We once made elaborate plans of visiting Turkey. Much, discussion, exploration, sharing was undertaken … weeks of research … we were so so excited. We dreamt of the architecture our eyes would drink in, history that we would inhale, people we would know, bits of culture we would bring back. It would be life changing we were sure.
Most relevantly… ooooh the food we would eat. Breads, kebabs, dips… the best part was that I don’t know too much about food from Istanbul. And what better joy than to discover a whole new cuisine. The magical meeting of the east and the west would surely result in something fascinating. A whole new universe of flavours, fragrances, textures and ingredients. So, while I fantasized salivated, dreamt; Atul did all the hard work and… got visas, booked hotels, flights and sighed with anticipation. We were all set.
Incidentally this was around when we were getting married. It was planned for, ahem, our honeymoon. (I still cringe at that word.. conjures up images on women proudly displaying markers of marriage – chuda on their arms, sindoor flashing in their maang.. as if getting wed in itself is an achievement to flaunt). Another kind of life changing event was in the making. And slowly creeping in to replace the conviction and excitement … were the cold fingers of doubt. Literally. And in more ways than one. Delhi in the winter is abhorrent. For me that is. Atul loves the cold. I can’t handle it. I am the sort of person who wears 3 sweaters when others are sweating it out in shorts. Which made the thought of the two of us … alone so far away in the cold cold coldness of the east meets west… absolutely terrifying. (I am aware of the irony of not wanting to be alone on the honeymoon. What can I say.. that was then and this is now) Long story short, I backed out. He was so sweet. He had worked so hard at it, dreamt of this for so long and yet, he gave it all up. He didn’t make bones about wanting to go, just said my being happy was more important. Painfully, generously, lovingly.. he gave it up. All because of me.
The unvisit to Turkey is something we remember. Atul sometimes with vocal regret but never resentment and me always with a secret joy. Not so much because I escaped the prospect of hypothermia but more because it reminds of something important about the man I married. About his generosity, love and honesty.
I will make sure we will get to Istanbul some day. We have to. It will be my gift to him on our 7th marriage anniversary when we plan to have a Christian wedding. To avoid the 7 year itch and also because we didn’t have a church wedding which I would have liked to. But till then, I make our way slowly.. to the heart of Istanbul, through its food.
Given that yesterday was our 3rd wedding anniversary, I cant think of a better recipe to share with you. These bread rings are supposed to be quintessential Istanbul and Atul loved them. Rated as the 2nd best street food Istanbul has to offer, it apparently changes size and texture from place to place and while it “once only sold from carts and by itinerant vendors carrying wooden trays on their heads, the snack is now the headlining act at several new, nationwide fast-food chains”. Fresh from the oven, this bread is absolutely divine and in my opinion, can give the bagel a good run for its money. The exterior is crispy/crunchy and the interior soft and steamy. More intriguing still is the flavor – the earthy nuttiness from the sesame seeds, the tangy sweetness of the reduced pomegranate juice and the soft butteriness of the interior. Mmmmm.. Best eaten fresh, with homemade labneh or a quick cucumber and tomato sandwich, Simit is absolutely what I imagine and hope Istanbul will be like. Earthy, beautiful, textural, historic and delicious.
(Adapted barely, from Yelda’s recipe in The Fresh Loaf)
3½ teaspoon active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
¼ cup warm water
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoon salt
About 1 cup lukewarm water
1 large carton (1litre) – grape juice, boiled and simmered down to 2 cups
2-3 cups sesame seeds
- Dissolve the yeast and sugar in ¼ cup warm water and let stand 10 minutes in a warm place until frothy.
- Mix flour, yeast mixture, salt and water. Knead at least 15 minutes by hand, or 10 minutes by heavy-duty mixer, until the dough is very smooth d springy. Put the dough in a buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 2 hours.
- Knead the dough a few times on a lightly floured work surface, roll into a log, and divide into equal pieces. Roll each piece into a tight ball and let rest under a slightly damp towel about 30 minutes.
- Roll each ball into a 14 inch long rope. Hold down one end of the rope with one hand while twisting it with the other. Then form this twisted rope into ring, pressing and rolling the overlapping ends together on the work surface with one hand to seal. Place on a greased baking sheet and let rest 1 hour.
- Put the sesame seeds in another bowl and set it next to the bowl of reduced pomegranate juice. Dip each “simit” in molasses water first, then in the sesame seeds, making sure the “simit” is completely and thickly coated with the seeds on all sides. Put it back on the baking sheet and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 550 degrees 30 minutes before baking. Put a few cups of water in an ovenproof pan and place it in the oven.
- Take each ring and rotate it gently through your hands, enlarging it into a 7 inch circle. Place the rings back on the baking sheet and let rest for 15 minutes or until well puffed.
- Bake about 15-20 minutes until rich golden brown in color.
- They are their best eaten fresh out of the oven. They will be good all day. You can also reheat them wrapped in foil to freshen them.
Quick Tomato and Cucumber Salad
Tomatoes marinated with salt become a manically delicious thing. Give this ordinary sounding salad a try and you will never have tomatoes the same way in a salad again.
Garlic – 2 small cloves
Tomatoes – 3 medium sized
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 3 – 5 teaspoons
Cucumber – 2 small or 1 large
Fresh oregano (chopped) – 1 teaspoon
Chop up the garlic finely. Halve tomatoes, deseed and rub inside of each with half a teaspoon or so of salt. (I know that sounds insane but just follow my lead here). Once the tomato has rendered its juices, wash it out and dice to about 1 inch pieces. Add in the garlic, oregano, pour over some olive oil (about 2-3 teaspoons for 3 tomatoes should be fine but you can add more if you like the fruity taste of extra virgin olive oil) and massage gently with your hands. Dice the cucumber into 1 inch pieces and add to the rest of the ingredients. Toss the salad well before serving.
An absolutely beautiful middle eastern dip that one can prepare unbelievably easily and can woo the best of gourmand. A regular at our table.
Place curd in a sieve (preferably lined with muslin) to remove water. Next day, smoothen out by stirring. Add in salt and sugar to taste. Pour over some olive oil. Sprinkle some zattar if you have it at hand. Incredible. You have to try this to believe it!