A Sunday pig-out

April 17, 2011

Being a predominantly Muslim country, Turkey doesn’t have a great deal of pork available. And I do love my pork. So when I’m back in France or England, I tend to eat a lot of it. After all, there really is nothing like a deliciously spiced saucisson in France, or a plate of crispy bacon in Britain.

My stay in London has been quite long this time, and I realised today that it’s only two weeks until I head back to Istanbul. Which, of course, I’m really excited about – but, what was the first thing I thought when I realised my UK trip was close to an end? Pork!

So, today, when I said I’d cook Sunday lunch for Lene, my London host (landlady?), and her family, I knew exactly what was going to be on the menu.

Lene is as much into her cooking as I am, and has a fine collection of cookery books. Including a lovely set of Elizabeth David classics. Among which I found a recipe for roast pork with fennel – in her book called Italian Food. But, of course, being a bit of a food fiddler, I couldn’t just leave it at that, and decided to add garlic, rosemary and paprika to the rolled shoulder stuffing.

On the side, I kept to the fennel theme, and made a fennel and potato bake.

And for some extra veggie-ness, some simple steamed chantenay carrots and English peas – with plenty of mint and butter, of course.

And for pud? One of my faves – Dan Lepard’s saffron peach cake, with loads of thick whipped cream.

And now the sofa beckons…

Unfortunately, due to Süleyman’s working hours, we don’t get to eat together in the evenings very often. So, although we’ve been having fabulous breakfasts and hearty salad-filled lunches, yesterday, it was great to have the opportunity to cook something a bit more elaborate for someone.

That someone was my friend Mireille, who brought her delightful little one-year-old son Cebriel over to my flat in the afternoon. The afternoon drifted into the early evening, when I rustled up a light meal for us all.

That morning, I’d realised I had some very soft-looking peaches and apples in the fridge, and decided I needed to do something with them quick, or they’d end up in the bin (a complete anathema to me, as I’m sure you’re well aware).

I am without oven at the moment, so had to cook the fruit on the top of the cooker – and, it struck me, the perfect thing to do with them was to make a compote. The Turkish word for compote is ‘komposto’, which rather sounds like something you throw on your vegetable patch – but luckily, the compote I made was far too good for that!

I simmered the peeled, cored and chopped fruit in a syrup of water, lemon juice and sugar, until the peaches and apples were deliciously falling apart. Then I just left the sweet, slightly tart mixture to cool.

Although the weather isn’t anywhere near as hot and humid as it was when I first arrived, it’s still fairly baking – not weather you’d immediately associate with bowls of steaming soup. But, spotting a full bag of carrots at the bottom of the fridge, I knew that was exactly what I fancied eating yesterday.

And, with perfect serendipity, I found in one of the few cookery books I managed to drag over to Istanbul (Claudia Roden’s A New Book Of Middle Eastern Food, natch) a recipe for Turkish carrot soup, or havuç çorbasi.

After softening the carrots in lots of butter, then simmering in stock until it all turns into a deliciously sweet purée, something rather special is added. After making a basic roux with butter, flour and milk, three egg yolks are added, making it a stunning yellow colour. Then, just before serving the soup, I stirred in the eggy roux, and served.

This incredibly tasty soup manages to be rich and hearty, yet, thanks to the sweetness of the carrots, really quite refreshing for a hot summer’s evening. I’m sure it’s going to be one of my future favourites.

For pudding, we had spoonfuls of chilled compote alongside Turkish yoghurt. Now, I think I’ve talked about this before, but Turkish yoghurt is something else. Even thicker, if it’s possible, than Greek yoghurt, it is perhaps a little more tangy. But the reason is has the edge for me is that it comes with a yummy skin on top. I know that’s something not to everyone’s taste, but, like the skin on rice pudding, you either love it or hate it. And I love it.

I’ve always quite fancied the idea of doing an underground restaurant. Unfortunately, my studio flat is so small that I’d only be able to fit in about six people, and two of those would have to perch on my bed with the food on their laps.

So, when my friend Lea asked if I’d help her do a charity dinner party at her house, to raise funds for her sons’ primary school playground, I didn’t need to be asked twice. In fact, I said, instead of me just helping her, I’d cook the whole meal.

And that’s how I found myself preparing a squid and aubergine stew at 7am on Saturday morning. (As you are well aware, I love my food – but I’ll freely admit, even I struggled with squid at that hour in the morning!)

I’d suggested to Lea that I do a kind of Turkish/Middle Eastern-themed meal, which she was very happy with. So, we started with a spicy Turkish lentil soup, which I learned to make at a cookery course I did last summer in Istanbul, and which gave me the opportunity to convert a few more people to my essential Turkish ingredient, pul biber. To go with the soup, Lea bought a couple of loaves of fantastic Turkish bread from a local bakery.

For the main course, alongside the aforementioned squid and aubergine stew, I made another Turkish dish called turlu turlu  – a recipe I got from the Moro cookbook. This is one of those dishes that belies its simple ingredients. A tray of aubergines, courgettes, baby turnips and potatoes is seasoned with allspice and coriander, and roasted for about an hour. Then, once cooked, a combination of tomato passata and chickpeas is poured over the top, and the whole lot is garnished with plenty of fresh parsley and coriander. The last dish of the main-course triumvirate was saffron rice.

Finally, for pudding, I turned to a recipe by Dan Lepard that I cut out of The Guardian – a peach saffron cake, which I served with some plain yoghurt.

Some very satisfied customers waddled home late that night, and Lea raised more than £100 for the school playground, which is fantastic. I had a lot of fun cooking the meal, and can’t wait to do something like this again. Now I just need to find someone else willing to lend me their kitchen and dining room.