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

Nasreddin Hodja: Life is Like a Pan of Baklava

 Across the Muslim world, stories and anecdotes attributed to or about Nasreddin Hodja are as much a part of the collective consciousness as the Grimm’s Fairy Tales in Europe and North America.

Nasreddin was probably a real man who lived in Turkey in the 13th century. Some sources say he was born in Turkey, others that he moved there from Iran. In any case, it seems agreed that he lived and worked as a judge and teacher in Aksehir, near the city of Konya in central Turkey. He is known for his sly wit, appreciation of the absurd, optimism and genial nature. The honorific Hodja refers to a wise teacher. Continue reading

Jerusalem Spinach Salad

One of the hottest cookbooks to come out in the last few years is
Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, both born and raised in Jerusalem, Ottolenghi in Jewish West Jerusalem and Tamimi in Arab East Jerusalem.

If you’re interested in Middle Eastern cooking, I highly recommend this book.

Here’s a quick and easy recipe from the book –

1 tablespoon wine vinegar
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 ½ ounces dates (100 grams), preferably Medjool, pitted and quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (30 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 small pitas (about 3 1/2 ounces, or 100 grams), roughly torn into 1 1/2-inch pieces
½ cup whole unsalted almonds (75 grams), coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons sumac
½ teaspoon chile flakes
5 to 6 ounces baby spinach leaves (150 grams)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain any residual vinegar and discard.

Heat butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add pita and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until pita is golden. Add almonds and continue cooking until pita is crunchy and browned and almonds are toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and mix in sumac, chile flakes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside to cool.

When ready to serve, toss spinach leaves with pita mix in a large mixing bowl. Add dates and red onion, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the lemon juice and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.


What Are The Greeks Up To For New Year’s?

Vassilopita, photo from Greek Reporter

Vassilopita, photo from Greek Reporter

On New Year’s, Greeks will be partying and enjoying fireworks, along with the rest of the world. But, also like the rest of the world, they will partake in some local, age-old traditions as well.

In some Christian denominations, including the Greek Orthodox, January 1st is the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus. According to Jewish tradition, male babies are circumcised 8 days after birth. The day is honored as Jesus’ first sacrifice for human kind.

January 1st is also celebrated as the anniversary of the death of St. Vasilios (Basil), an early church father remembered for his generosity, especially to the poor. Holiday gifts are traditionally exchanged on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, rather than the 24th or 25th of December and it’s St. Vasilios who brings gifts for children instead of St. Nicolas.

St. Nick does get a nod though. His feast day on December 6 opens the Christmas season, which ends with the Feast of Epiphany on January 6. The 12 days of Christmas begin with the birth of Jesus on December 25 and end with the visit of the Magi on January 6th. So, while many Americans close the holiday season on January 2nd, Greece remains in the thick of it for a few more days.

On New Year’s Eve, it’s traditional for family and friends to gather for a big meal and stay up waiting for the New Year and St. Vasilios to arrive. They might pass the time playing games of chance, this being a particularly lucky day.

An onion is hung on the door overnight as a symbol of renewal. Once the New Year rings in, a pomegranate, symbol of prosperity, is smashed on the doorstep before entering the house the 1st time.

The Vasilopita is a traditional cake baked with a coin inside. On New Year’s Day, the cake is served and whoever finds the coin in their cake can look forward to a lucky year.

Cheers to all and best wishes for a healthy, prosperous and peaceful 2015!



Make Hummus; Eat Hummus


Hummus, delicious, nutritious and easy to make. Here’s how:

2 1/2 cups small chickpeas
6 heaping tablespoons tahini
6 tablespoons lemon juice
4 garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1-3 cups of cooking water from chickpeas (to desired consistency)

For garnish:
olive oil
whole cooked chickpeas
paprika – sweet or hot

This makes 4-5 servings. For best results, I highly recommend cooking your own chickpeas and using very fresh tahini. Really, the fresher all your ingredients, the better. Continue reading

Lemon Quest

Lemons have taken up residence in my house. Suddenly, without forethought, they are on every shopping list. We are never lemonless for a full 24 hours. The other day, I surprised everyone by making a lemon cake, from scratch. It was easy (beautiful and delicious too, if I do say so…) but not something anyone, including myself, expects me to do. It’s the lemons, I tell ya. By some unconscious will, that seems to have my best interests at heart, they have become a fixture. This began about six months ago, but, just recently, I was struck with the desire to get to know lemons better. If they’re going to give themselves up for me, the least I can do is try to understand them.

Before making a concerted study, I knew, or thought I knew, that lemon is good for detoxifying, inside and out. I drink lemon juice squeezed in water all day long every day. I scrub my kitchen sink with the cut side of 1/2 a lemon, kosher salt and baking soda. My insides feel tingly fresh and my sink looks and smells the same.

Now, having read up on the subject, I know that one lemon contains about 1/2 the recommended daily dose of vitamin C, probably its strongest quality for health purposes. Other desirable and effective lemon elements include – citric acid, pectin, potassium, biflavonoids, limonene, calcium and magnesium.

You know I’m not a doctor, right? Nor am I a nutritionist. However, based on a critical survey of internet search results, I feel confident that regular and frequent lemon consumption can’t hurt and may very well help in the following categories:

Immune System
Vitamin C is one of the best antioxidants out there, acting as a defensive wall against the free radicals that would do us harm.

Once metabolized, lemon has an alkalizing effect in the body, helping to maintain a healthy pH. Healthy pH is important for resisting disease, eliminating toxins, and discouraging the growth of bad bacteria.

Chronic inflammation is bad, very bad. Lemons help reduce inflammation in joints and throughout the body.

Lemon flushes the digestive track, promoting healthy, efficient digestion and elimination.

Internal cleansing
Lemon stimulates liver and kidney function, which detoxify the blood and whole body.

Heart health
Biflavanoids, together with potassium and vitamin C promote healthy blood pressure and circulation.

Mental health
Lemon scent reduces stress and promotes concentration and happy thoughts.

In case you’re wondering how any of this is relevant to the general theme of this blog, I’ll mention that lemon is everywhere in Middle Eastern and North African cooking. You can’t look at many such recipes without encountering preserved lemons. Much like the writer of the article linked below, I have always skipped over recipes that include preserved lemon. However, now that I am in conscious embrace with the lemon, I have a jar of them preserving in my kitchen. In a month or so, when they are ready, perhaps I’ll share a preserved-lemon-containing recipe on the blog.

In the meantime, check out this article, which includes instructions for preserving lemons and several recipes.

And here’s the recipe for the lemon cake I mentioned at the top. I made it in a bundt pan rather than the 2 loaf pans called for and it was perfect.