I’ve eaten more than my fair share of north London Turkish (Crystal Kebabs, I’m talking about you) but not really explored this huge country’s cuisine. Kalkan, on the western Mediterranean coast, is billed by Lonely Planet as an ‘epicurean centre’, which is laying it on a bit thick. However, it is home to a cooking school at Guru’s Place, a largely vegetarian family run restaurant on the edge of town overlooking the sea on two sides, and me and The Man signed up for a lunchtime course.
Our host and “head chef” Husseyin has his face on the big poster spruiking the place but it’s really his mum who’s boss. They both warmly welcomed us to Guru’s with Husseyin translating for his mum. Slightly unnervingly we had the place to ourselves because it was low season.
Our lesson was making shakshuka, a sort of Turkish ratatouille and homestyle favourite. We weren’t given amounts or volumes for the ingredients; Husseyin said his mum does it by eye and taste but the most important thing is to make it big! No cooking for two here – make an army size batch, or go home!
The process we were taught is:
deep fry in olive oil in this order: cubed potato, peeled and cubed eggplant and chopped green pepper (capsicum). Yes, deep fry in lots of olive oil. This is crucial to the taste.
as each vegetable is ready, lay it in a large flameproof casserole or baking dish.
then in a separate pan, fry chopped onion in more olive oil and when soft add peeled, chopped tomatoes and garlic. Add some paprika for colour and salt. Simmer for a good while to break down the tomatoes to a consistent sauce.
when a nice sauce has developed, pour the tomato-onion sauce over the vegetables and heat through so the flavours mingle and it all gets to know each other on a low-medium flame for about 15 mins.
let it sit for a while. In some parts of Turkey, shakshuka is served as a cold starter, so it doesn’t need to be piping hot.
Meanwhile, prepare a prepare a pilaf of bulgur wheat by soaking it for 10 mins and then drain. Fry more onions in more olive oil and, when soft, add the bulgur and stir to break any lumps and coat in the oniony oil. Add a nice lump of butter, stir through, and then add enough water to cook (sorry I know this is imprecise!). Put the lid on, turn the heat down and let the bulgur cook/ steam till soft.
Serve the shakshuka on the warm (not hot!) pilaf with yoghurt.