Hello? Anybody there?

Okay, it’s been a while, but in anticipation of getting back into a kitchen of my own in a month or two, I’m testing the blogging waters again with the occasional post – when kitchen equipment allows.

At the moment, I’m flat-sitting for my good friends Nick and Kerry in the relatively uncharted territory (for Bare Cupboard, at least) of north London. So, while they’re tramping the snow-covered hills of the Lake District, I’m basking in the glow of their tiny but perfectly formed kitchen.

Kerry had thoughtfully pointed me in the direction of a small food market held each Saturday in front of the Tufnell Park Tavern, so I pottered along there yesterday and, among the olives, sourdough levain and free-range eggs, was the thing to inspire this post – a piece of beef shin from organic farm Galileo. I’ve never cooked with that particular cut before, but it was cheap and I was in the mood for something slow-cooked, tender and saucey, so it fitted the bill.

I’d already picked up a couple of nice plump artichokes at the local Turkish grocer for a bargainous 75p each, and was wondering what to do with them. I don’t know whether some dim and distant memory of a recipe was lodged in my subconscious, or it was the inspired genius of my own brain (I like to think it’s the latter), but for some reason I thought a beef and artichoke stew sounded like a very good thing indeed.

And the internet agreed. When I searched for beef and artichoke, I found any number of variations on that theme, so at least I knew the flavours would go well together. I found a good basic recipe for a beef shin stew – without the artichokes – by Jamie Oliver, and liked the idea of the herbs and the cinnamon he used, so decided to go for that, with my addition of a bulb of a fennel, some shitake mushrooms that needed using up, and, of course, the artichokes.

I cooked it according to Jamie’s recipe, but added the fennel and artichokes about half way through the cooking time, because I didn’t want them to turn to a complete and utter moosh. Which turned out to be just the right amount of time. (I actually snuck a taste of the meat after I’d browned it, and, oh boy, did it taste good. And it was surprisingly tender even before it had simmered away for three hours.)

Well, let me tell you, the smell alone while the stew was cooking was incredible. Why the neighbours weren’t breaking down the door, plates in hand Oliver Twist-style, is beyond me. Instead, it was just me – although, unlike Oliver, I did have some more.

Advertisements

I’m back in France at my mum’s just now, and had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Le Mans at the beginning of the week. Yes, we all know it’s where the 24-hour car race takes place, but really, there is so much more to this beautiful medieval city.

On my last morning there, I had just enough time to nip down to the marché des Jacobins (every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, from 7.30am to 12.30pm) to see what the local stall-holders had to offer. Located under the gaze of the stunning St Julien cathedral, it has to be one of the most beautifully located markets ever.

In other respects, it’s a fairly typical market, but, of course, typical rarely means boring when it comes to French produce. This is a funny time of year for fresh fruit and veg – the last of the winter stuff well and truly over, and the delights of spring not quite kicking in. But, still, the market was pretty much busting at the seams with lovely looking food.

Radishes being one of my favourite nibbles, I couldn’t resist buying a large bunch of the crunchy gems, pictured below. Just behind them is a kind of salad called mâche, something you don’t see very often in the UK. It’s one of my mum’s favourites, so a large bag of that was purchased, too. We also bought some dandelion leaves, which were dotted with tiny buds of the flower and had a surprisingly sweet flavour.

As well as the fresh stuff, there were inevitably a number of stalls selling bread. I noticed that a lot of places in Le Mans sold what was called traditional baguette, and when I tried some, I realised it was a kind of levain baguette. And delicious it was, too.

Despite being pretty restrained with our purchases, once Mum and I got home, we realised we did have rather a large amount of lettuce-y type things to munch through. So, for lunch today, I made a large salad of mâche, dandelion leaves, radishes, chicory, celery and cherry tomatoes.

I rustled up smoked salmon omelettes, with herbs from Mum’s garden, to eat alongside the salad, and, with the sun shining and temperatures heading towards 20 degrees, we sat outside for what felt like the first summer lunch of the year. Lovely.

