[Cooking with Her Excellency, Turkey] Korea has mandu and Turkey has manti
Pinar Okcal was ready to cook when reporters from the Korea JoongAng Daily met her at the Banquet Kitchen of the Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, on Jan. 21.
“I have a cookbook in progress - nothing big, just to pass some of my recipes to my children,” she said. Manti is one of her favorite Turkish dishes, she explained, because the very process of preparing it becomes "family time, in which everyone takes a different role.”
Q. Why did you choose manti for today’s dish?
Describe your country’s cuisine.
Turkish cuisine is a combination of three key elements: a nurturing environment, imperial kitchen and a long social tradition. Turkey's rich flora, fauna and regional differences bring an abundance of diverse food.
The legacy of the imperial kitchen is inescapable and it led to the evolution of a grand cuisine through differentiation, refinement and perfection of the dishes.
The foundation of the cuisine is grains, wheat and rice, and vegetables. We Turks are purists in our culinary taste - the dishes are supposed to bring out the flavor of the main ingredient rather than hiding it under sauces and spices. Spices and herbs are used very simply and sparingly.
For example, dill weed is used for zucchini, whereas parsley is used with eggplants. Cumin is sprinkled on red lentil soup or mixed in ground meat for making meat balls, kofte. Lemon and yogurt are used to complement vegetable dishes.
There are plenty of meatless vegetable dishes prepared in olive oil and consumed at room temperature. Artichokes, leeks, eggplants, celery roots, green beans, stuffed wine leafs, bell peppers and cabbages, or sarma, are examples of these dishes.
Speaking about vegetables, it is important to know that eggplant has a special place in Turkish cuisine. All of these vegetables are also prepared with unique recipes using meat, which are served with grains like pilav. If you want to taste these dishes you have to visit a lokanta in Turkey where these traditional recipes are prepared.
Grilled meat and kebab is another category of food dating back to the time when nomadic Turks learned to grill and roast meat over campfires. The unique taste of doner kebab, shish kebab, and other kebabs are due to the breeds of sheep and cattle as well as to special marinades and ways of cooking.
Turkey, surrounded by four seas, is also a country where seafood is consumed widely. Coastal towns are experts in cooking seafood. Bonito, bluefish, turbot, mackerel, small fish called hamsi are common fishes along with other seafood like mussel, octopus and squid.
The well-known sweets associated with Turkish cuisine, Turkish delight and baklava, give the impression that these may be typical desserts eaten after meals.
But our family of desserts is much richer. We have a variety of milk- and fruit-based desserts. Rice pudding cooked in an oven, quince and pumpkin desserts topped with syrup are among the most popular.
To complete a good meal, Turkish coffee for Turks is a must. I should also mention tea, prepared in a very special way by brewing it over boiling water and served in delicate small glasses is an essential part of our daily life.
What ingredients from your cuisine are easily found in Korea?
Almost all grains and vegetables as well as meat.
What ingredients are hard to find and where do you source them?
Semolina, bulgur, green lentils, feta cheese and plain yogurt can not be easily found in Korean markets, so I buy them from foreign markets in Itaewon.
What are the best restaurants in Seoul serving your cuisine?
There are several Turkish kebab houses in Seoul.
They serve different types of kebabs but these establishments rarely serve traditional dishes other than kebabs.
My husband and I usually go to restaurants in Itaewon and Gangnam when we want to eat kebabs.
Any personal observation about Korea?
Koreans welcomed us very warmly when we arrived in Seoul one year ago. Seoul is a very modern, dynamic city which offers beautiful landscapes, palaces, temples, museums, bustling markets and a variety of restaurants. I wish I can learn at least one craft Koreans practice so naturally during my stay here.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN [email@example.com]
Manti, meat dumplings with garlic yogurt sauce
Dough: 500 grams (2 1/8 cups) white flour / 2 eggs / ½ teaspoon table salt / ½ cup lukewarm water
Filling: 200 grams (7 ounces) ground beef / 1 medium onion, grated / ¼ bunch parsley, chopped / ½ teaspoon table salt / 1 pinch black pepper
Topping: 200 grams (7 ounces) plain yogurt, room temperature / 2 cloves garlic, crushed / ¼ cup butter / 2 teaspoons red chili flakes / 1 teaspoon dry mint leaves, chopped
For boiling: 5 cups water / 2 cups beef stock / 1 teaspoon salt
1. To make dough, knead eggs, flour and salt together for about 10 minutes. While kneading, sprinkle water as needed to keep the dough soft but not overly sticky. Remove, cover with a towel and leave to rest for 20 minutes.
2. To make filling, mix raw onion, parsley, ground beef, salt and black pepper until well combined. Set aside.
3. Once the dough has rested, divide in half and roll each portion into a large circle about 2.5 millimeters (1/10th of an inch) thick. Sprinkle dough with flour while rolling to ensure it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin.
4. Cut rolled dough into squares of 2.5 centimeters (about an inch) on each side.
5. To form dumplings, place a small amount of filling into the center of each square. Pull corners together and pinch to form small sacks.
6. In a medium-to-large saucepan combine water, beef stock and salt. Bring to a boil over moderate heat.
7. Add dumplings and boil for 15 minutes.
8. Remove dumplings, place in a serving dish and cover with plain yogurt.
9. In a small saucepan, melt butter over low-to-medium heat. Add chili flakes and garlic. Saute for five minutes.
10. Pour the butter-chili mixture over the dumplings, sprinkle with dried mint and serve.