A Day at Honesty Cookery School

A Day at Honesty Cookery School

Written by India Wickremeratne 

On Tuesday, I spent the day at Honesty Cookery School’s for their Flavours of Southeast Turkey course. Set up in a big, airy barn; the school overlooks Honesty’s gardens and greenhouses, rich with the promise of spring’s young crop. The class began over a cup of coffee and, once the ice was sufficiently broken, our teacher – Ozlem, walked us through her plethora of essential Turkish ingredients. By the means of what I can only assume is a Mary Poppins’ bag-esque set up, we were passed around jars of spices, herbs, and seeds. Fresh sumac berries still furry on the stem; crystalline mastic gum; and three (!) types of chilli powder. All the while, Ozlem sang of their history, traditional use, their many regional varieties, and how their role in Turkish cuisine has evolved over time. For example, prior to the introduction of citrus fruits to the region, our beloved sumac was used in lieu of lemon for an added brightness to rich dishes. Mastic gum dripping from leathery green leaves over 2,000 years ago has granted us the gift of Turkish delight today. Given its rich history, it’s no wonder that Turkish cuisine is very much a family affair, defined most aptly by the phrase “labour of love.” Passed down from one generation to the next, these ingredients, techniques, and the stories behind them build the foundation of a proud cultural identity and a vibrant culinary tradition.

We started with acili ezme (Chilli Kebab Mezze), and I was quickly reacquainted with the joys of the chopping board. I’ve always got an eye to roll when I hear the ever- tedious instruction to “empty your mind.” Even when I manage it – imagine you are a rock, a tree, a Formula One fan – I never last long, quickly return to my regularly scheduled programming of: Did I close the front door properly? When is daylight savings this year? How do they get the big tables into meeting rooms? But stand me in front of a chopping board with a big knife and a pile of veg, and I’ll give the
Mahayana a run for its money: complete serenity. Getting to know each piece of produce and devoting my attention only to the work at hand, food prep is easily one of my favourite parts of cooking. It was good news for me, then, that the labour of love for this recipe was in the diligent dicing of fresh ingredients into small, uniform pieces. It’s meticulous work, well-rewarded, that results in a light dish somewhere between a salad and a salsa. Once the tomato, onion, green peppers, parsley, and cucumber were prepped and diced, we started on the seasoning. A flavour-packed blend of olive oil, sumac, dried mint, kirmizi biber (sweet-hot chilli flakes), biber salcasi (Turkish red pepper paste), pomegranate molasses, and a creamy garlic paste made by crushing the cloves with sea salt in a pestle and mortar. Everything gets mixed together and drizzled with another lashing of pomegranate molasses. It is perfect as a side, bright and refreshing, but I could also easily see it holding its own atop a salty carb – flatbreads, or maybe even tortilla chips? I’m also tempted to incorporate some sort of fruit into it – peaches or apricots… potentially blasphemous but much to think about!

We then got started on making somelek kofte (bulgar and lamb kofta). Somewhere between a meatball and a gnocchi dumpling, I’d never tried these before – let alone made them – and so was slightly apprehensive going in. First, we soaked rough bulgur wheat in hot water, and covered for five minutes. We then added it to a large mixing bowl with an egg, minced lamb, more biber salcasi, semolina flour, cumin, and bicarbonate soda. We worked the mix for about ten minutes to properly  tenderise the meat and ensure that all the ingredients were fully incorporated. Ozlem showed us how to assemble the kofta by rolling small, walnut-sized pieces of mix between our palms into balls, then rolling them out into cylinders, and then pinching the ends slightly into dainty points. Here, I was reminded of the invaluable benefits of hands-on teaching in the kitchen. “Slightly smaller, please!” “Plumper in the middle!” “Pointier on the ends!” The meticulous work here was also well-rewarded, as I looked down at my full tray of kofta with pride that I had tried, not-quite-failed,
but certainly tried again. For the sauce, we warmed butter and olive oil in a frying pan with smoked paprika, purple basil, dried mint, and urfa biber – a dark, smoky chilli powder from Isot peppers with an earthy, almost raisin-y taste. Once everything was fragrant, Ozlem asked us to mix in more of our garlic paste and biber salcasi. We then added rinsed chickpeas and baby spinach to the deep red sauce and seasoned to taste. We cooked our kofte by adding them to salted, boiling water, and simmering until they floated to the surface. Left them to cook for another three minutes, strained, and added to the sauce with a splash of cooking water. Served hot atop a gorgeous garlic yoghurt, we mopped our plates clean with zahterli pide (za’atar flatbreads) and collapsed in pleasant exhaustion.

It was a privilege to witness Ozlem in the kitchen. As she taught us the ins-and-outs of Turkish cooking techniques and shared her rich heritage of proud culinary traditions, it was apparent that the labour of love required of all of her dishes was an expression of love. Love for culture, love for good food, and love for the joy of sharing it.

 

Follow India’s food journey on her Instagram Page: @wickremereatne