The king of künefe

January 19, 2011

Every region of Turkey has its signature dishes, and one of Antakya’s tastiest is künefe, a pudding of a kind of vermicelli with soft cheese sandwiched in the middle. The whole thing is griddled to a crispy golden colour and doused in sugar syrup. It is, quite simply, delicious.

If you want good künefe in Antakya, the only place to go is Yusuf Usta’s shop Çinar Alti, nestled in a small square off the old city’s bazaar area. By the time I visited him last week, I’d already had the chance to try künefe in two or three other places, so was feeling fairly confident in my abilities to judge a good one.

But before I could taste Yusuf Usta’s künefe, I was treated to a demonstration of exactly how it’s made. First, flour and butter is rubbed together until tiny lengths of dough are formed. This takes quite some time, so Yusuf Usta sensibly leaves this arduous task to his assistant.

The spaghetti-like dough is packed loosely into the base of a large copper tray, which is then covered with a soft, somewhat tasteless cheese, crumbled evenly to cover the bottom layer of dough.

Another layer of dough covers the cheese, and the whole shebang is placed over a very hot charcoal fire. It takes about ten minutes for the künefe to become golden brown and the cheese to start to meld into the mixture.

When the first side of the künefe is ready, Yusuf Usta shows his true skill and tosses the large dish to cook the other side.

Another ten minutes to crisp up the other side, and the künefe is ready to eat. By this point, my mouth was seriously watering, and I couldn’t wait to try the tasty-looking concoction that had formed in front of me.

The finishing touch is a couple of spoonfuls of sugar syrup that simmers away in a large pot. I bit into the crispy künefe and as the hot, soft cheese and syrupy sweetness hit home, I can honestly say I was in heaven. Yes, it was true – Yusuf Usta is the king of künefe.

(Çinar Alti is at Ahmediye Cami Içi No:2, Antakya, Turkey. Tel +90 326 212 6888)

Adventures in Antakya

January 15, 2011

I’m spending a few days in the south-eastern Turkish city of Antakya, very close to the border with Syria. I’ve come here because I’ve heard it’s very different from the rest of Turkey, not least because it was once part of Syria (from 1918 to 1938) when that country was under French rule.

For me, the clearest way to witness the cultural history of this fascinating place is in its food. So I was very excited to visit the city’s main food market today. Although many of the fruit and vegetables were similar to those I find in the markets in Istanbul, the thing that really sets it apart was the people selling the stuff.

The immediate difference, in my eyes, was that there were many many more women behind the stalls. I don’t know why, but you just don’t see women doing that kind of work at the Istanbul markets.

Anyway, I just wanted to show you some of the hard-working, well-worn faces I came across today. They all clearly lead very tough lives, and work very hard. But they were all so kind to me, and insisted I took a sample of whatever they were selling.

This couple (above) were selling the typical Antakyan salty yoghurt, the consistency of which was more like cream cheese, but much fresher and lighter in flavour. Delicious, of course. They also had the driest, wrinkliest black olives I’ve ever eaten – but surprisingly sweet.

As is often the case at this market in Antakya, people come and sell even very small amounts of produce from their smallholdings. This woman (above) came armed with a couple of pumpkins, some homemade cheese and a 2-litre bottle of fresh milk.

The herbs this woman was selling (above) were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. To be honest, at first glance they looked like the sort of thing you end up with after giving your garden a good prune. But absolutely everything in this mishmash was edible – and fantastically flavoursome. But don’t ask me what any of it was – I haven’t got the faintest idea!

This, believe it or not, is a radish (above). They don’t half like their radishes in Turkey. And when they are as sweet and peppery as this one, I can understand why.

My very first meal in Antakya included a black carrot stuffed with minced lamb, rice and spices. Several meals later, I still think that was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten here. I got very excited when I saw this pile of black carrots at the market (above), but sensibly came to the decision that I was not going to be able to stuff a couple of kilos of them in my suitcase to take home.

