Almost Turkish Recipes

Şekerpare Dessert (Şekerpare Tatlısı)

Şekerpare, a traditional Turkish dessert with a Persian name (Şeker-pare: sugar-piece), is sugar cookies soaked in heavy syrup and topped with pistachios or almonds. Şekerpare is commonly made at homes or can be found in every patisserie. There are different versions of this dessert. Some add semolina to the flour and some alternate the nuts to decorate them. The recipe below is my mom’s decades old recipe. She usually makes them for bayrams/eids.

For cookies
2 sticks (250 gr.) butter
3 cups flour
1 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup ground pistachios

For the syrup
4 cups sugar
5 cups water

-Boil 4 cups of sugar with 5 cups of water until thickens. Set aside to cool.
-Mix powdered sugar and room temperature butter well.
-Add flour and egg.
-Mix baking soda with lemon juice and add to the dough and knead well.
-Take walnut size pieces and roll them into balls first and then with your palms press them slightly. Make a dent right in the middle of the round cookies with your finger and place them in a slightly greased tray. (The tray shouldn’t be too shallow, because the syrup will go in there as well.)
-Bake at 380 F in a preheated oven until golden brown, approximately 35-40 minutes.
-Pour the cooled down syrup (must not be warmer than luke warm) from the side of the tray. Never pour it on top of the cookies; they would get mushy.
-Put 1 tsp ground pistachios on cookies in the dents. (you can also place whole almonds in the middle of cookies before baking as an alternative to ground pistachios)

Celery Root with Orange or Tangerine Juice (Portakal ya da Mandalinalı Kereviz)

Celery root, also known as celeriac, is an awesome root highly common and popular in Europe but still waiting for its time in US. It is a different variety than regular celery (stalks). Its root has a bulbous shape and sometimes comes with its leaves on top that resemble giant parsley. It is best during the winter months, but could be found until late March here in the Bay Area. Most American recipes that I've come across recommend boiling and mixing with mashed potatoes or grating raw and adding to salads. Although both are fine ways of cooking with celery root, they're far from how we eat celery root in Turkey. Celery, kereviz in Turkish which comes from karafs in Persian, is cooked in meat stews and soups like potatoes, or in egg-lemon sauces similar to Greek avgolemono sauce, but yet the most common way of preparing celery is the traditional olive oil cooking, i.e., cooked in olive oil usually with carrots, potatoes, and peas, and seldom with quince and orange slices and served luke warm, like this recipe or this one .

Celery root with orange or tangerine juice is a "spin-off" from the conventional olive oil variety. The mixing of orange and lemon juices in this dish creates a memorable and delicious tangy flavors.

When picking celery roots, avoid both very small and very big ones. You would lose half of the small ones to peeling and the big ones tend to be hollow in the middle. Pick mid-size celery roots, approximately grapefruit-size ones and feel their weight in your hand; they should be heavy. Once peeled celery roots darken fast, so always keep a bowl of water and juice of half a lemon ready to place the peeled roots. If you get them with the greens on top, save them for cooking and decorating.

1 medium size celery root, peeled and diced
1 onion, finely diced
1 big potato, peeled and diced
1 carrots, peeled and cut in half or quarter rounds
juice of 2 medium juicy oranges OR 3 tangerines OR 1 orange and 1-2 tangerines
2 lemons (juice of half to prevent darkening, rest for cooking depending on your sourness preference)
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup olive oil + 2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar
1-2 tsp salt

-Peel the root and place it in a bowl with water and lemon juice to prevent darkening
-Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a broad pan and add onions. Cook on medium until soft but don't let them brown.
-Add sugar and stir.
-Drain the water from celery root.
-Add carrots, potatoes, and celery root. Stir for 2-3 minutes until covered with olive oil and warmed up.
-Add orange/tangerine juice (whichever combination you choose) and lemon juice (how much lemon juice you will add depends on how tangy you enjoy this dish. It can go from half a lemon juice to one and a half. I love mine tangy and usually add juice of one big lemon, 2-3 tbsp). Also add 1/2 cup of water.
-Salt it to your taste.
-Add half of the dill. (If you have the root greens you can add 1/8 cup of that at this point as well)
-Once it starts to boil, turn it down and cook for 25-30 minutes until celery root is cooked.
-Let it cool in the pot covered.
-Transfer it to a serving plate. Sprinkle it with 2-3 tbsp olive oil and rest of the dill.
-Serve cold or luke warm.

