I live on the fringes of a prominent Turkish community in London, with lots of great restaurants and shops nearby – you may recall my mentioning that Mangal Ocakbasi, with its no-frills atmosphere and fantastic grilled meats and kebabs, is a particular favourite of mine.
From time to time I pop in to one of the local Turkish stores for a bit of extra inspiration if I need to create a new dish for a photo shoot or a dinner party. So when, recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Istanbul, I was curious to find out what "real" Turkish cuisine tasted like.
Actually, it wasn't a million miles away from the delicious Turkish treats that I come across in my neighbourhood; and we ended up enjoying some good dishes in among some pretty average ones.
One interesting dish that really stood out for me was made from little Turkish ravioli stuffed with meat and served with yoghurt and a buttery tomato gravy – it made a nice change from the ubiquitous kebabs (not that they weren't absolutely spot on).
One of the most fascinating parts of the trip was exploring the markets, especially the old spice market where we wandered in and out of a maze of little alleyways, watching the artisan traders selling aromatic, exotic herbs, nuts and honey alongside random stuff such as garden tools and barbecue ventilation hoods.
Mackerel in oil with vinegar and shallots
This simple dish was served as part of a mezze selection at dinner one night in Istanbul, but it was labelled "tuna". Well, I guess it's from the same family, but the size of the little fillets gave the game away somewhat. Anyway, it was simple and delicious and just goes to show how many possibilities there are with the humble mackerel.
4 mackerel, filleted, skinned and boned
4 large shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
100ml red wine vinegar
Approx 250ml olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly chopped parsley or coriander, to garnish
Cut the mackerel lengthways down the centre then cut in half. Put the shallots in a saucepan with the vinegar and simmer gently for 2-3 minutes. Add the olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil then drop in the pieces of mackerel, adding more oil if necessary to ensure they are covered. Cover with a lid and cook for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool. Garnish with the chopped parsley or coriander.
Serve the mackerel at room temperature on its own or with a salad, bread or as part of a selection of starters.
Yoghurt with pistachios, honey and pomegranate
This is a really simple dish that we ate for breakfast in the hotel, with the various components served separately. As well as breakfast, it also makes a really simple and healthy dessert. You could use different types of nuts or local honey.
200-250g thick Turkish or Greek yoghurt
The seeds and juice from 1 pomegranate
2tbsp shelled pistachio nuts
2tsp icing sugar
2-3tbsp clear honey
Mix the pistachios and icing sugar together and place them on a piece of foil under a medium grill for a few minutes, turning them every so often until they begin to colour. To serve, spoon the yoghurt on to plates, scatter the pomegranate seeds and pistachios over and drizzle the honey on top.
Pancakes with spinach, spring onions and soft cheese
Although these are often referred to as pancakes in Turkey they are really more of a paper-thin flat bread or pastry. In Istanbul we tasted several versions with great, simple fillings. The pastry is a bit of a pain to make at home but most Turkish, North African or Mediterranean stores sell it in circular shapes or big folded sheets in the chilled cabinet.
500g spinach, stalks removed, washed and dried
4-5 spring onions, sliced
80-100g soft Turkish cheese or ricotta
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of large leaves of Warka pastry (or Brik pastry)
2-3tbsp olive oil
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan, add the spinach, season and cook on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, turning and stirring regularly until the spinach is tender. Drain in a colander and push any excess water out with the back of a spoon. Mix in the spring onions.
Cut the pastry into squares that, when folded into a triangle, fit into your largest frying pan. Lay the pastry on to a sheet of greaseproof paper on the work surface and almost cover one half with the spinach. Then dot around the cheese and fold into a triangle, heat some olive oil in the pan and carefully slide the pancake in and cook for a minute or so until crisp, then turn over with a spatula or fish slice and do the same on the other side. Serve immediately, on its own, or with lemon.
Duck kebab with spiced bulgar
I always end up collecting culinary bits and bobs from my trips abroad – on my last trip to Paris I found some lovely skewers to add to our collection with animals, fish and shellfish decorating the handles. In the spice market in Istanbul I spotted some skewers with rabbits and ducks on the ends, so they too ended up in the suitcase along with multiple cushion covers and other knick-knacks.
This interesting kebab made with duck would combine perfectly with the red spiced bulgar that all the restaurants serve.
1 free-range duck weighing about 1.5kg with its livers and heart
150g extra duck livers
1 small chilli, finely chopped
1tsp ground cumin
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the bulgar
1 medium red onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
3tbsp olive oil
1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
2tsp cumin seeds
1tbsp tomato purée
100g bulgar wheat
300-400ml hot chicken stock, made from fresh or from a good-quality stock cube
First make the bulgar. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and cook the red onion, chilli and cumin for 2-3 minutes until soft. Stir in the tomato purée, bulgar and a little of the stock (about 100ml); season.
Bring to a simmer and add half of the rest of the stock, stirring on a low heat. Keep adding the stock until the bulgar gets tender, then remove from the heat, cover and put to one side.
Remove the legs from the duck, then remove the bones with the point of a sharp knife, then mince (or chop) them, skin and all, in a food processor.
Mix them with the chilli, cumin and garlic, season and mix well, then form into four even-sized sausage shapes, then place in the fridge.
Remove the breasts from the carcass with a sharp knife.
Heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan on a medium flame and place the duck breasts in, skin-side down, and cook for about 3-4 minutes to render any excess fat, but not to cook the duck.
Remove the duck breasts from the pan, reserving the fat, and place on a chopping board. Cut each breast in half lengthways and place in a bowl. Cut the orange in half and squeeze over the duck; season with salt, pepper and sumac.
Clean the griddle pan, season the livers and the hearts and the minced duck with salt, pepper and sumac.
Grill the minced duck "sausages" and duck breasts for 3-4 minutes on each side, then cook the liver and hearts for a minute or so on each side.
Thread the pieces of meat on to skewers, reheat the bulgar and spoon on to plates with the kebab on top.
Cut the other half of the orange into wedges and serve one with each kebab.