The Vegetable Butcher Spills Her Secrets

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The Vegetable Butcher is a trusted professional who breaks down vegetables with knife lessons, insider tips, and approachable preparations. We love this title because it describes what we have always needed but never knew was missing from our lives. After a lifetime of fad diets that never produced lasting results, we now know that eating more fruits and vegetables makes us feel and look better. Giving up on “short cuts”, we can finally embark on a lifetime of mouthwatering, healthy meals with the help of Vegetable Butcher extraordinaire, Cara Mangini and her new book The Vegetable Butcher.

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Cara studied vegetables on the farms of Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena and in Napa Valley, where she learned all about produce growth, farming techniques, selection, varieties, storage and preparation. She is one of the first Vegetable Butchers at Eataly in New York City, as well as the owner and executive chef of Little Eater, a produce-inspired restaurant, and Little Eater Produce and Provisions, an associated local and artisanal foods boutique. Cara has a lot to share, which she does succinctly and tastefully in her book.

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The cookbook, after delving into some important knife and cutting basics, is divided by vegetable. It’s easy to pull out whatever natures bounty lurks in our produce drawer and immediately get an overview of its history, varieties, memorable pairings, how to select the best the market has to offer, proper storage and most important how to easily and quickly butcher each vegetable for optimal presentation and incorporation into meals.

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Recipes follow, in well illustrated chapters that simplify everything from crudités to salads, soups, side dishes, main courses and even desserts.

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We used the freshest tomatoes, cucumber, garlic and peppers from Melissa’s Produce in Cara’s Gazpacho recipe which produced a cold soup reminiscent of the splendid summer Andalusian Gazpachos we found on the Costa del Sol in Spain. And we whizzed it all together in no time with our powerful Ninja blender.

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The Vegetable Butcher is brimming with tips that make vegetables accessible. We witnessed Cara’s fast demo which completely transformed our relationship to cauliflower. We no longer look at the cruciferous heads with extreme suspicion, but instead now feel joy at what we can create after a few well placed cuts free the florets. Her secrets and tricks save us tons of prep time, cut fingers, uneven pieces and most important, from missing out on something as exciting as squash blossoms, tomatillos, sunchokes, okra, kohlrabi or fiddlehead ferns, simply because we didn’t know how to work with them.

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Confidently armed with The Vegetable Butcher, we have already transformed our dinner table to include a much wider range of fresh, wholesome and delicious produce based dishes.  Something we did not think possible just a few weeks ago. Thank you Cara for giving us the incentive and instruction we didn’t know we desperately needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Afghani in Beverly Hills

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A sweet little patio at the back of a small parking lot in Beverly Hills, is home to the brand new Afghani Kebab House. The menu features fragrant rice dishes, grilled kebabs, meat filled dumplings and a variety of fruit and vegetables entrees suitable for vegetarians. The food of Afghanistan is reminiscent of neighboring Iran’s Persian dishes, and a mild interpretation of the cuisines of Pakistan and India. The restaurant’s small kitchen cranks out homestyle flavors while catering to customers with warm and welcoming hospitality the region is known for.

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Carved wooden bowls filled with potato and garbanzo salad in a cilantro chutney, start guests off with a hint of flavors to come.  Warm, airy Afghani flat bread is the traditional eating utensil, although the table is also set with fork and knife. The chewy, straight from the oven bread is addictive and we went through three baskets over the course of dinner.

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Always looking to incorporate healthy options into our diet, we started with the uber sweet Borani Kadoo, butternut squash, covered in ribbons of in-house made yogurt and a sprinkling of dried mint. This melt in your mouth appetizer is both soothing and gratifying.

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The eggplant appetizer, called Borani Badenjan, is sautéed with fresh tomatoes, garlic and peppers before being drizzled with homemade yogurt.

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The easy to devour mantu are dumplings stuffed with seasoned ground beef and sautéed onions, topped with yogurt, tomatoes, peas and herbs. These little beauties pair exceptionally well with the vibrant green sauce served along side.

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Chicken Kabob skewers are tender boneless chicken breast marinated in their secret mix of ingredients before being charbroiled into plump, juicy chunks.

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For lamb lovers, the Quabili Pallow consists of a hefty mound of richly seasoned basmati rice, raisins and julienned carrots a top tender lamb shank, a specialty of the house. Dishes are large enough to share, which to us means more plates to sample.

