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The egg is the most flattering of partners. Berrin Torolsan makes light work of Turkish classics, from succulent meatloaf to silky meringues, from tangy sauces to honeyed crêpes.
I was very young. I have a blurred memory, like a dream, of going with my grandfather into the chicken pen. He picked up an egg which had just been laid, made a hole in the shell with a pin removed from the collar of his jacket, and sucked. Then he took another egg, made a hole with the pin, and offered it to me. The egg was still warm. I cannot remember if I liked it or not. I have even forgotten what it tasted like.
This was my first encounter with a real egg. I imagine this must be how Homo sapiens first came to know eggs – long before he had learnt to domesticate animals, and to milk them, and long before he discovered grain and how to make bread. He simply gathered whatever nature offered. Water and eggs, not being restricted, like roots or fruit, by climate and geography, were two things that everyone shared.
My second, less cloudy, memory is of the red- and green-dyed eggs that we used to receive from our Greek neighbours at Easter time in Istanbul. Cracking a shell and finding inside a slightly tinted hard-boiled egg was like magic. Concealing life within them, eggs are indeed magical things, although we lose sight of the magic when we buy a carton of eggs in a supermarket, stamped only with their sell-by date and size. They are so much a part of our diet that we take them for granted.
A superb source of protein, vitamins and minerals, the makes a nourishing meal in itself. But it is so versatile – binding, thickening, enriching, lifting – that for centuries masters of great dishes have owed their success to it. It both combines and flatters. It heals and beautifies, too. Athletes swear by raw eggs, as thei did in antiquity. Singers and orators swallow raw egg yolks to soothe and protect their throats. And both yolks and whites have been widely used for medicinal purposes and in cosmetics.
Turkish cuisine, like every other cuisine in the world, has innumerable egg-based recipes. In the past Turkish chefs used eggs in enormous quantities, whole, separated, or beaten, for both sweet and savoury dishes. A recipe for Yumurta Lokumu (Egg Delight) in a Turkish pudding cookery book of 1828 reads: ‘First collect 120 egg whites in a basin.’…
Recipes in this issue: Yumurta Dolması (Savoury Eggs) Mercan Yuvası (Stuffed Eggs) Kaygana (Spring Omlette) Ispanaklı Yumurta (Eggs with Spinach) Saray Usulu Yumurta (Oeufs à la Sérail or Moonshine Eggs) Menemen (Scrambled Eggs with Cheese, Tomoto and Pepper) Ekşili Köfte (Tangy Meatballs) Balık Çorbası (Fish Soup)
Rulo Köfte (Meatloaf with Eggs)
Ingredients: 4 egg; 1 or 2 slices stale bread, soaked in water; 500g minced lamb or veal; 1 medium onion (grated); 2 teaspoons cumin powder; 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper; salt; 1 cup parsley (chopped); 1 tablespoon olive oil
The French have a similar dish, roasted in an elegant pastry coating, which is called Paté de Paques.
1 Boil 3 eggs for 10 minutes, stirring gently. Shell and set aside.
2 Squeeze dry the soaked bread and place in a mixing bowl and add all the ingredients except the hard-boiled eggs and olive oil. Knead the mixture with one hand until it holds when shaped into a ball.
3 Transfer the ball to a previously buttered roasting-tray and flatten with your palms to a rectangle. Place the shelled eggs in the centre end to end. Fold the meat mixture over the eggs and press together to seal them in a loaf shape.
4 Brush the surface with olive oil and roast in a hot oven for 20 minutes. Serve sliced like a cake, hot or cold, with plenty of green salad.
In the rain forests of Turkey’s Black Sea Mountains, where jackals howl and the River Firtina (the Storm) crashes towards the Black Sea, live the Hemşinli people, who were here when Jason came in search of the Golden Fleece. In more recent years they prospered as bakers and restaurateurs in Tsarist Russia, returning to their beautiful, haunting country houses hidden in the hills east of Trabzon. Patrica Daunt visits one family and shares their memories of a Chekovian rural life.
Also see Cornucopia 34, Land of a Thousand Mansions
Outside the seraglio, away from the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie, the Turkish interior is a source of inspiration for modern designers: ergonomic, minimalist, refreshingly white-washed.
Beyond the towering Black Sea Mountains lies a hidden landscape rich with forgotten medieval churches. For centuries they were ignored, their ancient glories allowed to crumble to dust. Before new roads reached the Coruh Valley, Brian Sewell had to enlist the help of shepherds on his quest to find these forerunners of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
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