Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Big Turkish Shindig!

     I want to tell you about the performance/dinner party that I held in my home a couple weeks ago on Halloween eve, October 29. This turned out to be a very interesting evening, I think.
     This all started when Sky Schultz, a member of my Spirit Mind Body Group did a performance at one of our meetings of his look at Rumi poetry combined with a light and humorous presentation. Sky has a long repertoire of humorous presentations. We saw one on Rumi and a second one on the pithy writings of Mark Twain. During one of these presentations, Sky cooperated with Karen Kolberg who recites, or really acts out Hafez poetry from Persia. After many complements on these two performances at our group meeting, Sky expressed a desire to get back into his performance artistry. I decided that our home and our recent experience with a trip to Turkey could provide a very adequate venue for Sky and Karen's return to the public stage. I began to plan.
     I knew I wanted to invite past and present members of the Spirit Mind Body Group. But I also wanted to include some doctor friends with whom I used to work. Unfortunately many of the those I wished to include had other obligations for the evening, but I still managed a small group of  docs and their guests. I put together a very attractive invitation with a monochrome photo of Rumi's tomb and museum in Konya, Turkey which we had visited during our recent trip to Turkey. I wanted people to get to our home in time to see the lake in the light. We decided that we would have two performances, each about an hour long, one in the late afternoon, and one in the evening, preceded by appetizers, with dinner in between the two performances and dessert and coffee after the second performance. This would allow people great flexibility: they could come for the first performance and dinner, or dinner and the second performance, or even later for the second performance and dessert afterwards. Or they could come and stay for the whole shebang. There would be time for socialization before, between and after the performances. I wanted people to be able to sit down to eat and to sit to hear the performances so this required some shuffling of chairs back and forth between the dining table and the great room where we set Sky and Karen up to perform.

     I asked for a $15.00 to $20.00 donation to be directed entirely to the performers. I was familiar with this type of request based on several musical performance parties that we have attended. People are usually quite willing to contribute especially if they know the performer will receive it all. I donated my home and my considerable time and money to purchase, prepare and serve the food at the various times.

     I found a place on the Internet with various Turkish recipes and utilized several of them. I started making up those things I could do ahead about 2 weeks before the event. Also starting that far ahead, I had some outdoor work to do around our house to clean up some weeds and deadhead some of my perennials. A fall garden can look nice with the changing leaves and a few chrysanthemums around. But I had not done much work on my garden since the big push that occurs in June. A little tidying up went a long way to welcoming my guests as they strolled up the driveway and to the front door. As always several wanted to walk through my beds and gardens to see what was blooming and I think a couple or two even walked out to the bluff over Lake Michigan. This always happens so I knew this clean up would make my beds that much more enjoyable.
     The site on the Internet with the Turkish recipes is: Binnur's Turkish Cookbook  http://www.turkishcookbook.com/
From this site I used the recipes for Roasted nuts, for Turkish couscous (bulgur), for chicken shish kabob, and iskender. For dessert I used the recipe for Stuffed apricot dessert.

     This party was a lot of work for me. First there was the organizing and inviting. Then the preparation of the gardens and house. And then there was the cooking! This was more cooking than I had done in a long time. I planned this so that I could do as much of the food preparations ahead of time. About 10 days before the party I roasted the nuts and put them in tins. I also made the chicken kabobs and froze them. Starting 5 days before the party, I put together the tenderloin and ground beef to make the iskendar and froze it. It turned out that the recipe in Binnur's cookbook intended the meat to be a much smaller piece than mine. It became very difficult to thinly slice the frozen tenderloin so I could saute it. That took a lot of effort that last day. I made the bulgur ahead of time and only added the fresh scallions and tomatoes that last morning. The vegetable salad had to be all cut up that morning of also. I was able to make the stuffed apricots ahead of time. That recipe called for dried apricots that you rehydrate overnight. I stuffed them with mascarpone cheese instead of clotted cream which was called for because I thought that would stand up to making ahead better, and indeed I think it did. I purchased a large fresh fruit tray, and I also purchased the baklava. My husband made the hummous the day of the party, and I had toasted the pita pieces with olive oil and za'atar a couple days ahead of time. As you can see all these dishes and condiments were planned and orchestrated in a rotating fashion starting about 10 days ahead of the party. Never have I done such a complex menu.

   Click read on for an explanation of the menu that I put out for people explaining and documenting the authentic Turkish food.

Menu for Tonight’s Turkish Dinner
October 29, 2011

Hummus – (Pronounced either Hum’ mus or Choom’ mus, or Choom’ mous, depending on where you are from). A dip made from mashed chickpeas, ground sesame seed (tahini), lemon juice, and garlic. Often served with olive oil, and other garnishes such as pine nuts, paprika, or other chopped vegetables. Lebanon claims origination. Certainly comes from the Levant. Origin of English word is Arabic: Hummus from the Arabic word for chickpeas – himmas. But it is thought the word entered the English language from Turkish. The food entered the US through Israelis. Interestingly when served with bread, it is a complete food, containing all the amino acids including methionine.
Borek  (or Burek) --  Turkish pastries made from phyllo dough, stuffed with salty cheese, parsley and oil. Here are served some triangular forms popular in the US but which are very similar to some forms of the Turkish pastries. Also some Burek stuffed with a meat mixture that has been cut into bite sized pieces.
Roasted nuts –
  Mixed nuts roasted with Turkish spices  (primarily rosemary, and maple syrup.)                       
Turkish roasted Hazelnuts    