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Do not miss the warm walnut and pistachio baklava, whose  sweet and savory balance, coupled with the slight crunch through layers of filo, makes this one of our favorite hidden LA desserts.

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Only three weeks old and already Afghani Kabob House has everything running smoothly, from the friendly service to the well prepared cuisine. We are looking forward to many warm summer nights of affordable meals on their airy patio.

Afghani Kabob House
8560 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Phone – 310-854-1020

Homestyle Azerbaijani Cuisine Has Arrived

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New cuisines light us up, so when Feride Buyuran and Melissa’s Produce teamed up to host a tasting celebrating her new cookbook, Pomegranates & Saffron, A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan, we jumped at the opportunity. Azerbaijan is surrounded by Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Georgia and Russia, and we found nods to all the neighboring countries in the beautifully prepared dishes.

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Feride’s award winning cookbook features a very accessible cooking style that celebrates Eastern European, Russian and Middle Eastern flavors. Ingredients and spices from the region are presented with a special flare we attribute to Ms. Buyuran’s culinary skills in her adaptation of recipes culled from family and friends.

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Dishes such as tender Meatballs in Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce (page 71), have pristinely balanced flavors that make them comfort food well suited for a main course as well as a substantial party appetizer guaranteed to keep guests happy from a warming tray perch.

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Ganja-Style Chicken with Eggs (page 98), gives credit to Azerbaijani’s second largest city where this satisfying dish originated. The tender dark meat chicken and egg casserole is ideal for breakfast, brunch, lunch or a new spin on dinner.

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For a serious sampling of the Mediterranean table, the Vegetable Kabab Salad (page 42) is both refreshing and healthy.

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We were also impressed with the abundance of dill that spikes Feride’s perfectly cooked basmati rice, reminding us of the famous, aromatic Persian rice dishes celebrated internationally.

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The final treat that won our hearts and palates was the layer upon layer of pastry dough, not filo, that is the secret to the scrumptious Azerbaijani walnut baklava.  A mild sweetness and loads of crushed nut meats packed between layers of melt in your mouth pastry, is a labor intensive endeavor that is worth every minute put into it.

For those looking for something unique that is easy on the eyes, nose and palate, we strongly recommend purchasing Pomegranates & Saffron, at least until Feride opens her first restaurant.

Ramadan Celebrations

It is with immeasurable sadness and compassion regarding the continued attacks on Turkey, that we send prayers to all those suffering and choose to forge ahead with open hearts and minds. We desire to learn and share our personal experiences during the holy month of Ramadan which ends today, July 5, 2016.

Ramadan each year corresponds as closely as possible to the month Muhammad, the founder of Islam, received the Qu’ran from God. During this most sacred time of year, Muslims all over the world fast during daylight hours, observing with no food or liquids, from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. Ramadan is a time for reflection and prayer, allowing the devout to contemplate their relationship to God and focus on positive attributes of the human experience. It is not only an introspective time, but also quite festive, with Iftar (breaking of the daily fast), welcoming a spirit of celebration among family and friends.

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We were fortunate to partake in an Iftar celebration at Orkide in Gaziantep, Turkey. The restaurant and patisserie is committed to perfecting their craft, as evidenced through a vast array of awe-inspiring fresh pastries, sweets, baklava and colorful puddings.

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Led to beautifully set tables, we could barely control our excitement as we began the memorable experience of a traditional Iftar dinner. A wide variety of meze (appetizers and salads) are laid out and we joyfully united with the Muslim patrons prior to sunset, awaiting the evening prayer call which signals the beginning of the meal just as the sun dips below its horizon.

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The Turkish table, especially in Gaziantep, is renowned for its meze, and we were dazzled by small plates of herb based salads, the freshest vegetables, olives, cheese, pickled dishes, savory stuffed pastries called borek, nuts, dried and stewed fruits, a rich clotted cream called kaymak and some of the freshest breads we have ever tasted.  Orkide is at the top of their game in this arena offering soup, refreshing greens and a full table top of traditional starters to the delight of guests.

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Another uniquely Turkish dish we have fallen deeply in love with is the cig kofte (pictured above), a bulgur, herb and spice mix formed into distinct peaked portions that diners douse with fresh lemon juice and roll in lettuce leaves, before biting into each spicy, refreshing packet.

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The main course changes nightly, but is always hearty and followed by their delectable sweets assortment.

