Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Favorite VB6 Salad - Çoban Salatası ("Shepherd's Salad")

Çoban salatası (or "Shepherd's" salad) is a very popular and delicious Turkish summer salad.  The flavorful summer vegetables (well, I guess some of them are technically fruits), mixed with a simple delicious dressing of olive oil and lemon, make Çoban salad an excellent VB6 lunch.  While the ingredients are pretty universal -- tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and peppers dressed with olive oil, lemon and salt, and sometimes sprinkled with herbs, such as parsley, mint, or dill -- it is the selection of produce and they way it is cut that makes every body's Çoban salad unique.  Here is mine.

First, I am NOT a fan of Persian cucumbers.  I find them strangely sweet.  Actually, when I first started really getting into Turkish cookery, more than 25 years ago, Persian cucumbers were nowhere to be found, while these wonderful pickling cucumbers were readily available.  Now the Persian cucumbers are everywhere, and  I can only find pickling cucumbers at farmer's markets and speciality stores.  So when I find them, I buy them up and make lots of Çoban salad.

I peel the cucumbers in strips (leaving on some of the skin) and dice them up into fork-friendly chunks (not too small).  Next, I peel and cut up in larger chunks the best tomatoes I can find, such as firm, juicy red heirlooms.  As a second choice, I will use Roma, which are less flavorful, but still very good and attractive in this salad.  I always sprinkle the tomatoes with some Kosher salt after I peel and cut them, to really enhance their flavor.  I put the cucumbers on the bottom on my serving bowl, followed by the tomatoes.

Next, I very thinly slice a small amount of white or purple onion.  Onion is an important component, but a little goes a long way.  Some recipes call for the onion to be salted and squeezed and washed in water to "tame" it.  I do that sometimes, but not in this version.  Rather, for this version, I use much less onion, but I keep in the bite.  Next, I find the thinnest, greenest Anaheim peppers I can find (unless I am fortunate enough to find real Turkish peppers at the farmers' market, or unless Asaf grows them for me in the garden, which he's been known to do!).  This recipe calls for just one pepper.  I remove the seeds and slice it into very, very, very thin ringlets.  That goes on top of the onion.  Finally, I chop up a bit of fresh mint and throw that on top, and I add a sprinkling of Turkish red pepper (Pul biber) or Sumac.  The finished product looks like this.

About 15 minutes before serving, I dress it with a small amount of really good olive oil (good olive oil is essential in salads), some fresh squeezed lemon juice, and I check to see if any more salt is needed.  This allows the flavors to develop.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Turkish Manti Deconstructed and Reconstructed

There is nothing vegan about Turkish Manti, a delicious meat-filled dumpling topped with yogurt and garlic, and drizzled with hot, bubbly, peppery butter.  One of the things I love about the VB6 plan is that it allows you to indulge in the non-vegan foods that you love and crave.  You can bet this dish will be hitting the dinner table after 6:00 pm.

Making manti is a labor of love.  True Turkish manti involves making and rolling out paper thin rounds of dough, cutting them into tiny little squares, and stuffing and folding them one by one.  It's a lot of work, and the few times I have made it, I've had the good fortune to have dear friends and family to help (Guler, Cheryl, Wendy, Meryem, Gloria, Lisa, Angela, and of course Asaf and Halil).  However, there are a lot of short-cut or deconstructed versions of manti, often called "yalanci" or "liar's" manti -- boiled shell or bowtie noodles tossed with cooked ground beef and onions and served with the traditional toppings.  Yalanci manti is delicious and a favorite in our home.  But sometimes I crave something more authentic, but without all the labor, and that's what I call Deconstructed and Reconstructed Manti.

You start with 1 lb. of quality ground beef, 1 cup finely chopped white onion, 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, and salt and pepper.

Combine with your hands.  Next, start filling wonton wrappers with the beef mixture, like this.

As you fill the wontons, place them on a pan or cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper.  You should have enough to fill all the wrappers in a package of 50.  Any leftover meat can be turned into little meatballs, like so.

Next, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add a beef bullion cube.  In the meantime, mix together two cups of plain yogurt, and add two large cloves of crushed or grated garlic, salt, and a drizzle of olive oil.  Set aside. 

