Monday, 3 August 2015

Lemon Lavender Cupcakes

It is hot. Very hot indeed and I am just loving it. The sun just bakes down and it feels great. I wouldn't be anywhere else except here in our village of Assos. You can't beat summer in Turkey.

lavender in our garden

Meanwhile, on the cooking front, life goes on.... we have had family and friends to stay and amongst trips to Apollon Smintheion, Bozcaada, local walks in the ruins and the village, not to mention the beach and swimming, food continues to play its part.

I always find inspiration in what we have and in the garden right now - actually it is the very end - is lavender. This heat is drying it up in front of our eyes. If you rub a flower between your fingers, the scent is very much there however. So what better than these little cupcakes? You don't need much lavender.

I happened to have the cupcake cases leftover from TT's birthday - otherwise, forget it, you would never find those around here.

lemon lavender cupcakes

A quick search on Google produced this recipe from the blog Art of Natural Living. Her cupcakes are beautifully iced with butter creme whereas I decided that we didn't need all those extra calories and did a very simple little lemon glacé icing. Mine look very homemade whereas hers look pretty professional with the swirl of multi-coloured icing atop each cupcake! But the taste of the actual cupcake is excellent: the infusion of lavender flowers in the granulated sugar is a tip worth remembering. The taste is not too strong but definitely there. The lavender flavour permeates the recipe delightfully so make sure you too mix those flowers into the sugar the night before.

here is the lavender sugar mixed with the lemon zest and flour

just out of the oven

Here is the recipe for Lemon Lavender Cupcakes:
I recommend it highly :)

Serves 12


2 tbsp skimmed milk
3 large egg whites, room temperature
½ tbsp vanilla extract
3/4 cups granulated sugar NB make sure you combine the lavender and sugar in an airtight container the night before: really worth it!
2 tbsp lavender
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp cornstarch/nişaştası
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
zest from a very small lemon or half a regular lemon
6 tbsp butter, room temperature
3/8 cup skimmed milk (Just think that 4/8 = half a cup so it is just a bit less than that)
buttercream icing if desired - or glacé icing like I did.


  • Preheat oven to 350F/180C.
  • In a small bowl, combine 2 tbsp milk, egg whites and vanilla extract. Whisk to blend.
  • In a second larger bowl, combine the flour, sugar/lavender mixture, cornstarch, lemon zest, baking powder, and salt. Mix briefly on low speed to combine, about 30 seconds.
  • Add in the butter and mix on low speed until the mixture resembles wet sand, about 30 seconds.
  • Mix in the remaining 3/8 cup milk, then increase the speed to medium and beat for about 2 minutes more.
  • With the mixture on low speed, add the egg white mixture in three additions, mixing for about 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
  • Fill each of the 12 cupcake papers in the 12-hole pan about 2/3 of the way full.
  • Bake in the preheated oven, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Let cool in the pan briefly, then transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before frosting.

lemon lavender cupcakes

Afiyet olsun!

Try these little lavender cupcakes for tea today - very light, very fragrant and totally delicious!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Summer Mezes for Your Table: 2) Ladies' Fingers or Okra in Olive Oil/Zeytinyağlı Bamya

You haven't lived if you haven't spent an hour or so preparing ladies' fingers aka okra/bamya!

Yes, it is a very fiddly job: whatever you do, don't buy them unless you're ready to spend the time painstakingly peeling and trimming them.

half a kilo of ladies' fingers just waiting for me!

BUT the rewards are considerable. This may be our favourite meze.  Ladies' fingers are right in season and I highly recommend taking the trouble to make this dish. If possible, go for the medium sized ones.

a cascade of okra

In an earlier post, you can see step by step how to peel these lovelies. You need a very sharp knife and honestly, it's just like sharpening a pencil. 

Yesterday however I decided that life was too short to do that to every single one as my lot turned out to be extremely mixed sizewise. I simply cut off the end of the teeniest of them all, some of them smaller than my fingernail!

The idea of course is to prevent the sticky substance inside each little okra from seeping out - I was relieved to see that chopping the end off some of them didn't add to the general stickiness in any way and the final dish was as delectable as ever. Give the prepared okra a good wash in cold water before continuing.

I still use my original recipe where you can see pictures of the finished dish.You can find it here:

Daughter No 1 is here in Assos with us and says that okra is not common in England. Here, they are everywhere! At this time of year in Aegean Turkey at least you are bound to find this meze and the previous one of roasted red peppers in many a home.

Ayvacık market lady and her produce including okra decorated with flowers

Afiyet olsun!

PS this hot humid weather is just great for my kefir! Made a jugful yesterday with milk from our cows and it was thick and creamy this morning. I am very pleased with it! It's like magic.

