Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hands-on Geography - Learning about Turkey

One of the challenges of homeschooling is trying to make learning fun - yet educational.  During the past week, the girls and I have been learning about Turkey (the country...not the bird).  I checked out several cookbooks from the library and selected some recipes that we could make. 

One of the favorite meals we had was Turkish Lamb and Tomato Pizza -also known as Lahmacun.  The recipe came from the cookbook From Tapas to Meze: First Courses from the Mediterranean Shores of Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Turkish Lamb and Tomato Pizza -also known as Lahmacun

Here's the recipe:

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons butter, melted (I used dairy-free butter)
2 tablespoons olive oil (I used vegetable oil)
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 pound ground lamb (I used ground beef)
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped, and drained or 1 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped (I didn’t peel or seed the Roma tomatoes)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
Large pinch of ground cinnamon
Large pinch of ground allspice
Large pinch of ground cloves
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (I didn’t use this)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons butter, melted (I didn’t use this)


Combine the yeast and ¼ cup lukewarm water in a bowl and mix well. Let stand 10 minutes until the yeast is dissolved. Add the remaining lukewarm water, butter, olive oil, salt, and flour. Mix well. Knead 7-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl and turn the dough over to coat the top with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, 1 hour.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the onions until soft, 10 minutes. Add the lamb, tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, pine nuts, spices, red pepper, ½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper and cook slowly, uncovered, 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and mix well.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Divide the dough into 15 egg-size pieces on a floured board. Flatten with your hands or roll each piece of dough into a circle 5-6 inches in diameter. Place close together on an oiled baking sheet and let rest for 10 minutes. (Note: We didn’t let the dough rest for 10 minutes.)

Spread 1 heaping tablespoon of filling on top of each circle of dough, going right up to the edges. Brush the pizzas lightly with melted butter.

Bake the pizzas 8-10 minutes, until very lightly golden around the edges but still soft enough to roll.

Makes 15 small pizzas to serve 6-8.

The dough is very good – incredibly soft and different from the pizza dough that we’ve made from scratch. The pine nuts have an interesting texture to the pizza. We used ground beef instead of lamb because ground lamb was not available at either the grocery store or meat market…plus it is $12 per pound which is WAY too expensive to pay for meat.

Little Cheese Fillo Rolls

Little Cheese Fillo Rolls - Peynirli Sigara Böregi
(Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey & Lebanon)

These dainty little rolls, or “cigars,” make ideal appetizers and canapés. The cheese used is beyaz peynir, or “white cheese,” which is salty and much like feta cheese.

Use large sheets of fillo measuring about 19 inches × 12 inches, cut into strips, but if the fillo sheets are too thin, the pastry is liable to tear and the filling to burst out during the cooking. In that case, use 2 strips together, brushing with butter in between. You will then need to double the number of sheets.

If possible, use only one strip, as it makes for a lighter pastry. Serve the rolls hot. They can be made in advance and reheated.

Yield : MAKES 16 ROLLS


7 ounces feta cheese, mashed with a fork
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons chopped mint or dill (I used mint)
8 large sheets of filo
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted (I used dairy-free butter)


For the filling, mix the mashed feta with the egg and chopped mint or dill.

Take out the sheets of fillo only when you are ready to use them since they dry out quickly. Cut them into 4 rectangles measuring about 12 inches × 4½ to 5 inches and put them in a pile on top of each other. Brush the top strip lightly with melted butter.

Take a tablespoon of filling. Place it at one short end of the strip in a thin sausage shape along the edge, about ¾ inch from it and ¾ inch from the side edges. Roll up the fillo with the filling inside, like a cigar. Fold in the ends about one-third of the way along to trap the filling, and then continue to roll.

Do the same with the remaining strips of fillo and cheese filling. Place the cigars, seam side down, on a baking sheet and brush the tops with melted butter. Bake at 300°F for 30 minutes, or until crisp and golden.

We all enjoyed these little cheese rolls. These could easily be made dairy-free by replacing the Feta cheese with dairy-free cream cheese. We all liked the flakiness of the fillo which was a nice change from the heavier pastry/dough used to make egg rolls.

Olivia squeezing juice out of two lemons to make Kisir

Another item we made is called kisir.  It's a traditional dish of bulgur and tomato and is very easy to make.  It's packed with fresh mint and parsley, is very tasty and filling.  It is good served at room temperature or chilled. 

In some Turkish households, kisir is offered to guests before tea is served.  On these occasions, the kisir is spooned onto vine leaves and is accompanied by slices of tomato and some pickles. 

Here's the version of kisir that Sophia, Olivia, and I made (it's on the right side of the picture - right in front of Sophia's plate):

Turkish lunch with kisir, taze ezmesi, crackers,
fresh blackberries, and peaches.

We also made taze ezmesi.  The Turkish word taze means fresh, which is exactly what this dish is - a mixture of chopped fresh vegetables. 

Sophia peeling a tomato for taze ezmesi

Popular in kebab houses, taze ezmesi makes a delicious snack or appetizer, and is good served with chunks of warm, crusty bread, toasted pita, or crackers (we had lavash crackers).

 Taze ezmesi

The first two recipes (the Turkish pizza and the fillo rolls) are ones that I'm including the 52 Weeks of Baking cookbook that I'm making for the girls.  I'm on Week 44 right now...only 8 more weeks to go and I've completed a year-long project of trying new baking recipes each week, taking a photograph of the item baked, and writing life lessons for the girls based on what I baked that week. 


Silver Rose said...

Those look great! What a great way to make education fun and emersive!

Very Verdant said...

I absolutely love this all inclusive idea of learning. It is great to experience different cultures right in your own home. I also love the 52 weeks of baking idea.My have to try that myself.;0)