We are huge fans of Orkide for their extensive talents showcasing Turkish cuisine, along with an infinite willingness to open their arms to those of us hungry to learn about their abundant table of delicacies. Thank you to the Turkish people and Orkide for sharing with us the heart of Ramadan celebrations and the true nature and generosity of the religion that encourages the best qualities of mankind through love, hospitality and a spirituality that nourishes in every way.

Orkide Pastanesi – Four locations in Gaziantep, please visit the web site to find the location most easily accessible to you.

Mexican Culinary Magic

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Pati Jinich introduces her new book Mexican Today by stating, “This is a book of recipes born out of passion: passion for my family; passion for my native Mexico and its ancient, modern and evolving foodways; passion for the changing Mexican cuisine within the United States, my home for the past eighteen years and the birthplace of my children; and passion for delicious, unforgettable, irresistible food.” And after sampling her recipes we definitely see, smell and taste exactly what she means.

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Pati’s Simmered Shaved Corn with Chiles and Epazote, glistens with full bodied sweetest from the freshest corn enhanced by her unique spice blend. We went back for seconds and thirds and would have continued but for our engorged, happy tummies.

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We were particularly taken with her Fast Track Chicken Pibil, a recipe that simplifies the cooking process without skimping on the smokey achiote essence or richness.

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She recommends serving the chicken pibil atop crisp corn tortillas and alongside her refreshing pickled onion and cabbage salad, also found in her book.

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We were tickled and surprised by the chewy sweet, salty and savory Everything in the Pantry Cookies which combine most of our own pantry staples including pretzel pieces.

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Pati’s drink recipes also surprise and delight and we found ourselves thoroughly enchanted by her honey and hibiscus flower tea with its understated, sweet-tart core.

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Mexican Today provides simplicity, as well as new and old twists, on contemporary Mexican cooking. The recipes reflect a long practiced fusion in the Mexican kitchen. Pati explores the way Mexican foods have merged and evolved on both sides of the border. A consummate storyteller, as evidenced by her five seasons as host of the PBS series “Pati’s Mexican Kitchen”, she shares not only the research but also personal experiences behind the making of this book. All her dedication and hard work unify into an inspired cookbook and a great read.

Link here Mexican Today to purchase Pati Jinich’s book from Amazon.

Cooking Classes Celebrate Culture and Cuisine

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We find cooking classes to be one of the most enjoyable and interactive ways to learn about a new country, city or cuisine. Where else can we get insider information on local dishes, ingredients, customs, family life, manners and setting a traditional table?

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In Istanbul we were eager to expand our understanding of Turkish food and signed up for Turkish Flavors, Sephardic cooking class which delves into founder, Selin Rozanes’ family recipes. After an introduction to Turkish seasonings at the spice market, we were ferried across the Bosphorus where a car shuttled us to her handsome home with its well designed teaching kitchen.

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We went right to work with Selin’s expert guidance on techniques, spice mixes, variances in Turkish red pepper pastes and advice on how to procure the freshest local ingredients.

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There was plenty of chopping, rolling, forming, mixing, sautéing, baking and boiling. But with the work spread between our team of participants, and Selin’s lovely housekeeper taking care of all the washing up, it felt effortless, playful and productive.  A little white wine soothed any discomfort we may have felt during the rainy, cold and exceptionally windy day, which turned out to be perfect weather for a cooking class.

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We progressed at breakneck speed and at the end of an hour and a half, had an expansive feast laid before us.

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Turkish dedication to hospitality, beautiful presentation, as well as delicious food was evident and we spent the afternoon leisurely savoring and discussing Turkish food and culture.

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Our main dish, Split Belly Eggplant (Karniyarik), combined ground beef, onions, herbs and spices, which are stuffed into eggplant halves before being drenched in tomato sauce and decorated for aesthetic and flavor optimization.

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Selin is more than happy to adjust the menu to accommodate dietary restrictions and the vegetarians in the group were easily taken care of without depriving the omnivores.

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Carrots in garlicky yogurt and tahini dressing, one of the stars of the class, is an inspired melange of freshly grated carrot sweetness playing off tangy dairy and smooth, rich, sesame paste.

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After savoring a tableful of family recipes, we were rewarded with dried apricots boiled in wine and cloves, stuffed with clotted cream and rolled in pistachios. A most civilized end to a day delving into the Turkish culinary arts. We left with full bellies, open hearts and a recipe book filled with Selin’s top secret recipes.

