Lately, I have been going nuts about making bread which means I have to write about it. I first thought it is a completely different subject from anything I have been writing about on this blog, a subject that might deserve a blog on its own. I am afraid, however, there is no way I can have two blogs because I often struggle with focus. I am known for cruelly eliminating a whole bunch of things from my life at once just so that I don’t have to choose one. I can have 36 open tabs in my browser for a week but then shut them down one fine day without looking back. I was spared a failed exercise in blogging megalomania by this simple analysis and you, my dear readers.
Turkish Cooking 1.0
‘Have you been to a culinary school?‘ – customers of my Istanbul cooking classes and food tours often ask. Maybe it is my enthusiasm about cooking, maybe the nature of what I am doing or (dare I assume) my dazzling expertise in the domain which makes them think I should have been through a rigorous training. My answer disappoints but even more so – puzzles: I have not gone to a culinary school and got a completely different kind of education at a business school. And then worked as a strategy consultant which may look even more irrelevant to the cooking arts but in fact makes up for a very useful background to run a kitchen.
But then there is somebody I know who went to a culinary school. A young cousin of my husband. When he comes to help at our restaurant kitchen in Sapanca I learn tremendous lot from him. Because as a former consultant you sure know how to benefit from the education someone else has got. So enter my young Turkish cousin Ömer and 5 lessons from the culinary school (he has gone to and I have learned from).
Just like others read news or magazine articles I read recipes. At the age of 15 I was paging through the paper clips and handwritten recipes in my mother’s cooking journal and then boldly clipping my own find. Inspired I would set my mind to cook a fruit tart only to find out that brown sugar was unobtainable exotic item in a small Russian town in mid 90s. This recreational recipe reading, urge to cook and pressure to substitute have taught not to depend on recipes and more often than not cook without a recipe as such. And I am sure everyone can with these simple tips.
Tomato paste, or domates salcası is probably the most fundamental Turkish cooking condiment. Closely followed by red bell pepper paste (biber salcası). Both thick deep-red pastes enclose the essence of summer and its flavors – that of tomato and red bell pepper. You would add both to possibly every third Turkish dish: aromatic red lentil soup and bulgur pilaf, Turkish take on tabbouleh (kısır) and nearly any Turkish stew you can think of.
It is characteristic how we do not grasp certain things before experiencing them. And our intellectual capacity keeps quiet until our hands or hearts learns. I sort of knew that cooking for a crowd takes stamina and organization. But have not discovered it until anne got into the hospital and I stayed back at the kitchen of our farmhouse with 8 to feed. Every day.
First time I landed at a restaurant kitchen when test-driving my idea of having my own I was shocked by the harsh truths of the professional cooking world. I had a somewhat romantic notion of food, a fruit of creative labors, and much idealistic image of people making it. It is only when I saw the extreme sweat, frugality and organization at the real restaurant kitchen I understood that restaurant as a business and cooking as a profession.
Cooking at the restaurant kitchen has inevitable influenced how I cook now even at home. It comes downs to how you organize your space, prepare the ingredients before you even start cooking and use up your stock (and leftovers). Today, let me start with organization.
“And by the way, what are we going to be cooking?” – this is the question that gets me thinking for the whole evening before a cooking class. Menu planning is always about the right balance of enthusiasm and efficiency, I find. Turkish cuisine is hardly short of options and it is easy to create a new menu every time to maintain variety and my enthusiasm. Yet I know for a fact that there are simple dishes which are bound to be a success and no wonder I am tempted to include them in every cooking class.
Here are a few principles which I have learned to use in menu planning for my cooking classes and regular life. It is thanks to them I stay organized and yet truly excited about the food I am cooking.