It seems to be the case in Turkey that the surrounding streets are completely taken over with people selling produce on market day. I like to think this woman has a veritable garden of paradise behind this house, which she heaves onto the street each Saturday. I doubt that’s even where she lives, but it’s a nice thought.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (okay, I’m showing my age – a scratched CD), as fantastic as the food markets are in Istanbul, the selection can get a little repetitive at times. So it’s always a bit of a surprise when I see something new – especially when it’s an item I just don’t associate with Turkish cuisine.

This week that item was jerusalem artichokes. They are currently in vast, knobbly abundance at every market stall and local greengrocer around here, so I’m assuming this is the season for them.

Now, I’m very fond of jerusalem artichokes, and, luckily, so is Süleyman, but what I really didn’t want to do with them was make a soup. That seems to be a surefire way of suffering those well-known side effects of this particular vegetable. (Parp.)

After some mulling, I came up with idea of combining them with potatoes and making a kind of rosti with them. So, I chopped up the artichokes and potatoes into large chunks and placed them in cold water along with plenty of salt, a couple of bay leaves, a few whole peppercorns and one roughly chopped onion.

The idea was to par-boil them before letting them cool, then grate them for the rosti. Unfortunately, I took my eye of the stove and let them cook a little longer than they should have been. So, when I got round to the grating bit, the veggies just crumbled into a slightly mushy mound.

Still, I wasn’t going to let that deter me. They’d just be patties instead. And, because of that, I decided to make a few individual patties, instead of the one big rosti that you usually see in recipes. Plus, I was making beefburgers to go with them, and thought they’d look nice on top of the patties. (Forget how they taste, as long as they look good, eh?)

So, that’s what we had for dinner. Jerusalem artichoke and potato patties, with homemade beefburgers, and a tomato and cornichon salad with a mustard and parsley dressing. The delicious nuttiness of the artichokes went very well with the comforting sweet flavour of the potatoes, while the burgers and tomato salad added just the right tangy taste and crunchy texture to make it the perfect winter supper.

And, I can confirm, with no unpleasant after-effects.

I fear I have been neglecting you recently.

Having spent a wonderful ten days relaxing in France with my lovely mother and her equally lovely kitchen – where I was able to do some serious cooking and blogging – I was then plunged into the chaos of bed-hopping and job-hopping in London for three weeks. I had so much fun catching up with friends and family (plus earning some much-needed money by freelancing at a couple of glamorous fashion magazines), but it barely left me time to breathe, never mind cook and blog.

So, here I am, back at a place I am very happy to now call home – in Istanbul, with my terrific Turk, Suleyman. And very eager to get back in the kitchen.

I arrived back yesterday, and despite waking up this morning to a couple of still-full suitcases and a mound of washing the size of Everest, what was the first thing I did? Throw on some clothes and drag poor Suleyman to the local market, of course.

It’s blummin’ cold here at the moment, and wet with it. So I knew I wanted to start off by cooking something cosy and comforting. As I was perusing the selection of vegetables on offer at Sultanahmet market, I suddenly remembered a recipe I used to cook a lot, but hadn’t made for a very long time. I can’t remember where I got it from, but it’s described as a Greek fish stew.

The important elements of the dish, as far as I could remember, were fish – obviously – courgettes, carrots, onions, garlic, plus a touch of chilli and a few peelings of orange zest. This, I thought, was just what I needed – Mediterranean comfort food.

A quick dash through icy rain to the fish market resulted in a bag of red mullet, a wee sea bass, some prawns, and a couple of dinky silver fish that I’ve eaten here before but couldn’t, for the life of me, tell you what they’re called.

After a warming glass of red wine (the heating’s not great in our flat, or, at least, that’s my excuse), I got to cooking. I chopped a couple of onions, a couple of cloves of garlic, a chilli and a carrot, and popped them in a wide, deep saucepan, along with two or three thick slices of orange zest and a couple of bay leaves. I poured in enough water to just cover the ingredients, added some salt, pepper and a good glug of olive oil, brought it all to a low simmer, then left it until the vegetables were just about soft (about six minutes). Then I added a diced courgette and one of those giant radish-y type things I’ve mentioned before. (I’m pretty sure that wasn’t in the original recipe, but I had one, and thought it would go quite well with the other ingredients.)

