Tasting Turkish cuisine on a food tour from Europe to Asia

I know it sounds unreal but yes, we did taste Turkish food across two continents, from European side Turkey, Karaköy, to Asian side Kadiköy – all in one day!

While walking over the Galata bridge in Istanbul early on a Saturday morning to meet with our foodie guide for a day long walking food tour, we saw fisherman around everywhere.  Some were fishing, others were selling fishing tackle, others were selling bait but all were interacting with one another, bragging about the catch of the day or lamenting about the one that got away.

We began our walking food tour in the back streets of Karaköy.  A truly international group set out on a much anticipated experience, there were, Americans, Filipinos, Germans, South Africans and Turks all eager to taste the food and walk the streets of Istanbul. We started off in the historic Perșembe Pazari.  My first impressions of the area were a bit doubtful. It looked like a hardware district with tools, appliances, ship anchors, paint supplies etc, not like the starting point of a food tour.

Met by our very friendly, enthusiastic and food loving guide, Esin, we were on our way.

We started by strolling through the fish market of Karaköy, where the fresh fish had just arrived and was being unpacked into very impressive displays.

The excitement and friendly attitude of the fish mongers gave us a feeling of belonging. 

They were washing fish, singing, haggling and proudly exhibiting their fish of the day.  One of the fish species that was being displayed had rose like flowers on the sides of their heads.  This turned out to be the gills that are turned out to show potential clients how fresh the fish is. If the gills are bright red the fish is fresh if not … Well you know!

 

  

 

 

 

On our way to the historic Perșembe Pazari of Karaköy, we had breakfast at the lovely little Esnaf Lokantasi and tea at an Ottoman-era caravanserai.

This caravanserai (which used to be an inn for travelers), known as Kurșunluhan, is probably the best hidden work by the Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. It was built in 1544, and this beautiful piece of architecture is hidden behind an anonymous door in the un-touristy side of Karaköy.

We had our tea in an open sky courtyard. The courtyard has a beautiful grape vine that dates back to Ottoman times when the place was full of life and many caravaners passing through.

Our guide set the table with newspaper and out came the simit, (sesame-encrusted bread rings), Pastırma (a highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef), cheeses and olives and of course the traditional Turkish tea.  We had a feast and our Turkish foodie tour started with lots of laughter, history and the guides love for her country.

simit

Chai

Pastirma

olives

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our next stop was Hasan fehmi özsüt, a restaurant that opened its doors in 1915 and is currently run by the 3rd and 4th generation of the original family.  We had water buffalo cream known in Turkey as Bahl Kaymak and honey with fresh bread at this family run business.  It was very busy and despite the fact that the guys were running around to serve everybody the smiles never left their faces and they greeted everyone coming into their restaurant.

The water buffalo cream and honey was to die for. 

Sweets…

…and preserve shops to die for!

 

After this indulging treat we hopped onto a ferry to Kadiköy on the Asian side.

During the ferry crossing Esin shared information about three Mosques and their history before we hit the streets of Kadikoy and ate our way through the neighborhood markets and food outlets.

This area has the highest number of food shops and eateries in the City so we were in for a real challenge.

 

 

Walking through the market in Kadiköy we saw dried eggplants; colorfully displayed at food stores and hanging in almost every stall.

What a lovely conversation piece.

Have you ever tried stuffed dried eggplants or peppers in Turkey? (kuru patlican ve biber dolmasi) 

 

 

This is a real treat if you can get hold of them. For a filled dried eggplant recipe please click here

Dried eggplants on display

Eggplant at Misir Carsi – Spice Bazaar

On through the market we went.  We stopped at a fruit vendor and Esin showed us Turkish figs.  Something we did not know, that is, if you rub two fig halves together you bring out the sugars and then you have a beautiful sweet fig.

    

We moved on to taste the Aegean-style meze with sardines. This was a personal favorite.   

I loved all the little mezes and then of course the deep fried sardines. Sardines are very popular in local Turkish cuisine, especially during the early autumn when they’re in high season.

 

Some of the best Turkish sardines are harvested near Gallipoli, where the Aegean and Marmara Seas meet.

 

 

 

And the tour continues, next up the famous Tantuni. 

Tantuni is a Turkish Style beef wrap which is actually a street food that originated on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.  It is extremely good with Turkish pickles and Ayran. (Ayran is mainly a mixture of yogurt, cold water and salt, but there are some variations.)  The white frothy drink was indeed a treat.

