My first visit to Turkey was in late 2003. I’ve been back a couple of times, usually for brief visits on the way to India via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines.
On that first visit, I spent eight days exploring Istanbul, and took a ride out to the Black Sea and stayed in the sleepy seaside town of Amasra. Particularly in Istanbul, I recall afternoons of drinking tea and reading books. The days were beautifully punctuated by the competing calls to worship from mosques with their minarets pointed into the heavens.
The markets were alive with the tantalizing sights, sounds, and smells of food, fashion, and other delights. The parks and gardens were full of botanical wonders, couples of all ages strolling about, and tourists impressed by the nature, architecture, and vibe of the city. Bakery windows displayed baklava and other baked treats stacked high and wide. Mesmerizing melodies drifted in the air from open windows, chilled-out shisha bars, and lazy cafés. The ferry across the Bosphorus was an exotic excursion. I loved walking the winding ways of the Asian side of Istanbul, where few tourists venture. And let’s not forget the Turkish hamam! Hours of laying around on hot marble slabs, rinsing with ice cold water, melting in the heat and meditation of the elaborately tiled, high-ceiling sauna chamber, followed by tea and a nap in my own little cozy compartment with an antique couch.
I started most days with a simple breakfast: Fresh bread, jam, overflowing bowls of olives, and thick Turkish coffee – very similar to the cardamom coffee I would later find in Egypt. Throughout the day, I snacked on nuts and dried fruit. For lunch, I usually had some fantastic lentil soup: Mercimek Çorbasi. I found a back-alley soup place where I used my phrasebook, hand gestures, and smiles to communicate. Perhaps in the future I’ll post a recipe for it. For now, I want to focus on something just slightly more exotic.
This bulgur pilaf recipe is based on similar dishes I’ve had in Turkey, and in Turkish cafés, bakeries, and restaurants here in Berlin. The neighborhood of Kreuzberg is famous for its large Turkish community. In fact, the area is often called Little Istanbul.
The tofu-feta in this recipe is purely my addition, and not crucial to the dish. It adds fun and flavor, but feel free to skip it for a quicker lunch or dinner preparation. Fresh chopped herbs make a big difference: Use them if you’ve got them. As I mention in the variations, you can make this with other grains with few adjustments. Quinoa, couscous, and rice are all tasty alternatives.
If you really want to go wild and impress some guests: Add some bread crumbs to the finished pilaf, stuff some eggplant (or tomatoes, or peppers, or squash!) and roast it in the oven! Whoa, that’s a Turkish Delight!
Turkish Bulgur Pilaf with fresh herbs & tofu-feta
serves 2-3 / time 45 min
- 3.5 oz / 100 g firm tofu cut in small cubes
- 1 Tbs cornstarch
- 1 Tbs nutritional yeast flakes
- 1 Tbs lemon juice
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- oil for frying
- Mix cornstarch, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, soy sauce in bowl.
- Add tofu cubes, toss to coat well.
- Heat oil in small frying pan on medium high heat. Fry cubes evenly, turning occasionally, until golden brown. Don’t overcrowd the pan, 2 or 3 small batches works well.
- Remove, drain, with slotted spoon. Set aside to add to pilaf when ready.
- 1 cup / 185 g bulgur
- 2 cups / 480 ml water
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 2 Tbs margarine
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 onion chopped
- 1/2 tsp black pepper ground
- 1/2 tsp paprika ground
- 1 Tbs lemon juice
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 red pepper chopped
- 1 large tomato chopped
- 2 Tbs nutritional yeast flakes or veg broth powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup fresh mint chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh basil chopped
- Heat oil and margarine in large pot on medium heat. Add garlic, onion, pepper, paprika. Fry, stirring regularly, until onions soften, 4-5 min.
- Add lemon juice, zest, chopped red pepper, tomatoes. Stir well, saute 5 min.
- Add bulgur, nutritional yeast, salt. Mix well. Add water while stirring. Return to simmer, reduce heat to low. Cover, steam for 10 min. Turn off heat.
- Add fresh mint, basil, tofu-feta cubes. Toss several times, cover. Let sit for 5-10 min.
- Garnish with sprinkled paprika and more chopped herbs. Serve with lemon slices.
Other grains: Couscous and quinoa work well for this dish. Adjust water amount accordingly, if needed. Add ins: Along with bulgur- Add chopped carrots, green pepper, raisins, nuts, olives, cooked chickpeas, etc. Broth: Use vegetable broth instead of water, omit nutritional yeast / broth powder.