Istanbul can only be described as a feast for all the senses. As the only city that crosses over two continents it really is a destination packed with all types of Turkish delights.
For the eyes you have the magnificent scenery. Hundreds of beautifully built mosques dotted like jewels around the coastline of the sun-reflected bright blue Bosphorus. And what about the 1500 year-old Hagia Sofia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its low hung chandeliers and ancient Christian mosaics which are, without a doubt, the must-see sight of the city.
Your ears are filled with the sound of car horns (the traffic in Istanbul is unimaginable), the voices of the Grand Bazaar traders and the prayer calls bellowing out from each of the magnificent mosques. These noises blend together to form a soundtrack to the city.
For your taste buds you have the bitter, velvety Turkish coffee and the honey tasting tea served in miniature vase shaped glass teacups. Not to mention the intense syrupy taste of traditional Turkish pastries, baklava, which provide a perfect end to every meal.
I would say your sense of smell experiences a journey like no other. The scent of freshly made kebabs and freshly cooked bread makes you hungry even when you’ve just eaten.
And finally, for the sense of touch. Your skin rejoices under the beautiful Mediterranean sun followed by the indescribable relaxation found in the traditional Turkish baths and hammams.
Istanbul, what an experience. As you can tell I loved every minute of it. A week was too short, I could easily have stayed for another. However the highlight, apart from a week away with N of course, was, without a doubt, my Turkish cooking class. Hidden away in the old town of Sultanahmet, nestled behind the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, was a cute little restaurant owned by a lovely lady named Eveline. This was the setting of my journey into the world of Turkish cuisine. Cooking Alaturka (www.cookingalaturka.com) provided us with the use of a real working restaurant kitchen, traditional recipes and carefully selected ingredients to prepare six delicious dishes.
We started with a hot yoghurt soup infused with dried mint, also known as a ‘meadow soup’. To follow we made runner beans cooked in olive oil with onion, garlic and tomatoes. This was delicious and definitely one I will be adding to my repertoire. We served it with delicate courgette, herb and cheese fritters. Next course was traditional lamb stew in a tomato based sauce accompanied with a smoky aubergine puree. And finally, the piece de resistance, walnut-stuffed figs cooked in syrup. This was definitely my favourite dish and one I can’t wait to make again: tiny pieces of walnut hidden in deliciously sweet figs. I can’t think of a better way to end a meal…except Turkish tea and baklava of course!
If you do go to Turkey, or any other country for that matter, I urge you to sign up to a cooking class. It’s such a wonderful way to learn something about the local culture and you get to bring home a skill to help you recreate your holiday again and again.
Walnut-stuffed figs in syrup
(serves 6 | prep and cooking time approximately 50 minutes)
12-18 dried figs (soft as possible)
½ litre of water
The juice and peel of ¼ lemon
12-18 cloves (approximately 1 for each fig)
Grated coconut and ground pistachio for serving
· Prepare the syrup by bringing the water, sugar, cloves, lemon juice and peel to the boil
· In the meantime put a knife into the side of a fig and cut through to a point a little beyond the centre. Then turn the knife in a way that a little less than half the fig gets opened on its side (you are basically making a pocket)
· Stuff the opened fig with half a walnut or the equivalent in smaller pieces. Place the bulbous side of the walnut under the stem of the fig
· Close the fig back up making the sides stick together
· Repeat the process with the rest of the figs
· Add all the figs with their stem facing up into the boiling syrup. Simmer for about 30 minutes
· Turn them mid-way through the cooking process and then turn them back again 5 minutes before the end, to give some colour on each side
· Take the heat off and let the figs cool in the syrup
· Transfer the figs onto a plate, leaving the syrup behind
· Decorate with ground pistachios and grated coconut