Monday, September 3, 2012

Cooking Class

These took FOREVER to make but they were soooooooo worth it. 

Ali with his mom.

Yummy lentil soup.

These green beans were amazing. 

Ice cream and helva dessert

Dondurmalı ve İrmik Tatlısı

Note: Irmik is durum semolina.  You may be able to buy this as semolina, farina, or cream of wheat.  If you get the cream of wheat, just remember that you don't want a pre-cooked or "instant" variety.  Sometimes you can get semolina flour.  This is OK if it's coarsely ground (more the texture of cornmeal than the texture of regular wheat flour).   

There's a similar recipe on Binnur's Turkish Cookbook website here:  We've used this website a lot for recipes and have generally been happy with it.

Here's Alp's mom and grandmother's recipe:
4T butter
6T olive oil
650 g semolina
2 c sugar
2 c water
pinenuts or currants (optional)

Put the butter, olive oil, and semolina into a large saucepan over medium heat and cook until the semolina starts to get toasty.  All of the semolina should be damp and crumbly once it's stirred in.  Stir frequently to make sure the bottom doesn't burn. Alp's mother and grandmother say you can tell it's ready when it starts to smell nice.  If you want to use pine nuts, toast these in a different pan.  Combine sugar and water in a different pan and heat it to melt the sugar.  Once the semolina is ready, add half of the sugar water solution, toasted pine nuts, and/or currants, and stir.  Once everything is mixed in, the semolina mixture is ready.
Spoon a scoop of the semolina mixture into a cup or bowl and pack it down.  Put ice cream on top of this, and then top the whole dessert with more semolina mixture and serve immediately.

This dessert is often given out to neighbors and friends when a person in the family dies.  After the funeral, a family member makes the irmik helvasi and gives it to people who visit the family and to neighbors along with a request to pray for the person who has died.

Betül's red lentil soup (mercimek çorbası)

Red lentil soup is an old standby here.  Almost every Turkish restaurant serves it, and it's usually good, so it's a staple in the diets of many of us.  Many of the students agree that the best lentil soup they had while they were here was made by Betül.  Fortunately I had some time to cook with her on Friday, so I'm giving you my estimation of her recipe.  I made it last night and needed to add a little more water so I'm adjusting that, but otherwise it worked well.

250 g red lentils
1 small onion
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2-3 T tomato paste or 3-4 fresh tomatoes
4 cups boiling water
3 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
red pepper (pul biber) to taste
dried mint to taste

Put the lentils in a bowl with water and soak for about 10-15 minutes.  Put oil into a large saucepan and heat.  Finely dice the onion and cook in the oil.  Once the onions are cooked, add either tomato paste or finely diced tomatoes.  Cook for a few more minutes.  Drain the water from the lentils and put the lentils into the pot.  Stir.  Add boiling water.  Bring the pot back to boiling, stirring frequently.  Add salt, black pepper, red pepper, and mint.  Cook for about 1/2 hour until the lentils are starting to get mushy and fall apart.  At this point you can either blend the soup with a hand blender if you want a smooth soup or serve as is.  Serve with sliced lemon (it's excellent with lemon juice squeezed into it) and red pepper for people to add if they like the soup more spicy.

Cooking class

Last week a number of us took a cooking class.  We made some excellent Turkish dishes, including the Turkish lentil soup that Paul keeps petitioning the cafeteria at La Sierra University to add to their menu.  I tried to write down the recipes for the dishes we made, though the whole thing was a little inaccurate.  When I would ask how much of a particular ingredient to use, the general answer was something like, "Oh about this much" or "you just add it until it looks right."  The other problem with getting recipes is that most Turks don't appear to use measuring cups.  Even in a lot of recipe books the recipes call for "1 tea spoon of ..." (the size spoon used for tea) or "1 tea glass of ..." or "one water glass of ..." or "one dessert spoon of ...."  These aren't standard measures; they literally mean something like "get a water glass out of your cupboard and dump that much in...."  In practice no one bothers with the water glass anymore; they just eyeball it.  I understand this way of cooking, because it's the way I cook too, but it does create some problems for transmitting recipes to people who don't know what it's "supposed" to look like or how it's supposed to taste.  As much as possible, I made gross estimates of amounts, and I think probably those who try to make these recipes will have to make some adjustments along the way.  Note also that at times I had to look at the side of a bag and estimate that 1/4 of the bag had been used out of 1000 mg.  In this case, I think you could just do the same thing when you try to translate back.  Calculate how many ounces of the ingredient you need, and then estimate what proportion of a bag or box you'd need. 

