Domatesli Bamya (Okra Stew)

When we travel abroad, we like to stay in guesthouses for part of the trip to get a “feel” of the local place. I picked a guesthouse that was ranked highly on TripAdvisor, but more importantly was close to bus station. We thought of Selçuk as our base camp for visiting Ephesus, which was only 1.5 miles away. But surprisingly, we had one of our best meals of the trip at our guesthouse.

Upon arrival at the guesthouse, one of the owners gave us the predictable check-in orientation. She mentioned that they cook dinner every night for their guests and to let her know if we were interested, to make sure they’ll cook enough. Eh, at first we brushed it off – said we weren’t sure if we’d make it back in time from sightseeing. I had a couple local eateries listed as places to try anyway. So she said, “sure, no problem.” Then, she said in passing that, “mama’s cooking tonight.”

My food goals for Turkey were to try some street food, some classics, some contemporary cuisine, and some home cooking. I thought authentic, home cooking would be the hardest to find. So when I heard that “mama” was cooking, game over. Done. And we were lucky. Dinner was what you’d expect when you hear a phrase like that. There was nothing fancy, nothing meticulously plated. It was just honest, genuine food.

My favorite dish was this okra in a tomato based stew, hint of tangy but very aromatic. After we left Selçuk and traveled to some other towns along the Mediterranean coast, we saw slightly different iterations of this dish. Turns out, this is called Domatesli Bamya, a Southern Turkish regional dish popular in the summertime. This stew was so delicious, we recreated it the first weekend back in the States.

Ingredients

  • 1½ lbs okra (leave whole)
  • 3 medium ripe tomatoes (peeled and diced)
  • 1 small green pepper (sliced)
  • ¼ yellow onion (chopped)
  • 2 garlic cloves (chopped)
  • 3 tbsp tomato sauce
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp all spice
  • ½ cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 ½ tsp salt
  • 2 cups water

Directions 

  1.  Wash and drain the okra.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven.
  3. Sauté the onion and garlic for about 2-3 minutes, until the onion becomes transparent.
  4. Add the bell pepper and chopped tomatoes.
  5. Add in the paprika, all spice, cinnamon, pepper and salt. Cook together for a few more minutes.
  6. In a separate cup or bowl, mix together the tomato sauce and water and pour into pot.
  7. Add in the lemon juice and cook together for 2-3 minutes.
  8. Add the okra and stir to combine.
  9. Cook uncovered on medium heat for about 15 minutes.
  10. Reduce the heat to low and let gently simmer for 30-40 minutes.
  11. Serve with bread or rice.

Cook’s Notes

Okra is mucilaginous; this is goo, for lack of a better term, that surrounds the seeds in the pod. Cooking okra for a long time dissolves the goo. But if you’re cooking the pod whole, and break it in the process, then the whole dish will become…slimy. So if you really need to stir the stew, stir gently. And if you break a pod, remove it from the pot. I actually went the whole simmering process without stirring and the stew came out great!

Turkey Inspired

Friends, it’s been too long.

We’ve been on hiatus for the better part of the Summer. And for the past two weeks, we’ve been traveling around Turkey. Specifically, to Istanbul, the Western Anatolian cities of Selçuk, Şirince, Ephesus, Fethiye, Kaş, and Göreme, and to the Greek island of Rhodes. We saw great sites and definitely ate great food.

Our strategy was to sample mainly street food in Istanbul since we believed we could find more authentic and heritage cuisine from the smaller towns on our itinerary. So to find the great street food stands and stalls, I threw out the guide books and consulted Turkish food blogs, chiefly Istanbul Eats and Turkey’s For Life. In a city with such a strong street food culture, we knew we’d be in for a treat. We found great places to eat köfte, tantuni kebabbalık durum, and islak burger. They were cheap, filling, but also carefully made, well seasoned – incredibly flavorful!, and fresh.

Some of the best food we had were from the kitchens of the guesthouses from where we stayed. In Selçuk, we stayed at Homeros Pension run by a smal family. “Mama” prepares home-cooked dinners every night and guests can sign up to attend. We only stayed one night and did not pass up the opportunity to try an authentic meal. Hands down, this was one of the best meals we had in Turkey and we tasted regional cuisine of Southern Turkey. Funny fact – in Istanbul, we went to a restaurant specializing in the regional cuisine of Southern Turkey. We recognized some of the dishes there from the meal that Mama prepared. And the restaurant was no where as good (and definitely more expensive) as what we we had in Selçuk. So our strategy has merit! In Kaş, a small town along the Mediterranean coast, we again ate dinner at our guesthouse, Hotel Hideaway and had perfectly grilled, fresh caught sea bream. In Göreme, we stayed at Sultan Cave Suites and ate at it’s restaurant Seten Anatolian Cuisine. The restaurant features local dishes and cuisine from Anatolia. Though it was just the two of us, we couldn’t pass up the mixed meze platter, which filled us up before our main courses came!

What we loved most was the authenticity of ingredients. The food was simple but flavored incredibly through organic methods of charring, grilling, smoking, pickling, and drying. There were quite a few dishes we loved and want to (will attempt to) recreate for you from our tiny NY kitchen. So stay tuned for a few Turkey themed posts and recipes!

Wonton Soup

It’s officially Fall! And what better way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon than to make wontons? Hot, soupy dishes are perfect for this season. They’re pretty common in Asian cuisine. It’s a filling meal, but not too heavy since it’s mainly broth. Wontons are a type of dumpling. They differ from traditional dumplings, or potstickers, in that the filling of wontons is mainly meat with a little bit of chives. For potstickers, there is a higher proportion of vegetables, such as chives or cabbage. It’s easy to find frozen dumplings in stores but frozen pre-made wontons are not as easy to come by. But you can buy pre-made wonton (square or round) wrappers. Or make your own. I made my own this time. But either way you’ll have to wrap them. Here is a visual step-by-step on wrapping them.