Boil the manti in small batches until they float to the top and the meat inside is completely cooked.  Place manti in a large serving bowl or individual serving bowls and top with the yogurt mixture.  Next comes the Pièce de résistance - the butter sauce.  Melt 1/4 cup of real butter in a pan, sprinkle in paprika, and bring it to a frothy orange bubble.  Drizzle this on top of the yogurt. 

Finally top with any or all of the following (I like all of them, whereas Asaf does not really care for any of them):  Fresh chopped mint (or dried mint), fresh chopped dill (or dried dill), sumak, and red pepper (the best is Turkish dried red pepper, Pul Biber).  Afiyet Olsun!

Saturday, May 25, 2013


That morning I turned on KCRW and caught the tail end of Evan Kleiman's interview of Mark Bittman I was immediately encouraged to change my eating habits.  A longtime fan of Mr. Bittman's cookbook, How to Cook Everything, I was intrigued to hear him talking about his new approach to eating, which he coined "VB6" (an acronym for "Vegan before 6:00" [pm]).  In short, Mr. Bittman advocates eating vegan all day, until the last meal of the day when you are free to indulge a little. The idea is to eat healthy whole foods, and reduce your carbon footprint by only having a maximum of one non-vegan meal a day.  He promotes eating less meat and dairy, and when you do have it, consuming only the highest quality meat and dairy products, namely organic, humane, hormone and antibiotic free options.  This immediately made so much sense to me, so I bought his book, read it cover to cover, and went shopping!

You know, my very wise husband once pointed out to me that as human beings, we are really only meant to eat what we can gather, grow or kill ourselves.  Well, I don't have the ability (or the inclination) to kill anything -- at most, maybe I could catch a fish -- but I can certainly gather, process, prepare and cook food, and perhaps on occasion I could even trade some of those skills in for some kind hunter's meat.  The point being, we are not supposed to be eating meat all the time.  In fact, the mass production of meat in our society is destroying the environment as well as our collective health.  Yet meat can be DELICIOUS, so we must be judicious about the quality and quantity of meat we consume.

I've been following the VB6 plan for about three weeks now, and I feel great.  I thought it might be fun to share some of my experiences and recipes in this casual format, so here goes!

Today my friend Susie and I hit the Playa del Rey Farmer's Market bright and early.  There I discovered a great VB6 breakfast option -- a delicious vegan tamale made with corn, spinach and artichoke hearts.  It totally hit the spot.  I then hit the produce stands in search of VB6 recipe inspirations and snacks.  Here are some of the delicious and nutritious items I bought. (Note, the wine was already on my table.)

The green beans were fresh and beautiful, as were the tomatoes, so I decided to make one of our favorite Turkish dishes, Zeytinyagli Taze Fasulye (Green Beans in Olive Oil), a delicious and perfectly compliant VB6 meal.  This dish is generally served at room temperature or even cold, so it is a great dish to make ahead and bring to work for lunch.


Wash and clean about 1-1/2 lbs of green beans.  Many people remove the top and tail, and cut the beans in half, but they are much better long, and there is absolutely no reason to remove the tops as they are tender and delicious.  Place the beans in a big pot or Dutch oven.  Next, slice 1 white onion.  Again, it's common in this recipe to grate the onion or chop it all up into small bits, but it's soooo much better texturally when the onions are cut into very long thin strips.  Similarly, I peel and slice two or three large tomatoes into rather big chunks.

Add the onions and the tomatoes (sliced into 8ths) to the pot of green beans.

Sprinkle with Kosher salt, and grate in some lemon rind.  Just a little lemon rind adds real depth to the flavors of the dish.  Next pour in 1/2 cup of good olive oil and heat on high for several minutes, turning mixture with a wooden spoon until the beans turn very bright green.  Then add about 2 cups of boiling water, and cover and simmer until the beans are tender (but not mushy).

Put the beans onto a serving platter with some of the juice from the pot.  Season with about two tablespoons on fresh lemon juice, as well as salt and pepper if needed.  Garnish with lemon and chopped parsley and serve at room temperature, or refrigerate and serve cold. 

The Green Beans in Olive Oil, served with Red Quinoa made for an especially good VB6 lunch today!  And if I were serving this for dinner, I would definitely top with plain yogurt.