 

 

 

This was not the end yet!

We were heading for flatbread heaven, Lahmacun

(Turkish ‘Lahmacun‘ Authentic ‘lahmacun‘ is very thin and crispy bread dough with minced meat, its eaten piping hot with a squeeze of lemon juice and sprigs of Italian parsley.)

 

 

For those staying out partying and drinking there is a street food that does wanders for hangover blues.

It is called Ceyrek Kokorec (basically lamb intestines, wrapped around lamb sweetbreads and placed on skewers. These are then grilled horizontally over a charcoal fire and served diced on crispy bread.)

It’s tasty, crispy and the spices are incredible.  While they may not look great, they are a real awakening taste sensation on your tongue.

 

 

Walking on through the lesser-explored culinary hotspots, we passed a record store selling vinyl long playing records from days gone by. Queen’s ‘A Night at The Opera’ was prominently displayed near the door and caught my husband’s eye immediately.  The atmosphere of the neighborhood is vibrant with people enjoying life and having fun – eating and drinking and making memories similar to ours.

We then made our way to our last stop of the day to indulge in a sweet desert called Künefe

Künefe’ is a crispy, cheese-filled dessert made with ‘kadayıf’ (kah-dah-YUF a pre baked dough shredded’). It’s served hot out of the oven making the cheese soft and stringy.

‘Künefe’ is cooked and served in a very shallow, round metal pan that is specially designed for making this special dessert. It’s so delicious that Turkish people and tourists alike are hooked and will continue to enjoy this delectable dish.

Our wonderful two day trip to Istanbul came to an end on a high note with this fabulous food tour!  We were off to Hamburg the next day.  More about our Germany and Netherlands experiences next time.

If you would like to experience this culinary tour and explore the streets of Istanbul, contact Esin, click here.

Coffee, the Turkish way

On our recent trip to Europe, flying with Turkish Airlines, we decided to stop in Instanbul to experience coffee, the Turkish way with Turkish Delight.  We flew through the night and arrived in Istanbul at 6 am.  We went straight to the hotel, hopeful that they would have a room ready for us.  We were in luck!  The hotel could accommodate our very early check in.  And so our coffee expedition started.

What a view, no coffee yet

When I opened the curtains in the room, we received a wonderful surprise; we were directly below the famed Blue Mosque! What a sighton an amazingly overcast autumn morning.  Awesome does not even begin to describe it.

The grey of the sky and the blues of the mosque were such a magnificent match.

After a quick shower and a change of clothes, we hit the streets of the Sultanahmet area. The streets were covered in autumn leaves. What a blessing for us who have not experienced an autumn in approximately 12 to 13 years of living in the GCC.

blue mosque

For the love of shopping…just before coffee, the Turkish way

We walked through the Arasta Bazaar which was built in the 17th Century under the Ottoman dynasty. The wooden façade shops were filled with carpets, jewelry and souvenirs.  From here we made our way through the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. 

We were headed for the two things you absolutely have to experience when visiting Istanbul.  Turkish coffee and Turkish Delight!

At last, coffee –  the Turkish way

We found the “PASHAZADE Türk Kahvesi” coffee shop close to the entrance of the Grand Bazaar and decided that this was the ideal place to get started.  We learnt that the English word coffee first came into use in the 1600’s.  The word coffee comes from Ottoman Turkish word “Kahveh”.  It is hard to believe but Kahves was banned in Ottoman Turkey during the 17th century for political reasons. Luckily, this changed and we can enjoy the taste of this beautiful Kahvesi.

The method that is used at “Pashazade” was new to us, but is well known to the Turkish people.

Turkish Sand coffee consists of pure water, finely ground high quality coffee beans, sugar according to taste and spices to create the foam. After a specific quantity of water is poured into a small coffee brewing pot, which has a wide base, narrow mouth, long handle and a spout for pouring, the right amount of coffee and spices are added to the water and the pot is placed onto hot sand.  As the water heats the brew is gently stirred using a metal spoon so that the coffee and spices are evenly distributed through the brew.

   

Wait for it!  The coffee is done; a sprinkle of spice is dusted on top of the coffee for an extra spicy flavor.  The coffee is now served in the most beautiful cups with, of course, the famous Turkish Delight (Lokum).

turkish delight

After taking a sip of the smooth coffee and tasting the spices, I knew I was in the heart of Istanbul.

