About NazarBlue

Growing up with Southern Italian roots, Turkish best friends and Arabic neighbours, life was lived around abundant tables and socialising in kitchens. A love for food and feeding was inevitable. It showed me how all people were the same regardless of language and borders – Una Faccia Una Razza! When I became engaged to a Saracen from Istanbul, his relatives not only welcomed me into their family but welcomed me into their kitchen. For me, food is love. Food personifies the people who you hold dearest and speaks of origins and affections. To cook is to create edible offerings of love. NazarBlue is concerned with Food, Travel & Photography. But by no means the regular stuff you'll find littering the Mediterranean tourist trail. No, no! I cook real food with stories behind each dish. I photograph simple things, but try to emphasis natural beauty in a moment or in a scene. And when I travel I live with families for an authentic experience and then write about my experiences of people and place alike. I crave to find the pockets of culture from the Mediterranean and beyond in this great city, London, and write about the authentic unpretentious eateries I find. I have also uploaded some flash fiction.

Festive Treats – Buon Natale!!

I’ve just realised my last post was in January of this year. This is what having a baby does to you; takes your time and energy, in the best possible way of course! I kept intending to write about coping mechanisms with my noisy bundle of joy (in the way of delicious foods which have kept me going) but just as I found a few spare moments, I lost them just as quickly.

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It’s almost Christmas and with the season comes mouth watering flavours and traditions. I haven’t done as much cooking as I usually do this time of year, but here are a few of my Christmas must-haves to get you in the festive spirit. Check out easy Fig and Chestnut delights, (a great gift idea!), Cherry Chocolate Zuccotto (what to do with all that gifted Panettone) and Neapoletan Struffoli.

I wish you and your families a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2014!

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Not-So-Modern Ideas For Today…

Mevlana

One of the most basic human needs is to feel accepted. In London, where diversity is abundant and individualism embraced, we are blessed to be able to express ourselves, should we choose to.

So why, even in this liberal society, do we continually strive to adhere to perceptions of normality and shy away from revealing our own differences for fear of being judged? Society’s expectations of what how we ‘should’ be, or what we ‘should’ be doing, or what we ‘should’ have achieved by a certain age is still rife. Perhaps we are not as modern as we like to think.

We’re bombarded by depressing media reports of horrific hate crimes from every corner of the globe. Their motivations may be as menial as a difference in skin colour or faith, a different sexual orientation or political view, disability, the ‘daring’ act of dressing as one pleases, for refusing to conform and for chosing a spouse from a difference branch of the same religion. Genocide, honour killings, random attacks; all point to the refusal to accept or embrace difference. There are alarming levels of intolerance in this ‘modern’ era.

I was in Istanbul when I found a very idealistic concept of acceptance and tolerance in the most ancient of thoughts, mounted on my sister in law’s wall on our first meeting.

Dilek, the eldest of Murat’s five sisters, lives in an apartment block amongst the extended family of her husband. I immediately identified her as she waited for us outside her doorway; she has the same wavy raven coloured hair and deep brown eyes as her brother.

“Welcome! Hoşgeldiniz!” She led us inside, past a huge evil eye charm, up a crumbling staircase and into her modest home.

“Please.” She motioned to sit down and disappeared momentarily to prepare Turkish coffee.

“What is that?” I asked, pointing to a stone plaque on the muted pink wall.

“Ah…That’s a Mevlana quote. You may know him as Rumi.”

Amid delicate strokes of calligraphy twirled a Dervish, turning blissfully with his eyes closed. He was utterly content.

“I’m not sure how to translate what is written…Look,” Murat searched on his iPhone and showed me a translation.

‘Come, come, whoever you are.

Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.

It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair.

come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.

Come, yet again , come , come.’

 I looked at Murat. “Acceptance?”

“Exactly.” We both smiled.

Jelal ad-Din Rumi was a Persian philosopher, born in the 13th Century. After his death, his followers founded the Mevlevi Sufi order which uses his poetic prose as inspiration for its teachings.

It seems we can look to the not-so-modern wisdom from the heart of the Middle East for ideas of acceptance, tolerance and contentment.

In the final weeks of my pregnancy, I couldn’t help but notice another of Rumi’s poems in which he addresses the unborn, whether it be the physically unborn or spiritually is a matter of interpretation.

‘The world outside is vast and intricate.

There are wheat fields and mountain passes,

and orchards in bloom

At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight

the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.’ 

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Semolina Halva with a Twist

İrmik Helvası - Semolina Halva with Cardamom & Pistachio

İrmik Helvası – Semolina Halva with Cardamom & Pistachio

After significant absence from NazarBlue, my apology comes in the form of an easy to make, tasty treat; Turkish style semolina helva with my own special twist.

It can be served hot (with ice cream) or once cooled in slices as the perfect accompaniment to tea (in our case, çay!).

The various words for  ‘Halva’ derive from the Arabic Halawa, meaning sweet. Halva / Helva / Halawa is a typical Mediterranean / Middle Eastern / Asian / Balkan / Eastern European confection which can be made from various ingredients; primarily grain flour resulting in a gelatinous texture (most typically semolina or wheat flour is used) or ground nuts which result in a more solid texture (you’ll be familiar with sesame halva.)  Other more exotic bases for Halva are chickpeas and other beans or carrots and flavourings vary wildly from pistachio to chocolate, honey or simply plain.

Here is my recipe for Cardamom and Pistachio İrmik Helvası.

Just enough, and not too much.

Another pregnancy niggle; loss of appetite, rather, everything edible in sight making you feel sick to the stomach.