Unfortunately all the photos I took of the class were on Rachel's camera, so I don't have them to upload, but perhaps Rachel will put some up later.  I will list individual recipes here in individual posts so it's more manageable for me to put them up.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ottoman-style miniatures

One of the classes available to the students was on Ottoman and Turkish miniatures.  Probably some of our readers have seen Persian miniatures, but these were also made in Turkey and the Ottoman Empire.  They are tiny detailed paintings of the daily lives of the people, life in the Ottoman court, stories from the scriptures, and other familiar topics.  The current tradition involves starting with a page from an old Ottoman book and then painting a miniature painting onto the page.  These pages can be purchased from the booksellers bazaar.  Some old Ottoman books are still available for sale, but others have been too badly damaged to be preserved whole.  These books in which a lot of the pages have been damaged are sometimes worth more when the undamaged pages are sold page by page.  A page of Ottoman text from an original manuscript starts about about $1 and goes up in price depending on the age, quality, etc.  These pages are now used as the foundation for painted miniatures.

My favorite contemporary miniature artist is Nusret Çolpan, who died a few years ago.  He created a number of paintings of Istanbul that blend the traditional miniature style with a more contemporary look.  Here's one of them to give you an idea of his work:
Aya Sofya in the snow
In any case, several of the students learned to paint miniatures, and I was quite impressed with their work.  I don't have a photo of Hew's final project, but it's worth asking him to see it, because it is impressive.  Here is Rachel's work:
Pretty amazing!  Rachel is quite a miniature artist. The tree on the right side has roots reaching down to entangle the evil eye.

Mother of Pearl class

Mother of Pearl inlay is an old tradition here.  In the photos from the Topkapi Palace you can see some wooden pieces with mother of pearl inlay in them.  Several of the students have been interested in learning how this is done.  They asked for a class and we've been trying to arrange it with one of the master craftsmen here.  We finally had the class last week, and it was interesting, but not really long enough to learn how to do the complete inlay.  We mainly focused on cutting the mother of pearl.  They provided a lot of pieces of mother of pearl for us to work with, and showed us how to cut it using a coping saw with a very thin blade.  The trick for this type of precision work is that the saw blade is so fine that it is easily broken.  All cuts need to be made at a right angle to the mother of pearl pieces being cut, and when the artist reaches a sharp acute angle, the work has to be rotated without breaking the blade.  This is a particularly difficult skill for beginners, and most of us went through a number of blades in the process.  In the end, though, we had hand cut mother of pearl pieces with a hole drilled in them for hanging.  The craftsmen at the workshop were helpful in demonstrating some of the most tricky cuts, but I can definitely see that it takes some practice.

Aydin cutting out his design.  Aydin said that he really enjoyed doing this and would like to see if it's possible to pursue it more once he gets home.  
Alisha drawing her design, with scrap pieces of mother of pearl in front of her.

Other fun

Here's a photo of our trip to Turkuazoo, the aquarium where the students watched kids and families.
The classic set up group photo common to a lot of amusement parks in the US is here too.

I think this trip was also interesting to the students because the aquarium is adjacent to a suburban mall.  Going to a mall in the suburbs is not an unusual activity for our students, but doing so in Istanbul provided a bit of a cultural jolt for them.  They had gotten used to seeing ancient monuments and historic sites, and it was good for them to also see that this is a modern active city with brand-name goods and malls and IKEA stores.  Sometimes when you are living in the midst of history it's easy to forget the modern people live here with contemporary needs and desires.  This issue of living in an ancient city with the parallel problems of preserving the past and meeting modern needs is one of the themes we've discussed while we've been here.  Transportation is a huge issue here, because there are 16-20 million people living here (depending on how you count the city's population), and they are surrounded by irreplaceable historical sites.  You can't just put a freeway through the Aya Sofya, but you also can't ignore the very real traffic congestion here.  This problem has been brought sharply into focus by the attempt to build a tunnel under the Bosphorus.  The tunnel would alleviate a lot of the congestion on the two bridges between Asia and Europe in the city, but it also requires excavation and reuse of a patch of land on each side of the Bosphorus.  On both sides, the excavation has uncovered significant archaeological finds, and the city has allowed extra time for archaeologists to document and remove as much of this as is possible.  Nevertheless, the city is in desperate need of the tunnel, and the construction will need to continue at some point.
IKEA - The writing underneath says "Everything for your home"