Can a Lifelong Learning class expand your repertoire in the kitchen? Frequent Lifelong student Marianne Nolte hoped to find the answer, and writes about her experience in Introduction to Turkish Cuisine:
Over the last couple years, I’ve been making a concerted effort to improve my cooking skills. (I’ve called this Project Cookwell.) I wanted to move past my old standbys, try more ethnic cuisine, and generally liven up my cooking routine. (I’ve also tried to quit cutting off the tips of my fingers with sharp knives, but so far I’ve been pretty unsuccessful.)
Throughout Project Cookwell, I’ve tackled lots of dishes I thought were out of my reach, but there were still three items that eluded me: eggplant, dumplings, and phyllo dough. And then Introduction to Turkish Cuisine dropped out of the heavens! I enrolled immediately because the menu for the evening happened to be stuffed eggplant, Turkish dumplings, and baklava. It was meant to be.
Our first dish for the evening was karniyarik, a stuffed eggplant that literally translates to “open stomach.” Our instructor,Esen, walked us through the secrets of eggplant: first, select small eggplants. Her favorites are about the size of a lightbulb, not the great football-sized beasts I was imagining. Second, peel them, salt them, and let them sit. The salt makes them sweat out their moisture. Third, brush off the salt and then fry them hot, hot, hot. They’ll have less chance to soak up oil and become rubbery. We filled the fried eggplants with a sausage and onion mixture, and then popped them in the oven to bake. Easy eggplant! Who knew?
The second dish was manti, which are dumplings filled with sausage and spices. In the past I’ve been afraid my dumpling dough will be too thick and that I’ll undercook them. Esen, however, demystified these delicacies. The dough is simply flour, salt, and water, worked until a firm mass forms. Then, we rolled balls of dough into nickel-thick sheets, cut them into squares, and filled them by hand. They’re definitely a labor of love—each dumpling is itty-bitty, so all the students had a chance to talk as we filled countless manti. Once the dumplings were formed, we cooked them for ten minutes or so in boiling water, and dressed them with a yogurt-chili sauce.
On to baklava! I have always struggled to make store-bought phyllo dough work just right. (And one time I managed to make it catch fire in the oven.) Esen had good tips on working with phyllo. First, don’t open the package until the last second. When you do, unroll it completely, remove your working sheet, and keep the rest covered with a damp towel. This will keep them pliable. Turkish baklava is made in cylinders, and is sweetened with a simple syrup, rather than honey. It’s easy to make, and of course delicious!
The best part of class? Esen’s friends each brought dish to share, so we got to sample not only what we made, but also bulgur salad, pilav, and sarma (stuffed grape leaves). I left the class with a head full of tips and tricks, and a new desire to take Project Cookwell to the next level!