A sweet delight with coffee, the Turkish way

Well there are a few stories surrounding Turkish delight.  I like to share this one. Turkish Delight was the handiwork of a confectioner called Bekir Effendi.  He came to Istanbul in 1776 to set up a sweet shop. He was an artist in confectionary.

The kitchen was his canvas where he could let his imagination run wild.  Bekir became the love of the Turkish people because of his art and their sweet tooth. Turkish Delight was originally wrapped in lace handkerchiefs and was a chic gift shared amongst the socialites, it was even very popular with the Royal Courtesans.  Bekir’s shop still exists today, on Hamidiye Caddesi at the corner of Seyhülislam Hayri Effendi Caddesi, two blocks east of the Yeni Cami (New Mosque).

This 250-year old confectionary is a Turkish institution, which still dishes out the most sumptuous and choicest Turkish Delights in the whole of Turkey.

Oh the Turkish Delight is to die for and pairs perfectly with the slow sand brewed coffee.  Just writing this makes me taste every bit of it all over again.

Next on the list…after coffee

Our next stop was the Grand Bazaar and Spice bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı).  ‘Well, what does one say about it?’  I simply loved the atmosphere, the smells, the price haggling, the happiness of the Turks drinking tea and interacting with their clients and the tourists walking through the bazaar, but that is a story for another day…

for now I just savour the taste of coffee and Turkish Delight in my mind’s eye.

a bit more than coffee, coming soon!

 

Spicy, coconut inspiration from Sri Lanka

I found the spices and coconut that the Sri Lankan’s use in their curries such an inspiration, what an explosion of flavours and oriental smells!  Trust me this Sri Lankan Fish Curry recipe is one you would love, just as I did the first time I tasted it.

If you are keen to try a vegan version of it, just replace the fish with butternet or aubergine.

 

You will need:

3 tbs Coconut oil, or Ghee (Clarified butter), or Olive oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp Cumin seeds

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

2 sprigs Curry leaves

3 to 4 Cloves

6 to 8 Black peppercorns

1 stick cinnamon

In a pan, heat the oil then add the mustard seeds, once the mustard seeds start to pop add the cumin, fenugreek, curry leaves, cloves, peppercorn and the cinnamon stick.  Fry everything together for 1 minute.

Then add and fry: (Add a tbsp of extra oil if needed)

1 cup red onion

4 cloves of garlic chopped

1 tbsp chopped ginger

1 tsp red chili flakes (if you can find the Sri Lankan ones use them they are the best)

1 cup tomato

2 tbs grated coconut (optional)

Dry roast:

½ tsp cumin powder

½ tsp chili powder

2 tsp coriander powder

½ turmeric powder

In a dry hot pan add these spices and roast for 30 seconds then add it into the onion mixture.

2 tsp tamarind paste

Dilute the tamarind paste in 2 tbsp of water

(Tamarind is a sticky, sour tasting fruit that grows in large brown pods on the tamarind tree, a common fruit tree in Asia and Mexico.)

1 cup coconut milk

Now add the diluted tamarind paste and the coconut milk to the fried onions and garlic etc.  Bring  to the boil.

800 gr hake or hamour fish cut into blocks.

And finally, add the fish to the coconut milk mixture and cook for about 5 minutes.  Make sure not to overcook the fish, it can easily become dry.

To serve, you can use Sri Lankan Hopper (pancake) or with milk rice.

Milk rice is 1½ cups rice cooked in 2 ½ cups water until cooked and then add 1½ cups coconut milk and salt to taste.  Cook for another 10 minutes stirring occasionally.  Pour rice out into a 4 inch square bowl and let it cool down.  Cut into blocks and serve with the fish.

 

I tried the the hopper.  It is actually a breakfast thing in Sri Lanka, but I served my fish curry in the pancake basket and it was quite popular among my friends.

 

 

If you are as lucky as I am, you can buy the readymade dough in our local supermarket, Lulu Supermarket

People from India call it Appam and the Sri Lankans call it Hopper.

If you would like to make the hoppers click here for the recipe.

 

This is such an easy dish to prepare and will really tickle your taste buds.  A great way to entertain your friends the Sri Lankan way.  I hope you enjoy this dish as much I loved to make it and eat it!