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Turkish Flavors offers walking tours of Istanbul, cultural and culinary tours in a variety of locations and her famous cooking classes, all designed to make you feel like a native. Bon Appetite.

The Turkish Temptress: Börek

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Strolling through the streets of Istanbul, it is impossible to miss the warm, buttery aroma and seductive window displays of börek shops strategically tucked into nooks and crannies all over the city. Börek are savory pastries fashioned from flour, water and salt doughs of varying thicknesses, resembling anything from thin filo sheets to thick egg noodles. These light, flakey pies can be found stuffed with meat, cheese, potato, herbs, mixed fillings or nothing at all. The fundamental focus is on the butter slathered layers formed into a myriad of shapes from squares, rounds, crescents, cigars, to whatever a baker can dream up.

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Börek may be boiled, baked, sautéed or fried and half the fun is sampling as many versions as possible to find a favorite.

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At Çağdaş Börek, on a corner across Taxim Square from Istiklal Caddesi, we sampled meat, cheese and potato börek, finding them all light, flakey and just the slightest touch greasy. Our favorites were the beef and potato, both packing a flavor punch of spices we wish the more mellow cheese bundles carried.

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The unfilled börek look like hot crossed buns,

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or big slabs that are cut into long slices with the help of a wooden measuring tool. Both are served with packets of powdered sugar.

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The protocol is to dip the unencumbered, warm layers into a mound of sweet, soft, sugar dust, turning each bite into a habit forming, melt in your mouth, fluff of Ottoman Empire culinary history.

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Börek are usually served for breakfast, but are available all day and late into the evening at a myriad of brightly lit shops all over Istanbul. Don’t hesitate to take the edge off your hunger with this savory or sweet snack regarded as one of the national treasures of Turkey.

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Çağdaş Börek Merkez-Tarlabasi Cd No. 20 A,Taksim-IST(0212) 237 67 41

Çağdaş Börek     Istasyon Cad. No. 7/B,   Yesilkoy/IST   (0212) 663 32 47

Çağdaş Börek     Sipahiglu Cad. No. 5/B   Yesilyurt/IST  (0212) 662 99 69

Çağdaş Börek     Cekmece Cad. No. 4/1     Florya/IST      (0212) 580 80 64

For börek in West Los Angeles try:

Aroma Cafe, 2530 Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Phone – 310-836-2919

Captivating Culinary Tours

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One of the most intriguing facets of Turkish culture is the dedication to stunning presentation alongside a perfected foundation. This trait is eloquently showcased at Istanbul’s most famous baklava emporium, Karaköy Güllüoğlu. Trays of meticulously crafted pastries seduce customers at this bakery established in 1949 in the Karaköy district of Istanbul, by a family that has been honing exemplary baklava in Gaziantep, Turkey since the 1800’s.

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This Turkish sanctuary of multi layered wonders, is known by locals for uncompromising dedication to tradition and quality which oozes from the depths of each morsel.

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We were lovingly guided to Karaköy Güllüoğlu by Turkish gastronomy expert, consultant and writer, Hülya Ekşigil on Context Travel’s Beyond Baklava Tour. Hülya’s expertise and organic streaming of relevant information, storytelling, and joy flowed effortlessly, adding exponential value to our explorations. Insider tips, hidden treasures and historic tidbits poured forth, keeping us spellbound as we savored our way through a tasting walk that covered much more than the title suggested.

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Our journey went far beyond baklava and deep into the heart of smooth milk puddings, gooey Turkish delight, thick fruit jams, almond paste candies, Turkish sesame desserts, to a tiny hole-in-the-wall coffee shop that roasts their own beans and lays claim to the best cup of Turkish coffee in Istanbul. We traversed fascinating, funky, and lively old neighborhoods where historic sweet shops, artisanal bakeries and hip cafes abound.

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Tucked between organic markets and artist studios we explored local cheese shops, traditional bakeries, and small restaurants, sampling unique cheeses, fresh baked breads, and thick rice flour puddings made with chicken. We learned about the history and significance of these diverse culinary gems, and the Ottoman Empire’s mixing of cultures to create a distinct and significant cuisine.

