I have just come back from a long weekend in Istanbul. Everyone told me before we went that it was an incredible city, and I wasn’t disappointed. We heard the muezzins calling people to prayer at lunchtime while overlooking the Suleyman Mosque. We cruised along the Bosphorus and had a special performance from one of Turkey’s foremost belly dancers (apparently – I mean, how would we know?!). We watched the red moon rise over the city from a restaurant in the hills. We saw the inside of the Haghia Sophia, a sight so awe-inspiring that it caused both a Roman Emperor (Justinian) and an Ottoman Sultan to prostrate themselves and thank their respective Gods the first time they saw it.
I also (inevitably) visited the Spice Bazaar in the Old Town, where Istanbullus still come to buy their supplies for the week. I looked around at the spice stalls, shops selling fresh feta and other cheeses, stalls with Turkish Delight, ropes made of dates, baklava and all types of nuts and dried fruit. I settled for buying some spices and pomegranate molasses from a kind looking man in one of the hidden-away spice stalls. He was quite bemused that I would want the molasses – not something he sees many Europeans buying, I suspect. I also bought some Turkish coffee from Mehmet Effendi’s stall – freshly roast and ground that morning. It smelled too good not to.
This is a dark red berry that is coarsely ground and used in Turkish cooking. It has a sour, lemony taste and is often sprinkled on meat (such as kebabs) or fish just before serving.
This is a dark, syrupy liquid made by boiling down the juice from the sour pomegranate (rather than the sweet pomegranate whcih is usually used for juice). It is sour, as you might expect, but also has a slight sweetness which makes for a very interesting flavour.
I used my brand-new pomegranate molasses to make one of Claudia Roden’s recipes (which also appears in her new book, Arabesque), Muhammara, a walnut and pomegranate paste.
100g walnut pieces
2 small slices of white bread, stale
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chilli flake
3 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp water
Soak the bread briefly in water and then squeeze it out. Grind the walnuts in the food processor, then add the rest of the ingredients and puree, adding a little more water if it’s too stiff.
This was much tastier than I had anticipated – bitter from the walnuts and pomegranate but with a little sweetness from the molasses. Next time I would add a little more chilli (Claudia also suggests stirring in some harissa), and maybe toasting the walnuts and cumin to bring out their flavours more.