 

A story about Trincomalee and feeding a nation

My husband and I recently visited Trincomalee, on the east side of Sri Lanka and absolutely adored it.

We started off in Colombo and did a very brave thing by hiring a car and drove through the beautiful countryside to Trincomalee.  This was a challenge with all the hooting, traffic and at a speed of 50 km per hour, sometimes it was funny and sometimes, well, not so funny.  The roads are in excellent condition but the traffic on the road, ‘oh my word…’

In Trincomalee, you will find one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the world. Trinco is the fifth largest natural harbor in the world.

The name, Trincomalee comes from Trikono/likoona (triangle) and malai (hill or rock in Tamil).

In earlier times, Trincomalee was called Gonaka.  The Greek cartographer, Psolemny, marked the harbor as Bokana on his map.  There is a fair amount of romance connected to this harbor.  Badda Kachachana, the Sakyan princess who was sent to Lanka to be the bride of King Panduvasdeva, also landed at Trincomalee, quite probably under much pomp and ceremony.

Then there are the colorful temples.  It seems that each street corner competes with its neighbor to host the most spectacular temple.

This particular temple is called, Pathirakali Amman– Pathirakali Ambal Kovil – or the Kali Kovil, Trincomalee is a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Bhadrakali.

    

There are always food in the temples, available to whoever in need. The food is presented in beautiful pots and the banana leaves will be used as a plate to serve the food on.

   

There are also the most adorable spotted deer roaming around the city. They were brought as pets in the early years of British rule and have survived and became part of everyday life.  The deer roam around Trincomalee and can also be seen at Fort Federick. They are undeniable part of this world.

  Well, this is a little history that I shared with you. Getting back to the harbor which I think is what this place is all about.   I fell in love with the fishing villages and the ongoing fishing of the people to feed the people.

 

Out on the beach you will find the most colorful boats as well as young and old gathering twice a day for the ritual of fishing.  Running fishing nets out to sea in huge C shaped figures has been developed to a fine art.

Using throwing nets in the shallow lagoons or close to the beach is very popular and the skill with which these nets are thrown to create a perfect circle dropping down onto the unsuspecting schools of fish, is a joy to watch. 

Manually hauling the long nets back to shore with almost hypnotic rhythm for a sometimes merger haul of only a few tiny fish seems like a lost cause, however, these committed fishermen are on the posts singing and pulling and singing and pulling, once the nets are in, the task of repairing any holes before the next catch keeps the men busy.

 

Once the nets come in and the fish are taken out, fish is sorted into baskets and then washed in the sea.

Now the bidding and selling of fish can start and is heard all over the beach.  The baskets are full of fish and the scales busily weigh the merchandise before the price is fixed and the sale concluded.  All the signs of fish being caught, sorted, washed and sold to feed the people.

  

The buyers will walk off with their fish talking and laughing happily being in a position to bring food home. A lot of the daily catch will go to the fish market where, another world of hustle and bustle happens.

  

Any left-over fish is cared for and dried so that nothing goes to waste.  The dried fish is sold in stores in town, the tea plantations, in Candy and all surroundings.  The dried fish is normally deep fried to a crispy delicacy which becomes part of the famous Sri Lankan curries.

  

After a hard day’s work some of the fisherman can be seen playing soccer, or volley ball on the beach while others come and take a rest right there on the beach.

 

‘After a hard day of fishing!’

What is there more to say about this beautiful fishing village and its people?

I was so inspired by Trincomalee and their fishing that I plan to share my take on a Sri Lankan fish curry recipe with you in my next article.  This is really a place to visit and get the feel of the local life and traditions in Sri Lanka.

 

For recipes click here.

 

Aroma – the Italian taste

I just have to tell you about the latest addition to the Muscat Restaurant scene.

Yes, Aroma is the name and it is officially open since the beginning of July. When you go into the restaurant it reminds you of the Colosseum, Rome and Italy.

 

 

The Italian owners Ciro, Anna, Maria and co-owner Naif, all work in the restaurant and with their fabulous Italian chef, Fabio Amodeo, from Rome.  Fabio understands the love of food and he goes about it with so much passion.  I had the privilege to spend an early morning with him. Showing me a few of the sweeter Italian delights they prepare in this well organized open kitchen.  The hustle and bustle of early morning preparation and the smell of yeast hanging in the air was just amazing.

