Friday, July 29, 2011

Tuscan Bean Soup with Cauliflower

1C navy or great northern beans, soaked in cold water over night,
  Rinsed well
6 – 8C chicken stock
1 Tbsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 bay leaf
1C pureed tomatoes
1/4C Italian parsley leaves, chopped
1/2C fresh corn kernels (optional)
2C baby spinach leaves
½ head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the beans in a large pot with chicken stock, thyme, basil oregano, onion, celery and bay leaf.  Bring to a simmer and simmer until beans are tender – about 45 minutes. 

Place the cauliflower florets on a cookie sheet and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.  Roast in a 400F oven until tender, turning once.

Add the pureed tomatoes, Italian parsley, corn and spinach to the soup and bring to a simmer.  Add the cauliflower and heat.  Serve hot.
MAKES:  8 servings

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Arabian Eggplant Stew

1/2C chickpeas, soaked overnight, drained, simmered in chicken stock
  until tender, peeled
1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Japanese eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
one yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 – 2 tsp. Mediterranean spices
pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1/4C white wine
1-1/2C whole tomatoes, pureed
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

Heat olive oil in a sauté pan; add the eggplant cubes and sauté 3 – 4 minutes.  Add the onion slices, spices and red pepper flakes and sauté until soft.  Add the garlic.  Add the white wine and reduce to 2 tablespoons.  Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and cook until thickened.  Stir in the chickpeas and basil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
MAKES:  6 – 8 servings


Turkey – April 2011
It was a long, rainy drive from Aleppo, Syria to Turkey but the countryside along the way was lush green and soo lovely.  Once we crossed the border it seemed we had arrived in a Western country.  We stopped in the fairly large city of Urfa for a delicious lunch of spicy lamb adana kebabs/pita bread/tomatoes and onions and then had an hour of free time to explore.  I visited the citadel for a great view of the city but it was almost to cold to do more.  We changed into long skirts, required for our visit to the homestay, and Omar drove us to the little Kurdish village of Yuvacali where he and his British wife Allison now live.  We sat on the floor of the living room and Allison told us of her decision to follow Omar from their beautiful apartment in Istanbul back to his Kurdish village in the hills to help the people.  Our hostess prepared a delicious meal of lentil soup, lahmacun (flatbread filled with spicy meat, folded over and cooked on the griddle outside) and cold juicy oranges.  We slept on mattresses spread out on the floor and used the outhouse outside.  In the morning each of us took a turn at rolling out bread, cooking it on the wood fired “oven” and then communally we all spread it with honey, homemade sheep’s cheese and jam for breakfast. 

Later that morning, we took nice walk through the surrounding countryside amidst the pottery fragments everywhere and then Omar drove us to the ferry which took us across the water to a little village where we had lunch in a private home.  We ate cucumber/tomato salad, bulgur rice pilaf, eggplant chicken stew served in platters set on a table cloth spread on the floor.  At 4 p.m., dressed in everything I had brought with me, we climbed Mt. Nemrut.   The mountain was blanketed in snow but since it was not “snowing” we were allowed to climb to the summit.  Antiochos I built this famous sanctuary of colossal heads as a funerary monument.  On the Eastern terrace there are stone bodies of eagles, lions, Alexander the great, etc. and the heads are on a level below.  It was very impressive as you can imagine!!!  We stayed in a nearby hotel and luckily had an electric heater in our room which kept us warm throughout the night.

After a nice hearty breakfast we drove to Goreme.  On our way we stopped at the underground city of Kaymakli, one of 36 in the Cappadocia and the widest, and visited 4 of its 8 storeys.  Underground cities were constructed for security reasons and their chambers (chapels, silos, cellars, etc.) are linked by corridors and narrow staircases.  We checked into Hotel Kose in Goreme and had some free time to wander the streets and climb among the breathtaking “fairy chimneys”, awesome valleys and rock formations created from the erosion of rain and wind.  A meze platter for dinner at Nazar Bork consisted of roasted eggplant, roasted peppers, feta cheese, yogurt cheese and pita bread and then a few local guys picked up some instruments and played some wonderful Turkish music…

In the morning I took a walk around town and saw some of the hot air balloons floating above the rock formations.  We all met a 9 a.m. for a lovely walk up into the rocks where hidden caves housed churches with frescoed ceilings, pillars and altars.  Lunch at Nazar Bork and a piece of his delicious baklava and then we met at a carpet shop next door for a very enlightening commentary on the different kinds of rugs made in turkey.  Dinner at Fat Boys.

A 20 minute walk from the center of town, the Open-air Museum is a world heritage site is a must see.  It is filled with rock-cliff byzantine churches, chapels and monasteries.  It is easy to spendt the whole morning just wandering around.  After lunch we took the local bus to Ankara where we caught the 10 p.m. overnight train to Istanbul.  I was surprised how elegant the restaurant in the train station was and thoroughly enjoyed my chicken kebab/rice dinner before we boarded. 

The train arrived about 7:30 a.m. in Istanbul and we walked to the hotel, our last stop as a group.  By this time we were more than ready to go our separate ways – at least I know I was!!!  My Hotel Sapphire (  was just around the corner and it was a perfect choice for many reasons, i.e. great location, friendly staff, delicious buffet breakfast, quiet and reasonable room.  My room was not ready when I arrived so they offered me breakfast while I waited.  After the overnight train ride and the freezing cold weather I was delighted to enjoy fresh scones, cheeses, honey, olives, tomatoes, eggs, fruit, coffee, etc. etc. in the nice warm dining room before showering and heading out into the great city of Istanbul.