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At our last stop we savored layers of buttery filo, chopped pistachios and a perfect balance of honey while reflecting on the enjoyment of the day. It was difficult to tear away from our little group as Hülya continued to fascinate to the end with animated tales of Turkey, the owners of Güllüoğlu and Istanbul’s growth and transformation over the decades.

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We cannot overemphasize the value of a passionate and knowledgeable guide in a new city. We feel as guests with limited time abroad, we now have a basic understanding of the Turkish people, cuisine and culture that would have taken months if not years to gain on our own. Thank you to Hülya Ekşigil, Context Travel, Karaköy Güllüoğlu and an abundance of small shops and businesses that granted us an overwhelmingly hospitable and luscious peek into the heart of Istanbul. We have fallen deeply in love with Turkey’s culture and cuisine and look forward to returning at the earliest possible opportunity to delve deeper into your warm, creative and inspired soul.

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Karaköy Güllüoğlu Factory and HQ : Karaköy, Mumhane Cad. No: 171 34425 İstanbul / Türkiye        T: +90 212 249 96 80 – F: +90 212 244 71 17

Karaköy Güllüoğlu Shop:Karaköy, Rıhtım Cad. Katlı Otopark Altı No: 3-4 İstanbul / Türkiye   T: +90 212 293 09 10      E-Mail: info@karakoygulluoglu.com

Context Travel offers intimate (six participants or less), local expert led walking seminars in some of the worlds most stunning cultural capitals of Europe, Asia, Australia, North and South America .

 

The Power Of The Pomegranate

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Street vendors all over Istanbul soothe parched pedestrians with freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juice. The orange is delightful, but it’s the red, juicy, ancient (dating back to 4000 BC) nar (Turkish for pomegranate) nectar that has us dropping Turkish lire all over the city.

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We are told that autum is prime season for the power packed fruit, but we have found the most vibrant, ruby red seeds are still exploding with the sweetest juice in early March.  Even the sweet, slightly tart cups we encounter have us singing the praises of this enchantress.

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It takes just moments for our juice barista to halve and squeeze two or three globes, place them in the sturdy manual juicer and extract the liquid ambrosia.

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Small servings set us back about .50 cents with larger cups ranging from a dollar to two depending on size and vendor location. At this price we indulge daily, taking advantage of the benefits of this Turkish delight.

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Celebrated for its high antioxidant content and inflammation reducing properties, we find it one of the most restorative beverages we’ve encountered. Ordering large glasses after long days exploring the vast treasures of Istanbul we feel instantly revitalized and up for more adventures.

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Fresh pomegranite kiosks and stands are located throughout Istanbul.  Every pedestrian and tourist area we have explored offers abundant opportunities to experience these glasses of pure refreshment. Don’t miss this charming tradition.

 

Learning About Turkish Food In Turkey

We are more than a little surprised at how difficult it is to find Turkish food in Los Angeles, a city we perceive as overflowing with culture and cuisine. So when we were invited to celebrate UNESCO’s embracing of the Turkish city of Gaziantep into its Creative Cities Network, we jumped at the opportunity and a week and a half later found ourselves in Istanbul.

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Having only the most rudimentary knowledge and experience with the cuisine, our goal is to explore from the ground up and share what we find. Starting with street food we will work our way through to the gala celebration dinner so we can all gain an understanding of the Turkish table and how Gaziantep came to be honored for her contributions to Gastronomy.

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Our first exposure to Turkish food came in the streets. On practically every corner and in numerous locations on each square we encountered red and white striped carts selling simit, ring shaped bread piled high and covered in sesame seeds.  These soft, chewy, crisp crusted, pretzel-like baked goods are inexpensive, often eaten as a breakfast or snack on the run, go hand in hand with tea, another Turkish staple, and can be combined with butter, cheese, jam or Nutella for a little extra umph.

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The carts offer a small variety of savory and occasionally sweet breads, but simit has been the Turkish, transport friendly, bread of choice since it came into favor in the 16th century Ottoman royal courts and then trickled down through society.

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No trip to Turkey would be complete without a taste of simit and we have had a blast searching carts and bakeries for our favorite version.

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Acknowledging this as our first trip to Turkey, as well as limited exposure to the cuisine, we welcome feedback, discussion and correction for any mistakes made. Our commitment is to deliver the most accurate information, but as we attempt to travel, learn and share, all at the same time, we are happy to defer to experts, the Turkish people and anyone else with superior knowledge and love of this delightful country and her exciting bounty. Let the discovery begin.