I am sharing just a sneak peak of a few of the decadent menu items that you absolutely have to experience.

Double chocolate cake…

prepared with so much attention to detail…

    

 

Then there is the Symphony!

 

You can also indulge in…

  

 

…a Frappe with a cup of Aroma coffee.  

Believe me, I am a coffee snob and this is one of the best coffees I have ever tasted.

And just as I thought it can’t get any better,  Fabio started making this beautiful coloured plate of fruit with “Crèma”.

 

 

Well,  need I say more?  Go and visit Aroma, the Italian taste at Al Muzn Mall, Street no.72, Mawalih North.

I haven’t even got to the starters, the pastas, the salads, the pizzas or the main courses, yet!

I promise to keep you posted, in the mean time, treat yourself to this Italian experience, it is well worth it.

Artichokes, an aphrodisiac

When I see Artichokes at the market, I think work, work, work! It does take some effort to clean and prepare them, but it is worth every moment.  Because I love the look and the color of the Artichoke so much, I decided to take some time to learn more about this vegetable.
The Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) was dedicated to Venus and was believed to be an aphrodisiac. Because of this the Globe Artichoke became one of the main features in the diets for the wealthy and the noble.  I thought that there must be love somewhere in this colorful veg.
The Artichoke grows wild in the Mediterranean region, is a delicacy in the Middle East and is widely eaten throughout the world.  The Arabic name for an Artichoke is “al Khurshuf” which means prickle or thorn?
How does it grow?
The Artichoke plant is a tall beautiful majestic plant with serrated leaves.  Once the purple flowers come into full bloom it is an awesome sight. The Cone shaped Artichoke is harvested in late winter and the Globe Artichoke is harvested in the early winter.
How to buy and store them?
Choose large heads with tightly closed, fresh looking scales.  To confirm freshness, pick the artichoke up by holding the thick stem, the heads should droop slightly.  Do not buy them if the stems appear stiff this means Artichokes are old and could be hard and woody.  Once you have bought them keep them in a vase with water, like you would keep flowers.
Here in the Middle East you can buy ready prepared artichoke hearts which makes life easy but…
Buying them fresh and preparing them is much more fun.  
Do they have medicinal uses?
Well they do contain Cynarin which is believed to be beneficial to the liver.  A tonic is said improve the body’s metabolism and give you an overall feeling of well-being.
What are the culinary uses?
I find the tastiest way too prepare artichokes is too poach them in water containing olive oil and lemon juice with a little fresh dill or freshly chopped garlic for flavor.
This is the way a Turkish dish “Zeytinyagli” is prepared and it tastes great.  A modern Arabic dish with Artichokes is called “Ardishawki” and in this dish the Artichokes are stuffed with meat. In one of the dishes prepared with Artichokes in Lebanese cooking, the Artichokes are combined with broad beans and almonds.

To clean the Artichokes

  • Remove the stalk, scales, flower and hairy choke to expose the heart
  • Rub lemon onto the hearts (this prevents the artichoke from discoloring, they go brown very quickly)
  • Place the Artichoke hearts into a bowl of cold water; add salt and a dash of lemon juice
To prepare 4 Artichoke hearts you will need:
  • 110 ml Olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 50 ml water
  • Salt
  • A Pinch of Turkish red pepper
  • ½ tsp of fennel seeds
  • A small bunch of chopped dill
  • 1 lemon cut into wedges
 Method
  • Place the hearts in a pan with the water, olive oil, lemon juice, fennel seeds and the Turkish red pepper.
  • Cover with a lid and poach on a low heat for 15-20 minutes.
  • Add salt to taste and continue to poach for about 10 more minutes, when the Artichokes are tender to the touch, remove them from the heat and leave to cool in the pan.
  • Place the Artichokes in a serving dish, spoon some flavored olive oil over them.  Sprinkle with the dill and serve with the lemon wedges.

Go out and buy this lovely vegetable, nearly to beautiful to eat.  Artichokes are so tasty and you can try out many recipes.

 

A trio of coconut, chilli and chicken

During our recent visit to Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, I fell in love with coconuts and coconut products all over again.  Coconuts are widely used in the Sri Lankan diet and forms the main source of dietary fat.

