Tapas, Turkish Style


On a recent trip to Turkey, I discovered mezze — beautifully seasoned appetizers similar to Italian antipasto. Every lunch and dinner began with a selection of these piquant dishes.

To live in Turkey means to be immersed in mezze culture. The experience reminded me of Spanish tapas. They drink Raki, an anise-flavored spirit as fierce as lions, as an accompaniment.

Jews, who are as enthusiastic about mezze as their countrymen, have called Turkey home for 2,400 years. In 1492, many Jews who were expelled from Spain and Portugal received refuge in the Ottoman Empire.

Today, about 26,000 Jews reside in Turkey, mostly in Istanbul. Sephardi Jews comprise 99 percent of that population. The remaining 1 percent is Ashkenaz.

The best way to serve mezze is with 6-inch round loaves of pita bread warmed for 3 to 5 minutes in a preheated 400° oven until they plump up.


White Beans in Tomato Sauce


1 can (19 oz.) white cannellini beans 
2 Tbsps. olive oil 
2 garlic cloves, minced 
1 Italian plum tomato, diced fine 
2 carrots, diced fine 
kosher salt to taste 
1 Tbsp. ground cumin, or more, if desired

Place beans in a colander and rinse them under cold water. Let drain.

Briefly heat oil in a medium-sized saucepan over a medium flame. Saute garlic in oil until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomato, stirring until it gives off some sauce, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the carrots and beans and stir. Sprinkle in the salt and cumin, stirring to combine. Cover the saucepan and cook on a fast simmer for 20 minutes, or until sauce thickens. Stir occasionally. Serve immediately or refrigerate and reheat.

Serves 4 to 6 appetizer portions.


Ravioli with Yogurt Sauce


Turkish cuisine offers its own style of stuffed dough, similar to Italian ravioli.

1 lb. small (1 and 1/2-inches square) cheese ravioli 
1 tsp. olive oil, plus a few drops 
1 cup Greek yogurt, at room temperature 
4 Tbsps. unsalted butter 
kosher salt to taste 
1/2 tsp. paprika

Prepare ravioli according to package instructions, but place a few drops of olive oil in the boiling water before dropping in the ravioli. Drain ravioli in a colander.

Melt the butter. Place yogurt in a bowl and mix in 1 teaspoon of olive oil.

Move ravioli to a platter, overlapping them as little as possible. Spread yogurt mixture over the ravioli evenly. Sprinkle with salt. Drizzle butter over the yogurt. Sprinkle paprika evenly over the top.

Serve immediately. (Recipe is meant to be warm, not piping hot.)

Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer.


Spinach and Feta Casserole


A Turkish version of Greek spanakopita

1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted 
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled (Kosher feta cheese is made from sheep's milk.) 
1 tsp. olive oil 
2 garlic cloves, minced 
butter for greasing pan, plus 4 Tbsps. for the dough 
frozen filo dough, defrosted according to package instructions

Place defrosted spinach in a colander. Squeeze it with the palm of your hand to get rid of excess liquid. Move to a mixing bowl and add feta cheese. Mix together with a wooden spoon.

Heat oil in a small saucepan on a medium flame. Saute garlic in oil until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Let garlic cool briefly, then add to the spinach mixture and stir until combined.

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat an 8×8-inch baking pan with butter. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter.

Cut off two pieces of aluminum foil longer than the sheets of filo dough. Unroll and lay out filo dough on the first piece of aluminum foil. Cover the dough with the second piece of foil. Cover the top piece of foil with a damp kitchen towel.

Lay a third piece of foil of equal size on the counter. Place a sheet of filo dough onto the third piece of foil. Cover the pile of filo dough with foil and the towel. The dough must stay covered or it will dry out.

Using a basting brush, spread the melted butter on the entire piece of dough. Lift the buttered dough and place it in the pan. Loosely mold it to the shape of the pan. Don't worry if the filo wrinkles and bunches at the edges.

Repeat this by piling up 4 more pieces of buttered filo dough in the pan (five pieces in all). Spoon the spinach mixture evenly across the pan on top of the dough. Then butter five more pieces of filo dough and place them one at a time over the spinach layer.

Move casserole to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Cut casserole into squares, three down and three across. Serve immediately.

Makes 9 squares.


Tahini Dip


1 cup tahini (sesame paste, which can be purchased in most supermarkets or in Middle Eastern markets) 
2 tsps. freshly squeezed lemon juice 
4 cloves garlic, squeezed through a garlic press 
kosher salt to taste 
1/8 tsp. paprika, plus more for dusting

If the oil in the container of tahini has separated from the sesame paste, stir the contents with a spoon until well combined.

Place 1 cup tahini in a small mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice, garlic, salt and 1/8 tsp. paprika. Blend well with a spoon. Place dip in a serving bowl and dust with more paprika as a garnish. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for several hours.

Makes 1 cup.


Smoked Eggplant Dip


A barbecue grill is required to smoke the eggplants.

3 small eggplants, about 6 inches long. (Avoid large eggplants because their seeds are abundant and bitter.) 
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice 
1 tsp. olive oil 
kosher salt to taste

Pierce eggplants several times with a fork. Place whole eggplants on a barbecue grill, turning them with tongs almost constantly for about 6 minutes, or until their skins char and blacken. Their insides should be oozy and soft.

Place eggplants on a plate until they are cool enough to handle. With your fingers, peel off their skins and pull out rows of seeds. Discard the skins and seeds.

Cut the flesh of the eggplants into chunks and place them in a food processor. Add the lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Pulse the food processor on and off until a loose paste is formed. Do not over beat or ingredients will become watery. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve several hours later.

Makes 3/4 cup.


Creamy Yogurt Dip


1 and 1/2 cups plain, low-fat yogurt, preferably Greek yogurt 
good quality paper towels 
1 tsp. dill, minced 
kosher salt to taste 
3 cloves garlic, squeezed through a garlic press

Pour off water that has risen to the top of the yogurt container.

Place a sieve or colander inside a bowl. Line the sieve with 2 paper towels, or more, if needed. Wrap the edges of the paper towels around the rim of the sieve and tuck the edges between the sieve and the bowl. (The paper towel will become wet in the next step and you'll want the excess moisture it collects to drip into the bowl.)

Spoon the yogurt onto the paper towels. Cover the sieve with plastic wrap. Refrigerate yogurt for 4 hours. The yogurt will become thicker and smaller in quantity because much of its moisture will fall into the bowl.

Spoon the yogurt into a medium-sized bowl. Discard the excess water from the first bowl. Add the dill, kosher salt and garlic to the yogurt. With a spoon, mix the ingredients together thoroughly. Serve immediately or refrigerate for several hours.

Makes 1 cup.

Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. Email her at: [email protected]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here