And talking about our cows, we had not one but two births on the same day last week! Easy births, both of them - calves both male and doing well.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Summer Mezes for Your Table: 1) Roasted Red Peppers in Olive Oil & Garlic/Közde Zeytinyağlı Sarımsaklı Kırmızı Biber

Living in the village as we are, going to the market in either neighbouring Ayvacık or Küçükkuyu is one of the highlights of our week! 

I love markets especially in summer time when the stalls are hard to resist with all the colourful fruit and veg. You have to go in order to stock up although nowadays it isn't as dire as it used to be thanks to the enterprising kamyons or trucks that come round the villages once or twice a week. And of course if you really want to, you can go a bit further afield and find an array of the big supermarkets eg Migros, Tansaş, and even Kipa. I avoid those as much as possible.

So we are eating very, very healthily!

Here are two of our favourite summer mezes that I made recently and will be repeating on and off all summer long:

1)Roasted Red Peppers:

Take as many red peppers as you like - I used 7.

here they are ready to go in the oven

You can compare my earlier - much earlier! - post with this one by clicking here. Similar but the method is slightly different.

  • This time I roasted them whole on a sheet of foil in the oven tray although a pyrex dish would probably have been more convenient. I set the oven to 180C/350F first. Drizzle some olive oil over them, season with salt and pepper, and add some sprigs of fresh rosemary and garlic cloves cut in half.
  • Cover with more foil and bake for 1 hour.
  • When time is up, remove from the oven and remove the foil. Cover immediately with a double layer of clingfilm and allow to cool for 15 minutes. (This is so that the peppers will sweat and be easier to peel).
  • When cooled, chop off the stem end and slit down one side to remove the seeds. Peel the skin away. Slice in lengths.
  • Arrange on a shallow dish and sprinkle a tbsp of vinegar, a little olive oil and salt, as well as more sliced garlic over the sliced red peppers.

they smell divine as they roast

And here they: roasted red peppers in olive oil and garlic!

A colourful, summery addition to any table!

Afiyet olsun!

I'll be posting the second meze very soon!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

End of Ramazan in sight: Leyla makes traditional pişi in the garden!

Komşu! Un var'mı? Neighbour! Do you have any flour?

An early morning call over the garden wall. It was my neighbour Leyla here in our Aegean village of Assos: have you got any flour, she was asking. 

Then she said 'I'm making pişi for bayram. Would you like to come over to watch?' She knows I am always interested in village food and customs.

The bayram or official holiday starts on Friday following this holy month of Ramazan in which devout Moslems fast from sunrise to sunset. Leyla was making hers a day early in anticipation of the hordes of tourists who will undoubtedly descend upon the village for the holiday: she will be manning her sergi or stall where she sells local tablecloths, olive oil, bay leaves, apples, kekik or dried thyme and the like. I am so glad she hasn't succumbed to the temptation to sell cheap Made in China souvenirs like many of the other village stalls.

freshly fried pişi 

Pişi are for bayrams or special days and are eaten for breakfast with white cheese and the usual breakfast items like olives, tomatoes and cucumbers. Leyla will give some to her neighbours especially the elderly and those who don't make their own. She also pressed a couple on me! Well, I suppose I am a neighbour!

Anyway, over I went.

There I spied Leyla under a mulberry tree in her garden with a huge pan of hot olive oil balanced over a fire beside her. She had already made at least 4 tepsi/trays of  pişilittle rounds of dough made from flour and water with a little salt and yeast and each tray was covered with cloth. She had reached the frying stage: a round board was first liberally floured and then each little mound of dough was flattened, turned over and pummelled again before being dropped into the oil. A few minutes on each side was enough to ensure each round puffed up and turned a beautiful golden brown. Then with a large slotted ladle, Leyla scooped each one up and into the waiting metal colander. Surprisingly, the pişi were not in the slightest bit greasy: in fact, they looked very appetising!

Pişi must surely be at their best while warm ... with strawberry or plum jam and white cheese .. mmm.

Eline sağlık, Leyla! Health to your hands!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Roasted Summer Vegetables and a Birthday BBQ in Assos!

The house is quiet. Eva and her parents have gone. But the sweet memory of the BBQ that we had for TT's birthday just a few days ago lives on. Of course the maestro at the BBQ was SIL who was an even greater hero because he had driven the 5 hours down from Istanbul that very morning.

But we had conferred: he said he would be happy to do it and for TT, it was his favourite option for what to do that evening.

So what was my contribution going to be? I - with Eva's eager help - made the cake, the famous chocolate cake that is always a surefire success and sure enough, it was. Eva does enjoy her cake!

I was on the verge of making simple roasted vegetables in the oven. You know, you chop everything into suitably sized wedges, drizzle with olive oil, season, and roast. The manzara as they say, the 'view', is impressive and the taste at this time of year with all those veggies, is delicious.  Then I thought, I know, let's make veggie kebabs - again the chunks but this time on a skewer and cooked on the barbie.  They also look most attractive and of course the extra taste that the barbecue gives, is a great incentive.

