news from up the creek
Gathering inspiration from Turkish cuisine.
WRITTEN BY MIKE MADISON
ILLUSTRATION BY PAUL KREIZENBECK
Recently we acquired, by marriage, a Turkish branch to our family, and we visited our new relatives in their home in Southern Anatolia. The setting reminded me of Sacramento — distant snow-covered mountains; a broad, flat valley with a powerful river running through it; and land devoted to agriculture: tomatoes, wheat, peppers, almonds, apricots, pistachios, oranges, and pomegranates.
Our hosts’ household is traditional, and breakfast is the principal meal of the day. During our visit, we woke in the morning to find a large table spread with platters of food. What I remember are the following:
Olives (several kinds)
Heaps of fresh herbs: dill, parsley, mint, fennel
Jams (apricot, fig, sour cherry)
Preserved kumquats with cloves
Four or five kinds of soft cheeses, mostly from sheep or goats
Savory pastries: some similar to bagels, some stuffed with feta
Spicy lamb sausages
Menemen, a dish made of eggs, tomatoes, and peppers
I’m sure there were other treats as well, which I no longer recall. The meal was accompanied by strong Turkish coffee; when I finished it, a half-inch of sediment remained in the bottom of the cup. These breakfasts were a pleasant, leisurely, social way to start the day.
On the long flight home, we talked over our trip and resolved to adopt the Turkish system of breakfast as the main meal. We tried it, but it didn’t work out for us. In the heat of summer, we have to be out in the field by first light to get our farm chores done before it’s too hot, and there is no time for a leisurely breakfast. We do make a Turkish breakfast on special occasions, though, when all the family is together.
What the trip to Turkey did change in our food habits is the way we use fresh herbs. Go to an American grocery store and you’ll find fresh herbs in little clamshell containers, which only hold an ounce or less. At the markets in Turkey, herbs are sold by the kilogram, and the shoppers carry off armloads of them. Gradually, we adopted the Turkish approach. Whereas before we measured fresh herbs by the teaspoon, now it’s by the cup. And we’ll eat handfuls of fresh mint or dill or basil as snacks, the way you might eat a carrot or a stick of celery. I don’t know why our culture is so frugal with herbs; it strikes me as a historical mistake. Somehow, we all decided that certain leafy green plants (lettuce, spinach, arugula) are salads, and other leafy green plants (mint, dill, basil) are condiments. It might be time to reconsider that.
Mike Madison operates a family farm near Winters, Calif., producing olives (Yolo Press Olive Oil), figs, apricots, melons, and cut flowers. His books about Sacramento Valley agriculture include Walking the Flatlands and Blithe Tomato.
(courtesy of Emre Kara. Serves 4 if part of a big Turkish breakfast, or 2 if eaten on its own)
This recipe was provided by my son-in-law. The dish is an essential part of Turkish breakfast.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 small Anaheim peppers or one large, green bell pepper, diced, with seeds removed
3 medium-sized tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (dried chile flakes are a possible substitute, although the flavor is different)
½ teaspoon black pepper
In shallow pan, warm olive oil on medium heat. Add Anaheim peppers and sauté until soft. Stir in Aleppo pepper, black pepper, and diced tomatoes, and simmer on medium-low heat until mixture is thick, stirring occasionally (10 to 15 minutes). Add salt to taste.
Crack eggs into pan, reduce heat to low, and stir until combined. Cook until mixture is orange in color and eggs are just cooked. Serve on toast with fresh feta cheese.