The smell of lettuce, a rogue mushy blueberry,  meat.. Every unexpected smell and off-key texture led me to eat ‘safe’ beige food for the best part of six months. For a lover of food, I was more than frustrated with plain pasta with cheese, cheese on toast and butter on bread near enough forming part of my daily meals.

Luckily, as the bundle is almost here, my desire to be more daring has returned – yippee!! But I wont be eating mackerel just yet, by any account.

The other morning, I gathered a few more exciting beige ingredients together and formed a treat, light enough to be free of guilt and tasty enough to want more. Normally, I’d have drizzled the finished pastries with honey and smattered them with sesame seeds, but this time round a light powdering of icing sugar sufficed.

I present you with Ricotta, Lemon & Honey Filo Envelopes. Click here for recipe.

Dried Fruit Compote – Khoshaf

Dried fruits and nuts give much-needed energy and nutrients when fresh produce isn’t readily available. One example of their significance is found in the traditions of the Middle East at Ramadan, when evening Iftar (breaking of the fast) commences with a date.

At the moment I’m suffering from one of the pregnancy niggles, where you, ahem, simply ‘can’t go.’ Lucky then, that when Murat went to Green Lanes, Harringey last week he returned with kilos of dried fruit and nuts!

Apart from enjoying them in their deliciously sticky state, I decided to make Khoshaf, a perfumed compote of rehydrated fruit and nuts, hailing from various Middle Eastern kitchens.

Use whatever you have at hand.. It’s the type of recipe free to artistic licence (aren’t they all?). Fruit are soaked in a mixture of water and orange flower essence until plump, and nuts rejuvenated to their former milkiness. Most versions call for the use of sugar too, however let’s keep it healthy and appreciate the natural sweetness of the fruit themselves.

Click here for simple and nourishing recipe..

Meaty Stuffed Vine Leaves

My mother in law is visiting us, and with her came an array of gifts and packages of food straight from the city of dreams. Amongst the numerous baby clothes, jewellery and candied chesnuts (Murat’s favorite) came a mysterious, humid bag. To my delight, the heavy package contained vine leaves.

When I first visited Murat’s family in Istanbul, his three sisters and mothers gathered around at tiny table, crafting Yaprak Sarmasi in honour of my visit and his return. They chattered excitedly, stuffing and rolling what seemed like hundreds of leaves.  Quite the excuse to get together and pitch in, I’ve now mastered this traditional recipe much to Murat’s delight.

The family in law in Istanbul.

This recipe results in succulent meaty rolls with a subtle heat. It is absolutely authentic and often eat in Turkish households. This version is best served warm with a dollop of cooling strained yoghurt. Stuffed vine leaves can also be made without meat and with the addition of pine nuts, sultanas and dill, usually served cold.

Click here for my recipe.

All Souls Day in Napoli

All Souls day, which falls on the 2nd November, is a significant event in the Catholic calendar which pays homage to the dead, especially those whose souls are stuck in purgatory.

In Napoli, a city enrobed by superstition, shrines and shadowy under layers of catacombs, All Saints day (1st Nov) and All Souls day present an opportunity to pay respects to deceased relatives by visiting graves. Older, alarmingly morbid practices are still carried out where church crypts are lit up and coffin lids are opened or removable glass panels taken out so that the relatives of the decaying can see their faces, caress the corpses and make the sign of the cross over their head. This of course, is no longer common practise and remains a ritual for the religiously devout.

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In Napoli, every event calls for an edible homage. Around the time of All Saints & All Souls day, sugared skulls and skeletons appear and temp children for a pittance.

With such a great respect for the dead and in timely coinciding with Halloween (a Pagan celebration of the dead who’ve passed before us), I have made another sweet treat usually associated with festival.

Torrone dei Morti

Here is my version of Torrone dei Morti (Torrone of the dead), in which layers of chocolate and nuts give a sweet taste to an otherwise bitter remembrance.

Slices can be wrapped and gifted – why not?! :)

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Comfort Food… My Quick & Easy Kuru Fasulye Recipe

As the blustery Autumn winds whip and lash, what better to do than hide under layers of snug clothing and eat wholesome comfort food?

My quick and easy beef & bean stew is wholesome and hearty. The recipe usually calls for dried beans and braising steak, but for those of us who can’t spare the time to soak beans over night and braise meat for hours, I have used sirloin steak and tinned cannelini beans thus cutting cooking time to a mere fraction.

I’m assured on good (and fussy!) authority that my version is just as tasty and satisfying.

Click here for my Kuru Fasulye recipe…

Invoking the Spirit of the Med…

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Fried cheese – Greek style!

Yes it really is as glorious as it sounds, even more so with a few extra embellishments. As Autumn sets in what better than something comforting and easy to make, especially if it invokes the spirit of the Med.

Usually Kefalotyri, Kefalograviera or Kasseri cheese is used, ‘Saganaki’ actually reffers to the pan in which it is fried. Yamas! have a great Saganaki cheese, widely available.

Click here for my easy peasy Saganaki recipe.

Old Wives Tales…

It’s the time of year when germs start swarming and colleagues begin to drop like flies. Unfortunately I was also struck by the change of season cold virus, but unlike my peers I didn’t have the option to take the usual medicinal comforts.

I went to the chemist and practically begged a seemingly unsympathetic assistant for a huge tub of vapour rub and some Lemsip; he assured me that in my ‘condition’ bed rest and the occasional paracetamol was the only answer.

Determined to shake the virus, I turned to natural remedies and old wives tales.

Drinking grated ginger with lemon juice, honey and hot water combated the physical effects of the cold.

Sipping a good strong Chicken soup nourished the soul.

Click here to see how I made my hot and sour, Turkish style ‘Tavuk Çorbası’…