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Exploring Izmir Cuisine
2003 / August

Izmir cuisine first brings seafood to mind, followed by the multitude of wild plants cooked in various ways, and the superb olive oil of course. All over Anatolia, with its widely diverse flora, local cuisines include wild plants, but in none of Turkey's regional cuisines do they play such a central role as here. Black briony, mallow, nettle, redcurrant, wild radish, holy thistle, chickory, poppy, dock, chickweed, plantain, dandelion, sea squill, wild asparagus, wild fennel and watercress are just some of the many species that feature in the cuisine of Izmir and the Aegean coast. The secret when cooking all these plants is to boil them briefly so that they remain green, and serve them with a dressing made of lemon juice and virgin extra olive oil with an acidity of less than 0.5. These typical salads should be eaten lukewarm. Olive oil has been used in the cuisine of this region for around 2500 years. The oldest olive oil factory in the world has been excavated at the Ionian city of Klazomenai in Urla, a beautiful district with vast olive groves.

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Exploring Izmir Cuisine
2003 / August

When you visit Urla do not forget to taste the local specialities of katmer (a layered pastry), keskül (a milk pudding), and gilt-head bream grilled slowly over charcoal. Turkish migrants from Crete have introduced many of their own dishes into Izmir's cuisine. These include kipohorta, made with marrow, black-eyed peas, purslane, dandelion leaves and wild fennel; pastries with a filling of poppy leaves, nettle and cress; holy thistle with lamb, sea bream soup, nettle salad, Cretan pilaf, mushroom and shrimp casserole, marrow pabucaki, stuffed squid, wild radish cooked with olive oil, and pilaf with mussels. When I was last in Izmir and strolled down the esplanade in the evening, I found a restaurant serving Izmir's famous merou fish (Epinephelus aeneas) with bechamel sauce. I was also served fish in basil sauce with the complements of the chef. In Izmir the range of fish and seafood dishes is extraordinary. Merou in salt, cuttlefish, fish rissoles, poached sardines, sardines or red mullet wrapped in vineleaves and grilled, fried mussels, stuffed mussels, sole grilled on skewers, sardines baked in paper,

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Exploring Izmir Cuisine
2003 / August
grey mullet kakavya, fried sprats, and many more. Bosnians, Albanians, Levantines and Jews have also made significant contributions to the cuisine, and people from Thessalonica have introduced shee'sd trotter soup. Some of the vegetable dishes are common to all of these communities, such as those made with aubergines, green beans and artichokes. In Thessalonica and Izmir artichokes are never cooked with onions. Typical Albanian dishes of the region originate in Pristine, and include elbasan tava, Albanian style fried liver, Pristine style fried meat and kirde kebab. The most renowned Jewish dish of Izmir is a delicious börek or pastry called boyoz, which you can only find at one bakery in Alsancak every morning between 06.30 and 11.00. Everyone in Turkey has heard of Izmir style meatballs cooked with potatoes in a tomato sauce, but how many people have heard of Tire meatballs? These finger-thick köfte are grilled slowly on long skewers over a charcoal fire, and when cooked up cut into several pieces and served with peppers and tomatoes.
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Exploring Izmir Cuisine
2003 / August
And last but not least I must mention the deliciously fragrant mastic jam which I bought from Izmir.

* Renan Yildirim is a journalist.

DANDELION WITH YOGURT (serves 4)
Ingredients: 1 kg dandelion leaves 1 bowl thick strained yogurt 1/2 cup olive oil 1 lemon 3-4 cloves garlic salt
Method: Wash and drain the dandelion leaves and toss handful by handful into boiling salted water, waiting for the water to boil rapidly again before adding each new handful. After 5-6 minutes drain and place in a dish. Sprinkle a little of the water in which the leaves were boiled over them. When they have cooled slightly for over a dressing made with the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Leave for five minutes and serve with yogurt.
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Exploring Izmir Cuisine
2003 / August
FISH IN BECHAMEL SAUCE (serves 4)
Ingredients: 1 kg filleted merou 10 mushrooms 15 cleaned mussels 50 g hard yellow cheese 40 g butter 1 bay leaf 2 sprigs dill salt
For the sauce: 2.5 cups hot milk 2 tablespoons flour 2 egg yolks 40 g butter, salt
Method: Wash the fish and place in a saucepan. Cover with water, add salt and the bay leaf and boil. Melt 40 g of butter in another saucepan and when hot add the flour and stir over the heat for a minute or so. Beat the egg yolks, stir into the hot milk and pour gradually into the flour, beating rapidly. Stir in the salt. Place the boiled fish in an oven dish and pour the bechamel sauce over. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top. Clean the mushrooms, cut into slices, and add together with the mussels and 40 g of butter in small pieces. Bake in a hot oven and decorate with dill to serve.
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Exploring Izmir Cuisine
2003 / August
COURGETTE PABUCAKI (serves 4)
Ingredients: 1 kg courgettes 150 g hard yellow cheese 200 g white cheese 1 egg yolk 1/4 cup chopped parsley 1/4 chopped dill 4-5 sprigs fresh mint 1 carrot 1 teaspoon flour 1 teaspoon butter, salt
For the sauce: 2.5 cups hot milk 2 tablespoons flour 1 egg yolk 40 g butter, salt
Method: Cut the courgettes in two lengthwise and boil for a few minutes, then drain and place in cold water. Scrape out the seeds and arrange in a baking dish. Mash the white cheese and grate the hard yellow cheese. Set aside a little of the yellow cheese, and mix the remainder with the white cheese, one of the egg yolks, and the chopped parsley, dill and mint. Spread some of this mixture in the centre of each of the courgettes. Melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour and cook for a few minutes. Beat the remaining egg yolk, blend with the hot milk and stir rapidly into the flour. Stir in the salt. Spoon some of the sauce over each of the courgettes and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese.
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Exploring Izmir Cuisine
2003 / August

Add sufficient water to come halfway up the courgettes and bake in a hot oven until golden. Scrape and grate the carrot. Heat 1 teaspoon of butter, stir in 1 teaspoon of flour and the grated carrot, and satéo for a few minutes. Place the courgettes in a serving dish with the carrot and chopped dill sprinkled on top.

KURABIYE WITH MASTIC (serves 4-6)
Ingredients: Approximately 500 g of flour 2 cups olive oil 2 cups icing sugar 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda 3 pieces of mastic cloves
Method: Pound the mastic in a mortar. Place the olive oil and icing sugar in a bowl and stir well with a wooden spoon. Add the bicarbonate of soda and the mastic, and sufficient flour to make a biscuit dough. Knead well. Take pieces the size of a small egg, form into balls and place on a greased oven tray. Press each one lightly in the centre and decorate with a clove. Bake in a preheated oven at 170° centigrade until lightly coloured. Arrange on a serving dish and sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve warm

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