Going Nuts Over Pine Nuts

THE TASTES ENCODED ON OUR PALATES GO BACK THOUSANDS, EVEN MILLIONS, OF YEARS

Published last year following research carried out by Nedim Atilla and Nazih Öztüre, the book ‘Kozak’/Pine Cone tells the story of the pine nut. Pine nuts, aka pignolia nuts, are the main ingredient in pesto, which is second only to tomato sauce as an accompaniment to Italian pasta and has been incorporated into all world cuisines today.

Popularly known as ‘the dolma nut’, pine nuts are used in a number of dishes and desserts in Turkish cuisine as well, in particular as the nut that is a sine qua non of all stuffed vine leaves and vegetables that are cooked in olive oil and served cold. Known in parts of Anatolia as ‘hünar’ or ‘künar’, it is so crucial to the dish that dolmas made without it are referred to as ‘yalancı’ or ‘false’ dolmas!

The pine nut is actually the edible seed of the Stone Pine (Pinus pinea), a member of the Pinaceae family that grows in the Mediterranean basin. The seeds develop under the scales of the cone, which begins to open as it reaches maturity, at which point the high-calorie seeds, which contain a tasty oil and protein, can be extracted for human consumption.

Among the kings of ancient Pergamon, Attalos II planted tens of thousands of Stone Pines in the Kozak Highlands which have survived to our day. If you go there, be sure to taste the pine nut halvah made by the local villagers because it hasn’t yet appeared on the menus of any Istanbul restaurants.

A Stone Pine begins to bear cones about 7-9 years after it is planted. When the tree reaches the age of 10-15 years, the cones can be collected. A tree of this age will yield some 4-5 kilograms of pine nuts, but the process of extracting and shelling them is extremely difficult.  Obtained from the Stone Pine, one of nature’s hardiest trees, pine nuts are a source of complex flavors and aromas in dishes made with them thanks to the tree’s spicy resin and its exquisite pine scent.

If you happen to go to the Kozak Highlands, don’t forget to order ‘cilveli’ (‘come hither’) tea. The flavor of this tea with pine nuts floating in it is like none other.I would like to express my appreciation to Nedim Atilla and Nezih Öztüre for telling us the story of pine nuts, an ancient product of Anatolia.

BOILED KIBBEH WITH PINE NUTS
Ingredients:

FOR THE SHELL
100 g fine bulghur
20 g semolina
20 g flour
salt and pepper

FOR THE FILLING
200 g ground lamb
1 onion, finely chopped
20 g pine nuts, browned
half a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 tbsp butter

FOR THE ROASTED EGGPLANT
1 eggplant
1 tbsp tahina
1 tbsp ‘süzme’ yoghurt
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tsp lemon juice
salt and black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

Preparation:
Mix together the bulghur, semolina and flour. Add half a cup of lukewarm water, cover and let stand for 20 minutes. Then add salt and pepper and knead well.

Brown the ground lamb and onions in butter in a skillet. Add the pine nuts and continue browning for another 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and cool. Add the finely chopped parsley to the lamb mixture and mix well.

Shape the bulghur mixture into walnut-sized balls, hollow out with your finger, then fill with the meat filling and close by shaping with your hands. Boil the kibbeh balls in meat stock for 4-5 minutes.

Prick the eggplant all over with a toothpick and roast on a grill, then peel. Remove to a serving platter and crush with a fork. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and top with the crushed garlic and lemon juice. Place the yoghurt and tahina at the side and drizzle with olive oil, then arrange the boiled kibbeh on top and serve. 

PINE NUT TARATOR SAUCE WITH RED PEPPER
Ingredients:
5 red peppers, roasted and skinned
50 g pine nuts, browned
1/3 cup fine bread crumbs
1 clove of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
2 stalks of fresh basil
salt and pepper

Preparation:
Puree the roasted and skinned red peppers and other ingredients together in a blender.  Drizzle with olive oil, garnish with a small handful of pine nuts and a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley and serve.

PINE NUT PUDDING
Ingredients:
1 liter milk
200 g sugar
2 tbsp rice flour
1 tbsp cornstarch
30 g pine nuts, browned
10 g grated coconut
1 tsp butter

Preparation:
Mix all the ingredients together in a saucepan with the cold milk. Heat on the stove, stirring constantly. When the mixture starts to boil, remove from the heat, pour into individual bowls and chill.