Feast Ten – Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

True to my word, i decided this week to take it back to my childhood memories and do up a little Turkish food. I have always been a sucker for a good kebab and honestly, who can turn down a stuffed and deep fried pastry? you’d have to be a stronger man than me that’s for sure.

this week’s feast was a challenge to my sanity. i’ve gotten into a really relaxed mode with the cooking of these sunday meals. there is no doubt that under normal circumstance, i am a bundle of nerves in the kitchen, just a ball of stress trying to get food on the table in a precisely timed manner. but here, with this being a solitary venture, i’ve let go of most of that stress… if dinner is half and hour late to the table, so what? i’ll still be here, 38 more weeks at least. Eddie is getting a free meal out of it so i’ve yet to hear a complaint from him… also, aside from going to the gym in the morning, this meal is the only thing i have to do all day long. there are no distractions except the ones i choose. no other tasks, nothing except the slow plodding pace of time going by. which works for me on the one hand… i putter around, do a little prep work, get a dish staged, have all the pieces prepped for execution to try to deliver the end result at the appointed time. in between prep work, i take half an hour or so, play some video games, watch some TV, read a book, generally just fart around. and thats okay, usually.

yesterday, i had staged this meal to be ready at around 5 o’clock. its a good time to eat and i like getting things rolling early enough that i’m not stressing in the late hours of sunday night with the clean up and whatnot. so, i plod along, a little prep work here, a little chilling out there… all is well and good until around 2 o’clock, i start browning the meat in order to stuff the borek. ideally, i wanted to cook the meat and chill it, roll the borek and drop them in the freezer for a bit before i fry them up, the results are much better that way… i saute the onion, drop in the beef, season everything, hooray, everything going to plan. and then… well, and then the power went out, result of a tree falling on the power lines down the road. those of you who know me can only guess how i reacted. well, you’d be wrong… i decided, ok, fine, thats the way its gonna roll? i can still make this happen as long as the power is on by about 3:30, if not, gonna have to push the time. and then i took a nap. almost as if i had planned it, power restored at around 3:20 and the rest is history. i think, in addition to gaining some culinary acumen, i am also learning a bit of patience through all this.

so, here is the way the meal rolled out:

Cucumber Salad
Cucumber-Yoghurt Dip
Shish Kebabs

I started the evening before with the kebabs. with something like this, the longer you marinate, the more flavor you end up with. i bought a small roast because it was around the right size and price, cubed it into around 1 inch cubes and marinated overnight in the fridge in a mixture of the following:

1 cup olive oil
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup vinegar
juice of one lemon
2 tbsp. dry mustard
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. black pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced

when you are ready to cook the kebabs, reserve the marinade for basting the meat and the vegetables…

I decided to use my broiler for the kebabs, see my previous week’s discussion on BBQ for reasoning… the great thing about this is that everything can be held until the last possible minute. the kebabs only need around 6 minutes a side under the broiler, more or less according to taste. the one thing i would urge of you is to preheat the oven at least 30 minutes prior so that it is fully up to speed and ready to broil the kebabs.

soak wooden skewers for around 2 hours before loading with your ingredients. this will prevent anything untoward like a fire in your oven. i laced 4 skewers with beef cubes, cut up two small eggplants for two addition skewers and loaded two final skewers with cherry tomatoes. lay the loaded skewers on your roasting rack elevated above a pan to catch the drippings, liberally baste with the marinade and grill for about 6 minutes a side. the tomatoes are your mile marker here, they should be shriveled and starting to blacken when everything else is about ready. it’s your meal at this point so if you like them more or less done, adjust according to taste…

the rest of the meal is ridiculously easy. the borek takes a bit of time but is really not that difficult. it takes a bit longer than the other two items, so start with it. as mentioned in my above whine about the power outage, you want to saute a whole minced onion in a bit of olive oil until the onion is soft and translucent. add to this 1/2 lb of ground beef, a little fatty is better than too lean. i think 83 percent is about right but use your own judgment for that. just remember, fat = flavor 🙂 liberally salt and pepper and sprinkle on a healthy handful of chopped cilantro. this would normally be mint but i don’t go for that, mint is not something i enjoy whatsoever, not even a little. and as this is my meal, i modded it to use cilantro in every place that mint would normally go. if you don’t like it, well, change it up, that’s ok.

