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Simple Flavors of the Middle East

Posted Apr 19 2009 11:02pm
T he culinary traditions of Turkey are influenced by a wide spectrum of regions: Central Asia, the Middle East, the Balkan cuisines and even a dash of Mediterranean. At first, it may seem a little surprising but look deeper at the actual dishes prepared in the various regions and a difference will be seen. From luscious pastries of phyllo dough layered with cheese and nuts, to wholesome dishes of rice and lamb, to simple meze platters of vegetables with olive oil - you can have it all from Turkey.

One of my favorite dishes, no matter the ethnic origin, is spinach and rice. There is something about spinach and rice that I just love so much that I do believe I can eat it every single day like pumpkin. Every single day, pumpkin and spinach with rice. Maybe. Okay, maybe not, but spinach and rice still kicks butt. Add a bowl of patlican salatasi (eggplant salad) or babaganouj with stewed chickpeas and your taste buds soar in ecstasy over the delicate and simple flavors.

Nohut(Garbanzo Beans)
½ cup garbanzo beans
½ green pepper, diced
¼ medium onion, diced
½ cup diced tomatoes with juice
Chili flakes

In a nonstick frying pan or one sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, sauté the peppers and onions until soft. Add the tomatoes, and allow them to break down a bit then follow by the garbanzo beans. Add salt, pepper, and chili flakes then turn down the heat to a medium high and let them stew for about 10 minutes.

After the ten minutes are up and most of the liquid has evaporated, serve with rice or crusty bread.

Patlican Salasti(Eggplant Salad )
1 small eggplant

3 oz yogurt

Sesame Seeds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Prick the eggplant all over with a fork then set it on the middle rack to roast for an hour or until soft. Once the eggplant is finished, remove and let cool. Once cooled, peel the eggplant and place it into a bowl. De-seed it if the seeds are too thick or too many (mine was) and then proceed to either mash by hand or with an emersion blender. After its pureed, add the salt, pepper, garlic, and yogurt then refrigerate overnight.

When ready to serve, sprinkle sumac on top and sesame seeds.

Spinach Rice Pilaf
1 cup chopped frozen spinach
½ onion, diced small
¼ cup rice, cooked
¼ tsp allspice
Lemon juice

Cook the rice traditionally except leave it short a few minutes.

In a nonstick frying pan or one sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, slowly sauté the onions in order to gain a little caramelization. Add a bit of water to deglaze, then add the spinach. Stir until heated then add the rice, salt, pepper, and allspice. Cook until any water excreted from the spinach has evaporated, then sprinkle on the lemon juice and serve.
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