There are few opportunities to truly leave our worlds behind but over the last six weeks I have been fortunate enough to do so. I have been visiting, and travelling, with friends through Ireland, Italy and Turkey, and I rarely checked in, allowing myself an almost complete break from computers, emails, the phone and social media. To put it lightly, it was the best.
So yes, as you can tell, I have neglected my blog yet again. But I’m calling it research and hope to put many of my food experiences here in the coming months. While away, I read the fabulously thought-provoking book The Wonderbox (Roman Krznaric) and along with annoying my friend with exclamations of “did you know that…” I read the following quote and it fitted perfectly with my experiences:
The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star.
– Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
And boy was I happy! I’m not sure which meal made me the happiest – was it eating white mulberries straight off the tree or the delectable meze I ate throughout Turkey; searching for the perfect orcchiette con cime di rapa in Italy; or eating in Cornucopia, an old veggie favourite, while in Ireland? Everywhere I went it was easy to eat vegetarian (though not always vegan) and dishes I’d never seen or tried before found their way onto my plate. I was literally in heaven.
So to keep my travelling glow shining a little longer, I decided to recreate the tangy goodness of Turkey’s çig köfte. I love that this dish once made with raw meat is now mostly veggie, as it’s being made with bulgur (burghul) instead. That said, while this is true in most street eateries, there is often a cooked meat version in restaurants so be careful you don’t order that by mistake. Fortunately many menus are in English and if all else fails, vegetarian is pronounced ve-zhe-ter-yan.
My best çig köfte experience was when my friend Bea and I were taken through winding streets by the lovely Semih to what looked like a hallway into a clothes shop and introduced to a supposed local legend. Cut into the wall was a trough piled high with köfte and a tower of spring onions, lemons and lettuces. A lettuce leaf filled with köfte was quickly placed in our hands and this was topped with lashings of lemon juice (incidentally, the lemon had just been thrown and cut mid air by the enthusiastic, rumoured to be crazy, owner). And man oh man, there was divinity in my hand.
red lentil köfte
I’ve made Greg Malouf’s köfte recipe (from his lovely Turquoise book) and it is basically a bastardised version of this Turkish staple, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious. Traditionally it doesn’t have red lentils and takes around 40 minutes of kneading to make the köfte smooth, as you can see in the Istanbul photos (I will have to try this when I have more time on my hands). And I didn’t have the red pepper paste so doubled the tomato paste, though I can’t wait to get some and use it in my next batch.
And a quick note: make sure you buy fine bulgur. I couldn’t find it and when I tried this before it didn’t soften so wasn’t very nice. This time I soaked what I had and it turned out perfectly, though it was a little more watery than I suspect it ought to have been but I didn’t mind, as I wasn’t serving it as it was intended.
Greg Malouf’s red lentil köfte
40g oil or butter
1 small purple onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp mild Turkish red pepper paste*
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
100 g (½ cup) red lentils
350 ml water
80 g (½ cup) fine bulgur
2 tbsp shredded mint leaves
1 heaped tsp dried mint
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, juice only
100 ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 baby cos or iceburg lettuce, washed
6 baby salad onions (optional)
- Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat and add the onion, tomato paste, pepper paste and cumin.
- Sauté for a few minutes until the onion starts to soften, then add the lentils and water and bring to the boil.
- Lower the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and have absorbed two-thirds of the water.
- Stir in the burghul and fresh and dried mint and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Remove the pan from the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes, then stir in half the lemon juice and 2 tbsp of the oil. Tip the mixture onto a tray to cool.
- When ready to serve, whisk the remaining lemon juice and oil to make a dressing and season with salt and pepper.
- How I served it: It doesn’t look as fancy but I wanted to relive my Istanbul experience so simply filled a lettuce leaf with the köfte, squeezed lashings of lemon juice over it and ate it standing up – yum.
- What Greg does: form the cooled lentil mixture into little patties and use your thumb to make an indentation in the surface of each. Arrange the köfte on a platter with the lettuce leaves and onions, then drizzle over the dressing.
*Turkish red pepper paste is available from specialty and Turkish and Middle Eastern food stores.