You know you’re in Nanna heaven when you wake up on Christmas eve morning in central Turkey and find your world suddenly covered in a thick blanket of snow…with grandchildren pulling off your wool one and telling you to get your *** out of bed, downstairs, and outside to build a snowman.
Oh, you don’t think that’s enough to qualify for heaven? How about coming back into the house, hands stinging with cold, to find Fatos in the kitchen making a big pot of mercimek çorbas?
Fatos rushes up to me, brandishing a 12-inch chef knife and a can of tomatoes. Before I have time to get scared, I figure out she’s telling me that she usually opens cans with a knife, but it’s just not working on this American can. I rummage around and find the can opener. Then stick around to watch her bring the tomatoes to boil with water in a kettle, add handfuls of red Turkish lentils, masses of salt, spicy red pepper, and garlic. That’s it. In another pot, she boils up bulgur with brown lentils and lots of salt. Thirty minutes later, we’re all at the table. The soup is simple but great–and when we get close to the bottom of our bowls, she shows us we should spoon in the thick bulgur to absorb the last bits of soup and eat until we feel like we are bursting. Everyday lunch in Turkey. Why not try Ezo Gelin corbasi, a traditional wedding lentil-bulgur soup complete with tragic story, for the best of both worlds?
There’s more to Turkish soups than lentils, though. My Paris neighbor David Berry, in fact, claims that Turkish soups are the best in the world, and he tells endless stories of fabulous meals in odd places that all boil down to a Turkish chef in the kitchen.
Here’s another one to support his claim: Christmas shopping at the lush Panora mall in Oran, Angi, the 4 kids, and I stop for a snack at the food court. Not your usual pizza/taco/wok n’ roll/chick fil-A kind of a place. Almost all Turkish specialties…and each shop has its own homemade soup. Decisions, decisions. We stop at FISHO and my bowl of balik corbasi is so yummy, so creamy, so nicely spiced, and so packed with tender white fish, that I just had to track it down for you:
BALIK ÇORBASI, for 6 people
2-pound red gurnard or other tasty whole fish
1 onion, peeled and sliced
12 black peppercorns
1 dried chili pepper
3 sprigs parsley
2 cups celeriac root, peeled and cut into small cubes
2 cups potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
2 carrots, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and cubed
6 Tablespoons minced parsley
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon juice
Black pepper, salt, turkish red pepper (pul biber)
In a large saucepan, put the fish, onions, black pepper, red chile, and parsley sprigs in 12 cups of cold water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Strain, ideally through cheesecloth layers, into another saucepan, letting the fish cool in the strainer. Bring the strained stock to a boil then add cubed carrot, celeriac, potato, onion, and garlic. Reduce heat to medium and boil the vegetables until soft, about 45 or more minutes. Peel the skin off the fish and remove all the bones, then scrape large chunks of pure fish into the soup and also the minced parsley. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and red pepper. Beat the egg yolks and lemon juice together, then add a cup of the hot broth to it, beating constantly; pour into the soup and let it thicken. Ladle into bowls and top with a lemon slice, minced parsley, and a sprinkling of hot pepper.
And did I mention the sweet spice of people strolling by and stopping to hug the grandkids and offer them treats? How about the guy who took a fancy to 18-month-old Cort and carried him off to buy him a race car at the local toy store? Just to be nice. Surely there’s no place on earth with a more generous and child-friendly people.