A Turkish Cooking Experience - grilled aubergine salad

A Turkish Cooking Experience

It all started when Monica, a librarian friend of mine from Houston, Texas, told me that she would be attending a librarian conference organized by a Turkish university.  We decided to spend some time together during her stay in Istanbul, and I promised to show her some historical but not touristic parts of my city.

I was worried because she had already signed up for sightseeing tours organized by the university to Sultanahmet, Topkapi Palace and other beautiful and unique places that I was planning to show her.  I wanted to take her to places that would amaze her. Actually, I wanted her to fall in love with my city, my Istanbul. After seeing her sightseeing program I was a little bit nervous and asked my colleagues if they had any alternative ideas and could suggest places where I could take Monica and her other librarian friends. 
At the same time, my coworker at the office and I were planning to attend a cooking class. During our coffee breaks we discovered that we both enjoy cooking. However, since I realized that my meals were boring and we had been eating the same few Ottoman-style dishes over and over again, it was time for a change. After that, I spent my free time searching for and trying tasty new recipes which I could cook within less than one hour. Therefore, eating my new style food became an adventure for every taster, including my husband. My dishes were sometimes quite delicious and tasty and other times were hard to chew and swallow, although the plate or the presentation of the food looks appetizing. Luckily, after cleaning the oven with my bare hands quite a few times, I decided to go by the book and purchase some cook books that I had photos of appetizing food and nice colors (I am not someone who reads the recipes at a bookstore). 

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When I told her all about my experiences, my coworker suggested that we attend a cooking course together and learn how to cook five to six different starters within two hours. I loved the idea. Then I decided to ask Monica, who loves eating as much as I do, whether she and her friends were interested in joining us. She said yes. 

My coworker and I searched online search and decided to attend Chef’s Istanbul’s “Turkish mezes course” on Friday evening between 19:30-21:30. “Meze” means cold and warm appetizers and plays an important role in Turkish cuisine since Turkish people socialize mostly at dinner tables while drinking raki or wine together with mezes.

The cooking class was normally only for five people. However, Monica could not say “no” to her friends’ friends who decided to participate after hearing all about Turkish cuisine so at the end there were 10 people around the table.  Gühan Kara, owner of Chef’s Istanbul and a well-known Turkish chef (I learned that during the class when everyone wanted a signed copy of her cookbook) welcomed all of us in a very friendly manner, and since all our friends were foreign she decided not to disappoint them and agreed to teach 10 people at once. 

Our chief gave us aprons, and each of us took our place in front of a station (each station has its own oven, cooking equipment, workbench and cutting board) after washing our hands twice. 

We made an eggplant dish (közde patlıcan), a pastry with smoked beef (paçanga böreği), red lentil rissoles (mercimek köftesi), shrimp deep with bread (karidesli sos), white cheese balls with parsley (maydonozlu - beyaz peynirli toplar), hummus (humus), and Circassian chicken (Çerkez tavuğu). Gülhan Kara made an excellent list of food to cook during the class taking into consideration which ingredients my American friends could find at home. The food was delicious, but at the same time surprisingly easy to make. We learned many tips during the class, for example: how to prevent the eggplant losing its color, how to roll lentil rissoles easily, how to use big cooking knifes without cutting our fingers, etc. While cooking Gülhan Kara also told us about cooking traditions of different regions in Turkey and which wine is good with which appetizer.

Mustafa Kara, Gülhan Kara’s husband and partner at Chef’s Istanbul offered us wine and beer while we ate all the food that we cooked after our class around the dinner table. Everyone tasted what others made. It was like a dinner with friends who had not seen each other for a long time rather than a test of what we cooked together with a bunch of strangers. Gülhan Kara tasted everyone’s food and made comments. We were given plastic bags to put our food for take away if we wanted to, but we all ate what we made. There were no leftovers. 

My American friends had a very pleasant time learning excellent recipes that they can easily try at home. I translated the recipes into English and sent them to Monica. She sent them to her friends. 

After a couple of weeks, I received an e-mail from one of Monica’s friends that I met during our cooking class. She told me that she really enjoyed making the Turkish mezes and told wonderful stories about our experience to her friends. She and her friends decided that the cooking class was so much fun that they intend to try to have one during each annual meeting of their association. They were in New Orleans in January, and they did, in fact, attend a class. So, I have started a very important tradition for them. Another one sent an e-mail stating that he really did find the Istanbul cooking class to be a highlight of the entire trip, and it was a trip full of magical memories. The conference was the trip of a lifetime for him, and he thanked me for my efforts in arranging the class and my friends for being such good and faithful colleagues and interpreters. I was quite pleased, the mission was completed. No, no please do not ask whether I tried any of the mezes that we learned at the cooking class at home, my answer will not be positive, not yet anyway.

Grilled Aubergine Salad

Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:
2 aubergine
2-3 clove of garlic
half a lemon juice
3 tablespoon olive oil
salt

Directions:
Grill the aubergines directly on the naked flame of a gas hob, or under the grill, turning until the flesh of the aubergines is soft.
Cut off the tops and peel off the skin, scraping the flesh off the back of the skin if necessary. Roughly chop the aubergines and set aside on the chopping board.
Crush the garlic, place aubergine and salt into a bowl and mix well. Add lemon juice and olive oil and mix together.
To serve, wait 15-20 minutes and place salad on plate.

(To serve, straining yogurt could be added.)

- Özge Altınok Lokmanhekim

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