Sunday, May 07, 2006

Turkish Adventure

My eldest daughter spent the summer of 2005 working at Space Camp in Izmir, Turkey. (see Links in the left-hand sidebar) One of the gifts she brought home was a Turkish cookbook: 77 traditional recipes with pictures.

I like pictures. Saves writing a thousand words.

The first thing I did was to lose the cookbook for nearly a year. It simply grew legs and walked off. Good-bye ezme, good-bye imam bayildi.

Until this weekend when like Jason in Haloween 45 it surfaced in my closet and screamed “Cook me!”

That brings me to the subject of lamb and my first question is this:

When did lamb replace gold as the standard for our currency? Hmmm?

I have heard of lamb bullion but this is ridiculous. Currently, or should I say currency, lamb is more costly than filet mignon.

That. Is. Just. Wrong.

Beef should be King of the Meats, not laaaamb. I mean we’re talking about great thundering herds of cattle on the hoof, Rawhide, get along little doggie and what made the West and why men were men and the Blazing Saddles campfire scene all that versus what?

A goat? Baaaaa.

No wonder there were range wars, I’m ready to take on a shepherd right now! Bring it on, wool-boy!

But, really, $17 a pound for “lamb?” Something is wrong in the Universe.

The very wise (I bow down at the mention of her name, I am so unworthy) Julia Child said the same thing about artichokes.

Bear with me on this.

A classic way to prepare the artichoke is to top the tail and end, trim the leaves around the fat bit near the stalk, and, eventually, discard the top leaves and the choke leaving a small disc of very tasty artichoke meat. Julia notes that preparing the artichoke in this manner assumes you can buy them for literally a dime a dozen, not $3.79 EACH.

Getting back to lamb it’s clearly a case of supply and demand. With the nation producing one goat per year it’s no wonder his stringy little carcass goes for top dollar.

And all that, believe it or not, brings us to tonight’s recipe: braised lamb with mushrooms Turkish style.

Except I substituted butterfly pork chops for the lamb. I think I made my case and, besides, pork is the new lamb. Think “baaaaaaaoink” and you’re there. Of course, in doing so I've offended all the Muslims and Jews of the world, roughly a billiion people, to whom I say "Can't you do something about the price of lamb in America?" We need to work together on this. I'm serious.

Here’s the blueprint:

2 large butterfly pork chops cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped very coarsely
4 cloves garlic, smashed
bunch of mushrooms, quartered
3-4 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 jalapeno peppers, halved, seedless

Season the pork with salt, pepper and a dredge of ground cinnamon.

Saute the pork in some butter, add the onions and garlic, sauté some more, add the mushrooms.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375 F and prepare some chicken stock or vegetable stock or any stock you have. About 1 ½ cups.

When the pork is browned transfer to an ovenproof dish, add the stock, toss in the jalapenos and tomatoes and place in the oven.

Cook until liquid is reduced and contents are brown, about an hour or 90 minutes.

Here’s the blueprint for rice and chickpeas:

1 cup uncooked rice
knob of butter
can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
stick of cinnamon
2 cups stock
sliced tomatoes
farmers cheese (optional)

Cook the rice in butter until lightly browned. Add the stock carefully as it will boil instantly and splatter everywhere. Add chickpeas, cover and cook normally for rice.

Prior to serving, transfer the rice mixture to an oven proof dish, garnish with some sliced tomatoes and grated cheese (if desired) and broil until heated through.

I’ve got some Mexican farmers cheese that I’m going to try.

Here’s the blueprint for an invention I’m going to try:

1 bag spinach
1 handful salted almonds, chopped
farmers cheese

Cook the spinach in a tablespoon of water (more steam than boil) being very careful not to scorch. Add the almonds and cheese. Toss and serve. This might go well with some chopped red bell pepper or pimentos.

And that’s it for Turkish Adventure night. Too bad about the lamb. The pork will benefit from the braising treatment.

Braise or broil, what’s up with that?

Broiling involves placing the meat on a pan or skewer and holding it right over the heat. Birds and fatty meats broil best because they provide a lot of intrinsic moisture and, if you’re careful, won’t dry out. However, if drying happens there’s always the magic of gravy.

Braising involves submerging the meat half-way in a liquid and cooking at a moderately high temperature. Pot roast, for example is best braised because it’s a tough cut of meat and benefits from the moisture of braising.


After dinner I asked the loaded question: How was it?

"Very nice and different!" came the replies, "...but..."

"But, what?"

"Well, the pork was nicely done, but I have this nagging feeling it would have been better with lamb."

Slowly I turned...

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