chill the meat for 30 minutes or so. in the meantime, crumble a package of feta cheese into a bowl and mix with a liberal handful of chopped cilantro and a couple twists of black pepper. squeeze the juice from half a lemon in and set aside. here we have a fork in the road. traditionally, you would use filo pastry for this. more commonly, i have seen eggroll wrappers used with much success. i have to say, i took the road less traveled and that has made all the difference. it was a royal pain in the ass and i will probably never do it again. i’m not the most delicate guy in the world, there is no doubt about that. filo pastry is so thin and touchy that i needed to use triple layers, perfectly aligned, to prevent my ingredients from escaping while i rolled. eggroll wrappers would have been considerably easier to work with and while not as delicately crispy, a perfectly adequate substitute that i would highly recommend. cut your filo (or eggroll wrappers) into triangles and spoon a tbsp or 2 of filling into the near edge. fold the corners inward and roll, sealing the tip with a bit of beaten egg. set aside until you have rolled up all the borek, beef and cheese.

Beef Borek, ready to roll

Beef Borek, ready to roll

*Note: all the above items that are beef would have preferentially been lamb but in a scarcity situation, you cook with what you got.

you can freeze these after rolling for a bit if you like or fry them up immediately, as i did due to my time crunch. i used a shallow layer of oil in a hot pan that reached up about halfway up the borek, deep frying would be the preferred method. fry till brown, drain and serve hot

Yogurt-Cucumber sauce:

you may be surprised but this dish consists primarily of yogurt and cucumbers. really.

peel and chop two cucumbers and 4 cloves of garlic and puree with 1 1/2 cups of plain yogurt. squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and a couple twists of salt and pepper. i also blended in 1/2 of a red onion and a white onion for added body and flavor but this wasn’t entirely necessary. chill for 30 minutes before serving as a dip for the borek and kebabs.

Cucumber salad:

i like dishes that are really simple and accentuate the natural flavors of ingredients. cucumber salad is definitely one of those dishes. peel two large cucumbers and discard the outer skin. with you peeler, continue to shave away at the cucumber until you have stripped all the outer flesh. the inner core is now a perfect chef’s treat, enjoy that for your work peeling. put the strip of cucumber in a large bowl and add in 1/2 of a red onion, roughly chopped. squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. drizzle with olive oil, around a 1/4 cup, twist in some salf and pepper. more chopped cilantro in here and then the fun part. don’t be shy, mix this up with your hands until all the ingredients are assimilated. its relaxing and a little messy. just the way i like it. chill the salad for 30 minutes or so and serve with everything else… end result should look something like this:

Borek, Kebabs and Cucumber Salad, ready to eat

Borek, Kebabs and Cucumber Salad, ready to eat

all in all, this was a decent meal, capped off nicely by a bottle of 2007 Minervois, an appellation controlled varietal that i hadn’t tried before. it was a little on the heavy and sweet side but not enough to be cloying. i would drink it again. the beef should have been a bit more tender (ok, quite a bit more) so if you suspect you have a crappy cut of meat, do some tenderizing prior to marinading. i absolutely love grilled tomatoes, they are one of my favorite things in the world…

well, thats it for this week. i think we may be going to Italy next week but i am undecided at this point. hope you enjoyed and hope i’ve inspired you to cook something for yourselves. get in there, relax and make yourselves a decent meal!


7 Responses to Feast Ten – Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

  1. staca says:

    Thanks Grg, now I want borek and kebabs.


  2. 48feasts says:

    you say that almost every time… have you tried to cook any of the things yet? DO IT!

  3. That looks like a barbecued torture chamber. A quite yummy one, too.

  4. Greg Senior says:

    as Usual looked good, know your partial to cilantro, traditionally used the Italian or flat leaf parsley as the herb, see you mentioned mint, much better with parsley

  5. xtna says:

    looks tasty, honey, have been hankering for some kebabs myself and may give it a go with shrimp or chunks of pollo with summer squash,garlic, etc

  6. 4dancers says:

    Nice! I am enjoying reading these…and excited that they give specifics in terms of cooking. Better than any recipe book I have seen…

  7. 4dancers says:

    Hahaha! I just saw the title of the post! Loving it! Now I want to hear that song….

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