Nearly everyone I know who has visited Turkey raves about its cuisine. Oh, the country is really beautiful, they say, and the shopping bazaars, where you can find everything, from herbs and spices to intricately woven carpets, are fantastic.
But above all, they’d always recommend the food. Characterized by the liberal use of olive oil, fresh herbs and spices, Turkish cuisine is one of the most appealing and flavorful.
All of which has made me want to put a trip to Turkey on my bucket list.
But until that happens, I must content myself with tasting Turkish cuisine elsewhere—in Sydney, for instance, where there’s a large Turkish population (and where the doner kebabs I had were excellent), or even in Makati, where a Turkish restaurant has magically appeared amid the rows of Chinese, Japanese and Italian restaurants.
Recently I had another chance to taste Turkish food, when Makati Shangri-La included an exquisite array of Turkish dishes in the lunch and dinner buffet of Circles restaurant. Among them: shish kebab (skewers of grilled chicken), roasted lamb, sebzeli musakka (thin layers of vegetables topped with kasseri cheese), mint labneh (a minty yoghurt dip) as well as baklava and rice pudding for desserts.
As part of their Turkish food promotion, the hotel brought in two guest chefs from the Shangri-La Bosphorus in Istanbul. Chefs Harun Imre and Ramazan Edrem not only supervised the preparation of Turkish food, they also conducted a cooking class.
One of the recipes they prepared was shepherd’s salad, a heady mix of cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, hot chili peppers, Kalamata olives and onions all tossed with a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon (if this is what shepherds eat, they must be a contented lot).
The chefs also showed us how to make octopus salad—using the humongous octopus they brought in from Turkey—as well as spicy tomato marmalade, stuffed cabbage rolls and candied pumpkin.
And then there were the stuffed eggplants with minced meat. Being a shameless fan of eggplants, I lost no time in trying the recipe in my own kitchen, and to my delight, I found I could easily replicate the chefs’ recipe.
In fact this dish is easier to prepare than rellenong talong, and it’s perfect for busy weeknight dinners. Making the dish more flavorful are the olive oil and lemon juice drizzled on the beef just before serving (for best results use good quality olive oil).
Here’s the recipe—be sure to save it because once you’ve tasted the dish, you’ll want to add it to your list of reliable recipes.
Turkish Stuffed Eggplants
4-5 pieces long eggplants
1 ¼ c olive oil, divided
2 onions, diced
1 whole head garlic, chopped
½ k ground beef
½ c diced parsley
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 green chili peppers, diced
1 c water
3 tbsp tomato paste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Dash of sugar
For the garnish:
1 tomato, sliced lengthwise
1 green chili pepper, sliced
Slice each eggplant crosswise into three logs or barrel shapes (discard the stems). You should have about 12 to 15 pieces. Peel only the center of each sliced eggplant, leaving the edges unpeeled (see photo).
Poke a few holes in each eggplant slice so it gets cooked faster. In a frying pan, heat one cup of the olive oil and fry eggplant slices until slightly tender. Remove the eggplants from the oil and transfer to plates lined with paper towels or absorbent paper.
In another pan, heat remaining ¼ cup of the olive oil and sauté the onions then the garlic. Add the beef and cook until brown. Stir in the parsley, tomatoes and green chili peppers. Pour in the water and tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Simmer until the ground beef is almost dry. Remove from the heat.
Arrange the eggplants on their sides and slit the top part to make an opening. With the back of a spoon, flatten the surface of each eggplant to create space for the filling. Sprinkle lightly with salt and sugar. Spoon some of the cooked ground beef into each eggplant. Garnish each with a slice of green chili pepper and tomato. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice before serving. Makes five to six servings.
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The green chilies make this dish spicy. For a non-spicy version, remove the seeds from the chilies before using.
You can serve any leftover meat filling separately, or store it for later use. It can be used to make a meat tortilla, soup or as part of a tomato sauce for pasta.