Sunday lunch in Sultanahmet

September 7, 2010

Last weekend, our friends Meryem and Özgür came to our flat in Istanbul’s historic area of Sultanahmet to experience a great British tradition – the Sunday lunch.

Although tasked with cooking them something typical, it was clear a roast was not an option, as an oven doesn’t look like it’s going to make an appearance in our flat any time soon (just saying the word ‘oven’ makes me pine for roast chicken, roast potatoes, apple crumble… *sigh*). And, when I started flipping through all my favourite recipes, I was surprised to see just how many homegrown dishes did actually involve a good roasting.

Conveniently, some homemade hummus was given to me that very morning by my friend Mireille (who has a minor obsession with chickpeas, in which I am happy to share at every opportunity), which I decided to serve as a starter – not exactly British, but delicious nonetheless, and that’s really all that counts at my table.

Roasts aside, another great British staple that regularly pops up in my cookbooks is a good old stew. And, being in the land of the lamb, I plumped for braised lamb shanks (which I was very proud of asking for in Turkish – and the butcher understood me!).

So, I rolled the lamb in seasoned flour and browned it in hot olive oil, removed to a plate, then softened some onion, garlic and carrots in the same oil. I added a good pinch of dried rosemary (unfortunately, I’m finding it hard to get the fresh stuff) and a couple of bay leaves, put the shanks back in, then added about half a bottle of red wine, a good glug of Balsamic vinegar and topped it up with stock until it covered all the meat.

Then I turned down the heat and let it simmer and bubble away for about three hours. After this length of time, the sauce was beautifully dark, full-flavoured – and, I’m afraid, a bit twiggy from all the dried rosemary.

Usually, I’m all for the short-cuts in cooking, and normally would have left the sauce a bit chunky with the onions and carrots. But as this was the first time I was cooking for Meryem and Özgür, I didn’t want them to go home with the memory of nothing but mouthfuls of dried herbs.

So, once the meat was falling off the bone and the sauce suitably reduced, I removed the lamb once again, and strained the sauce, pushing the soft onions, garlic and carrot through a seive to get all the flavour. By this point it was looking a little too thick, so I simply added a bit more water, checked the seasoning, then threw all that lovely soft meat back in the pan, and kept it on a low simmer until we were ready to eat.

I knew the only thing to serve on the side of a saucy dish like this was mashed potatoes, so, to everyone’s delight, that’s exactly what I did. I’d also bought some amazing-looking greens at the market last week, so quickly cooked those down in some olive oil with some more softened carrots and a sprinkling of fennel seeds.

Now all I had to do was conjure up a pudding. And what a treat I came up with.

Again, it was a random flick through my cut-out recipes that inspired me. Remembering the five or six rapidly softening lemons in my fridge, when I came across a recipe for lemon posset, I knew I’d found my pudding destiny.

With just three ingredients – double cream, sugar and lemon juice – posset is such an easy-to-make classic British pud, but I’ve never attempted it before. Although I knew immediately that I’d have to use some ingenuity with it, as double cream is pretty much non-existent here. What there is though, is kaymak, that wonderful clotted-cream-alike that’s eaten at breakfast, smothered on bread and dripping with honey.

So, I simply replaced the cream with kaymak, set the ingredients on to boil and crossed my fingers that it would all come together. Luckily, all that was needed was to pour the cooked mixture through a tea strainer to get rid of some slight graininess, and it set beautifully.

I decorated each posset pot with a little chopped dried cherry and pistachio nut that I had leftover from last week’s cheesecake, put a sponge finger on the plate alongside it, and a very smart-looking pudding was served up.

So, despite using some very un-British ingredients, I was quite amazed at how all the elements came together to create something that tasted, to me, pretty traditional. And hopefully, in the process, I managed to give Meryem and Özgür a taste of my “home” cooking – in more ways than one.

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