My Turkish Potluck: Turkish Boyfriend, Turkish Mother and Turkish Zucchini Fritters

Recipes

Zucchini Fritters

One of the greatest food discoveries in Turkey for me has been the introduction to the local food that real people eat at home. You don’t think people in Turkey survive on eating kebabs and baklava all the way, do you?

As a visitor to Istanbul you can get a flavor of homemade Turkish food if you venture into one of ev yemekleri, or “mama”-run places found aplenty in the neighborhoods like Moda. Moda feels old Europe with its culture, education and class, all of which have conditioned the abundance of matriarchal food institutions instead of the men-run and men-frequented kebab shops dominating the rest of the Istanbul food scene.

My luck got me beyond Moda though: when I first came to the farmhouse in Sapanca and got “adopted” by the farmhouse owner and talented cook Zeliha Hanım I realized what it means to have a Turkish mother and eat excellent homemade Turkish food.

Homemade Turkish food is always practical, seasonal, simple in taste yet requiring for some fuss, comfy yet light and healthy, and to my vegetarian satisfaction, largely vegetable-based. Just like mücver, or zucchini fritters, a popular Turkish dish created t to utilize the carvings after making stuffed zucchini and can be served hot or cold, as a snack, a starter or a meal in itself.

I first got introduced to mücver on a fine summer evening when Zeliha Hanım was making dinner for the family and staff. She appeared at the kitchen and put on her apron making it clear without words that she was up for something. I grabbed my Moleskin recipe notepad and planted myself closer to the kitchen counter where the action was about to envelop. Effortlessly, with a great sense of purpose and without a single measurement she combined grated zucchini, chopped herbs, crumbled white cheese, flour, egg and seasoned it with salt and black pepper

I ended up setting aside the recipe notepad and got busy observing things more important than the proportions of the particular ingredients – resulting texture, sequencing of actions and organization of working space. That summer I learned that in cooking, like in many crafts, observing a great master can be far more educating that reading tons of books and thousands of recipes. And I was grateful to find a master to observe and learn from.

Months later after my “crash course” I came back in the status of “adopted” daughter but with an interesting twist. I found myself in the fast-track relationship with Zeliha Hanım’s son, Özgür.

One fine day at the farmhouse in the midst of the construction undertaken as a part of the massive expansion of the property he came by and asked me if, as a matter of courtesy, I could cook something Russian that night. I could not deprive him of that pleasure, so I came up with a very Slavic version of mücver – potato fritters. You know, we, sons and daughters of the North, do not have the luxury of growing zucchini in such abundance to turn them into fritters, we are all about potatoes: come to my potluck dinner, my Mediterranean darling.

What was supposed to me a meal for two appeared a dinner for eight. Ali Bay, Özgür’s father, appeared at the kitchen, saw me running around in the apron and asked, “What’s cooking?” and rubbed his hands with excitement. Özgür was checking on me now and then, “Do you need any help, dear?“, planting a kiss on my shoulder and leaving just to come back in a few minutes with the same question. In a very subtle way it became clear how the stakes were rising. It was my turn to show some culinary skills to the local community and prove that they have made the right choice when considered me the official bride of the family. “At least the wedding car is ready“, Özgür joked referring to the car his friend borrowed for a wedding and returned back fully dressed in the flashy wedding veil, flower compositions and festive number plates.

Adem, Zeliha Hanım’s assistant, was asked to help me in my food endeavor, and I recalled the excitement when as a young strategy consultant, I was eventually given “a resource to leverage”, a junior consultant to work with, so I could handle larger responsibility and learn to delegate. Hey, I am becoming a big girl at the kitchen too!

As I was fussing with my potato fritters at the kitchen, Zeliha Hanım came by, inspected the process that got to the frying stage and without words took over the second frying pan. She inquired about the ingredients and suggested, “You can also add some white cheese for flavor and soda for more puffy texture“. As much as I appreciated her sharing the expertise I kept wondering – are the two of us too many at the kitchen? I was still under the impression of the morning instance when I was making eggs for Özgür and myself because everyone else had already finished their breakfast. Zeliha Hanım inquired what I was up to and recommended twinkling the proportions of the ingredients. So I thought – is this how it is going to be to ensure the standard of the food the beloved son is getting from my hands? What else but food will have to be up to the standard?

Former national athlete and a police officer, Zeliha Hanım is a woman of many talents, enormous charisma and tremendous energy. Those talents, charisma and energy ensured that she retired from her previous careers just to start another one – that of a host and cook at her farmhouse in Sapanca. She is one of those who have not got a formal training as a chef but still turns world-class food with great ease and dedication. You would imagine she is a recognized authority in many domains, and you should watch her when the local officials get together for a meal at her property – she is presiding at the all-male table. “A very strong mother he’s got“, Özgür’s friend told me as if hinting “Watch out, girl”.

.. Zeliha Hanım turned the last batch of the fritters with the cooked side up to and said, “Ok, I am leaving“. She left me with the time and space to do the last touch to the food and proudly serve it. As I came to the table, there were eight people already seated and anticipating the meal. Özgür put the last olive pit on his large plate where he had already laid out a big smiling face of olive pits as he was nibbling while waiting for the meal. Now, that’s the potluck – a patient boyfriend and his wise mother.