The coconut tree does not just bring a lot of value to Sri Lanka but also forms part of the beautiful landscape.  Many different coconut options and products are available from street vendors, vegetable markets food stores located on just about every corner; these include coconuts in the shell, coconuts out of the shell, grated coconuts, coconut water, coconut cream, coconut oil, and the list goes on!

 

 

 

I loved the sambals made from coconut and the Sri Lankan curries are to die for, so this is my take on the Sri Lankan Coconut sambal and Coconut Chilli Chicken Curry Kebabs.

 

Coconut Sambal – so easy to prepare and very tasty

You will need…

  • 100 g grated Coconut (Fresh if available otherwise you can use Coconut flakes)
  • Chili powder to taste.
  • ½ teaspoon of Salt
  • 1 Red Chili sliced
  • ½ of the juice of a Lemon
  • 2 teaspoons of Tamarind juice (if you cannot find Tamarind juice just add the other half of the lemon)
  • ¼ teaspoon of Black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of Lemon zest
  • 1 small red Onion (Finely diced)

Method

In a blender mix everything together to a course consistency.

Chill and serve with your Coconut Chilli Chicken Curry Kebabs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coconut Chilli Chicken Curry Kebabs

To make these kebabs, you will need the following…

  • 1 large Sweet Potato cut into bite size cubes and boiled for 5 minutes. (The orange varieties add great colour.)  Sweet potato can be replaced with pineapple or small onions
  • 1 kg Chicken cubes.  (I used deboned thighs)
  • 3 tablespoons of Coconut oil
  • 1 thumb of grated Ginger
  • 1 Clove of Garlic chopped
  • 1 small Red Onion chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of Chili flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 thumb of fresh Turmeric (optional) chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of Mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of Coriander
  • 1 teaspoon of Cumin
  • 2 tablespoons of Curry leaves
  • 2 teaspoons of Curry powder (Garam masala)
  • 1tablespoon of brown Sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of Salt
  • 1 tin of Coconut milk

 

STEP 1:  The marinade 

In a saucepan heat the 2 tablespoons of Coconut oil over a slow heat.

Add the Mustard seeds and wait until they start to pop, now add the Curry leaves, Cumin, Coriander, Turmeric, Chili flakes, Ginger, Onion and Garlic.  Fry all the ingredients together and then add the Sugar, the Salt and the Coconut milk. Let the dish simmer over a low heat for about 5 minutes.  Allow the marinade sauce to cool to room temperature.

STEP 2 :  Coconut Chilli Chicken Curry Kebabs

Place the Chicken and Sweet Potato cubes into a large bowl, mix lightly and then add your marinade sauce. Mix the marinade sauce through the cubes. Leave the Chicken and Sweet Potato cubes to marinade for an hour.  Alternating the Chicken and Sweet Potato cubes skewer the cubes.

The Coconut Chilli Chicken Curry Kebabs can be shallow fried in a saucepan using Coconut oil until cooked evenly or barbequed on a grill until golden brown and delicious.

The sweet taste of the Coconut, the spiciness of the Chili and authenticity of the Curry brings the whole world of Sri Lanka to your taste buds.  A burst of utmost pleasure.

 

 

rose petals & pistachios

Rose field on Jebel Akhdar

Al Jabal al Akhdar (The Green Mountain) in Oman is the place known for hundreds of rose bushes grown on terraces that are cut into the steep mountain slopes.

Every year in April, this rugged landscape turns into the most beautiful pink environment as these roses bloom and the rich fragrance of roses fills the air.

The rose petals are collected by hand at dawn each day.   The harvest is collected in colorful cloth sheets, bundled together and taken to one of the many traditional extraction units set up by villagers.

Omani rose essence outshines all other brands in the quality and flavor departments.

The Omani people add rose water (rose essence becomes rose water after the distillation process) to hot and cold beverages, halva, and as flavoring in homemade sweets and food dishes.

Each rose bush produces between 15 to 20 kg of petals during the harvest season.  It takes about 2 kg of petals to produce 750 ml of rose essence which can fetch as much as $ 13.00 in the market place.

When the rose season ends, many of the farmers on Jabal Al Akhdar turn to their pomegranate and other farming activities to support their families.

 

 

Freshly harvested roses


Being on Jebel Akhdar (the Green Mountain) with the fragrance of roses all around, rose water production in full swing; the beautiful pink roses with the morning dew shining on them; I just had to come up with something sweet and delicious.  I decided to try a Panna Cotta with a twist.

