Turkish Treasure

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The hard to find cuisine of Turkey has a new roving venue in Kuzine Foods Co., brought to us by Los Angeles and Orange County caterers extraordinaire, Eda Akarsu Smith and Hülya Nigar Aksu.

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The authentic flavors and dishes of their homeland are tastefully presented, allowing those planning parties to set a beautifully hospitable Turkish table.

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The exceptional baking skills of the Kuzine chefs is evident with each mouthwatering bite of the freshly baked traditional Turkish breads.

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Açma sometimes referred to as Turkish bagels, come plain or stuffed with Nutella, an inspired melding of sweet and savory.  Poğaça, often sold by street vendors, are stuffed with cheese, olive or potato as well as served plain wth tea at breakfast or as a snack. Catal, are a slightly sweet and savory pretzel shaped pastry that is also great for breakfast or snacks with tea.

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The Borek of Kuzine is loaded with tender spinach and tangy feta that simply melts in your mouth.  It is our dream snack and honestly we have been having a hard time finding versions this tasty anywhere in Los Angeles.

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Tabouli from Kuzine Foods is a well balanced mix of greens, onion, tomato, dressing and a sprinkling of bulgur, making for a most refreshing salad we could eat all day long.

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Cemen, a spicy red spread, explodes with the famous Turkish red pepper paste, tomato paste, ground walnuts, olive oil, garlic, cumin and bread crumbs.  This famous dish is not to be missed for its traditional taste of Turkey.

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Refreshing salads and starters abound on the vast meze table presented by these talented kitchen enchantresses.

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After salads and appetizers, the Turkish table is famous for its kebab and meatballs.

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Formed patties and skewered meats are available in a variety of styles based on what the host feels will be best for each particular event Kuzine will be catering.

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And of course no meal is complete without a sweet and what better way to finish off a meal than with flakey, butter layers of walnut baklava.

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For a new spin on a dinner party or event, the traditional preparations of the mesmerizing cuisine of Turkey is presented with grace and exceptional skill by the highly recommend Kuzine Foods Co., www.kuzinefoods.com    818-484-0757

 

 

 

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.

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.

Savoring Illusive Turkish Cuisine

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Royal Pastry is a first rate recommendation from Barbara Hansen, who has been enlightening Los Angeles on the subject of Turkish food and we are so happy that she has.  This petit pastry shop serves Turkish breakfast/brunch on Saturday and Sunday mornings, a rare find indeed.

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However, if you don’t make it for weekend breakfast, don’t worry, they have a respectable selection of Turkish sweets and savories to take home.

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We found the pohaca, Turkish breakfast pastries, to be substantial rich and buttery turnovers that Royal Pastry stuffs with cheese, olive or serves plain.  We chose a cheese one that tastes similar to a mild munster.  We warmed the folded pastry in our toaster oven, creating a grilled cheese sandwich in a brioche reminiscent casing.

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Borek, is a cheese and potato stuffed pastry dough that embodies the concept of light, flakey, buttery enchantment and is probably one of the most famous Turkish dishes we know.  Royal Pastry makes borek in a number of shapes, we chose a round beauty, which transformed in the heat of a 350 degree toaster oven, into a warm handful of melted feta and potato cradled in a flakey crust.

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Simit is a ring of sesame seed laden Turkish breakfast bread that is traditionally served with jam, butter, cheese and tea or coffee.  Its crisp outer crust gives way to the soft buttery goodness of the bread inside.

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Should sweet be on your radar, they have a wonderful selection of baklava including burma kadayif and a case full of Turkish cookies, but don’t show up too late in the day, as many sell out as closing time nears.

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For the hard to find flavors of Turkish sweet and savory baked goods plus a weekend breakfast menu, Royal Pastry brings a taste of Anatolia to the southland and we look forward to savoring the bounty.

Royal Pastry, 10662 Zelzah Avenue, Granada Hills, CA 91344                             Phone – 818-363-2030

Turkish Delight

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Another hidden cuisine is Turkish and we’ve located a little spot on Venice we think brings the goods.  Sofra Kabab Express is a bright airy cafe with indoor and patio seating that takes on mediterranean food from a Turkish vantage point.  The food of Turkey is distinguished from other middle eastern cuisines in its preparation, the use of particular herbs and spices as well as signature dishes and drinks.

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Sofra’s invigorating hummus has a grainy creaminess and the distinct flavor of garbanzo beans which pairs beautifully with their stuffed grape leaves and pita bread.

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The sarma plate is an excellent rendition of grape leaves freshly stuffed with  vegetables and rice, served with hummus, salad, turkish style yogurt sauce and warm pita bread.

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We were also impressed with the Chicken Adana Kabab Salad Plate, which is a large platter of greens, feta, red grapes and red peppers dressed with a refreshing vinaigrette that perfectly accents both the salad and the open flame grilled ground chicken kabab seasoned with Turkish spices.

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The Turkish Coffee served here appears to be the real deal.  A smooth, slightly sweet caramel foam or crema floats atop a toasted nutty, thick, rich and luxurious brew creating an experience that coats the tongue with its pungent accents.

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We love the adorable cups and cooking pot, but were informed that the set is only available in Turkey, so we have placed that adventure securely at the upper end of our bucket list.

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For a little taste of Turkey, Sofra is one spot where you can definitely get your Turkish on.

Sofra Kabab Express, 10821 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034                       Phone – 310-838-8833   web site – sofrakababexpress.com