Turkish Zucchini Fritters (Mücver)

Zucchini seems to be only an excuse to make these delicious fresh-herbs-loaded fritters that can be served hot or cold, as a snack, a starter or a meal in itself. There is no carrot in the original recipe, but I like to add a bit of orange color to the otherwise green mixture.

Prep Time: 20 Min
Cook Time:
20 Min

Total Time:
40 Min

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 medium zucchini, grated
  • 2 pinches fine sea salt
  • 1 medium carrots finely grated (optional)
  • 1/4 cup spring onions (white and green parts), finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup dill finely chopped including stalks
  • 1/4 cup parsley finely chopped including stalks
  • 2 tbsp mint finely chopped including stalks
  • 200 gram (7 oz) feta cheese crumbled
  • 2 tbsp plain thick yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • egg
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour sifted
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • sunflower oil for shallow-frying

Directions

Prepare batter: In a colander combine grated zucchini and salt and set aside for 10 minutes (while you are chopping herbs). Squeeze the zucchini with your hands to remove excess of liquid. Add the chopped spring onions, dill, parsley, mint, crumbled feta cheese, yoghurt, egg, ground black pepper and mix well. Add sifted flour and baking powder and gently combine.

Fry fritters: Preheat a cast iron pan / non-stick pan on a medium heat and grease it with the vegetable oil. Make sure the oil does not burn, or so would your fritters. Like with the drop cookies, use a measuring spoon or an ice-cream scoop to drop the fritters in the oil to fit in as many fritters as the pan allows. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Use two wooden spatulas to flip the fritters, as they are rather gentle while warm. Place the cooked fritters on a paper towel to remove the excess of oil. Serve warm.

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{ 13 comments… add one }

  • Irina July 25, 2011, 1:32 pm

    This looks so good your recipe……my neighbour gave me some zucchini’s and this will be our dinner. My husband is Turkish and loves these………

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova July 25, 2011, 5:58 pm

      Irina, thanks for stopping by. Wishing you a delicious dinner and let me know how it goes with the recipe.

      Reply
  • Marinos August 6, 2011, 9:24 am

    What a delicious read to accompany a late Saturday breakfast—with leftovers from this magnificent market outing. Yes, there are still leftovers, even one week later. Not because the food was not breathtakingly delicious, but because Olga was sure to stock up my fridge so well. ;)  
    I’m running out of jams, however. Time for another visit to Kasımpaşa?

    Reply
  • Ariella December 17, 2011, 9:33 pm

    I am so excited to find your blog and this recipe in particular. My Turkish grandmother used to make something very similar to this and we also used to eat them at a small Turkish restaurant near our (former) home in Boston. Looking forward to trying this recipe.

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova December 17, 2011, 9:46 pm

      Ariella, I am delighted to know you have some important memories related to the recipe as well. Please, let me know how your cooking of those goes.

      Reply
  • Jen Dahlin October 2, 2012, 9:34 pm

    Hi Olga!
    What a fantastic recipe! I just wanted to let you know that it will be featured tomorrow as the “Daily Nosh” on VirtualWineBar.com. It will be paired with Kavaklıdere Winery 2010 Côtes d’Avanos Narince-Chardonnay ~ Cheers!

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova October 2, 2012, 11:02 pm

      Thank you, Jen! And I am happy to know that such a decent Turkish wine got on your radar! How did you discover it?

      Reply
  • RainDrop July 15, 2013, 1:59 pm

    Thank you for this recipe, it was delicious! ( I decided to leave out carrots) I posted your recipe on my blog. I love turkish cuisine since I’ve spent there a few months as a child. Greetings from Poland :)

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez July 22, 2013, 8:55 am

      My pleasure! This dish is so universal: no wonder you can find similar fritters in Russia, Ukraine and I guess Poland.

      Reply
  • Diane August 23, 2013, 10:19 pm

    Could this be baked instead of fried?

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez August 24, 2013, 9:08 pm

      Diane, you surely can! Maybe need to add a bit of olive oil to the batter and put the whole thing under the broiler once almost done for the nicely toasted top.

      Reply
  • Ula August 18, 2014, 2:04 pm

    Olga, i came up to your blog while looking for the Simit recipe on google. Happy to see another fan of turkish cuisine, as i am myself! I have been “partially” living in Turkey for some 6-7 years and i love everything about the food and spices. I will definitelly try these! The pitty is, in i small European country it is hard to find all the ingredients and usually Turkish shops dont send them outside the Turkey. My first try will be Simit, as i am probably as the fan as your dad – no morning without it! Will report back! Keep on going, Ula

    Reply
    • Olga Tikhonova Irez August 19, 2014, 5:22 pm

      Exciting! Thank you for your lovely note, Ula! I can imagine the trouble of sourcing some products outside of Turkey, yet there are always replacements. For instance, this fritter recipe is totally doable with cottage cheese or alike. Let me know how it goes with the simit recipe.

      Reply

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