A couple of years ago, I had the great pleasure to meet and cook with an Inspirational Chef called Greg Malouf in the wonderful setting of Hangar 7, Austria. Greg is of Lebanese heritage but was born and raised in the Australian City of Melbourne. He is viewed not only as one of the most influential and innovative cooks in Australia, but also as the originator of his own style—modern Middle Eastern cuisine.
I think Greg was born to be a cook. Even as a child he was fascinated by his family’s refrigerator, which was filled with exotic specialties. He was even more impressed, however, by family meals, which his mother and grandmother spent days preparing and at which Arabic cuisine was celebrated in all its opulence and variety: refined tajines (one-pot dishes), substantial meze (appetizers), spicy meat dishes and off course, all those wonderful sweet pastries.
I have always loved Middle Eastern cookery and I find the spice mixes and flavour combinations incredibly intoxicating. It was a real experience for me to listen to Greg talking about the subtle differences between the different countries in north Africa and to taste a few of his wonderful dishes. I can still savour in my head an unbelievable dish of Seared scallops with almond crumbs, hummus and crisp Turkish air-dried beef. What a fantastic dish!
Greg very kindly gave me a copy of his new book called Turquoise-A Chef's Travels in Turkey. In this beautifully illustrated book, Greg and Lucy Malouf visit spice markets and soup kitchens, enjoy fish sandwiches on the Bosphorus, and drink in ancient teahouses.
The recipes inspired by their travels capture the enticing flavors that define Turkish cuisine from the ancient ruins of Pergamum to modern day Istanbul. I must admit that my knowledge of Turkish cuisine was almost non-existent, but Turquoise soon changed that. I simply love cooking from this book and I have learnt that Turkish food is not about experimentation, it is about technique and cooking a particular dish in the time honored way, in the best way you can. It’s also about simplicity and choosing good ingredients, as many of the dishes are pleasingly unfussy. Here a just a few recipes that have inspired me from Greg’s fabulous book and I hope they inspire you to go out and buy it.
TURKISH RED PEPPER SOUP WITH BULGUR, CHICKPEAS, MINT AND CHILLI
200g cooked chickpeas
60ml olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sumac
2 red peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
400g peeled tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
1.5L vegetable stock
2tbsp chopped mint
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
500kg good quality minced lamb (leg or shoulder meat)
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Sweat the onions, red peppers, red chilli and sumac over a gentle heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cayenne pepper and cook for a further 10 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and simmer for 6-8 minutes. Add the chickpeas, bulgur and simmer for a further 6 minutes.
When ready to serve, stir in the shredded mint and lemon juice.
TURKISH SPOON SALAD WITH KOFTE KEBABS
Ingredients Serves 4
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
A generous pinch of hot paprika
salt to taste
warm flat bread, to serve
2 very ripe vine-ripened tomatoes, skinned and finely diced
1 long red pepper, seeded and finely diced
2 red chilli peppers, seeded and finely diced
1 small Lebanese cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced
1 large shallot, peeled and finely diced
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves
½ teaspoon dried mint
½ teaspoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper
60g roasted coffee beans
To make the kofte, mix the minced lamb with the garlic, tomato, pomegranate molasses and spices and knead for 2–3 minutes to combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes to allow the flavours to develop.
To make the salad, place the diced tomatoes, pepper, chillies, cucumber and shallot on a large chopping board. Use a very sharp large knife to chop them all together. You are aiming for well-integrated, even and fine dice. Scrape into a large mixing bowl and add all the remaining ingredients, reserving 2 tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil. Stir well so that everything is very well combined and leave for 20 minutes to macerate.
When ready to cook, heat a griddle or your barbecue to it’s highest setting. With wet hands, divide the seasoned mince into four equal portions and mould each one around a flat metal skewer into a long sausage shape. Place the köftes on the griddle or barbecue and cook for 2–3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Just before serving, tip the salad into a colander and drain for a few moments to remove some of the excess liquid – you want the salad to be wet, but not swimming in liquid. Pour out onto a shallow plate and drizzle on the remaining oil. Serve the köfte on pieces of warmed flat bread with the spoon salad for everyone to help themselves.
TURKISH COFFEE AND CARDAMOM CREAMS
Ingredients: serves 8
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
½ cinnamon stick
50g dark chocolate
8 egg yolks
Place the cream, coffee beans, cardamom and cinnamon in a saucepan and bring slowly to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to cool and infuse.
Pass through a fine sieve into a clean saucepan and return to the heat. Add the chocolate and stir until it has melted.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and add the warm chocolate cream. Pour the mixture back into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring continuously, until it thickens to a custard consistency. Remove from the heat and cool in a sink of iced water, stirring continuously.
Pour the coffee creams into coffee cups or glasses and chill well before serving.