Sunday, May 24, 2009

Istanbul-Deep Fried Love

I am a firm believer that eggplant should be deep fried. For those of you nodding your head that this makes perfect sense, you must realize what a Dr. Phil breakthrough that is for me. You see, I battle daily with the nutritionist on one shoulder and the foodie on the other. One telling me everything that is remotely tasty is laden with calories and I will become obese and die of a heart attack, or worse, from sex deprivation. The other tells me that enjoying my food is as vital to life as the air we breathe. Some days the nutritionist wins, other days the nutritionist loses. However, there are certain foods or processes I deem unworthy of a fat ass. French fries, potato chips, hot dogs, hamburgers, soda with sugar are not worthy, chocolate on the other hand is perfectly OK.

So imagine my surprise, while in Istanbul for work, I had this deep fried eggplant stuffed with a meat tomato sauce called karniyarik. It was melt-in-your-mouth good with smoky flavor and rich mouth feel. Finally, I knew what I had been doing wrong all along. I was trying to prepare eggplant in low-fat way and I often failed miserably. Eggplant is temperamental, and I have wasted a couple of very nice and plump purple behemoths in my attempts to make eggplant Parmesan. They always ended up tasting bitter and waterlogged.

Eggplant reminds me of celebrity in and out of rehab. Great when it's high (or, rather deep fried) but tasteless and bitter when its sober.

Besides being forever grateful to Turkish people for opening my eyes to the rewards of using a deep fryer, I was also introduced to a few new spices. Two different types of hot pepper called maras and urfus. Maras is the same deep red like paprika color but the flakes are larger, similar to the size of Kosher salt grains. Initially it's not spicy. But it slowly sneaks up on you, almost like when you take a taxi in Turkey, one minute your fare is 14 Turkish Liras the next it's past 31 YTL.

My trip to Istanbul would not be complete without a visit to the Spice Market. My favorite part about travelling, is heading to the nearest market. Moving from stall to stall, I bought apple tea, Turkish coffee, Turkish saffron, maras, urfu, rose petal jam, and some pomegranate Turkish delight. I get so excited when I see spices, like a kid in the candy shop, because they offer an opportunity for me to experiement-and of course show off my worldy foodie knowledge.
Bins of dried peppers in the Spice Market, Istanbul

The cuisine shares many similarities with other Mediterranean countries, namely Greece. However, there are obvious differences. To name a few; the use of pistachio in baklava, the donar, use of chili peppers, and their yogurt with cucumber is thin and almost watery.

Baklava with pistachio, the center one is also filled with a sweet semolina mix. Not as sweet as Greek Baklava.

Just to be certain that my eggplant epiphany wasn't a one time deal, I also tried a cold appetizer with fried eggplant and stuffed with rice. Again, it confirmed that this was a veg meant for the deep fryer and I have happily added two new eggplant dishes to my recipe Rolodex.

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