The best baklava in Turkey comes from the southeast, notably the town of Gaziantep, which is surrounded by pistachio groves and known for its master baklava makers. Traditionally it would be made with yufka, which is a super-fine dough rather like filo, and baked in a round dish called a tepsi in a wood-fired oven. There are all kinds of different baklava shapes – layered, rolled, twisted and coiled – and it can of course be made with different nuts – walnuts, pistachios and hazelnuts being most common. For added flavour use honey instead of some or all of the sugar.
Cacık (pronounced ‘jajuk’) is the Turkish equivalent of Greek tzatziki – a garlicky yoghurt and cucumber dip/soup/salad, depending on what it’s served with. It’s a fantastic accompaniment to kebabs, meatballs and cooked vegetable dishes, and there is some evidence that eating yoghurt with meat is good for us. It’s usually made with pounded garlic cloves, but bright green wild garlic makes a very pretty alternative.
This has to be the easiest stew recipe I know. The laziest cook in the world could make this, and produce something as delicious to eat as it is effortless to make. I swiped it from Susanna Spiliopoulos of Hotel Pelops in Olympia, Greece, when we stayed with her this spring.
Susanna has her own (very highly regarded) catering business and kindly shared some of her numerous culinary tips with us during our two day cooking spree in her squeaky clean professional kitchen. For Susanna, good cooking is all about good oil, by which she of course means good Greek extra virgin olive oil, which in her case is pressed from her family’s very own olive grove up the road.
We found ıspanaklı ve peynirli börek to be as common in Turkey as spanakotyropita is in Greece, and made a point of sampling as many as humanly possible, purely in the name of research of course. They are essentially the same dish – a savoury pie made of multiple layers of ultra-thin pastry with a spinach and cheese filling. Sometimes it’s just spinach, or just cheese, but I like it with both.
They come in various shapes and sizes, depending on which country, region, town, village, bakery or home you’re in, and with different fillings. The form here is nice and simple and works with the packets of filo dough we can find in shops in the UK. I have made the filling purposefully generous in quantity and moist in consistency as I don’t like my börek dry. The recipe is loosely based on two very different versions I had the opportunity to make with chefs in Turkey and Greece – Engin Akin in Istanbul and Dimitris Mantsios in Naoussa.