Winning with Soup

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When I stayed in Albania with my good friend Ida, her welcoming mother made this delicious soup at the beginning of every evening meal. Similar to Turkish yayla (yogurt soup), this soup is massively comforting. I have often abandoned my spoon and gulped it straight from the bowl. Its a safe bet for fussy toddlers (minus the green bits maybe!) and an effective hangover cure (trust me on that!). My son calls it ‘white’ and for a kid who doesn’t drink much and has his fussy food days, I feel like I’m winning with this tasty broth, fortified with eggs, yogurt and fresh mint butter. Click here for recipe…

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Marrakech; Magic and Mayhem.

 

We arrived in Marrakech in the dead of night. Our driver, sent by our riad to pick us up, stops at the end of a deserted dusty derb and leads us to our home for the next few days. Aziz greets my sister and I with a massive smile as his head ducks out of a tiny studded doorway. Its nearly 2am and he has waited up, knows we need to rest and shows us to our room. As I drift off to sleep in our traditionally decorated room, my mind bubbles with excitement. I am finally in the land of my dreams.

In the early morning sparrows chirp and flitter back and forth between plush orange trees in the courtyard. Breakfast is served beneath them by figures who fast become our friends; Aziz, Azizah and Sayeed. Their enthusiasm and warmth was our first and lasting impression of Marrakech; these qualities seem to come so naturally to the people of Morocco. We are presented with a detailed and jovial orientation, a map and possibly one of the most important tips we were to receive “If they say the road is closed, don’t believe them.”

Aziz then accompanies us the small distance to the main square, Jmaa el Fna, Marrakech’s tireless heartbeat. Just as he leaves us, we miss him immediately. We seek each others arms for comfort in a moment of anxiety, linking tightly as we struggle to make sense of our surroundings. We see snake charmers and monkeys, we hear cat calls and unfamiliar music, we narrowly escape being run over more than once. We squeeze each other at every loud noise and sudden movement. Veiled women follow us, overly eager to decorate our hands with henna which is rumored to be poisoned. Men in turbans motion and shout, others pass us by a bit too closely. Svelte horses appear out of the dust and charcoal smoke, mounted by majestic faced men donning wide brimmed hats. Its arid, the baked ochre buildings hum under the relentless sun. I couldn’t have guessed that in just five days from that moment I would have fallen deeply in love.

My experience in Marrakech wasn’t a holiday; it was a roller coaster of emotions which threw me from extreme anxiety one minute to absolute calm the next. Continue Reading…

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Easy Peasy Saganaki – Pan Seared Cheese

ImageFried cheese – Greek style!

Yes it really is as glorious as it sounds with a heavenly crust and oozing insides, even more so with a few extra embellishments. Invoking the spirit of the Mediterranean, this dish is frugal and beautiful in its simplicity; it sates this salty craving I have which never seems to disappear when temperatures soar.

This dish can form part of the legendary meze table and is known commonly as ‘Saganaki’, referring to the pan in which it is seared. Usually Kefalotyri, Kefalograviera or Kasseri cheese is used.

Click here for my easy peasy cheesy recipe.

Meatless Satisfaction 

  

My sister in law, Yeliz, made lentil kofte the first time I visited her at home. With her young children whizzing around excitably, she brought plates of kofte to the dinning table narrowly avoiding the toy cars in her path. What better way to welcome someone not only into your kitchen, but into your life by preparing a wholesome meal. I took the recipe away with me and now my own Mum often asks ‘When are we going to eat those lentil patties again?’

This is the type of meal prepared for large families so it’s no wonder then that my in-laws eat lentil kofte often. They are your typical large, warm Mediterranean family who come together around the table.

These kofte laugh in the face of meatless sceptics; as well as healthy they’re filling and make for a fun way of eating. Lay one in a lettuce leaf, squeeze a few drops of lemon juice on top, wrap and enjoy. As always, best eaten in good company!

Missing the Med

watermelonlokoumades

This winter is stretching out until the bitter end. As a cloud of toxic smog looms over the UK, I’m stuck at home, gazing out the window at bare branches and uninspiring grey skies. Its at times like these I welcome memories of balmy summers in the Mediterranean where pleasures are simple; the rasps of crickets in the hot arid air, the smell of ripe tomatoes and freshly grilled fish. Why not reminisce with me and revisit the enchanting island of Crete.

Vows of Wholesomeness. 

Since the birth of my son I’ve been guilty of grabbing snacks to fuel me through my busy days. Now he’s just that bit older, I can finally set some time aside for myself so I’ve vowed to revert to healthy and wholesome eating. I’ve missed having the time to cook for myself, to rustle up simplistic but delicious soul food. Most mornings can still be so much of a rush that my ‘Breakfast’ tends to actually mean brunch but come that time what better to eat than a hearty Turkish family favourite, Menemen. Wishing all the sleep deprived, selfless and wonderful mothers a very happy Mothers Day. Take some time out for a change 🙂 

Cuccia di Santa Lucia – Wheat & Ricotta Dessert

Cuccia’ di Santa Lucia is traditionally eaten on St.Lucia’s day, 13th December in the deep south of Italy. St Lucia of Syracuse is the patron saint of eyesight, symoblised in this creamy dessert by soft grains of wheat said to represent her eyes.

Cuccia al Cioccolata

I made this dessert for my sister when she had accidentally damaged both corneas and was in a lot of pain. Off I went to Soho’s Lina stores for wheat and proper Italian style candied orange peel with this dessert in mind. She swears that her eyes improved, thanks to St Lucia! Click here for recipe.

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.

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 how we ‘should’ be, or what we ‘should’ be doing, or what we ‘should’ have achieved by a certain age plays on our subconscious. Perhaps we are not as modern or free as we like to think.

We’re bombarded by media reports of horrific hate crimes from every corner of the globe. Their motivations may be as menial as a difference in creed or faith, sexual orientation or political view, the ‘daring’ act of dressing as one pleases, for refusing to conform. 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 discovered an idealistic concept of acceptance and tolerance in the most ancient of thoughts, mounted on my sister in law’s wall.

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 on our first meeting; she has the same wiry 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 seemed 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 aromatic twist.

It can be served hot (with ice cream yum yum) or once cooled, when it can be easily divided into portions. 

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 easily available ingredients; primarily grain, resulting in a gelatinous texture (most typically semolina or wheat flour is used) or ground nuts or pulses which result in a more solid texture. Other more exotic bases for Halva are chickpeas and pulses or carrots and decorations amd accompaniments range from pistachio to chocolate, or honey.

Here is my version of Cardamom and Pistachio İrmik Helvası.

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.