But then I had my brainwave based on various pinterest sightings: let me try this dish of mixed summer vegetables which is baked in the oven. I have long had this dish in mind as I think it looks just fab: all those colours, all those wonderful seasonal vegs carefully sliced so that they are not too thin and not too thick. Now, THIS really looks impressive so very suitable for the birthday celebration! 

what do you think?

So this is what I did and a) it couldn't have been more straightforward, or b) tastier. Just the kind of dish I like. Perfect for vegetarians too. Make sure you allow enough time for all those veg to cook through.

The amounts are approximate so you can adjust to the size of your dish/the size of your crowd. Arranging them in an attractive fan pattern makes the whole dish very attractive.

My suggestions for summer roasted vegetables are:

2-3 onions, cut in half and then sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 medium aubergines/eggplants/patlıcan, sliced, no need to peel
3 medium courgettes/kabak, sliced
6 juicy tomatoes/domates, sliced (cut in half and then slice if too big)
3 big potatoes/patates, unpeeled and sliced 
fresh thyme sprigs if available/OR dried thyme/kekik
olive oil
seasoning to taste
½ cup grated parmesan or cheddar - I used eski kaşar

I happened to have one solitary green pepper/yeşil dolmalık biber in the fridge which I included, as you can see in the photos.


  • Basically, heat the oven to 200C/375F and lightly grease your ovenproof dish with olive oil.
  • Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan and gently cook the sliced onion until translucent. Then add the crushed garlic and cook a few minutes more.
  • Transfer to your prepared dish.
  • Slice your washed vegetables as in the photo. The slices should be equal in width. Arrange side by side in a tight spiral pattern as far as you can. Drizzle with olive oil and season generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. Don't forget the thyme, either fresh or dried. Cover with cooking foil. Cook in the pre-heated oven for 40 minutes and then remove the foil. Sprinkle the dish with the grated cheese and replace in the oven without the foil. Bake for a further 30 minutes or so.
  • Remove from the oven and let sit. This dish retains its heat very well so no pressure to serve immediately.

the final dish: roasted summer vegetables
We also made a patlıcan salatası with yogurt and garlic, grilling the aubergines on the barbecue to get that wonderful smoky taste.

Here is the meat: lamb chops/kuzu pirzola; kül bastı/lamb steaks which I marinated beforehand with herbs from the garden, that SIL grilled to perfection:

I put in a special request for spicy chicken wings and daughter No 2 found the perfect recipe on BBC Good Food which she often uses as a resource (when she's not using her mother's blog!). I'm not putting a link as I am not sure which one she used - I am checking but I can't see hers as I see ingredients that we didn't have. But they all sound just yummy. You can't go wrong with Good Food. Whichever recipe she used, it was exactly what I had in mind: spicy but not too much so!

So all in all, it was a perfect Assos BBQ thanks to everybody's efforts!


I highly recommend roasting the vegetables in the oven like this: easy, can be prepared in advance, extremely tasty especially if, like me, you enjoy your veggies, and finally, a colourful, appetising side dish to serve family and friends alike. 

Try it next time!

Afiyet olsun!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Monthly Market Update: What's In and What's Not in the Turkish Pazars

July 2015: Assos

Yes, we are in Assos, the ancient village known nowadays as Behramkale which overlooks the beautiful Aegean and the Greek island of Lesbos.

Friday was market day. It is held every Friday, rain or shine, summer or winter, simultaneously in the nearby towns of Ayvacık and Küçükküyü which are equidistant from here. I find them both very attractive in their different ways: the former is much more traditional and there you will find colourful Yörük women often with their children bound to their backs in age-old fashion who enrich the scene considerably. The latter market in the small seaside town of Küçükküyü is a totally different scene. For a start the local population consists mostly of retirees from the big cities eg teachers so the market has a more upbeat feel to it. I wouldn't like to call it sophisticated but it definitely has a different vibe to the first market.

Guess which one I prefer to go to? Yes, you guessed it! I almost always shop at Ayvacık market as I love the buzz and colour of market day which the villagers who come in from miles around bring to it. It's as traditional as it gets.

What does this new, warmer season have to offer?

loads of wonderful fresh herbs: dill and parsley
green peppers of all kinds

The sheer abundance is a feast to the eye.
there was a lot of samphire at the market...

the sign says Local barbun - which is what these attractive red beans are called. They are  very
popular cooked the traditional way in olive oil.

I think this post is going to be mostly photos:

at last! all the summer vegetables! peppers, Çanakkale tomatoes, courgettes ....
Fruit-wise, there are still loads of cherries but now we are starting to see peaches and nectarines. The apricots are absolutely delicious - buy them now and make some tarts. That's what I am doing. You will see melons around as well but in my experience, you either have to have a well-trusted source or just be plain lucky. Most of them are pretty tasteless. And if you disagree with me, you don't know how fabulous melons used to taste.

