Hot and spicy.
I have written many times on in this column how Turkish food is loved and admired by many. The starters or hors d'oeuvres (meze) seem to be an endless variety of colorful, delectable items served on small dishes. Typical selections range from a few slabs of simple, creamy white cheese or thin slices of smoked sturgeon to more sophisticated dishes such as stuffed grape leaves or stuffed green peppers (dolma), vegetables such as smoked eggplant or eggplant and watercress folded in garlic yogurt, chickpea paste (hummus), potato salad, cracked wheat in tomato and chili sauce (kysyr) and more. Those are just the starters! The mezes may not only be served as hors d'oeuvres or side dishes but also, when grouped together in an array of dishes, make a most elegant and distinctive buffet.
Regional specialties are plentiful and vary. Some specialties come from Mongol raiders riding across plains: yogurt and sucuk. The Southeast has a more spicy diet. Towns are famous for various things. One of the things I enjoy about traveling around in Turkey and have noticed urban Turks like too is when on a journey to stop and buy the specialty at each place, for example, Susurluk ayran, Bursa chestnut candy and peaches, Black Sea hazelnuts and hamsi, Antep pistachios, Afyon spicy sausages and Turkish delight and Edirne has its own specialty, liver (ciy-er) and so on...
Since Mexican food is not popular here I have found that a couple of the starter dishes, like Ezme salatasy (ez-MAY' sah-lah-tah-SUH'), can replace my craving for Mexican food. There are few Mexican restaurants in ystanbul. Numerous ones have opened and closed within a year! Ezme salatasy is hot and spicy spread. Ezme is a Turkish word that means "crushed." A few dishes are referred to as "ezmesi." Antep ezmesi (short for Gaziantep) is a dish that has been crushed, smashed up and/or grinded. Antep ezmesi is from the east of Turkey and is spicy -- like a lot of other Eastern Turkish dishes -- and so is an appealing dish to those of us who love spicy. It's basically a spicy tomato salad dip and I use it as a substitute to hot salsa dip.
A dish of Antep ezmesi is a spicy red pepper and tomato salsa thickened with pounded walnuts. I add a few jalapeno peppers and have a tasty Turkish salsa! Turks serve this as an appetizer, along with pungent, crumbled goat cheese, sweet butter and piping hot bread puffs called pide (pee-DEH'). Delicious! It's fun sitting around with friends and tearing off a section of the bread, spreading some butter on it and adding some white goat cheese, then a spoon of the spread into the pocket. Watch out! You can sit and enjoy conversation with friends and get full just on this!
My favorite recipe to follow is one by Elizabeth Tavyloy-lu and can be found at http://turkishfood.about.com/od/MezeStarters/r/Spicy-Turkish-Walnut-Pepper-And-Tomato-Crush.htm
It can be ready in minutes and the ingredients are simple:
1 A' cups walnut halves
2 large, ripe tomatoes
1 small onion
1 or 2 large garlic cloves
1 cup Italian parsley, leaves only
1 tbsp. apple vinegar or pomegranate concentrate
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 tsp. salt, more to taste
1 tsp. sumac powder for garnish
Turkey is a land where there is a fusion of continents and food. You will fall in love with both. Turkish cuisine can also be described as a fusion of food because many of its dishes came from the Mediterranean, the Middle East, East Asia and Eastern Europe. When foreigners think of Turkey they think of sunshine and beach!
Even if you can't make it to Turkey for a vacation you can imagine an escape time, for example an "Evening on the Turkish Riviera" theme dinner party. What could be more capable of transporting you in your mind to a Turkish resort than lentil patties, griddled haloumi cheese, a feta cheese spread, stewed artichokes, meatballs, cheese bE[micro]rek, stuffed cabbage leaves and green beans in olive oil, and of course, Antep ezmesi?
"There is no love sincerer than the love of food." -- George Bernard Shaw
CHARLOTTE MCPHERSON (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CyHAN
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