The blue mosque was my first stop as it dominates the skyline with its six minarets.  Construction was started in 1609 and it took 7 years to complete.  Inside the high ceiling is lined with the 20,000 blue tiles that give the mosque its popular name.  On to the Great Palace Mosaic Museum which houses mosaics from the byzantine period under to decorate the pavement of a peristyle court.  Hunger drove me to the Galata Bridge built in 1992 which spans the Golden Horn.  Nearby there are traditional boats tied to the quay on which fish fillets are grilled and stuffed inside half loaves of bread along with some spices and onions.  You can sit down at a low table overlooking the Bosphoros and enjoy the delicious flavors!!!  The Hagia Sofia was my next stop.  Built between 532 – 537 A.D. by the byzantine emperor, Justinian, it was converted into a mosque in 1453 and points in the direction of Mecca.  It is now a museum and known for its massive dome and incredible mosaics.  I took a bus to the elegant Asitane Restaurant ( for dinner.  After much research, their menu is only comprised of dishes from the of the Ottoman palace kitchens.  I had the Asitane “treats” to start – four little oval spreads, i.e. crushed chickpease w/currants and pinenuts, “lor” cheese blended with rosemary, creamy fava beans and pounded cucumber salad with pistachios, each set atop a cucumber slice, crisp piece of bread, etc.  My “main” course was the crisp cheese bourek filled with olives and walnuts.  A special treat was the guitarist who played soft Turkish music during the evening.

The next day was pouring rain but I decided to visit the Topkapi Palace nevertheless as did many (!!) other people.  This was the official residence of the Ottoman sultans from 1465 – 1856 and is now a museum.  It contains large collections of porcelain, robes, Ottoman miniatures, treasure and jewelry.  Also within the palace are the harem quarters where approximately 300 concubines lived in luxury guarded by eunuchs.  I walked down to the pier and took a ferry across the Bosphoros to Kadokoy on the Asian shore where I had a fabulous lunch at Ciya Sofrasi ( . You can choose what and how much you want from a multitude of delicious dishes.  I had rice, lentils/bulgur, stuffed sun-dried tomatoes, sun-dried spicy cheese, couscous, homemade puffed pita bread for about $3.  Afterwards I wandered in the nearby markets filled with fish, vegetables and pastries and didn’t even mind the rain...Stopped at the covered Grand Bazaar filled with lively shops and people before calling it a day.

After another outstanding buffet breakfast, I took a bus to the incredible Byzantine Chora Church.  It is well worth a visit as its interiors are covered with the world’s finest mosaics and frescos.  After the arrival of the Turks in Istanbul in the 16th century, this church was converted into a mosque, like the Hagia Sophia.  In 1948 it was made into a museum.  Next stop the Islamic Art Museum housed in the restored Palace of Ibrahim Pasa.  Inside are Turkish carpets, illuminated Kur-ans, carved and inlaid wood as well as a fully-furnished nomad’s tent.

The Basilic Cistern was next on my list.  Built in the 6th century to provide water for the city, this cathedral size cistern is an underground chamber now virtually empty of water.   Its walkways and atmospheric lighting were installed in 1990 and soft music plays as you wander about.   By this time I was hungry for another fish sandwich so walked to the Galata Bridge where I sat a few minute and enjoyed my warm lunch.  I took the little tunnel train across to the Beyoglu, the heart of the more modern district of Istanbul, and walked the pedestrian, shopping street of Istiklal Caddesi.  Ambling down the street and off into the little alleyways filled with cafes and bars took about an hour, ending in the
Taksim Square
.  I had spotted a little restaurant on my way so returned to Sofyali 9 for a delicious walnut spread with pita bread, an Israeli couscous salad with peppers and olives and a little warm piece of cheese Bourek.  I ended evening with a long, leisurely walked back to the hotel as the lights lit up the streets.

My last day in Istanbul was spent cruising down the Bosphoros from the Galata Bridge.  The boat passed by beautiful palaces, hotels, grand summer residences built by the Ottomans and little wooden houses turned into restaurants.  We stopped in Anadolu Kavagi for a few hours where I walked up to the Medievel Castle and then relaxed in a restaurant overlooking the sea until the boat cruised back to the pier.  I returned to Ciya Safrasi for my last lunch and it was just as delicious as before.  I bought a little Turkish lamp with some of my remaining lira and had the delicious rice pudding everyone had been telling me about at MADO.  One last look at the Blue Mosque by night and my trip was over…

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Prosciutto Chicken

6 chicken breast halves, skinned and boned
6 slices provolone cheese
12 thin slices prosciutto
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2C chicken stock
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 Tbsp. basil leaves thinly sliced

Salt and pepper the chicken breasts.  Make a slit in the center of each and fill with provolone cheese slices, folding slices over until the fit inside the breast.  Roll breasts around the cheese.  Lay pieces prosciutto on a cutting board, two pieces side by side and wrap each chicken breast in two pieces.

Preheat a cookie sheet in a 400F oven.  Heat a sauté pan, add oil and heat.  Sauté the chicken breasts until golden on all sides.  Transfer to the hot cookie sheet and bake about 10 minutes or until cooked through.

Meanwhile, add chicken stock to the sauté pan and reduce to 2 tablespoons.  Add the butter and turn off the heat.  Whisk the butter until a sauce consistency, add the basil, salt and pepper to taste.

Remove chicken from the oven and slice each in half.  Serve with sauce.
MAKES:  6 servings