weight and bake in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350°F for 20 minutes. Remove weight and parchment paper and bake for a further 3-4 minutes, or until slightly golden. Set aside.

Beat the Greek yogurt / fromage blanc with brown sugar and orange zest. Set aside. Cut the figs in quarters. In a large frying pan, pour the caster sugar, the orange juice and the Xeres vinegar. Bring to a boil until the sugar has fully dissolved. Add the fig quarters and cook for about 5 minutes on a medium heat. Remove with figs with a skimmer and set aside. Renew the operation with the grapes and the pomegranate seeds.

Fill the tart base with the flavored Greek yogurt / fromage blanc, place the fruits on top in a circular shape. Cook the syrup on higher heat for a few minutes, until it starts thickening. Pour on top of the fruits. Can be served warm or cold, with some Greek yogurt or fromage blanc on the side.

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