Edible Inspiration from Istanbul

November 23, 2013

Its hard for me to believe that its been a full eight weeks since I hopped a plane from Florence to Istanbul, where we spent a full 12 days exploring. Even though the scenery here in the Pacific Northwest feels a million miles away from the mosques, minarets, dramatic sunrises and distant seas, thousands of miles away, the smells, influences and essences of that exotic, dynamic and fascinating place are still resident within me and our kitchen.

This trip was a little bit different than most I plan, specifically because when we arrive in a new city,  we like to run them, or ride them, and gain our bearings by using plotted edible points on a map to define our cardinal directions. In this case, the nature of Istanbul as a bustling city didn’t allow this — which suited my already-in-off-season disposition nicely  as I was still recovering from this adventure.  So , I spent most days wandering guide-less through broad streets + back-alleys, munching toasty chestnuts from the carts, drinking coffee in side-street cafes, wiggling my way through markets examining the offerings, and spending time with purveyors tasting dried fruits, nuts, confections, and spices.

There were a couple of days that I spent eating + exploring with the help of new friend Megan, from Culinary Backstreets whom helped to shed infinite amounts on light on the culinary history + culture of Istanbul and Turkey at large; she pointed out hide-wrapped cheeses as they were hauled through the market halls, helped to pick the ripest, honey-dripping sweet figs from her favorite carts, introduced me to the tart and distinctive taste of kaymak when slathered with honey, the spicy flavor + color of true kebab, apple-y fermented boza and the secrets of perfect sesame-crusted simit. She translated the myriad of questions I had for confectioners and pastry chefs on the matters of how pistachios became SO green, and how baklava became SO perfectly layered and crispy and – in this way – I spent those 12 days getting completely lost in the cuisine of Istanbul, returning home each night with legs sore from walking,  and with a belly that was still hungry for more.

Back home in the U.S. I find myself unpacking more and more little exotic tidbits from my proverbial suitcase; I brought home some spices, provisions and sweet treats from our travels, but — as I remind myself that a home kitchen is where you make it — I find little inspirations, techniques and curiosities I didn’t even know I’d carried out of the markets, and out of the country. Most wonderfully, I feel as if this inspiration will last far longer than my stash of new spices.

This weekend, I’m putting together our Thanksgiving menu (probably you all are too!) and I’m pulling some ideas from these travels, these pictures below, and all the exotic spices and scents of Istanbul and the Middle East. I’ve been having dreams of floral spice blends, the intrigue of hot peppers, the sultry, honey-dripping goodness of fresh figs and oranges straight from the cart. The colors of rose petals, cozy thyme, golden apple tea and ruby-red pomegranate and oh, those brilliant green pistachios are still vibrant in my memory and I can’t wait to recreate a little bit of this essence as we sit around our table next weekend to give thanks for all of the bounty, adventure, perspective and peace that this year has brought us. 

I’m looking forward to sharing our meal with you as it cooks itself up. In the meantime, what is inspiring you this Thanksgiving? What are you cooking? I just can’t wait to watch as menus, ideas and celebrations start unrolling this week. Here’s to a very happy kickoff of the holiday season to all of you!

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