October 25, 2018
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A Blowout Turkish Autumn Meal

Braised lamb, pickled eggplant, spicy knobs of bulgur, and a dessert so good you'll want to memorize the recipe.
Written By Max Falkowitz

What if your job was to travel the world, meet fascinating people, listen to their stories, and cook with them? Where would you go—and what would it take for you to settle down?

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt~RIGHT

For Robyn Eckhardt and Dave Hagerman, your dream job is their daily life. Eckhardt, a food and travel journalist, and her husband Hagerman, a travel photographer, have spent the last 20 years on the road as often as not. Beyond outlets like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, they’ve recorded their adventures on Eckhardt’s blog and the couple's respective Instagrams, logging meals at local food stalls and home kitchens to tens of thousands of hungry (and jealous) fans.

But even a dream job can make you antsy. And while Eckhardt and Hagerman are still covering food and culture all over the world, last year they decamped from their bustling Malaysian home of two decades to settle down in the Italian countryside. “The slower pace was part of the appeal,” Eckhardt explained over the phone while unpacking boxes with her cats. “And to be closer to Turkey.”

At the time she had just published Istanbul & Beyond, her cookbook and love letter to the regional cuisines of Turkey, and despite the national recent unrest was itching for a return trip. Knowing Eckhardt, it won’t take long to get there.

Most American writing about Turkish food begins and ends at the ancient city. But as Eckhardt notes in the book’s introduction, “although it is only one-thirteenth the size of the U.S., Turkey...is one of the most gastronomically complex countries anywhere.” Istanbul & Beyond reflects Eckhardt’s research across 15,000 miles of the country, including lesser understood regions like Kurdish territories along the border with Iraq and Syria. The book documents the culinary influences from half a dozen cultures along the Silk Road, in many cases for the first time in English.

Herding cows in northeastern Turkey | Photo: David Hagerman~WHOLE

Regardless of where you’re eating in Turkey, autumn is a good time to stay close to the kitchen. Farmers are still bringing fresh produce in from the harvest. Home makers have begun pickling and preserving the local bounty. And fresh cheeses and drying herbs are just about everywhere. With that natural splendor in mind, we’ve put together a menu for an autumn feast that includes everything we want to eat right now.

While some of these dishes require advanced planning, none of them are difficult to replicate at home. And they might even expand your ideas of what Turkish cooking can mean.

Hadi yiyelim (that means let's eat)

Photo: David Hagerman~WHOLE

Çig Köfte (Spicy Bulgur Patties)

While the word köfte refers to ground meat kebabs in Turkish, these little buddies are decidedly meat-free. They're köfte lookalikes made of bulgur mashed with tomato, scallions, tomato and pepper pastes, and spices for a satisfying heat. You can make the bulgur salad in advance and chill it in the fridge, then dollop it onto lettuce leaves just before serving. Get the recipe.

Photo: David Hagerman~WHOLE

Içli Patlican Tursusu (Pickled Stuffed Eggplants)

Another appetizer to make in advance when you have a free hour, then keep around for days to slip onto a platter at a moment's notice. Long Asian-style eggplants are the best variety for this pickle, both for the tenderness of their flesh and their shape, which is more conducive to stuffing. Get the recipe.

Photo: David Hagerman~WHOLE

Piti (Turmeric-Scented Lamb and Chickpea Stew)

This hearty stew comes from Kars, a city in the eastern part of the country near the Georgian and Armenian borders. Eckardt suspects the braised lamb and chickpea dish arrived in Turkey with migrants from Azerbaijan, where a similar stew, also called piti, is made with saffron. Regardless of where it comes from, it's deeply satisfying homey fare that's perfect for a slow cooker or pressure cooker. Do take the time to use dried chickpeas instead of canned; they'll add a critical lusciousness to the broth. Get the recipe.

Photo: David Hagerman~WHOLE

Zucchini Dolma with Garlicky Yogurt and Tomato Sauce

Most Turkish feasts involve some kind of stuffed vegetable, and these beef- and bulgur-stuffed zucchini are a great place to start. For one, it'll give you something else to do with that bulgur and pepper paste you just bought for the çig köfte. For another, it comes with a garlic-laden yogurt sauce that you'll want to drizzle over your lamb stew, eggplant, and the flatbread you're about to whip up. Get the recipe.

Photo: David Hagerman~WHOLE

Tirnak Pidesi (Fingerprint Flatbreads)

Turkish bread-baking culture rivals the French and Italians, but that doesn't mean it's difficult to make one of the country's most beloved carbs at home. This pide is a puffy, chewy flatbread you spread out with your fingertips before baking. Serve it warm from the oven to mop up everything. Get the recipe.

Photo: David Hagerman~WHOLE

Incir Uyutmasi (Creamy Fig Pudding)

As soon as you make this pudding, go ahead and save some of it away for breakfast the next day. It's made of just three ingredients: heavy cream, milk, and naturally sweet dried figs; no sugar or starch required. Since the ingredient list is so short, make every item count. Organic cream makes a differences here, and high quality figs are crucial. We love these Afghan sun-dried figs from Ziba, which'll give your pudding all the flavor it needs. Get the recipe.