22 November 2008

Turkish Feast

I promised a Turkish friend to write a column devoted to the cuisine of his country after we both bemoaned its relative obscurity in New York. Turkish food is too good to remain unknown! If you are lucky enough to have a specialty shop nearby like I do (92nd and 1st Avenue for any of you who live on the UES), then you can buy actual Turkish bread with sesame seeds baked in, Turkish feta (which is creamier and less salty than most other styles), and the Turkish yufka pastry (which is a bit drier and thicker than typical Greek-style phyllo pastry). However, pita bread, Greek-style phyllo, and any kind of feta will work in a pinch, so there can be no excuses for not trying this heart-warming meal.

The cigar bureks are best when eaten right away, and the meatballs are well served with both the tomato and yoghurt sauce inside a sandwich of Turkish bread, garnished with chopped, long green Italian peppers (which are close to a popular kind of Turkish pepper), with lemon wedges squeezed over everything.

Cigar Bureks (Sigara böreği)
- 1 package of yufka pastry (or phyllo pastry), defrosted and stored in the fridge
- 1 ½ cups feta cheese (Turkish feta if you can find it)
- 1 bunch parsley, chopped finely
- 1 egg
- ½ tsp. ground black pepper
- enough vegetable oil for shallow frying in a heavy pan
- Lemon wedges for serving

• Mix the feta, parsley, egg, and black pepper in a bowl
• Using defrosted pastry, carefully peel off only one sheet per burek. Have a cup of water handy for later when you roll it.
• If you’re using yufka, the sheets are cut in rounded triangles, while phyllo comes in retangles. The goal is the same: fold them up so that no filling can escape, in the shape of cigars (like egg rolls, but thinner):
• Spread about 2 Tb. of the filling into a parallel line 2 inches from the bottom of the round edge on the yufka, or the shorter edge of the phyllo
• First fold the left and right edges over to hold in the filling on the sides
• Fold the bottom edge around the filling tightly, rolling it over and over to the end of the sheet.
• Seal the end of the roll with a bit of water on your finger
• Repeat until you run out of filling.
• Heat vegetable oil in a big, heavy pan so that it is less than an inch deep. (about 350˚F if you have a cooking thermometer). Be careful when doing this! Use tongs.
• Fry each burek until golden-brown on the outside, without crowding the pan
• When done, transfer the bureks to a plate covered in paper towels to blot the excess oil
• Eat while still warm, with lots of lemon juice squeezed on top.

Tomato Meatballs (Izmir kôftesi)
For the Meatballs:

- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 1 onion, grated
- 1 handful of breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs
- 1 bunch parsley, chopped finely
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. red chili flakes
- generous salt and pepper, to taste

• Preheat oven to 350˚F
• Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mixing well.
• Form large balls, and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet
• Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, turning the meatballs at the 20 minute mark.

For the Tomato Sauce:

- 28 oz. can of tomatoes
- 1 tsp. red chili flakes
- Salt and pepper to taste

• Mix all ingredients in a medium pot, crushing the tomatoes if they are whole
• Simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes, so that it is ready in time if you make it right after the meatballs.

Garlic Yogurt Sauce
- ½ pint plain thick yogurt
- ½ lemon’s juice
- 5 garlic cloves, crushed and minced into a fine pulp

• Mix all ingredients together either directly in the yogurt carton or a pretty bowl. That’s it!

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