While travelling in Turkey, one of my highlights was a cooking course in Istanbul through Cooking Alaturka. The class was a great introduction to both Turkish cuisine and culture. Run by Chef Eveline Zoutendijk, an expatriate Dutch who trained at Cordon Bleu in Paris, as well as Feyzi Yildirim, a Turkish chef, a group of 10 helped to prepare 5 traditional Turkish dishes: Spicy Lentil and bulgur soup with dried mint and red pepper (Ezogelin Çorbası), Green beans in olive oil (Zeytinyağlı Taze Fasulye), Zucchini patties with herbs and cheese (Kabak Mücveri), Lamb stew in tomato sauce on smoky eggplant puree (Hünkar beğendili kuzu) and Walnut-stuffed figs in syrup (İncir Tatlısı).
The venue was perfect for our class. In fact, Chef Eveline designed the kitchen specifically for cooking classes when creating her own restaurant. Chef Eveline leads the majority of the instructions but Chef Feyzi teaches us more hands-on techniques. Both have made this a fun, yet informative cooking class. Chef Eveline’s culinary school background was evident in her teaching – this wasn’t just thrown together for tourists.
This was a hands-on cooking class. However, we didn’t each create every single dish. We shared in the prep work and then came together to create the main meals. My task was to chop red peppers for the lamb stew, which look surprisingly like chili peppers, but that’s what they look like in Turkey: slim, in all their glory. Chef Feyzi showed me how to chop the perfect pepper, with a slight diagonal.
Afterwards, I used a huge zirh, the Turkish equivalent of a mezzaluna, to chop herbs for the zucchini fritters. Armed with the lid from the pot, I became a kitchen warrior! Later, I mixed everything together and grilled the fritters on the stovetop. Chef Feyzi watched very intently – “too small!”, “too much oil!” he proclaimed, yet they all turned out delicious. Others helped to blanch tomatoes or chop the green beans for other dishes. We each peeled our own charred eggplant and stuffed our own figs with walnuts, ready to be poached for dessert.
Each dish was fabulous. My father thought this was the best meal we had during our entire trip in Turkey. He really enjoyed the Spicy Lentil and Bulgur Soup, which was more spicy than what we had elsewhere. Chef Eveline explained that the recipe originates from southeast Turkey, where they like a bit more heat with their dishes. This soup has a very nice textural component, with cooked lentils perked with bulgur, in a spicy broth flavoured with tomato, red pepper and a dash of mint. Delicious and easy to make.
Chef Eveline told us to pick up some red pepper paste at the Spice Bazaar before we left Turkey, but I wasn’t able to fit it into my schedule. I looked at other grocery stores throughout my trip, with no luck. I determined it was an ingredient found mainly around Istanbul. After I found red pepper paste at Marche Istanbul, I knew I had to recreate the soup at home. Even if you can’t find red pepper paste, you can substitute more tomato paste instead. You can also make your own.