Once you get used to cooking this dish, you can experiment with it by adding 1/3 cup of green peas to  it or skipping potatoes or carrots or both. Make it your own.

Ezo the Bride Soup (Ezo Gelin Çorbası)

Zöhre Bozgeyik, aka Ezo the Bride, was a real person who lived in a small village in the south eastern part of Turkey in the city of Gaziantep close to Syrian border in early 20th century. She was called Ezo the Bride because she was very beautiful and at the age of marriage. Although, there are many variations of Ezo the Bride legend/story mostly as a romance in popular folk culture, her story is one of suffering, patriarchal traditions, and homesickness. Ezo had two marriages both of which were berdel, i.e. bride swapping (a marriage arrangement between two or three families in which they swap daughters in order not to pay for the brides). By the time she made her second marriage to a cousin in Syria, the Turkish Republic was founded and had established borders between the two countries. She died young in Syria, homesick. As per her will she was buried in Syria on a hill overlooking Turkey. There are films based on her hard, unfortunate life, the most celebrated one being Ezo Gelin (Ezo the Bride) (1968), based on a story by well-known poet Behçet Kemal Çağlar and featuring one of the most famous and talented actors of the time Fatma Girik as Ezo, which won the the Second Best Film and the Best Actress awards at the Adana Golden Boll Film Festival in 1969.

As for the soup itself, rumor has it that during grim times of poverty Ezo created the soup by using whatever she had left in the house. However, the most important trivia about Ezo Gelin soup is not the bride, but that you cannot find a single Kebapçı (Kebab Restaurant) in Turkey that doesn't serve this soup. Rumor also has it that if you cannot serve this soup you couldn’t get a license for a Kebapçı restaurant in Turkey—just saying! It's the best starter before kebap-you have to have the soup, and whatever you do at home, including my recipe, Ezo Gelin soup is always better at a Kebapçı, even or especially at a sloppy one. Also, it's considered to be a perfect hangover cure, after, of course, the Tripe Soup (İşkembe Çorbası).

traditional ingredients:
1 cup red lentils
1/4 cup bulgur
1/4 cup rice
1 tbsp pepper paste (if not, substitute with tomato paste)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 onion, very finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 tbsp dry mint leaves
1 tsp oregano leaves
1/4 tsp black pepper
pepper flakes, as much as you want
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
~5 cups chicken stock (or water)  
(I sometimes hide from the kids grated carrots in the soup)
-Place bulgur and rice with 2 cups of water in a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer once it starts boiling. Check now and then to make sure it doesn’t run out of water. Add hot water if necessary. Turn it of once bulgur and rice is cooked. Drain excessive water.
-Heat butter and olive oil in a pot and sauté onions and garlic until very soft, ~8-10 minutes.
-Mix in tomato and pepper pastes and cook for 4-5 minutes.
-Add 5 cups of chicken stock or water, whichever you’re using. Bring to a boil.
-Add washed and rinsed red lentils, rice and bulgur. Simmer for ~20 minutes stirring now and then.
-Add dried mint, oregano, and salt. Simmer for another 5 minutes.

-The trick is not to put Ezo the Bride soup in a blender. Once everything is cooked and soft, a whisk could work just fine. So after adding the legumes, whisk the soup for a couple of times until smoothened.
-Always serve Ezo the Bride with a slice of lemon. Splash of lemon juice will bring the best out of the soup.

Some people like to sizzle the mint with butter instead of adding the spices to the soup. For that, heat olive oil or butter (1 tbsp for 2-3 servings) in a small skillet. When oil starts sizzling (if you're using butter, try not to burn it) add mint and oregano (and 1/2 tsp paprika if you wish) and after approximately 30 seconds remove from the heat. Pour over the soup.

Feeling lazy and own a pressure cooker?:
Put everything in the pressure cooker and cook for 15 minutes.