 

STEP 1:  Panna Cotta recipe

(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

  •  6 to 8 Espresso paper cups (waxed inside or sprayed ramekins)

    Fresh mountain dew on the morning harvested roses

  • 1½ cups of Coconut milk
  • 3 teaspoons of powdered Gelatin
  • ¼ cup of Sugar
  • 1½ cups of Coconut cream
  • 1 teaspoon Rose water
  • 1 teaspoon of pure Vanilla extract
  • Pinch of smoked sea salt

Method

    1. Bloom the gelatin. Pour the Coconut milk into a saucepan and sprinkle the powdered Gelatin evenly over the top. Let the Gelatin soften for 5 minutes until the surface of the milk is wrinkled and the Gelatin looks wet and somewhat dissolved.
    2. Over low heat dissolve the Gelatin.
    3. Set your saucepan over low heat and warm the Coconut milk ever so gently, stirring often.

      Sorted rose petals. Only the best petals will be chosen and used.

      The Coconut milk should never boil or simmer.  When you see steam, remove the saucepan from the  stove and let it cool down.  The Coconut milk should not become too hot; you should be able to keep your finger in the warm Coconut milk a few seconds.  The Gelatin will dissolve quickly as the Coconut milk warms. Gelatin melts at body temperature so the process goes quickly.  To ensure that the Gelatin has completely dissolved; dip a teaspoon into the Coconut milk and check the back of the teaspoon for grains of Gelatin.

    4. Stir the sugar into the Coconut milk and continue warming until the sugar dissolves. It should take about 5 minutes for the sugar and Gelatin to dissolve. Don’t let your mixture boil.
    5. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Whisk in the Coconut cream, Rose water, Vanilla and a pinch of Smoked sea salt.
    6. Pour the mixture into the waxed espresso paper cups or prepared ramekins. Place in a refrigerator to set, about 4 hours should suffice. To unmold cut the paper cups along one the side and carefully remove, you will be left with the perfect panna cotta. Panna cotta can also be served in a glass without unmolding it.

 

 

 

A traditional clay oven for the rose essence process. This traditional way of making rose essence is still happening on the mountains of Jebel Akhdar.

The rose petals are boiled until it becomes a brown color (rose essence)

The rose essence is being removed from the clay pot.

The rose essence is poured into a clay pot to cool down and ready for bottling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sugar syrup, rose buds, rose water and lime

STEP 2: Rose water and lime syrup recipe

  • 1 Cup of water
  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 1 teaspoon of Lime zest
  • 1teaspoon of Rose water
  • 1 table spoon of dried Rose petals

Cook all the ingredients together to form a reduction.  Pour the mixture it through a sieve and let it cool down in the refrigerator.  Poor the cold Rose water syrup over the Panna Cotta.

 

 

 

Pistachios, Rose petals and Cashew nuts.

STEP 3: Pralines recipe

  • ½ cup of Caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of cold water
  • ¼ cup of Pistachios
  • ¼ cup of dried Rose petals
  • ¼ cup of Cashew nuts

Line a baking tray with baking paper.  Combine sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat.  Cook, while continuously stirring until the sugar has dissolved. This could take about 5 minutes.

Increase heat to high.  Bring to the boil without stirring for another 5 minutes or until the mixture turns golden.  Remove from the heat.  Set aside for two minutes to allow the bubbles to settle and subside.  Add the Pistachios, Rose petals and Cashew nuts.

 

 

 

 

STEP 4

Allow the Pralines to cool, then break it into pieces and place in a blender. Blend the Praline until powdery.

Use a small cookie cutter to pour the Praline powder on a baking tray to form little round heaps of praline powder.

In a 150° C oven melt the Praline powder until it forms round Pralines. This happens quickly; carefully watch the oven to prevent the Praline from over cooking. Remove the Praline when all the sugar has dissolved and the Pralines are a nice golden color.

Now serve the Panna cotta with Rose water syrup and Rose petal Pralines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the colour purple

I love walking through the market and seeing the variety of beautiful, purple coloured aubergines? (French for eggplant.)

I can always imagine the smell of it, when it gets roasted over an open flame and just about taste the smokiness of the eggplant.  Aubergines, apparently, originated from India and plays a leading role in the culinary world of the Middle East.

