The country of Turkey straddles two continents, Europe and Asia. Its food, too, shows influences of both.
Many of its dishes and even spices would not be out of place in such countries as Greece or Bulgaria, which border it to the west. Many others would be at home in such Middle Eastern countries as Syria and Iraq, which are to its south. And perhaps the biggest influence came from Persia, the present-day Iran, which is the border to the east.
When two or more of these culinary traditions come together in the same dish, that’s when Turkish magic happens.
Sesame Rings (Simit)
Yield: 8 servings
3 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
Pinch of granulated sugar
1 cup warm water
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons salt
1 cup (or so) lukewarm water
2 cups molasses, see note
2 cups water
1 to 2 cups sesame seeds
Note: The molasses gives the rings a mildly sweet note. For less sweetness, use 1 cup molasses, or even less.
1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in cup warm water and let stand 10 minutes in a warm place until frothy.
2. Place the flour on the work surface, make a well in the center and put in the yeast mixture, salt and 1 cup lukewarm water. Gradually work in the flour to make a very stiff dough. If you have a heavy-duty mixer, it is best to knead 10 minutes with the dough hook. By hand, knead it at least 15 minutes, until the dough is very smooth and springy. Put the dough in a buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise 2 hours.
3. Knead the dough a few times on a lightly floured work surface, roll into a log and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a tight ball and let rest under a slightly damp towel about 30 minutes.
4. Roll each ball into a 14-inch long rope. Hold down one end of the rope with one hand while twisting it with the other. Then form this twisted rope into a ring, pressing and rolling the overlapping ends together on the work surface with one hand to seal. Place on a greased baking sheet and let rest 1 hour.
5. Dissolve the molasses in 2 cups of water in a bowl. Put the sesame seeds in another bowl and set it next to the molasses water. Dip each ring in molasses water first, then in the sesame seeds, making sure the ring is completely and thickly coated with the seeds on all sides. Put it back on the baking sheet and let rest 30 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 500 degrees and heat a pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven 30 minutes before baking. Put a few cups of water in an ovenproof pan and place it in the oven.
7. Meanwhile, take each ring and rotate it gently through your hands, enlarging it into a 7-inch circle. Place the rings back on the baking sheet and let rest 15 minutes or until well puffed. Carefully place each ring on the hot pizza stone while it is in the oven. Bake about 15 to 20 minutes until rich brown in color. Cover with foil if they get too brown before they are done.
8. These are best eaten fresh out of the oven, but they will be good all day. You can also reheat them wrapped in foil to freshen them.
Per serving: 234 calories; 1 g fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 7 g protein; 49 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 365 mg sodium; 10 mg calcium
White Bean Salad
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 cup dried white beans, soaked in water to cover overnight, or 2 (15-ounce) cans white beans
1/2 large red onion, cut into paper-thin slices
1/2 cup fine olive oil
5 tablespoons (or more to taste) red wine vinegar
1 cups chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
2 hard-cooked eggs, cut into wedges
Drain the beans. If using soaked, dried beans, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the beans and cook until tender. Drain and put in a bowl with the onions. Season with salt, olive oil and vinegar. Stir in 1 cup parsley and let stand at least 1 hour. This salad will keep for 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator. Just before serving, place in a bowl, sprinkle with remaining cup parsley, and decorate with egg wedges and olives. Serve at room temperature or cold.
Per serving (based on 4): 459 calories; 33 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 92 mg cholesterol; 16 g protein; 33 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 8 g fiber; 51 mg sodium; 153 mg calcium
Roasted Red Peppers with Garlic and Vinegar
Yield: 6 servings
6 red bell peppers
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Salt to taste
Fresh thyme leaves
1. Roast the peppers directly over a gas flame or charcoal grill, turning frequently until charred all over. (Alternatively, preheat oven to 400 degrees, line a baking sheet with foil, place peppers on the prepared baking sheet and roast 20 minutes, turn peppers over and roast another 20 minutes until charred and somewhat deflated). Transfer charred peppers to a plastic bag to steam for 5 to 10 minutes. Peel or scrape off the charred skin, remove stem and seeds, and cut lengthwise into 4 or 5 pieces. Put the peppers and any juices in a bowl.
2. Combine the garlic, vinegar and salt. Pour over the peppers and sprinkle the thyme leaves on top. Refrigerate several hours, arrange on a serving dish and serve at room temperature.
Per serving: 45 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 8 g carbohydrate; 5 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 6 mg sodium; 13 mg calcium