Cozy up with comfort foods

11th, 2014
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Supposedly, the most common topic of conversation between strangers is the weather. Not so in İstanbul, at least not among the expat community. Of course, we gripe briefly about the winter rains, but just barely mention food and you may find yourself in an intense half-hour-long discussion. We can jabber on and on about the foods we miss and the foods we have adapted to the country we have adopted.

In the words of one transplanted Texan, we expats crave wintertime foods “that stick to our ribs.” Here are my “great eight”:

While cereal is often part of an expat breakfast, cornflakes with cold milk are best left to summer. A perfect way to face a cold day is a first layer of what Americans call hot oatmeal, porridge to the British. While some of us cherish our favorite brand of rolled oats brought by visitors from our homelands, a reasonable substitution is the Turkish Eti Yulaf Ezmesi, which at least several expat moms testify as being as good as Quaker oats and not as expensive as the imported variety here.

A wonderful alternative early in the morning is the pancake. When Westerners first arrive in Turkey and see a sign for pancakes, they are surprised to be served gözleme, the traditional Turkish very thin hand-rolled pastry. Gözleme is tasty with any of its fillings, but it ain’t no breakfast food. One expat reports that she lately had conversations with three different Turks which hinged on pancakes. “All three Turks had gone abroad, tried pancakes and now yearn for them here at home. One husband asked his wife to make them; she looked up a recipe on the net. Another friend of mine has a son who demands them every Sunday. The last is a student who lived in the states for a year and spent copious amounts of cash at IHOP (International House of Pancakes).” Four servings of this comfort food of the day takes only a few minutes longer than oatmeal. Stir or sift together two cups of sifted flour, two-and-a-half teaspoons of baking powder and two-and-a-half teaspoons of salt. In a separate bowl, combine one lightly beaten egg with one-and-a-half cups of milk; add to the flour mixture, stirring only until smooth. Blend in two tablespoons of melted butter. Cook on a hot, greased griddle or heavy iron frying pan, using about one-forth cup of batter for each pancake. Cook until brown on one side and around the edge; turn and brown the other side. Top with hot butter or fruit syrup.

The category receiving rave reviews for lunchtime layering consists primarily of a variety of pasta dishes. On top of the list is an American favorite, macaroni and cheese. Mac and cheese is a tummy warmer appealing to children of all ages and nationalities. While most pastas found in your local bakkal will do, the one I prefer is the pipette, most similar to the elbow macaroni sold in America. The other two major contenders for a mid-day pasta-based meal are spaghetti with meatballs and rigatoni or penne pasta.

Comfort foods play a large part on an expat’s dinner table. We wouldn’t live in Turkey if we didn’t love Turkish cuisine, but there are times when only a taste of home provides a true respite from the woes of a long working winter day.

A hearty stew is divine in terms of comfort. Perhaps lamb stew is number one because of the plentitude of the basic meat and needed vegetables. My favorite is my grandma’s Irish stew, considered a national Irish dish since the 18th century when tough mutton had to been cooked slowly to make it edible. The recipe is simple, with alternating layers of lamb, onions, parsley, thyme and potatoes. Beef stew is a close runner-up for American and British expats alike.

Many of us Americans don’t quite understand the British love affair with meat pies. We folk from across the Atlantic like pies with fruit fillings. However, our British cousins seem happy to put almost anything between two crusts and “whack it in the oven.” The results are what might be termed “pub grub”; steak & kidney pie, chicken & mushroom pie, shepherd’s pie, and Lancashire hotpot (a lamb casserole with an interesting history all its own), all with chunks of onions, celery and herbs.

Then there are the chili fans. Get a group of Americans together, and they’ll argue for hours about a proper chili Two distinct camps exist concerning the ingredients. Chili con carne, the official dish of Texas, is a spicy concoction made from chili peppers, meat, garlic, onions and cumin. Self-proclaimed chili purists proclaim, “If you know beans about chili, you know chili ain’t got no beans.” Traditional chili is made with chopped or ground beef.

Considered a “filler” by some, pinto beans (frijoles) or black beans, both staples of Tex-Mex cooking, are a basic. In Turkey, try substituting barbunya pilaki or any red or white bean. Wick Fowler, (north Texas newspaperman and inventor of “Two-Alarm Chili”), insisted on adding tomato sauce to his chili. A Texan friend of mine and I recently almost came to blows about a chili I had prepared here in İstanbul from local products. She called it “stew” because it had beans, tomatoes and macaroni. But then, she’s from San Antonio. Just let her talk to the born-and-bred Kentucky man I learned the recipe from! Whatever you put in it, don’t eat freshly cooked chili. Refrigerate it overnight to seal in the flavor of the chili pepper. A big pot will warm your tummy for several days.

Comfort is as comfort does. We expats know where our comfort lies, morning to night.

 

Resource: Today’s Zaman

 

 

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