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!

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A big tart

July 14, 2010

The other day I got a marriage proposal. Not from the man currently awaiting my arrival in Istanbul. But from the lovely Lene, my friend whose spare room I’m currently occupying.

We’d spent a very profitable but tiring morning selling off my excess baggage at Chiswick car boot sale, then returned home to make tea for our friend Helen and her two kids, Eric and Agnes.

Despite having got up at the ungodly hour of 3.30am, we quickly made cake, scones, sandwiches, salads and dips – and it was our impressive teamwork that led Lene to suggest I should not, in fact, move to Istanbul, but stay in London and marry her instead. I told her that if things didn’t work out with Süleyman, I’d definitely consider the offer!

And I’m certainly loving the way we’ve just clicked living together – easily sharing the cooking and household chores, and having someone to talk to when the practicalities of moving to Istanbul become a little overwhelming. In return, I’ll make sure I’m around to cook for her boys when she wants to go out (and to send Dexter to bed before he falls asleep in front of the television with his Xbox in his hand).

Which is what I did last night. Lene, being a bit of a yoga bunny, headed off for an evening of bending into strange shapes, while I fed Dexter (Wesley still making very rare appearances, thanks to a summer of parties stretching ahead of him).

As I mentioned in a previous post, Dexter is a pretty adventurous eater (especially considering he’s a young vegetarian), and is always willing to try new dishes. But it’s still something of a challenge for me to come up with veggie meals that he and the rest of us will enjoy.

So, a trawl through my trusty folder of cut-out recipes came up with this delicious-looking French tomato tart, which I’d seen on David Lebovitz’s blog. I decided to buy the tomatoes from Lina Stores, the lovely old Italian deli on London’s Brewer Street, and thought, rather than the French goat’s cheese David suggests, I’d stick with the Italian theme and try some of that country’s cheese instead.

A chat with the lady behind the counter resulted in me buying a nice big chunk of flavourful Fontina, which I thought would be the perfect foil to the sharp mustard base of the tart. (Dexter tried a slice of it while I was preparing the tart, and declared it his second favourite cheese, after brie!)

The beautiful, plump plum tomatoes combined with some fresh herbs direct from Lene’s garden gave the tart a truly summery flavour. So, on the side, I kept it seasonal and made a crunchy radish and gherkin coleslaw with mustard mayonnaise, and one of my all-time faves, cauliflower, fennel and celery salad with a lemon dressing, from Claudia Roden’s A New Book Of Middle Eastern Food. We also ate several slices of my latest loaf of sourdough bread, slathered in lots of butter.

This is the kind of food I could just eat mounds of in the summer – and, luckily, Dexter felt the same. Although, we did manage to leave a few morsels for Lene…

Not sure why I’m craving hearty soups now the weather is actually getting better. But hey-ho.

I spotted a recipe for fennel soup on another blog recently, and as it is most definitely one of my favourite vegetables, I knew I’d be making my own version of it before long. (Apologies for not posting the link, but I can’t for the life of me remember exactly which blog it was on.)

I simmered some chopped fresh fennel in stock, along with some tinned tomatoes, a pinch of ground fennel seeds, a spoonful of pul biber paste and lots of garlic, until it was all really soft. Fennel can be a bit stringy, so I left it for a good half an hour.

Then I liquidised the broth, added plenty of finely shredded cabbage, and simmered again for a few minutes, until the cabbage was cooked. A final handful of chopped parsley, and supper was on the table.

What’s nice about this soup is that the liquidised fennel gives it a comforting creaminess, while the cabbage adds a fresh, crunchy bite. Perfection in a soup bowl, in my humble opinion.

Splat!

February 26, 2010

Whenever I discover a new ingredient or cooking technique, it reminds me of just how much variety there is out there in the world of food. It also makes me realise that, despite having been cooking for nigh on 30 years, there is still so much to learn.

Last night, I decided to finish up some cabbage and flavour it with fennel seeds and a sprinkling of paprika (a delicious taste combination I’ve picked up from various Spanish recipes). And I really fancied something simple and meaty on the side.

Now, I rarely eat chicken breast, as it is usually rather bland in flavour, and no matter how carefully you cook it, I find it often ends up slightly dry. However, for some reason, last night I decided to give it another go.

I have no idea why this popped into my head, but it occurred to me that flattening the breast into a kind of escalope might help. It’s supposed to make the meat more tender, and my thinking was that, as it would be thinner, it wouldn’t need to be cooked for so long, and may end up being less dry.

So, I stuck the breast in a plastic freezer bag and gave it a good bashing with a rolling pin (quite a satisfying thing to do, actually). And, you know what? It worked! I griddled it in my Le Creuset griddle pan, with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, on a very high heat. It cooked through in a matter of a few minutes, and still retained its moistness.

This is definitely going to be my favoured method of cooking chicken breast from now on – so expect a spate of recipes coming soon!

Last night I had my little sister to stay – which is always an excuse to cook something special. As well as being my biggest fan, she is also my most honest critic, and I know she will always tell me if something is not quite right.

There was a recipe I’d cooked once before and had been meaning to try again for some time – a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall dish he calls Tupperware Chorizo, which he cooks with purple sprouting broccoli and clams. Chorizo is one of my sister’s all-time favourite foods, so I knew this would be something she’d enjoy.

However, as is so often the case with me, I didn’t quite have all the right ingredients. So, on Sunday night, I took the combination of spices that Hugh uses for the chorizo – paprika, cayenne, fennel seeds, a splosh of red wine and salt – and added it to about 400g of pork mince, leaving it overnight (in, you may have guessed, a Tupperware box) for the flavours to develop.

What I did have to go with the pork was a fantastic cabbage from the Secretts Farm stall at Borough Market. It looked like a cross between a red cabbage and a Savoy, and was sweet and crunchy – a perfect foil for the intense smoky flavour of the meatballs.

Once I’d fried the meatballs, I removed them to a plate, and sautéed the shredded cabbage in the same pan, so the greens took on the spices of the pork. Meanwhile, to keep in with the Spanish theme, I made saffron rice with some paella rice. I made it in the same way as you would a risotto – frying an onion, then adding stock with saffron in it until the rice absorbs all the liquid.

So, over to you, Sis… How was it?