I would have thought that Aubergines were always part of the food scene, but in fact, it was only introduced in the seventh and eighth centuries.  The Arabs fell in love with

Aubergines when they conquered Iran in the seventh century. Therefore, the adopted Old Persian name, al badin-gan, pronounced al-badinjan.

Aubergines spread through the Middle East and North Africa and became a staple food, commonly referred to as the “poor man’s meat”.  In Iran it is called “poor man’s caviar”.

In Turkey, where it is considered to be the king of vegetables, it is called “patlican”.  Turkish cuisine has 200 different dishes containing aubergines.

 

 

 

I would like to share a recipe that I developed and fell in love with –

Aubergines cooked whole over an open flame! It has a sharp, smoky flavour that blends amazingly well with yogurt and olive oil.

My take on this Middle Eastern Aubergine dish…

 

 

 

 

Put the aubergine directly on the gas flame of your stove. Using tongs, turn it over until it is cooked on all sides.

When the aubergine is ready it will appear as in the picture.

Once you have taken the cooked aubergine from the stove, cut it open and remove the flesh.

You can leave a little bit of the burnt skin with the flesh. It gives the flesh a more smoky taste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To make the dish, mix the following ingredients together in a bowl:

1 large chopped smoked aubergine

3 tablespoons full fat Greek yogurt

½ teaspoon flaky smoked salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 glove finely chopped garlic

¼ teaspoon sumac – optional

Sumac is the dark red berry of the shrub “Rhus coriaria” which is dried and then called sumac. The dried berries are brick-red, tinged with purple with a lemony, woody taste. Sumac was used long before lemons arrived in the Middle East and this was used as the souring agent in their food. 

 

Serve your burnt aubergine with a combination of the seeds of half a pomegranate and thinly sliced fresh basil leaves (use extra basil leaves as garnish).

Enjoy with flatbread.

I really do believe that you will love this quick and easy dish, just as much as I do. 

 

 

 

Chef’s tip:  If you had a barbeque, and you have some aubergines, put them on the dying embers of the charcoal fire and leave to smoke overnight.  Ready to be used the next morning.

a Greek gem in our neighbourhood

In my search for authentic food in Muscat I came across a little gem in Al Khuwair. This new addition to the restaurant world in Muscat is a small, interesting, Greek restaurant off the beaten track.

Owner and chef, Elana, opened the restaurant a few months ago, originally from Greece; she is excited to share her passion for Greek cuisine with everyone in Muscat.

‘Greek Way “kouzina” (cuisine) is about sharing our passion for traditional culinary recipes from Greece.’ – Elana

Connect with Elana on facebook 

Beautiful artwork painted lovingly by the well known Mata Kamp, adorns the walls and contributes to the modern, yet authentic Greek atmosphere.

Upon entering the restaurant you a choice of being seated inside the restaurant or at an outside terrace while enjoying a meal or, having a cup of illy coffee.

I arrived at lunch time and was welcomed by Mata and her friendly staff. After being seated I was given a beautifully designed menu and decided to start off with a traditional Greek Salad.

 

Greek Salad

Spanakopita

Slouvaki

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh from the market tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper and onion, topped with calamata olives and creamy feta cheese, dressed in olive oil and oregano.

What a Greek treat.Next up was “Spanakopita”, a Greek spinach pie. Dill and spinach created the perfect marriage of flavours and the feta cheese gave it just enough richness. The homemade filo pastry was perfectly flaky and tasty. The Muscat community recently had the opportunity to attend a fun filo dough pastry course hosted by Chef Elana’s mother and aunt.

The “Slouvaki” was definitely one of my favorites. Soft, thick flat bread stuffed to the brim with Greek spiced chicken, fried potatoes, fresh onion and tomatoes and a tasty sauce. This is comfort food at its best.

Also worth trying, is their breakfast bread “Koulouri”. Incredibly crunchy on the outside with an amazingly soft and slightly chewy centre. “Koulouri” is bread rings covered with toasted sesame seeds and toppped with fresh tomatoes. Delicious!

Why don’t you visit Elana at Greek Way and experience truly authentic Greek “kouzina”. You will not be disappointed.

You can find more about their location, menu and daily specials on Facebook and Instagram
https://www.facebook.com/greek way kouzina/