Almost Turkish Recipes

Easy Phyllo Pie (Kolay Peynirli Börek)

Turkish phyllos are thicker, a quality which makes it much easier to deal with them. The ones sold here at the markets are very starchy (great for desserts), really thin, and dry and break at every chance they have. If you're working on a börek [a general name for all savory phyllo pies in Turkish], that has a specific shape for instance rolls, rose böreks, the job becomes very challenging. Here's a recipe I've been working on, testing and tasting (what a torture!) for a while. Even if phyllos break it is fine, because the recipe requires to break them anyway.

10-12 sheets of phyllo sheets (usually one box has 20 sheets) I'd recommend to follow the instructions on the boxes for dealing with and thawing phyllos.
1 big egg or 2 small ones
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp butter
1 cup white cheese/feta
2-3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
red pepper flakes, optional
1.2 tbsp sesame seeds

-Grease a pan. I used a 9 inch round pan with relatively high sides, but you can use a rectangular or square pan provided the pan is smaller than the phyllo sheets.
-Place two phyllos on the greased bottom. It's ok if they break while doing this; just make sure the bottom is covered.
-Take 4-5 sheets, rip them into 3-4 pieces each and place them in the pan.
-Whisk egg, milk, and oil with 1/2 teaspoon of salt in  bowl.
-With a spoon sprinkle 1/3 of the milky mix on the ripped phyllos.
-Mix crumbled cheese and parsley and pepper flakes if you want some spice, and layer them on top of phyllos.
-Cut the butter into small pieces, and layer them on top of white cheese.
-Take another 4-5 sheets, rip them like the previous ones and layer on top of the cheese.
-Pour another 1/3 of the milky mix on top.
-Cover the pan with 2phyllo sheets,  tuck the overhanging parts of the phyllo in with the help of a knife.
-Pour the remaining milky mixture on top making sure it wets the corners as well.
-Sprinkle the pie with sesame seeds.
-Bake in preheated 390F for 30*40 minutes, or until golden brown.  

Savory Leek Cake (Pırasalı Kek)

This recipe is perfect for overcast winter-ish (We're in Palo Alto, cloudy sky is as winter as it gets!) Sunday afternoons. In Turkey, afternoons like this would be incomplete without a brewing teapot on the stove. And tea, of course, requires a companion. My favorite tea companions are not the sweet ones like cookies and sweet cakes, but savory ones such as borekspoğaças, or savory cakes (I'm dreaming about a whole new category for the blog on savory cakes). This recipe is a flexible one in terms of ingredients. You can replace mozzarella with white cheese or feta, or cheddar; you canskip the cornmeal and do all flour; you can add herbs; etc. You get the idea. In Turkey this cake is usually vegetarian or sometimes made with beef franks, but I love making this savory cake with Middle Eastern pastrami or pastırma. I think leeks and ME pastrami are a perfect couple. Yet, you can skip that completely or use crispy bacon bits, smoked ham, or whatever kind of meat you like.
(You can fortunately find Middle Eastern pastrami made in America, right here in California from Ohanyan's --If you're following this blog for a while you know that I don't do product endorsement, at all!)   

2 leeks, washed well and chopped as thinly as possible
2 tbsp butter or olive oil (this we will use to cook the leeks)
1/3 cup olive oil or sunflower etc (this one is for the cake batter)
1 cup corn meal or flour, they both work
1 cup flour
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese (you can use a different kind as well)
3 eggs
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp aleppo pepper flakes or any spicy pepper flakes (this is optional, but leeks love spice)
1 tsp or more salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup pastrami, chopped in however way/size you prefer

-Preheat the oven to 375F.
-Heat butter in a frying pan and add the leeks and cook ~10 minutes on medium. Leeks will first sweat, then wilt, and they will finally surrender. If you like browned veggie taste, you can brown them as well but I find the taste to be overwhelming for baking. Take them off the stove and let cool aside.
-Beat eggs well with olive oil and yogurt. Add cheese and pastrami then mix.
-In a separate bowl, mix flour, corn meal/flour, baking powder, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes.
-Add the eggy mixture to the dry one, and mix well.
-Pour the batter in an oven dish (I used a 10 inch round baking pan)
-Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes clean.

Set aside to cool for 5 minutes then enjoy with tea or an ice cold pilsner! 

Quince Dessert (Ayva Tatlısı)

It's quince season, and I love that you can find them everywhere in Northern California. Quince is simply unknown to many Americans but for those of us from Europe/MidEast it's an indispensable part of Fall. Quince is an apple-pear like fruit with no sex appeal on paper; it is firm, really really firm (for example, you cannot just take a bite; you need a knife), and tart with a slight hint of sweetness! I like it raw the best, but it is also phenomenal in this highly classic dessert recipe. Quince dessert, my favorite, is a traditional Turkish dessert that uses a sugar based syrup. You can find them in most restaurants and patisseries in fall and winter all around Turkey.

Although ingredients and techniques-wise this is a simple recipe, it took me more than half a decade to post it because it is a hard one to perfect. You want the color red, without food coloring though, and the flesh to remain firm, after hours of cooking required for the color, yet not mushy.

Here it is:

for 6 people

3 quinces, pick ones that are yellow with minimal green spots., halved and cored
2 1/4 - 2 1/2 cups sugar (~1/2 - 3/4 cups sugar per quince, depending how sweet you want it) and yes, that's a lot of sugar but this is a syrup based dessert so...moving on
one red apple peel, any kind
Juice of one lemon
1 1/2 cup water (1/2 cup per quince)
4-5 whole cloves

-Fill a bowl with enough water to cover quinces when halved. Add lemon juice.
-Peel and core the quinces and save the peel and seeds for coloring. Put halved quinces in lemony water to prevent browning.
-When all are halved. Place them in a pot, cored part up, and add water, quince and apple skins, quince seeds. They will give the quince a nice red color. Add cloves as well.
-On medium to high heat boil them for 10-15 minutes.
-Then add sugar and cook for two hours on low heat. After an hour and a half flip the quinces over, cored part facing down.
-Place quinces in a serving plate. Toss aside peels, seeds, and cloves with a slotted spoon and pour the syrup on quinces. Set aside to cool down.
-Serve with kaymak, qaymak, clotted cream or, in the absence of all these, oh well, whipped cream, topped with chopped walnuts or pistachios.