A good chunk of my student loan was spent exploring the multicultural options living in a city suddenly put at my feet – portugese tapas, indian banquets, asian fresh woks, greek plate smashing meze and out of this world italian food. Though the cusinine and the ambience in all of these places differed, all had one thing in common: presentation. Presentation is key to selling your food. Or is it?
I used to think so, really I did, then I went to Thailand and all things changed. Tongue tingling soups served in plastic bags with a straw, fish head soup unceremoniously dumped into banana leaves spread with rice, cockroaches served whole with legs – no, the memorable food that left the first tastes of asia in my mouth and my heart certainly wasn’t the prettiest. On the other side of the world the focus was on the taste, the texture, the scent of the meal.
Turkey threw me. I admit to being totally ignorant of the country before my arrival: it had come down to a choice between a job in Russia or here and though wearing fur coats and eating caviar all winter appealed greatly, the idea of living both in Asia and Europe simultaneously appealed more. Arriving direct from a Sihanookville beach without even a Lonely Planet to guide me through Turkish customs I expected to find noodles on the asian shore and frites in Europe. Le sigh. I quickly realised there was nary a noodle to be found and frites were only served (mostly cold) on a doner kebab pide. After the exoticism of Asian cuisine, I percieved Turkish food as bland, unhealthy and truthfully, unappetising in looks too. It lacked the spices, the nose tingling scents and asthetics didn’t try to mask this at all. Though delighted with the second nights meal of kokorec – sheeps intestines roasted, chopped, fried and stuffed into a baguette – there wasn’t the variety, or the prettiness I craved.
Over time I’ve come to love this cuisine and cherish the simplicity of the food; the focus on produce not spice, the seasonality to dishes, but most importantly I’ve learnt to forget everything I’d previously learnt about food – the best way to judge a dish is not first with the eyes, but first with the tongue: if you like what you taste, you’ll learn to love what you see.
Chicken, tomatoe & chickpea stew
This is based on a recipe I used to cook for my Grandad after his stroke & in my pre-Muslim days. The dish originally relied on chorizo for flavour, so if you want, you can cut the spices back and add the sausage instead – though honestly, the spices make it just as good. This dish evokes memories of laughter in hard times, of joy and of hope and most of all of love. A bowl of this warms me right through to my soul.
1/2kg chicken thighs/legs
300g chickpeas (dried or canned)
three large tomatoes
2 large onions
red pepper flakes
If using dried chickpeas, soak for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. Pre-cook the chickpeas in boiling water for 1 1/2-2 hours until almost cooked but still retaining a bite.
In olive oil, lightly fry the onions, garlic, red pepper flakes until the onion is soft and the olive tinged red. Add the garlic, stir, then add in the chicken pieces. (I leave the skin on for extra flavour, removing once cooked and adding just the meat back into the dish) Cook the chicken for 10 minutes, turning to seal each side. Add in the chopped tomatoes, oregano, black pepper, salt and paprika. Simmer for 5 minutes then pour in the chickpeas. Continue cooking for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Serve with pasta/rice to preference.