In the meantime, I cut the fish into equal-sized chunks (discarding heads and tails), cored and chopped a large tomato, juiced the remains of the orange and chopped up a big handful of fresh parsley.

Once the vegetables were cooked to an al-dente texture, I added the fish and chopped tomato. The fish took only four or five minutes to cook, and, with about a minute to go, I added the orange juice and parsley. Once I’d checked the seasoning and given it one last stir, I popped the lid on, turned off the heat, and let it sit for a couple of minutes.

So, there we had it. A steaming pan of slightly spicy, slightly zesty, totally yummy Greek fish stew, served with Turkish bread, Turkish wine and a great big helping of hungry gusto. Mmmm…

Here comes the mushroom man

November 4, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, while wandering around Kumkapi market, I spotted a man sitting at the side of the road with a shoe box on his lap. The shoe box was full of wild mushrooms of all sizes, shapes, colours, and probably levels of edibility. Clearly mushroom season had started.

Being a huge fungi fan, I was sorely tempted to buy some, but something told me it perhaps wasn’t the most sensible thing to do. And I may well have been right – Suleyman later told me there are occasionally cases of people coming to sticky ends at this time of year, after consuming wild mushrooms that had been picked by someone who doesn’t know their Cantharellus cibarius from their Cortinarius rubellus.

So, I was delighted to see a stall at Fatih Pazar yesterday overflowing with what were clearly carefully selected mushrooms.

A halting conversation with the vendor resulted in the information that this was a selection of field and forest fungi from the region around the city of Bolu, about half-way between Istanbul and Ankara. It’s an area known for natural springs, high mountains and pine forests, so I was hoping its vegetation would reflect that unspoilt environment.

With prices starting at about £3 a kilo, I barely knew where to start. It would have been very easy to walk away with several kilos of mushrooms, but even the greediest of gourmands can consume only so much. So, after examining the fungi fare on offer, I went for what I think are saffron milk caps. (Unfortunately, my Turkish is nowhere near good enough to have come to that conclusion from my chat with the mushroom man, and I had to do some internet research instead – but if anyone knows different, please do tell me.)

My shopping companion, Mireille, and I decided to walk home from the market – which is a good hour away from home – so I had plenty of time to think about what I was going to do with my bag of goodies. By the time I got back, I was starving, and knew exactly what was going to become of my mushrooms – sautéed saffron milk caps with garlic, thyme and lemon juice, atop some toast.

The large meaty mushrooms were perfect for this. They held together well in the frying pan and were strong enough in flavour to take on the garlicky, herby aromas. A squeeze of lemon juice stopped the whole dish from becoming too heavy, but, nonetheless, the results were a hugely satisfying autumnal late lunch.

The thing about all this seasonal food here in Istanbul is that sometimes it just gets a bit tedious. I know, I know, I really shouldn’t complain. But when you’ve eaten aubergine every bloody which way it is possible to eat aubergine, sometimes you just want something, well, that’s not aubergine.

And then, suddenly, it all changes. Of course. Because that’s what happens when the seasons change.

After a month of extreme heat (well, extreme to my delicate British sensibilities), the weather has quite suddenly turned. Although still nice and sunny, the temperature has dropped significantly, and long sleeves are the order of the day.

With that chill in the air has come a change in the food on offer in the markets, the most exciting of which is, for me, the arrival of anchovy season. Apparently it’s the cooler sea water that has them swimming in their thousands down the Bosphorus from the Black Sea.

And, all I have to say to that is, “Come to mummy!”

I love these little fishies – in tins, in olive oil, in salads, but best of all, fresh, dusted in seasoned flour and fried. And these ones I bought in Kumkapi market were small enough to eat whole – I, for one, cannot be bothered trying to gut tiny tiddlers like this.

