Street Food in Turkey – Kumpir

my homemade kumpir, topped with bulgar pilaf, pickled, spicy green beans, olives, roasted red and yellow peppers, tabbouleh salad, and tahini drizzle

my homemade kumpir, topped with bulgar pilaf, pickled, spicy green beans, olives, roasted red and yellow peppers, tabbouleh salad, and tahini drizzle

One of Turkey’s favorite street foods is kumpir, what we in the U.S. would call a loaded baked potato, dressed up a la carte, with a kaleidoscope of toppings selected according to the taste, adventuresome nature, aesthetic and upper arm strength of the imminent consumer. The combinations are endless. Some common toppings are corn, peas, hot peppers, sweet peppers, chopped greens, pickled vegetables, kisir (bulgar salad, aka Turkish tabbouleh), chopped hotdogs, mushrooms, olives, chick peas, carrots, yogurt, mayonnaise, ketchup… really, anything goes. At a typical kumpir stand, baked potatoes are split in the middle and the steaming, fluffy innards are roughly mashed with a dollop each of butter and Kaşar cheese. Then they’re yours to top with the flavors, colors and textures of your choosing. Kumpir stands are found all over Istanbul, and around the country, but the Bosphorus-front Ortaköy neighborhood in Istanbul is practically synonymous with kumpir.

Kumpir with a view in Ortakoy

Kumpir with a view in Ortakoy


The Turkish Breakfast

If it is your first encounter with Turkish culture, the richness of the Turkish breakfast table may leave you in awe. Lost for words, even. Though there are variations from region to region, generally a Turkish breakfast table consists of bread, butter, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, honey, jam, eggspastrami, and tea – but Turkish specialities such as kaymakmenemenbörek, and simit are the additions you will not find anywhere else. Here is a handy dictionary of the most important breakfast foods, so that you can navigate your way around the breakfast tables of Turkey with ease.

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Shakshuka: Breakfast the Israeli Way

Here's my attempt at Ottolenghi's Shakshuka recipe. It's not as pretty as his but tasted divine.

Here’s my attempt at Ottolenghi’s Shakshuka recipe. It’s not as pretty as his but tasted divine.

Shakshuka is a North African dish eaten all over the Middle East and is a special favorite in Israel. It’s commonly eaten for breakfast but is delicious anytime, anywhere. One of many variations is to sprinkle with feta cheese, which I plan to try next time.

This recipe is from Yotam Ottolenghi’s fabulous vegetarian cookbook Plenty.
Check out all of his cookbooks (not all vegetarian) here. Ottolenghi grew up in Israel and is credited by many with starting the recent Middle Eastern/Mediterranean-food renaissance (in the U.K. and U.S. at least), heavy on vegetables, legumes and grains. He runs the restaurants Ottolenghi and Nopi in London.

½ tsp cumin seeds
¾ cup light olive oil or vegetable oil
2 large onions sliced
2 red bell peppers, cut into ¾-inch strips
2 yellow peppers, cut into ¾-inch stips
4 tsp muscovado sugar
2 bay leaves
6 thyme sprigs, leaves picked and chopped
2 tbsp parsley
2 tbsp chopped cilantro, plus extra to garnish
6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ tsp saffron threads
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste
Up to 1 1/8 cups water
8 eggs

In a very large pan dry-roast the cumin seeds on high heat for 2 minutes. Add the oil and onions and saute for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, sugar and herbs and continue cooking on high heat for 5-10 minutes to get a nice color.

Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne and salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. During the cooking keep adding water so that the mix has a pasta sauce consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavorful. (You can prepare this mix well in advance.)

Remove the bay leaves, then divide the pepper mix among four deep frying pans, each large enough to take a generous individual portion. Place them on medium heat to warm up, then make two gaps in the pepper mix in each pan and carefully break an egg into each gap. Sprinkle with salt and cover the pans with lids. Cook on a very (!) gentle heat for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the eggs are just set. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Eat with thick, crusty bread.

Visit Israel with Ya’lla Tours and enjoy Shakshuka at Yotam Ottolenghi’s favorite –
Dr. Shakshuka in Jaffa/Tel Aviv.


It’s Fig Season in Turkey!

photo by Capucine Fachot-Charbonneau, The Istanbul Guide

photo by Capucine Fachot-Charbonneau, The Istanbul Guide

As you walk down almost any street in Istanbul, save for the main arteries, there’s a distinct perfume of late summer afternoons. The figs have arrived and so has their sweet, heady aroma. Though dried figs are available all year round in Istanbul, there’s nothing like biting into a fresh one, as its perfume hits the back of the throat, and the crunchy seeds heighten the pleasure derived from its sweet chewiness.

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Love Yogurt? Thank Turkey.

There is a Turkish saying, “Zemheride yoğurt isteyen, cebinde inek taşır” – “The one who wants yogurt in midwinter carries a cow in his pocket.” We’re lucky to be in the heart of summer, as our pockets aren’t big enough for cows. In fact, Istanbul natives know that yogurt is the ideal antidote to the city’s sweltering heat. With its powerful health properties and addictive taste, yogurt is a fermented friend to rely on: slurp down some cooling yogurt soup, dollop it on the side of bulgur pilav, drizzle it with garlic over crispy mantı, or sip it in the form of salty ayran.
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Köpoğlu – Turkish Meze Recipe

The excellent Istanbul restaurant Meze by Lemon Tree is owned by good friends of Ya’lla Tours. (A meze is an appetizer.) When you’re in Istanbul, do check it out.
The restaurant has received rave reviews in dozens of publications and the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Chef Gençay Üçok has been kind enough to share several of his recipes with me for publication on this blog. Continue reading

L’Chaim! a Brief Look at Wine in Israel

vineyards in the Upper Galilee

vineyards in the Upper Galilee

Jews, in general, have never been big drinkers, but they have been making wine for use in ritual for thousands of years. Most of that wine was pretty awful, maybe purposely so, to discourage recreational imbibing. If you’ve ever tasted Manischewitz wine, you know what I mean. Continue reading