Bodrum’s position, which could be described as enmeshed with the Greek islands on the Aegean Sea, has been conducive to the rise of a Mediterranean cuisine in this town. Here, olive oil, tomatoes and garlic, the three defining elements of the Mediterranean cuisine, come to the fore. The traditional olive oil dishes of Turkish cooking and Greek meze are found side by side in Bodrum in a way that recalls the culinary traditions of Istanbul. One could add a wealth of other dishes in which tomatoes and garlic come together, such as marsh samphire served with a sauce of olive oil and garlic, aubergine silkme [fried, oven cooked and regularly shaken] with lots of garlic and tomatoes, and imambay?ld? [split aubergines with tomatoes and onions, proverbially so delicious that the imam fainted as described in the Turkish name of this dish] There is also okra cooked in olive oil, and fresh green runner beans and black-eyed beans.
Take some chopped cooking onions and olive oil and put them at the bottom of a saucepan. Add a few cloves of minced garlic. On top of that arrange okra, top and tailed, and sprinkled with an equal amount of salt and sugar. On top of the okra, toss thinly sliced lemon, lots of very thinly sliced tomatoes, and some whole cloves of garlic. Add just a little water, and then cover, and cook without stirring on a very low heat. Turn off the heat. Leave the food to cool, keeping the saucepan still covered. Drizzle a few spoonfuls of cold pressed olive oil before serving, and serve at room temperature (it must not be warm but nor must it be too cold). A lot of olive oil dishes are cooked like this. During the herb season, you can enjoy olive oil dishes, meat dishes and salads of baby’s tears [helxine soleiolii], nettle, marsh samphire, rocket, radish, broad beans, aubergine, and, until towards the end of June, squash flowers. You can try these delicacies combined with fish or seafood in almost any of the fish restaurants and restaurants offering home cooking in Bodrum.
Olive oil, liquid gold, the health elixir
Olive oil has pride of place among cooking oils because of its taste, smell and colour. Today it is still pressed using methods which much resemble those used in production thousands of years ago. The simplest pressing method begins with the crushing and mincing of the olive fruits. The fleshy parts of the olive and the stones are reduced to a paste and pressed. This is how the juice of the olive is extracted. The oil which separates out from the water is the olive oil we know as ‘liquid gold.’ The main factors determining the quality of the olive oil are the quality of the olive itself, and the pressing process. The district in which the olive was produced, and the harvesting methods used, also affect the quality. Different varieties using different techniques produce the olive oil which adds a special aroma and health giving qualities to all kinds of food from the breakfast table to meze, from salads to stuffed and wrapped vegetable dishes.
Olive oil dishes, which feature on the table throughout the summer months in particular, are usually eaten cold or slightly warm. People who grow up with olives and olive oil know that all foods can be cooked with olive oil. And they also know that, just as these dishes are not to be cooked at too high a heat, they can be eaten at mild temperature. One of the reasons why cold olive oil dishes have such an important place in Turkish food culture is the fact that olive oil is such a perfect complement to summer vegetables.
The simplest olive oil dishes involve frying in olive oil. Ragouts, which are first fried in olive oil and then baked; stuffing fillings which are prepared with olive oil, and pilau rice with aubergine and mussels are all delicacies which can be classed as olive oil dishes. Here we must not forget salad dressings. The taste and aroma of salad dressings prepared with cold-pressed olive oil in particular are quite enchanting. An olive oil dressing prepared with lemon juice or vinegar and sprinkled on grilled fish or chicken will bring out the flavour of the meat.
Stuffed vine leaves with olive oil
Half a kilogram of vine leaves
2 tumblers of rice suitable for stuffing [risotto rice]
3 tumblers of water
2 ripe tomatoes
2 cooking onions
1 tea-glass full of olive oil [about 100 ml]
2 dessert spoons pine nuts
1 dessert spoon currants
1 teaspoon dried mint [A Turkish teaspoon is about a third of a UK teaspoon]
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Salt, black pepper
If you are going to use fresh vine leaves, put them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes and drain. If you are going to use salted leaves, wash and drain them.
Wash the rice, put it in lukewarm water and leave for half an hour. Rinse several times and drain, and then put the rice in a fairly large bowl. Peel the tomatoes and chop them finely. Peel the onions and chop very finely.
Heat half of the olive oil in a skillet and add the onion. Brown them without overcooking.
Add the chopped tomatoes, onion, currants, salt, sugar, mint and black pepper to the rice. Add the rest of the olive oil and mix it thoroughly into the rice. Distribute the mixture into the leaves, rolling them tightly in packages about the length and thickness of your finger. Put a few vine leaves in the bottom of a wide bottomed saucepan, and pack the stuffed leaves in side by side to fill the space. Put a few thin slices of lemon on top, and cover with a china plate. Add the water, and then slowly cook in a saucepan with the lid on at a low heat until all the water has been absorbed. Serve when cool.
For more informtion, please write to Gülhan Kara at: firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.chefistanbul.com.