In spite of their size, fresh anchovies pack quite a flavour punch, so I decided to have something quite simple and fresh-tasting with them. I’d bought some baby leeks, and at the back of my mind I remembered a recipe I’d seen in Claudia Roden’s A New Book Of Middle Eastern Food (do I use any other cookbook?) for leeks with yoghurt sauce. Perfect, I thought.

So, while I steamed the baby leeks, I mixed together a tablespoon of olive oil, a couple of heaped tablespoons of yoghurt, a squeeze of lemon juice, a grinding of pepper and salt, and a handful of chopped parsley. Claudia suggests first cooking the yoghurt with an egg white and some cornflour to stop it curdling, but I couldn’t really be bothered. And, luckily, the sauce pretty much held together fine as it was.

Once the leeks and yoghurt were ready, I simply rolled the anchovies in flour seasoned with salt and my store-cupboard essential, pul biber, then quickly fried them in a small amount of very hot olive oil. They crisped up well and were absolutely delicious with the fresh sweet leeks and tangy yoghurt sauce.

Süleyman and I live fairly near an area called Kumkapi, which is famous for its fish market, right on the edge of the Sea Of Marmara. Across the dual carriageway and a block or two inland is a small square with several cobbled streets leading off it, where you’ll find wall-to-wall fish restaurants – often full of tourists, but equally popular with the locals.

As I have often mentioned, the fantastic thing about Istanbul is that you can walk barely a few minutes from a busy, touristy area and find something completely different. And this is the same in Kumkapi.

One of the streets leading off the fish-restaurant enclave is what used to be one of the main Armenian areas of Istanbul, most of whom left in the 1950s. It’s now populated mostly by Gypsy families, which makes it, in my eyes, fascinating. Shabby, yes. Run-down, definitely. But there’s something very beautiful about it, too.

And it’s never more vibrant than on Thursdays, market day. So, despite having to lug my shopping bags a little bit further than I’d ideally like, this place has become my favourite shopping destination.

As well as plenty of regular market stalls, there are many people who just turn up with whatever they’ve been able to lay their hands on, pile them up on any spare bit of pavement, and Bob’s yer uncle. Above is Kumkapi’s watermelon man, set up outside a little mosque.

Opposite the watermelons was a lorry loaded, from top to bottom, with peanuts in their shells. I couldn’t resist them and bought a big bag, after pestering this poor man for far too long taking pictures.

As with the watermelon man, this onion seller had set up his wares outside a house – the resident of which is peeking out to see what’s on sale today.

Further into the market proper, I came across a stall loaded with those odd mini-melons I had a run-in with last week. As interesting as they looked, I wasn’t tempted to waste my money (or valuable shopping-bag space) on them again.

Now, pictured above is something you don’t see every day. Yes, those really are cabbages bigger than a human head! The poor boy working on the stall could barely lift one. All the cabbages I’ve seen for sale in Istanbul have been that big, and I’m still trying to work out if it’s because the ground they’re grown in is super-fertile, or if they spray them with some gawd-awful chemical. Either way, I haven’t had the courage to buy one yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

Being Kumkapi, I couldn’t really leave without buying some fish, and I plumped for these amazing fresh anchovies. In fact, when I bought them, I realised just how far I’d come with my Turkish language skills, as the guy on the stall overcharged me, and I managed to get annoyed with him in Turkish, and get my money back!

Finally, at the end of the road, I arrived at a shop selling my all-time favourite Turkish delicacy, kaymak, which I’ve written about many times. I’d been alerted to this particular shop by the food blog Istanbul Eats, and they weren’t wrong when they described the kaymak at Boris’in Yeri as some of the best.

As is often the case with places selling kaymak, a variety of other dairy products is also available. I haven’t yet found a Turkish cheese I really like, so, despite the intriguing window display, I passed on those pictured above. What I did buy, however, was some strained yoghurt. So thick you could stand a spoon up it in, it was sharp, fresh and incredibly creamy – simply the best yoghurt I’ve ever tasted.

So, despite an arm-stretching walk home with all my shopping, tonight’s supper will be a veritable feast. I haven’t quite decided what that feast will consist of yet, but I’m confident it’ll be delicious!