I remember once asking G what he thought of as comfort when the weather was icy outside. His answer included stewed cauliflower, green lentil stew and beans over rice. Surprised, I thought back to meals his Mum had served me and realised each of these meals made the vegetable (or pulse) centre stage. A Turkish approach to food often puts the vegetable or pulse centre stage as opposed to as a side component of the meal. Over time we’ve combined the ways we were both brought up eating into a formula that suits us both and as I’ve grown fond of the olive oil veg – even cauliflower stewed has its plus points now – he’s come to request gravy and shepherds pie, eat his veg crunchy roasted and to ignore the lack of bread on the table. Once a week I try to ensure we have a meat-free dinner; not only is it good for our pockets, it’s often healthier too and by doing so, I get to spend the day trying my hand at new Turkish delights. Veggie days are kitchen days and since M’s come along, babywearing days too. Veggie days tend to be days when M wants me, just me, when I don’t want to compromise snuggles for doing anything else, so I pop on a sling, pick up my baby and get flour on my hands – therapy in motion in my world.
Another huge difference between the way we both grew up eating is in the presentation and approach to family meals. My normal was one plate of food – a protein, a carb and a pulse or a veg. G’s normal was three or four courses, all separated out – first a soup, then a main dish, rice/pasta served as a separate course and an olive oil veg to finish; salad always floated round. Though the servings are in themselves smaller than a serving I’d plate up, you still eat so much more this way because even if you’re full, you can’t stop until the final course is served. The first time we had dinner at my parents-in-law’s I near exploded before dinner was through! Once again, in our home, meals are a combinative approach – neither Turkish nor British but somewhere inbetween. Veggie nights are probably the nights we come closest to replicating the table of G’s childhood.. we almost always start with soup, have a rice or pasta dish, a vegetable dish that might be hot or olive oil, and – because it gives me the chance to play – a pastry or bread-style dish too. Far from being the meals ugly sister, in our amalgamative home, veggies trump the lot.
Lentil and spinach pastries
This recipe came from The Sultan’s Kitchen. It’s a good book for touching up on basics of Turkish cuisine & has some more unusual gems, like these borek, too. The pastry is a little labour intensive and worth it though you could substitute filo to speed things up.
(I accidently deleted the photo to accompany this post so you’ll have to use your imagination but when these are golden, they should look like puffy, goodness-stuffed envelopes.)
For the filling
3/4 cup cooked green lentils
one onion, chopped
1 cup cooked spinach, chopped
2 small tomatoes, skinned, chopped
1/2 bunch spring onions (scallions)
Heat onions in oil, stir in spinach & tomatoes and lower the heat. Simmer until the tomatoes are melting into the spinach. Remove from heat & mix in lentils. Season & leave to cool.
For the dough
4 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vinegar (recipe calls for wine vinegar. Never seen this in Turkey, I used apple vinegar)
1 cup cold water
1 stick butter (recipe calls for 3 so if you want to indulge but I felt these were buttery enough with just one.)
This dough is indulgent, buttery and worth the time.
Sift flour and salt into bowl. Make a well and add eggs, vinegar, water. Gradually mix togeter to form a dough. It will be firm but sticky. Turn out and knead for 10minutes until smooth. Shape into a circle and freeze.
Roll out the dough into a thin square – book says 18inch.
Take a damp teatowel. place the butter in the centre, fold over the cloth, and roll the butter into a square roughly the size of your dough.
Place the butter square in the centre of the dough, fold over the dough and roll into a sqaure again.
Cut dough into 12 & put 1/12 of the filling in the centre of each. Fold over the edges and seal into an envelope shape.
Glaze with milk or egg yolk and oven bake for 30mins until golden.