Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Güler's Stuffed Artichoke Hearts in Olive Oil - Zeytinyağlı Enginar

Among the most elegant and sophisticated of the Turkish olive oil dishes, Zeytinyağlı Enginar -- a gorgeous, completely vegan side dish made of whole artichokes hearts cooked in olive oil, filled with delicate bites of carrot, potato, onion, and peas, and garnished with plenty of fresh dill -- charms the eyes as well as the taste budsThis is one of my lovely mother-in-law Güler's signature dishes, and I can only try to do justice to it, as among her many other gifts and talents, she is an artistic and fearless cook!  Güler is the kind of woman who pours cognac over beef tenderloin and sets it on fire at the dinner table, slices mushrooms horizontally instead of vertically, makes yufka (phyllo dough) from scratch, and prepares delicious homemade fresh fruit cordials for her guests.  She sets beautiful tables, creates lovely flower arrangements, and she is an elegant, charming, and engaging hostess.  I was very lucky to have my amazing mother-in-law take me under her wing when I was just 21, newly married, and living in Turkey.  She taught me so much about food preparation and presentation, and for that, and many, many other things, I am very grateful to have her in my life.  Anneciğim, çok teşekkür ederım -- seni çok, çok, çok seviyorum!

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During artichoke season in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, artichoke vendors, expert at trimming, cleaning and extracting the beautiful hearts, can be found in produce markets and even meandering through the neighborhoods with trucks or carts loaded up with fresh artichokes, making ready-to-use fresh artichoke hearts readily available during certain times of the year.  And while you can attempt to clean and extract the hearts at home, it is a laborious job.  Fortunately, although whole artichoke hearts are rather unconventional in the U.S., you can nevertheless find both frozen and jarred versions that are ready-to-use in most grocery stores that carry Middle Eastern products.  I use the frozen artichoke hearts, and they are just delicious.

Here is the recipe for Güler's Zeytinyağlı Enginar, substituting frozen artichoke hearts for the fresh ones she uses.

I start off by defrosting a 14 ounce bag of frozen artichokes and then blotting away any wetness with clean paper towels.

Next, I peel and dice two carrots and two waxy potatoes (measuring about 1 cup each).  I like an angular dice that is uniform in size and visually attractive.  I also peel and slice one medium white onion into thin, vertical slices, and I measure out 1/2 cup of peas.  I use fresh peas, but you can definitely substitute frozen defrosted peas or even canned peas as well.

I pour 1/2 cup of really good olive oil into a shallow pot and sauté the onion for a few minutes until the onion just gets soft.  Then I add the carrots and continue to sauté for a few minutes longer.  Next I add in the potatoes and peas, along with just a pinch of sugar, and salt to taste, and I very gently combine the ingredients.

Next, I carefully insert the artichoke hearts (bottom down) in between the other vegetables and add juice from 1/2 of a fresh lemon.  After that, I pour 1 cup of boiling hot water over the vegetables.  I let everything cook together on medium high heat for about 10 minutes, and then I cover the pot and reduce the heat to simmer.

I allow all the ingredients to simmer for 45 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and everything is fork tender, and then I turn off the heat and let everything rest in the pot until it comes to room temperature.  Finally I adjust the seasonings, arrange the artichokes on a serving dish, and garnish with plenty of chopped fresh dill.

As with all Turkish olive oil dishes, Zeytinyagli Enginar can be served chilled or room temperature, and it will keep well in the refrigerator for several days.  As you can see, it's a lovely dish, and the taste is unique and delicious.

Afiyet olsun!

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