Recipes from Istanbul Cult Recipes


Cheese pastry

You can find this pastry, made from kadayif (angel hair pastry) and cheese, from the Middle East to Greece. The Turks use a desalted cheese; mozzarella does the job very well.

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Serves 6

250 g (9 oz/1/2 packet) kadayif (angel hair) pastry (available from Turkish, other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food shops)
250 g (9 oz) fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into pieces
125 g (41/2 oz) butter, melted and cooled until lukewarm
kaymak (buffalo’s milk clotted cream) or mascarpone cheese, to serve

200 g (7 oz/scant 1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

First, make the syrup. Put the sugar and 125 ml (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) water in a small saucepan, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Place the saucepan over medium heat. Bring the syrup mixture to the boil, still stirring, and skim off any white froth that forms on the surface. Add the lemon juice and continue to cook, stirring, for a further 3 minutes. Set aside to cool. Untangle and cut the angel hair pastry with scissors (into short 1–2 cm/1/2–3/4 inch lengths) into a large bowl, then mix with the lukewarm melted butter, making sure that you take the time to work the butter through the pastry evenly. Separate into two equal portions. Spread the first portion of pastry over the bottom of a medium frying pan, cover with the mozzarella and top with the second half of the pastry. Pan-fry over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until the pastry is golden underneath. Turn over and cook on the other side (use a plate to carefully slide out and invert the künefe) for a further 10 minutes. Pour the cold syrup over the künefe and serve hot, cut into wedges or squares, with some kaymak.

Note: Kaymak is a Turkish dairy product usually made from buffalo’s milk. The milk and/or cream is cooked over very low heat, then left to cool and slightly ferment until thickened. It is similar in many ways to clotted cream and crème fraîche, and either of these can be used as a substitute (as well as mascarpone cheese) if kaymak is unavailable where you live.

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Sauteed lamb with eggplant

‘The sovereign loved it.’ This is the translation of ‘hünkar begendi’, referring to its origin – at least according to the story that attests the dish was invented in the seventeenth century for Sultan Murad IV. Two hundred years later, the Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoléon III, was also supposed to have especially enjoyed this dish. So, sovereigns do love it, then. And not only sovereigns – me, too. It can be made with either cubes of meat or as meatballs.

Preparation time: 50 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Serves 4

2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 onion, very finely chopped
400 g (14 oz) boned lamb (such as boned short loin saddle), cut into cubes
40 g (11/2 oz) butter
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
6 eggplants (aubergines) (choose ones that are not too large)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
200 ml (7 fl oz) milk
60 g (21/4 oz) kaşar, cantal or emmental cheese, grated
1 small handful flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, chopped

Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying pan over medium–high heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes until soft. Now add the meat, season with freshly ground black pepper and brown for a few minutes over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for about 30 minutes until the lamb is tender. Just before serving, season with salt. Melt the butter with the paprika in a small frying pan over medium heat; set aside to keep warm. Meanwhile, make the purée. Prick the eggplants and cook directly over a gas flame or under a preheated hot grill (broiler), turning regularly, until the flesh is meltingly soft. Open up each eggplant (use tongs if they are too hot to handle) and scrape out the flesh with a spoon (discard the skin). Mash the flesh to a purée with a fork; set aside. Stir the olive oil and flour in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the mixture turns a caramel colour. Gradually add the milk, then the eggplant purée and cheese, stirring continuously. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the purée hot, topped with the meat, drizzled with the paprika butter and with the parsley scattered over the top.

Note: Kaşar (known as kasseri in Greece) is an unpasteurised medium–hard cheese made from sheep’s milk with a small amount of goat’s milk mixed in. You can find it at Turkish, other Middle Eastern or Mediterranean food shops.

Download printable recipe (PDF)


Turkish Tabouleh

Kısır is Turkish tabouleh, traditionally made from burghul, tomatoes, capsicums (peppers) and fresh herbs. Hande Bozdoğan, the lovely founder of the Istanbul Culinary Institute (see pages 164–165), gave me her version, which is both sweet (from the beetroot) and sour (from the pomegranate molasses and balsamic vinegar). The pomegranate molasses used to dress this salad is very different from pomegranate juice, and far more like a thick vinegar. Do not overlook it because it has a unique sweet–sour flavour.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Serves 4

150 g (51/2 oz) fine burghul (bulgur)
2 beetroot (beets), trimmed, cooked and peeled (see note below)
extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 bulb spring onions (scallions), finely chopped
3 or 4 flat-leaf (Italian) parsley sprigs, finely chopped
2 or 3 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked and finely chopped
pul biber (Aleppo pepper) or other chilli flakes
1 generous teaspoon pomegranate molasses (available from Turkish or other Middle Eastern food shops, some supermarkets and online)

Bring 300 ml (101/2 fl oz) water to the boil in a saucepan, and add the burghul. Cover and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, then set aside. Purée one of the beetroot in a blender or food processor with a little olive oil and the balsamic vinegar. Dice the other beetroot, and add the diced beetroot and the purée to the burghul. Next, add the spring onions, parsley, thyme, a pinch of chilli flakes and a good pinch of salt. Stir through, then add the pomegranate molasses and a little more olive oil. Stir through again, and serve cold.

Note: To cook beetroot, wrap them in foil and roast in a preheated oven at 200°C (400°F) for 1–11/2 hours. (Insert a knife into the flesh to check whether they are done: they are cooked when they are tender and the flesh is easily pierced.) Peel once they are cool enough to handle.

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vanilla milk pudding

Muhallebi can also be flavoured with orange flower water or rosewater: if you want to try that, replace the vanilla with 60 ml (2 fl oz/1/4 cup) of either water, and add to the pudding when it starts to thicken.

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Resting time: 4 hours
Serves 4

30 g (1 oz/1/4 cup) cornflour (cornstarch)
500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) milk
90 g (31/4 oz/generous 1/3 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 small handful crushed unsalted pistachio nut kernels

Blend the cornflour into a little of the milk, add this mixture to the rest of the milk in a saucepan with the sugar, and stir to dissolve. Open the vanilla bean lengthways, and scrape out the seeds over the saucepan, then add the bean to the milk. Gently heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes until the mixture thickens. Pour into four small individual ramekins, and decorate the top of each one with a generous pinch of crushed nuts. Once the puddings have cooled, set aside the ramekins in the refrigerator for several hours to chill until ready to serve.