The prices at both markets are fantastic, especially in Ayvacık. Everything costs more or less one lira per kilo, per bunch etc.

And re my fridge situation which I briefly touched on in a recent post: new Bosch is on its way... can't wait. Watch this space. 

Here in Assos we are eating fresh fish when we go out. As I am sure you are aware, there is an official fishing ban on at the moment (it will end in September) so most fish in restaurants in Istanbul will be either frozen or farmed. Here, it is caught in local waters by fishermen in their little fishing boats, which is fine. Tonight we had iskorpit, apparently called scorpion fish in English. Distinctive taste and very well cooked in a broth: buğlama. However, I do think my favourite way of cooking - and eating - fish is grilled/ızgara.

So at last, everything has changed and we are truly into summer vegetables and fruits. No more greenhouse tomatoes or eggplants from Antalya.  Summer is late this year but at long last, everything is responding to the season ...

We've waited long enough.

a yörük woman bargaining for tomatoes

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Potato & Bulgur Patties with Onion and Fresh Herbs/Patatesli Bulgurlu Köfte

We are in our Aegean village of Assos and after a wobbly start weatherwise, we are all finally settling into summer mode.

If you let it, food can be something of an issue here: more people in the house, less sophisticated shops and markets than in the big city, and generally everything less convenient. But the plus point, of course, is the splendid markets bursting with the freshest of fruit and vegetables, often from the stallholder's own garden, fields, or orchards and also much cheaper than Istanbul.

By now, I know many of the local market women in nearby Ayvacık so it's nice to go back and say Merhaba! How are you, Nasılsın, how have you been?

I saw this lady today: same stall, same location, same welcome ...

But a trip to the market entails bringing back kilos of fresh produce which puts a strain on space in the fridge and actually much of it has to be dealt with pretty promptly. I'm actually considering upgrading our fridge as we speak....

These days the pressure is off to a certain extent because trucks brimming with produce come round to the village a couple of evenings a week so it's easy to top up with potatoes or whatever else one is in danger of running out of.

one of the weekly trucks in our village of Behramkale/Assos

All this aside, pulses still play a role in daily menu-planning. Lentils and bulgur are key. I thought I would try out these patties or köfte when after a quick skim-through, I saw the ingredients included the familiar fine-grained bulgur combined with potato, a perennial favourite in this household! A big plus was that you can make them in advance and they can wait in the fridge. They are prepared beforehand and served cold as a side dish, you see.The flavours of many of these Turkish dishes always mingle better if left to sit a while.

potato & bulgur patties/patatesli bulgurlu köfte

This particular recipe is from Ozlem's Turkish Table, one of my favourite sources of inspiration. While it works perfectly OK as a recipe, the general comment here at home was that the flavouring needed to be more pronounced. This is what I tend to feel generally about pulses: they are great, healthy and economical but they can be bland if the seasonings are not well-adjusted. Maybe on a personal level, we just like our meze to have real oomph!

Here's the recipe for 
Potato & Bulgur Patties/Patatesli Bulgurlu Köfte


Serves 8-10

175g/6oz/1 cup fine-grained bulgur/köftelik bulgur
4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
45-60ml/3-4 tbsp olive oil
3 spring onions, finely chopped
handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped ( I also added some chopped dill)
½ tbsp red pepper paste/biber salcası (optional)
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes/pul biber
2 tsp/10ml ground cumin/toz kimyon
8fl oz/1 cup hot water
salt and ground black pepper to taste
extra chopped parsley/dill to garnish

Bowl of cold water to wet your hands


  • In a large bowl, combine the bulgur, red pepper paste, red pepper flakes and spring onion. Mix well with your hands. This will help the paste and spice to really blend in with the bulgur and onion. Add the hot water to the mixture and give a good stir. Leave aside for about 15 minutes and stir once in a while so that the water will be well absorbed.
  • Boil the potatoes in salted water until cooked, and drain. In a separate bowl, mash them with the cumin. Add the olive oil, salt and ground pepper and knead with your hands until smooth. Stir the potato mixture into the bulgur, add the chopped parsley and mix well with your hands. Check the seasoning and add more salt if necessary. Have the bowl of water ready by your side. Wet your hands with the water and take a walnut-sized amount of the mixture and mould into a patty shape. Place the patties side by side on a serving dish.
  • Cover with cling-film and place in the fridge until required. NB remember to bring to room temperature before eating.
Further NB: the potato and bulgur patties can be served on a bed of lettuce leaves or with a dipping sauce of pomegranate molasses and olive oil.

Afiyet olsun!


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