I fell in love with Turkish food in less than 24 hours. My husband and I flew Turkish Airlines to Italy via Istanbul in October 2015 and missed a connecting flight to Venice. After our long flight to Istanbul, we wandered the airport looking for help and found the Turkish Airline Lounge. After speaking with an airline representative to update our itinerary, we availed ourselves of the abundant food, wine and liquor in the lounge. The food made an impression that led me to further explore Turkish cuisine.
Many cultures enjoy small plates of appetizers served during what we might call “happy hour.” The Spanish take joy in tapas. Venetians serve cicchetti. The Turks make mezze. Most mezze dishes feature small bites and portions of vegetables, fruits, meats, or seafood and may be served cold, hot or at room temperature. The key goal is to serve small tasty bites to balance the flavors of a favorite alcoholic beverage. Some of my favorites include Piyaz (white bean salad), Mucver (zucchini fritters), and Şakşuka (fried eggplant, zucchini and red peppers with tomato sauce and garlic yogurt).
Like many other Middle Eastern cultures, the Turks consume ground meats or whole grilled pieces of meat as kebabs in mezze or main dishes. This main dish relies on inspiration from a favorite channel on YouTube called Easy Turkish Recipes (highly recommended). Serve the hearty tomato sauce steaming hot over the warm eggplant yogurt purée. The contrast between the hot, meaty acidic sauce and cooler creamy yogurt purée will delight the palette. The dish in the picture uses ground beef sirloin (the Turks traditionally use ground lamb). Soy crumbles would make a tasty vegetarian version of this dish. A Camerons stovetop smoker for the eggplant prove ideal in the absence of outdoor smoking options. Pair with a red wine blend such as a CMS (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah).
Ali Nazik: Smoked Eggplant Yogurt Purée and Ground Beef Stew
Eggplant Yogurt Purée
- 2 lbs eggplant (Japanese eggplant may be best for fewer seeds)
- 1 tbsp cherry wood chips (for smoking)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 lemon, juiced
- A pinch of cracked black pepper
- 1 lb ground beef, lamb or soy crumbles
- 1 onion, minced
- 1 Poblano pepper, diced
- 1 tomato
- 1 8-oz can of tomato paste
- 2 tsp of red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp salt
- A pinch of cracked black pepper
- 1/3 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
- Pierce eggplants with a sharp knife on several sides and place in Camerons stove top smoker with cherry wood chips. Cover tightly with aluminum foil (if the metal cover will not fit) and smoke on medium high heat for at least 30 minutes on a vented stove.
- While eggplant is smoking, pulverize the garlic cloves with salt and pepper with a mortar and pestle. Mix thoroughly with yogurt, cover and set aside in the refrigerator.
- After the eggplant smokes for 30 minutes, turn the stove off and allow eggplant to cool while still covered in the smoker for at least 20 minutes.
- Peel the skin from the cooled eggplant. Chop into large chunks (about 1 inch across) and place in a large bowl or pot to soak in water (enough to cover the eggplant), salt and lemon juice for 30 minutes to reduce bitterness.
- Using a sharp knife, make shallow cuts in a cross shape at the bottom end of a whole tomato. Submerge in boiling water for 1 minute and remove to cool.
- While the eggplant cools, bring ground meat and onion to a medium heat in a large pot covered (if using soy crumbles, I recommend adding at least 1 tbsp of olive oil) and cook covered for 10 minutes (stirring occasionally). Add diced pepper and cook for 5-10 minutes covered (stirring occasionally). Peel, dice and add tomato to the stew. Cook for 5 minutes covered. If at any time the stew looks too dry, add a few tablespoons of water to the pot. Add tomato paste, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir all ingredients thoroughly in the pot and set on low heat to simmer.
- Drain and pat eggplant dry. Warm in a nonstick skillet on low heat, chopping with spoon or spatula to begin breaking up the eggplant into smaller pieces
- Place eggplant in food processor with Greek yogurt mixture and purée just long enough to break up the pieces of eggplant.
- Divide eggplant among four plates in flat circular beds. Top with meat stew, garnish with parsley and serve.