CULTURE

Things to share: Two neighbors meet at the table

A grand, inviting sofras (the Turkish rug used for dining) has been spread by two culinary experts, with its offerings to be shared by readers in both Greece and Turkey. Co-authored by Myrsini Lambraki and Engin Akin, «Greece and Turkey at the Same Table,» was recently published by Ellinika Gramata in Greek, with the Turkish texts translated by Anthi Karra (a Turkish edition is scheduled to follow). A fascinating voyage into two culinary cultures which share a great deal, the book is the result of four years of laborious exchange of information between the authors. In the end, however, the edition seems to have been as effortless to achieve as the days when Lambraki’s grandmother, who lived in Asia Minor, offered her Turkish neighbor Easter eggs. There are traditional recipes from both countries, with the Turkish recipes followed by their Greek «relatives»: Beyaz pilaf (white pilaf) for instance, is followed by Pilafi tou Gamou (wedding pilaf), while the moussaka mystery is solved – both versions being equally inviting. Divided into seven units, there are recipes for appetizers, salads and pickles; vegetables and pulses; meat; fish and seafood; rice and frumenty; savory pies; bread and rusks; and finally sweets. Besides documenting the recipes, the authors are also keen on recording the history behind them. In the beginning of the book, a chapter dedicated to the rich history of Turkish cuisine explains the use of basic ingredients. For example, did you know that at the Top Kapi palace in the 16th century, there were 1,117 cooks and their assistants, while during the 18th century, the annual meat consumption at the sarai included 4 million sheep and 3 million lambs? Also, in Turkey, there is always plenty of yogurt in various forms: thick and creamy or mixed with water as a refreshing drink, for instance. Then there’s butter, often sprinkled with dry mint and red pepper for pilaf or butter from ewe’s milk used for baklava, as well as cheese – what the Turks used refer to as «putting the milk to sleep.» For the authors, the path of sharing knowledge developed into a sort of puzzle: some dishes share the same name and flavor; some have different names but the same ingredients; some have the same name but different preparation. Born in Crete in 1965, Lambraki studied political science and public administration in Athens and decided to follow the family tradition and dedicate herself to cooking in 1993. A food columnist, she was a member of Slow Food’s international administration board and the now-defunct Archestratos Association. She is the author of numerous books, including «Olive Oil: Eat Better, Live Longer» and «Herbs, Greens, Fruit.» For Akin, who spent several years living in Greece, this is her first venture into publishing. A distinguished culinary columnist, as well as a popular television personality – for two years she hosted her own show «Culture and Cooking» and now participates in the culinary section of «City-Life» – she is also in her seventh consecutive year of «Flavor Talk» on Turkish radio. She is also an expert on and avid collector of Ottoman art and kilims. In the book, Akin suggests the following recipe for Midye dolmasi, stuffed mussels, prepared by Sadik, a young chef at Merjan Buffet: Serves 6-8 1 kilo mussels 1 kilo rice 1 1/2 chopped onions 350 ml olive oil 1 tbs cumin 1 tbs allspice 1 tbs black pepper 25 gr unsalted pistachio nuts 40 gr currants 4 1/2 teacups water for filling 2 teacups water for mussels Inspect the mussels carefully. Scrape the outside of the shells clean with a wire brush. Pry open the mollusks with a sharp non-serrated knife. Wash them thoroughly in cold water to remove any traces of grit. Fry the onion and pistachio nuts gently until soft. Add salt. If the mussels are briny, don’t add any salt to the stuffing, or it will unbalance the flavor. Add the rice and fry briskly for 5-7 minutes, then add the currants and spices. Stir briefly and add the water. Cook until the pilaf is just moist – neither too dry or too soggy. Add a little water to adjust if it is too dry. Cover and leave to cool. Stuff the mussels with the cold pilaf. Place the stuffed mussels, apertures facing upward, on a small strainer in a wide saucepan (or use a steam cooker). Add cold water. Cover the mussels with moistened paper or a wet cotton tea towel to stop the steam from escaping and so there is no need to use the saucepan lid. Cook the mussels for 25-30 minutes and remove one to taste. When the mussels are detached from their shells and stick to the rice, they are cooked. Allow to cool and serve on a plate.