Beverages:  Lemonade in the decorative server, between the dining room and the hallway.
Beers are in a cooler near the backdoor. Also Coca Cola (yes, of course Coca Cola exists in Turkey) and diet Coca  Cola as well as diet Sprite – cans are in a second cooler near the back door.
With dessert, we will have coffee. Decaff coffee is in the large coffee maker/server.  Regular coffee is in the heated carafe. Let me know if the sugar or milk runs out. They are small servers.                                                                                                  

Main dishes:
Shepherd Salad:  This is very common accompaniment to a Turkish dinner. It is a combination of diced tomatoes, green pepper, white onion, radishes, and Italian parsley dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and salt. A very similar salad is common in Israel but with paprika added.
Iskender:  Very popular meat dish made sometimes with lamb or chicken, but this one is with beef, tomato sauce, Turkish (garlic flavored) yogurt, butter over pita bread. Myth says that this meat dish is named after Alexander the Great, but that is just myth. It actually was created in the 1800s in Bursa, Turkey by a chef name Iskender Efendi. Now it is popular all over Turkey. But Istanbul residents still travel across the Marmara Sea to have Iskender in Bursa.  How to arrange this dish on your plate:  Put a piece or two of pita on your plate. Place the cooked meat slices on top. Then spoon some tomato paste over the meat. Place some yogurt in the center or to the side. Then dribble some hot melted butter over the whole thing. Surprisingly it is very good.
Chicken kabobs: This chicken kabob has been marinated in garlic flavored yogurt and is somewhat similar to tandoori chicken, an Indian dish. There are pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, and cumin spices in the yogurt marinade, so this dish might have a little “bite” to it. These shish kabob sticks are quite long, so feel free to break them in half for half the size serving.
Turkish couscous:  Called Kasir. This is Turkish couscous which is really Bulgar wheat grains. This dish is made to be served cold, and has diced tomatoes, green onions, and parsley mixed with the cooked Bulgar.
Pita with za’atar spices: Za’atar is usually a mix of spices including thyme, savory, and oregano. Sometimes sumac is added and then it is called red za’atar. This one sprinkled on the olive oil drizzled pita pieces is called green za’atar and is primarily dried thyme with roasted sesame seeds. It is full of antioxidants.
Cut up Fruit Plate: Lots of fruits are served in Turkey, but they might vary somewhat from what we are used to here. But fruits are pretty universal.

Sesame and Honey Candy Bars:  A confection made throughout the Middle East, from Greece,  to Turkey, around the end of the Mediterranean through Israel, even  into northern Africa. Similar confections made with sesame seed and other nuts combined extend into portions of India.  These are in dishes placed around my home and can be unwrapped and eaten at any time, except perhaps during the presentations. (The crinkly sound of the wrapping – ugh!)
Halva: The word originated in Arabic where it means “sweetness”. It probably came to English through the Turkish word “helva.” Two kinds of halva are made in Turkey. One is a combination of semolina and sugar which is cooked and then compressed. This one has a gelatinous texture, much like “hard” pudding. The second one better known to we Americans is typical Israeli, or Mediterranean halva, made from tahini (ground sesame seeds) and sugar. This confection is made by cooking the mixture to the “crack” stage of heat where it hardens and forms a crumbly sweet candy. Sometimes chocolate, pistachios and other ingredients are added. This halva is popular also throughout the Mediterranean area from Greece, around to northern Africa, including Turkey. Tonight we have several halvas to sample – plain, chocolate, and pistachio.  Cut a little piece of this sweet and enjoy.
Baklava:  This very sweet dessert of layers of phyllo dough alternating with layers of nuts and syrup is well known to all of us. It probably has an origin in Central Asia, perhaps Ajerbajan or Uzbek, but it became more widespread in use in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, during Ottoman Turk times. Persia may be responsible for adding the nuts to the dessert. Originally it was just layers of dough and syrup. At any rate, there are few desserts that are sweeter.
Turkish dried apricots with cream:  This is a classic Turkish dessert using the local plump apricots. It is made with dried apricots that have been rehydrated. This makes them firmer and more able to hold the filling of cream.  Mine is a slight modification using sweet mascarpone cheese inside the apricots. The garnish of chopped pistachios is classic Turkish. It is an easy but decadent dessert.
NOTE:  RECIPES: for the Iskender, the Chicken kabobs, the Turkish spiced nuts, the Kasir, and the apricot dessert can all be found online at Binnur Turkish Cookbook. This site was a great source. The Za’atar pita is made simply by drizzling the cut pita with a good olive oil, and sprinkling on the spice, baking until slightly brown. The hummous is Amos’ recipe. Ask him. 

Here is the iskendar before it was cut and cooked.

Sky presenting his Rumi poems.

Karen reciting Hafez

The entranced audience in my home.
     I think this party was a success. I got lots of complements as did the performers. All the work was worth it to see how my guests enjoyed the "whole Turkish shebang"!    

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