Turkish meat balls with aubergine puree
Poor old Turkey. Is there any more maligned food than the infamous doner kebab? How did the diverse and eclectic range of food from this country become distilled into a questionable piece of meat that is often consumed in the early hours of the morning after a night out on the town (and more than a few to drink)? Where we live, here in Dubai, shawarma places abound and they are usually absolutely delicious. It’s the same concept but somehow the meat is tasty and succulent, the tahini gives an earthiness, the fresh salad balance and, on request, hot sauce a spicy kick. A rose by any other name?
Compare this with the famous culinary export that it arguably knocked off pole position – Turkish Delight. Legends abound about how it was invented, over 250 years ago, from the efforts of a Sultan to tempt his mistress to the rivalry of chefs in the royal court. It gained favour in the West in the 19th century. It appears in Charles Dicken’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood as ‘lumps of delight’. It is the irresistible treat that Edmond succumbs to in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Pablo Picasso, consumed a fair amount, regarding it as an aide to his concentration while Winston Churchill and Napoleon gorged on pistachio-filled Turkish Delight.
Why would I like to visit Turkey? To browse the souks and visit the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, to bathe in the dramatic thermal pools at Pamukkale, to marvel at the rock formations in the Goreme National Park and the stark beauty of Lake Van, for a combined trekking and sailing trip along the Mediterranean coast, to add Ephesus to my insatiable demand for incredible Middle Eastern Roman ruins, to visit the beautiful castle at Mamure Kalesi with its Roman, Crusader and Ottoman past and the Sumela monastery. In a nutshell to see the history and influence of many cultures and enjoy the extremes of natural beauty that this diverse land has to offer.
And that just about sums up Turkish cuisine which combines the best produce of land and sea with cooking traditions that have roots in Central Asia, nomadic lifestyle, the Ottoman and Byzantines empires, Persia and Greece.
Maybe one thing unites this country, culture and cuisine – the aubergine. A staple of Turkish cooking it can be found stuffed as the legendary imam biyaldi (the Iman fainted), cooked simply in a tomato sauce or a complement to sumptuous meat dishes.
My daughter described these meatballs as ‘like moussaka but with the aubergine on the outside’. The aubergine is blackened on (or under) the grill to make the flesh soft and smoky. It’s then combined with soft, sweet onions and tomato to make quite a thick sauce. The meatballs are Arabic-style, minced to a smooth paste with spices. It is very filling and this recipe makes enough for 8 if served with rice.
There are many Turkish food writers who share fabulous recipes via their blogs including Almost Turkish recipes which I’m going to be visiting often. I was going to mention Mrs Ergul Cooks but her site seems to have disappeared. I made her delicious Turkish pide (bread) in June. I also found a version of this meatball recipe on one of my favourite sites Foodbridge (after I had made Claudia’s version) – it’s worth bookmarking for Sarah’s intelligent food writing alone and she gives a good explanation of how to choose your aubergine (did you know they have a belly-button?!).
I ‘visited’ Turkey as part of Foodalogues’ Culinary Tour around the world. Joan has taken us to Panama, Alaska and next we are off to Japan. Visit Foodalogue for a round-up of other recipes inspired by this virtual visit to Turkey.
Turkish meat balls with an aubergine purée (adapted from a recipe by Claudia Roden)
4-6 aubergines (depending on size)
1 kg minced beef or lamb
3 tablespoons of dried white breadcrumbs
1 1/2 heaped teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 bunch of parsley, chopped
1 small chilli, chopped
salt and black pepper
About 3 tablespoons oil
1 large onion, sliced
2-3 tablespoons tomato concentrate
Grill the aubergines over a gas flame (line the cooker top with foil first), under a hot grill or over a barbecue. The first way is quickest. The skins should blacken and blister away from the flesh. Leave to cool then strip the skin away removing all the blackened bits. Squeeze out the juices and leave to drain in a colander. Mash with a fork or blitz in a processor.
Put all the minced meat, eggs, breadcrumbs, parsley, chilli, cumin, allspice, salt and pepper into a food processor and whizz until fairly smooth (alternatively knead by hand to a very smooth mixture). Roll the mixture into little balls, toss in flour and fry in oil until they are browned all over and cooked through (a moderate heat). Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
In the same oil, fry the onion until soft and golden, then add the aubergine puree and tomato paste, season to taste and cook for another 10 minutes. Drop in the meat balls adding a little water if the mixture is very thick. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Serve with plain rice or bread and one or two salads.
I’d love to hear about your memories of Turkey or any must-try recipes from there.