Do you believe in telepathy? The mere possibility of communication without sending or receiving a message through any medium known to the human kind? I would have been much more sсeptical about this idea unless me and my mother-in-law communicated that way. We don’t see each other often: she is not leaving the kitchen of her countryside restaurant, and I am keeping duty at my kitchen in Istanbul. We rarely talk on the phone. But too often when I come to the countryside I discover she’s cooked exactly the same dish I made in Istanbul the day before.
I would be planning a dry fig jam after reading this. She would come back from a road trip to Anamur with a sack of local dry figs and fix the jam in no time. I would be making a dessert at my cooking class. She would feed me the same dessert as I enter her kitchen. Possibilities of Turkish cooking are endless, and neither my mother-in-law’s cooking repertoire nor mine is limited to zeytiyağlı-köfte-sütlaç. So how could you explain that we choose to cook the same dishes on a given day? I told you, it is telepathy, a culinary kind.
Turkish traditions shed some light on this telepathy. In Turkey brides and mother-in-laws have always had a deep connection. Probably the connection was stronger before, when people married younger, and newlyweds shared house with the groom’s family. Mother-in-laws were taking this opportunity to shape their young brides’ ideas about what it takes to be a wife, a daughter-in-law and a grownup woman. Characteristically, many women over 50 I know in Turkey have learned their cooking and way around other house errands from their mothers-in-law rather than their own mothers.
But in fact, the connection between a bride and a mother-in-law is built well before he marriage. Turks say, “Gelin kaynana toprağından olur” meaning “bride comes from the mother-in-law’s land”. It is hard to translate the saying exactly because even in Turkish the meaning is not straightforward. Very likely it reflects an old Turkish tradition when mother-in-law chose a bride for her son. But does it literally mean that mother-in-law brings the girl from the geographical region she comes from herself? Or does it mean that mother-in-law chooses a woman that resembles herself as a bride to his son? Or does that mean that men choose their wives to resemble their mothers? Well, either way the connection is set.
Did you know that in my case it happened the old way? That I became a bride in workings for my mother-in-law before her son seriously considered me? That she made herself so clear to me that I was referring to Özgür as “son of my mother-in-law” even before we started seeing each other? As I was washing dishes at her kitchen, she saw what she was looking for in her daughter-in-law, the virtues she valued, the virtues she had herself. If you are a mother who has raised her boy well (and well, have not you?), would you not be happy if a woman like yourself will continue taking care of him? No wonder my mother-in-law and me are alike. Sometimes she looks at me in reverie and says, “As if I gave birth to you, not to my son”. No wonder how son loves both of us. No wonder we cook the same dishes on a given day.
Last week in Istanbul I was preoccupied with kuru fasulye, a Turkish white bean stew. Needless to say, a family-size pot of the same stew my mother-in-law cooked greeted me as I arrived to the countryside. This stew is a Turkish classic cooked with devotion and eaten with enthusiasm in the neighborhood canteens and home kitchens. In fact, the dish is so significant that in Istanbul you find a whole lot of eateries solely serving the white bean stew, an attractive and cheaper alternative to meat (until recently as the price of the white beans in Turkey have skyrocketed overnight).
My mother-in-law cooked her kuru fasulye in the sauce of tomato paste, diced tomatoes and sliced peppers – both green and red. One can also cook the white bean stew etli, with tiny pieces of braised beef or with pastırma (cured beef).
I kept my version meatless and seasonal and used the dried vegetables that we mostly stuff to make a winter version of dolma. I love the rehydrated red bell peppers for the taste and the eggplants for their mushroom-like (meat-like, if you wish) texture that immediately imparts a sense of a substance to the dish.
White Bean Stew with Dry Vegetables (Kuru Fasulye)
The whole idea of the stew is to feature the freshest and tastiest beans in that’s why I don’t think that using canned white beans does justice to the recipe. In this part of the world we prepare it from scratch, and “from scratch” aspect is not even emphasized because everyone assumes that this is the way to do it.
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 1 h 20 min
Total time: 1 h 25 min
1 cup dry white beans
4 dry tomato halves, thinly sliced
2 dry red peppers (replace with more tomato), thinly sliced
2 dry eggplant shells (replace with dry mushrooms), thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp high quality tomato paste
1 tbsp red bell pepper paste
1/2 tsp fine sea salt, or more to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
The night before: Soak the beans in 3 cups cold water. Wash the dry vegetables to remove any dust. Soak the dry vegetables in a different bowl pouring in enough cold water to cover them.
Cook beans: Drain, rinse and drain again the soaked beans. Place in a medium cooking pot, pour in 3 cups water, bring to a simmer and cook covered on a low heat for about 40-60 min, or until the beans are almost done, i.e. soft but not mashed. Drain and set aside.
Make bean stew: Drain, rinse and drain again the soaked vegetables and cut into thin stripes. Meanwhile, in a medium cooking pot heat the olive oil and saute the diced onion and minced garlic for 3-5 min, or until turning golden. Stir in both tomato and pepper pastes. Then toss in the thinly sliced tomato, pepper and eggplant. Finally, add the beans, pour in 2 cups water (more, if you prefer a soupy stew) and season with salt and pepper. Cook covered on a low heat for 10 min for the flavors to mingle. Taste and adjust the seasiong, if required. Serve as a stand-alone dish or with plain pilaf as a garnish.