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!

Well, I have packed, moved, cleaned and had a little cry. And now I am homeless. Homeless, but very excited about what the future holds.

However, I do feel like I need some time to get both my mental and physical energy levels back up again, so I’m going to give myself a bit of a break from blogging.

Luckily, my little sister (whose spare room I’m kipping in at the moment) has a beautiful, big, well-equipped kitchen, so I’m sure I won’t be able to resist for too long the temptation to roll up my sleeves and grab a wooden spoon.

In the meantime, appropriately for the mood I’m currently in for reminiscing, I thought I’d have a look back at what I’ve written so far on And The Cupboard Was Bare, and remind both you and myself of some of my favourite posts.

One of the first dishes I wrote about – an anchovy and cherry tomato risotto – was a perfect example of the philosophy of this blog… that it’s so easy to make a tasty meal out of very ordinary ingredients that are sitting around in your cupboard and fridge.

Another recipe of mine that came about thanks to some random ingredients was one of my most successful cakes – a pear, almond and vanilla sponge. I’ve made this many times since my original post, and it just seems to get better and better.

The vanilla for this cake came from one of my many trips to Istanbul – which, of course, can’t be missed from this mini round-up of blog posts.

As well as vanilla, the most regular purchase of mine from Istanbul’s Spice Market is pul biber, a red pepper spice that comes in flakes or paste, and in varying degrees of saltiness and heat.

I have discovered innumerable uses for this unusual and tasty spice, from tomato and cauliflower soup to carrot and sesame guacomole and it has definitely become a store-cupboard essential for me.

Unfortunately, not all my foodie purchases in Istanbul have been as successful as pul biber, as I realised when I was, um, ‘persuaded’ to buy something that was described to me as lemon salt. It turned out to be little more than citric acid. As determined as I was not to waste the stuff, I couldn’t find any good use for it, so in the bin it went.

One of my most avid readers and commenters is my mum (thanks Mum!). And it really is because of her that I’m so passionate about food and cooking. She is a great cook herself, and from a very early age, taught me to eat and cook well – which is why the above photograph of my sister and me eating artichokes in about 1973 is such a treasure to me.

But I don’t only have photos to remind me of my foodie childhood – I also have a number of kitchen utensils that used to belong to my mum to bring back memories.

From an ancient Tala measuring cone to an equally well-used and well-loved chicken brick, these are my ‘madeleines’ – the things that instantly bring back a memory of a certain time or place.

And soon they will be providing me with a set of very different memories, when they are transported to my new kitchen – and my new life – in Istanbul.

A plaice in my heart

April 12, 2010

A couple of years ago, my mum and I did a fish cookery course down at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage in Dorset.

We were shown how to prep any number of different fish, from mackerel and sole to crab and oysters. Once we amateurs had done mauling these poor creatures about, they were taken off to the kitchen where the professionals cooked them up for us to eat.

It was a really fun day, but I have to say, I haven’t really used any of the skills I learned since then. However, when I bought this lovely, bright, fresh plaice at Devon Fish in Borough Market on Saturday, and the guy asked me if I wanted him to fillet it, I decided I really had to have a go myself. And, I don’t think I did too bad a job of it!

I reckon, as long as you have a really sharp little knife and take things slowly and carefully, a flat fish like plaice is the ideal thing to start your filleting with.

I’d bought the plaice to go with a recipe I recently discovered on The New York Times website for leeks with anchovy butter. I’d always thought I wasn’t very fond of leeks, but have recently come to the conclusion that what I didn’t like was leek and potato soup, so have been making up for lost leek-time recently.

I simply pan-fried the plaice fillets in some olive oil, with a little salt and pepper, and served the leeks on the side. I had substituted the shallots with red onion as I’d forgotten to buy the former. And, although the onions were slightly crunchier than they ought to have been, the dish was really delicious.

However, it was a little heavy on the butter for my taste, so I might try it with a mix of butter and olive oil next time. But there definitely will be a next time.

