I got to know muhammara, Middle Eastern dip of roasted red bell peppers and walnuts, as a signature dish of my mother-in-law. Her muhammara is legendary. Ask anybody who ate at the mom’s restaurant. Daughter to an Egyptian immigrant settled on the Easter Mediterranean coast of Turkey, she is from the lineage of the people who consider dishes such as hummus, falafel, kibbeh (aka içli köfte), muhammara and alike to be their own. And as this Middle Eastern heritage food is rather exotic to the rest of Turkey, the complexity of flavors wows the local eaters as they get initiated into this culinary tradition, even if only through eating muhammara.
I spent half of this week in Tarabya, a village on the Bosphorus, so remote that after reaching there one gets surprised she has not left city limits yet. But then it is Istanbul, possibly the most spread out city in the world. You get on a boat along the Bosphorus and keep marveling the villages with grand mansions that Istanbul does not run out of until the very Black Sea.
It took me two hours to get from my house in Moda to the Grand Tarabya hotel by public transport. In the same two hours I could have ended up at our countryside property in Sapanca. But then it is Istanbul where you change from a ferry to a tram, then you get on a funicular and finally hop on a taxi constantly wondering why the city authorities keenly introduce new modes of transportation instead of connecting the dots of the existing ones.
“What can you expect of a local market at a popular upscale resort town?” I thought to myself heading out to the Saturday market in Alaçatı, a small Aegean town with the ubiquitous charms of wooden houses, cobble stone streets and small cafes with a bohemian flair. In my August newsletter I was ranting about the doleful state of affair in the Alaçatı dining as only a handful of restaurants have serious intentions to serve you good food, but I don’t plan to litter this particular space with drama. I’ll just say that my visit to the local market has convinced me that all the mediocre restaurants of the town must be shameless because they have access to some of the best ingredients in the country.
A brief stay on Bozcaada concluded our Aegean road trip this time. The island has long being luring me with its wines and food, and hence seemed impossible to skip as we were driving from Alaçatı back to Istanbul.
Trips to my hometown in Russia bring me back to my childhood: I am with mom and dad again, feeling loved, knowing I don’t need bold goals and tangible accomplishments to deserve appreciation, going to the places where the family usually gathers and eating the food I grow up with. Every return home makes me revisit the dishes I have nearly forgotten while living abroad for so long. This time it was okroshka, a cold soup no family gathering in summer would be complete without.
It is easy to spend summer worshiping a good tomato and admiring a decent eggplant. But if you ignore the rest of the summer goodness not only you miss out on a lot of deliciousness but also potentially undermine your health as I have recently learned at the cooking class by Ulli of Ulli Ayurveda.
You don’t need Ayurveda to tell you that summer calls for cooling foods, but honestly I have seen few people that go beyond iced beverages and raw salads, two obvious solutions to cool down your body and mind on a hot day. According to Ayurveda, ancient Indian healing system, there is much more to the summer diet that that.
For months I was waiting to cook this dish again. As much as I love my winter roots or spring greens, I am passionate about the nightshades that come out in summer. Firm eggplants with shiny skins and ripe tomatoes bursting with sweetness. After all, the whole imam bayıldı business is about excellent summer produce.