In order to attain your dreams, life coaches tell you to visualize them in detail first. I was never successful in doing this, until I saw a tiny scene in the movie, ‘Munich’, the exact picture of the life I would like in my future. A huge Parisian family was gathered together on their grandparents’ farm in Provence and they were about to sit to eat the meal they had prepared. Everything in this scene, from the quaint farm house to the huge kitchen to the kids running around amongst the flower gardens and of course the table surrounded by the sons and daughters and their spouses, their children looked exactly like something that I might have created in my mind. Interestingly enough, when my son, Hasan, and I were discussing where we would be in the future, he mentioned this exact scene from the movie and said that this is how he visualized my future as well. I guess it fit somehow.
There is something reverent about a family gathered together around a dinner table that surpasses any cultural or generational boundaries. Sharing a meal is something that brings us together and gives us more insight about each other even when there are other barriers present. So, nothing gives me more pleasure than to prepare a meal to share with my family. My husband and I, being aficionados of this concept have brought meal preparation to a new level. We, usually, as a family (if we can cajole the boys into it), start by going to gather the best and freshest ingredients; around here this means to go to the weekly bazaar to buy our vegetables. The appeal of the vegetables will usually be the deciding factor in what we will be cooking that week.
I bought lovely green peppers, fresh mint and sweet cucumbers in the bazaar this week which was the start for our preparations for our meal last night. Since I always keep ground meat in the freezer and all the other ingredients are the basic staples of our kitchen pantry, ‘Dolma’ is the easiest of meals to prepare as soon as you buy the vegetables. When I am in Turkey, I usually get my ground meat a mix of 20% lamb to 80% beef (it’s sometimes harder to find ground lamb in supermarkets in the US so we settle for using a fattier beef instead); in the past, no self-respecting Ottoman cook would use anything but all lamb, ground only once, for this dish. Just like in a good hamburger, the meat in a ‘Dolma’ should not be ground or handled too much during mixing, lest it loses its flavor. And of course, we cannot forget the magic ingredient, ‘Nar Eksisi’ (Pomegranante Sour.) I found a great one here in the market, Kemal Kukrer brand that is a little bit more expensive than the others but it is made from pure pomegranate concentrate and no additives – definitely worth it.
After I tasted the ‘Nar Eksisi’, I got so excited that I decided to make a salad I had learnt from my friend who visited Adana. She told me that this salad, that is the simplest and the most savory dish that appeals to my taste buds like not much else can, was eaten in all the restaurants in Adana. My husband is skeptical about this claim since there are no onions in it; Adana kitchen like most Southeastern Anatolian kitchens is very fond of onions- so he may be right, but I prefer it this way. It’s both easy to prepare and very tasty. It is basically chopped tomatoes, chopped fresh mint leaves, finely chopped walnuts and salt, oil and pomegranate sour to taste, mixed together. It has a sweet and sour taste that is like nothing else.
Yogurt goes really well with most Turkish home cooked meals. We traditionally prefer to eat our yogurt salty; it is something found either on its own or in a variety of ways on the Turkish table. ‘Cacik’ is a cold yogurt soup that is made by combining cucumbers cut into tiny pieces and beaten yogurt that is mixed with salt, dried mint and garlic, and drizzled with olive oil. This is a perfect summer side dish. Of course it goes perfectly with ‘Dolma’ and took its place on our dinner table as well.
We have a wonderful term in Turkish that would be very appropriate for all of us in this meal preparation, ‘Benimde corbada tuzum olsun’ (Let there be some salt from me in the soup as well) meaning let me be a part of the joint effort. After Hasan, Murat and I went to the bazaar to buy the vegetables, my mother-in-law’s helper, Bostan, my husband and I prepared this unpretentious meal for the family last night. The boys were ravenous after coming home from working out and we all enjoyed an amazing meal, quite similar to most families’ all across the country, prepared and consumed in our own style with passion and joy.