A sauce for all seasons

March 1, 2010

I’m off to Istanbul for a few days on Wednesday, so my shop on Saturday was minimal. Luckily, I don’t need to worry about finishing every scrap in my fridge, as my little sister is flat-sitting (and job-sitting!) for me while I’m away.

Anyway, last night’s supper was a fuss-free affair of griddled mackerel fillets with a tomato and caper sauce, and some lovely steamed organic broccoli on the side.

The tomato and caper sauce is so easy to make and so full of flavour, it’s really worth having all the ingredients on stand-by. As well as going with any kind of fish, it tastes great with chicken, and may even be a good flavour combination with lamb chops – although I may try it out and come back to you on that one.

To make enough for two, simply fry a chopped onion in some olive oil. Once soft, add a chopped clove of garlic and about four chopped anchovy fillets. Cook for a minute or so to release the flavours, then add half a tin of chopped tomatoes and a splash of Balsamic vinegar, bring to a gentle simmer and leave for about five minutes.

When ready to serve, add a couple of teaspoons of rinsed, chopped capers and a handful of chopped fresh parsley, check the seasoning, and spoon over your fish or meat of choice.

When I was about six years old, we lived just outside a small village in the Scottish Borders, called Coldstream. Our house backed on to the River Tweed and, sometimes, my dad – a keen trout fisherman – would head down there with his fishing rod at about 5 o’clock in the morning. As long as he didn’t lose all his flies by catching them in his thumbs or earlobes (which happened with grim regularity), he would return in time for breakfast with the most delicious baby brown trout. I realise now just how incredibly lucky we were to be able to eat like this, but at the time, it seemed normal.

I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a trout that compares to the ones my dad caught, but, despite that, it’s still one of my favourite fish.

Tonight – even though the weather hasn’t warmed up one iota – I wanted some altogether fresher, lighter flavours than I’ve been eating recently. (Isn’t it funny how your tastes for certain foods can change so dramatically from one day to the next?) So I poached a trout fillet in a little stock with a couple of bay leaves chucked in, and had some griddled courgettes on the side. The salsa is one of the simplest and tastiest combinations, and goes well with many different kinds of fish, meat and vegetables.

Make enough for two by combining 2 tablespoons of roughly chopped fresh parsley with 4 chopped anchovy fillets, a heaped teaspoon of rinsed capers, the juice of half a lemon, a splash of a good strong-flavoured extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Some classic flavours to go with a classic fish.

I don’t know if it’s just that my tastebuds are finally coming back to life, but this simplest of dishes has been my favourite meal of the week. I was sitting on the bus heading home last night, pondering the bag of purple sprouting broccoli in my fridge, and trying to conjure up an interesting meal from it. Then, from the depths of my memory, I remembered an Italian dish I’d read about that involved this very vegetable, along with a combination of three ingredients I can never resist – anchovies, chillies and garlic.

While I steamed the broccoli, I gently fried the anchovies, garlic and chilli in a frying pan. When the broccoli was barely tender, I tossed it into the frying pan with the other ingredients. When all nicely combined, a squeeze of lemon gave it a nice sharp edge (plus, it brings out the vivid green colours), and piled it onto the cooked pasta. Dee-licious!

By the way, I used peri-peri chillies in this dish, which I’d bought last year in Portugal, as I thought they’d work well with the Mediterranean flavours.

I bought a huge bag of cherry tomatoes at the market on Saturday, and they looked like they were heading fast towards their ‘use-by’ even then – but at a quid for the bag, I couldn’t really pass them up. Anyway, by last night they were looking pretty soft, so I thought I better use them up quick. I’m not really a big risotto fan but this one I love. I add a couple of anchovy fillets (one of those essential ingredients my fridge is never without) when I’m softening the onions and, as the tomatoes were very soft already, I just popped them into the risotto when the rice was pretty much cooked – so the tomatoes just heat through, rather than cook. Then I chucked in a handful of parsley and chives, and it’s done.