I have been fortunate enough to have learned how to cook Spanish paella in Barcelona, French macarons in Paris and pad thai in Chiang Mai. So, it is not much of a surprise that this cultural foodie lesson trend would be expanding.
Today, I would be learning to cook Turkish food in Istanbul.
This savory schooling would be happening with Turkish Flavours, a company specializing in memorable culinary experiences. Selin, the owner and a former travel agent, would be our trusty Turkish teacher.
To begin the day, a small group of us met at Istanbul’s famous Spice Bazaar, also know as the Egyptian Bazaar. Our morning would begin with a brief tour and an informative spice tasting.
We leisurely strolled through the market, perusing countless mounds of spices and making purchases for our upcoming Turkish cooking lesson. We then made a pit stop at shop #51, Ucuzcular Baharat, where owner Bilge would be guiding us in a spice tasting.
I have participated in many types of tastings before: blind olive oil in Tuscany, private wine tasting in Napa Valley, tea tasting in Portland, honey tasting in Savannah and now spices in Turkey.
We were each given a descriptive product card that guided us through the tasting of 12 different spice blends. There was everything from Dolma spice, which is superb used for the stuffing of grape leaves, to the multi-purposed Ottaman blend that is a mixture of saffron, red chili flakes, marjoram and thyme
I claimed the Janissary as my favorite. The perfect blend of farm-grown sweet red peppers, sumac and oregano. I foresee a juicy filet mignon crusted in Janissary in my future.
After making a few purchases and with lemon pepper on my breath it was time to make our way to Selin’s home for our cooking class to start. We would be taking the ferry from the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side to be the students and guests in her private home.
Yep. I would be on two different continents in one day. Racking up the checks on my bucket list.
After the twenty minute boat ride, we were driven to a quiet residential section of town and entered Selin’s eclectic and cozy home. We were greeted with glasses of sour cherry juice, logoed aprons and our very own cooking station.
I downed my juice and immediately put my apron on ready to start this memorable food experience.
The menu, which included traditional Turkish dishes, was seven items long: feta pastry (borek), split-belly eggplant (karnıyarık), green beans with olive oil, spicy bulgur, carrots with yoghurt & tahini, red pepper spread (muhammara) and a semolina sponge cake (revani). I don’t think we will be leaving the table hungry.
Let the cooking begin.
Everyone was assigned to a task whether it be slicing, dicing, chopping or blending.
I had tried borek, a flaky stuffed turnover, on the streets of Istanbul already, but now it was time to try my hand at making it.
The thin sheets of pastry dough were filled with feta and herbs then folded it triangular like the American flag. Water was dabbed at the end to make it stick together and then they were ready to be fried in to golden brown snacks.
They were fried, so you know they were good.
Next was karnıyarık, the split belly eggplant (one of the best foods in the world in my opinion!). The vegetable was peeled, fried at split open to be filled with a gound beef mixture.
Each of the students were able to decorate their own aubergine, making artistic designs with tomatoes, peppers and herbs. This was my favorite part of the lesson.
After the eggplant went into the oven to bake, a roasted red chile was placed on my cutting board. I peeled its skin off and then it was used to to create my favorite meze on the lunch table, Muhammara.
This meze, small starter plate, was a blend of peppers, walnuts, chile and spices.
We spread the Muhammarra on slices of bread, but it was one of those foods that I could imagine slathering on everything I eat. Just like Nutella.
The extra-large fresh artichoke hearts that were found at the market were a bonus dish just because one of the ladies mentioned how much see liked the vegetable. Now that’s good service.
They were simply made in a broth of peas and herbs.
For dessert the group made revani, a semolina sponge cake that was topped with a simple syrup and a favorite nut in Turkey, pistachios.
After all of our hard culinary work, we sat down to lunch to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor.
And by this point, I was hungry.
A delicious and filling lunch began that was shared with our teacher and new friends from around the world. Add a little Turkish wine to the mix and it makes for a perfect afternoon in Turkey.
The memorable meal ended with a cup of Turkish coffee and a token to take the ferry back to the European side.