Step 1: Place a wrapper on one hand and place a scoop of filling in the center.

Step 2: Fold the wonton wrapper vertically and bit off-center so you get drapey edges. How I did it – I took the bottom right corner and loosely folded it up so that the corner extends slightly above the top and is placed just to the right of the top left corner. Then seal the wonton by “burping” the air out of the interior and pressing firmly around the shape of the filling

Step 3: To fold it, turn the wonton 90 degrees to the right so that the first corner that you grabbed to fold the wonton up in half is pointing to the edge of your hand opposite your thumb. I then hold it as pictured below. I have my thumb supporting the wonton from the bottom side and I have my index finger slightly pushing down on the filling.

Step 4: I then take the two edges on either side of the filling. In the picture above, I’m grabbing one edge with my other hand and the other edge is right above the thumb supporting the filling from the bottom. Bring the two edges together and fold the corners on top of one another. Your index finger should still be slightly pressing down on the filling at this point. Once the corners have been pressed together, pull out the finger. This will create the loose shape of the wonton.

Step 5: Flour a baking sheet or cutting board and place the wontons on it until ready to be cooked.

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil.
  2. Cook the wontons in batches so the pot is not overcrowded. After the wontons are dropped into the boiling water, bring the water back up to a boil.
  3. After the wontons rise to the surface, add a couple of minutes and they will be cooked.
  4. Remove cooked wontons from the pot and start serving them into individual bowls.
  5. Repeat so that all the wontons get cooked.
  6. In a large pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil.
  7. Add in your desired amount of bean sprouts and watercress. Cook until watercress turns bright green and tender.
  8. Pour the broth and vegetables over the served wontons.

Steamed Turkey Baozi

Baozi is part of Chinese cuisine and generally refers to a type of steamed, filled bun. The kind you’re probably most familiar with is the roasted pork buns (cha siu bao) commonly found in Chinatowns. Soup dumplings are another kind of bao, called xiaolongbao. As you can tell, the word bao in these names denote that they are a type of steamed and filled bun. You have to try these! They’re quite delicious! I love biting into one of these – you get the texture of the soft, pillowy steamed bun that has been infused with the flavor of the meat during the steaming process. And along with this bite, you get a part of the filling that’s moist, flavorful and savory.

The dough for baozi is the same as the kind used for mantou, which I wrote about when I made Slow Cooker Barbecue Pulled Chicken Mantou Sandwiches. It’s a simple dough of just flour, water, sugar (optional), salt and yeast. The filling is traditionally ground pork, but I use turkey (sometimes a mixture of turkey and pork) because it’s leaner. The other ingredients in the filling is similar to what you put into meatballs, bread crumbs, egg and some broth. These additions make the filling moist and allow the flavor to get steamed into the dough. Yum! The other filling ingredients that make the dish traditionally Chinese include chives and spring onions. You can be creative with the filling ingredients! Large pieces of chopped shrimp can be added into the filling. And there are dessert versions of baozi, which have sweet bean paste, black sesame paste or lotus seed paste as the filling. While baozi can be eaten throughout the day, they’re most often eaten for breakfast in China. I’ll eat them for breakfast, lunch (and snack!), and dinner any day.

Directions

-For the Dough-

  1. Dissolve the sugar into the water.
  2. Add in yeast and let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Mix together flour and salt.
  4. Pour in yeast mixture and stir together.
  5. Knead to form a soft dough.
  6. Put dough in a bowl and cover with saran wrap or a lid.
  7. Let rise 1 1/2 – 2 hours, until it about doubles.
  8. If using a bread machine, put all the ingredients into the insert and set on basic dough cycle.
  9. Once the dough finishes rising, punch down and knead for about 5 minutes.
  10. Roll the dough into a log shape and divide into 16 equal pieces. Set aside.

-For the Filling-

  1. In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the filling.
  2. Roughly divide the filling into 16 portions so each baozi has equal filling.

-For the Assembly-

  1. Take a piece of dough and flatten to a round about 4″ in diameter. Make sure that the outer rim is a bit thinner than the rest of the round since the middle area needs to be thick enough to hold the filling without ripping.
  2. Cup the round in your hand and scoop a portion of the filling into the center of the dough.
  3. Bring together the edges of the round and pinch together at the top to make the baozi shape.
  4. Place each shaped baozi on a piece of cut parchment paper. This will keep it from sticking to the bottom of the steamer basket.
  5. Place the baozi in the steamer baskets a few inches apart from each other.
  6. Cover and let rise 45 min.

-For the Steaming-

  1. Add water to the steamer stack and steam 20 minutes.
  2. After the stove is turned off, let baozi sit in steamer covered for about 5 minutes so the steam can dissipate gradually. If the cover is immediately lifted after cooking, the quick escape of steam can cause the baozi to collapse.

Cook’s Notes

I like to eat baozi with some dipping sauce. I typically mix in some chili (sriracha) with some Chinese black vinegar.

Ground turkey is lean so the filling will be more dry than if you use pork. For a good in-between, you can mix these two types of ground meat.

To reheat leftover baozi, place a damp paper towel over one bun and microwave for 45 seconds. You can also reheat the leftover baozi by pan-heating (pan-frying) them in a bit of oil. This gives it a nice crunchy crust on the outside, like you get in fried dumplings. If you don’t want to use that much oil in the reheating process, first reheat in the microwave and finish on a lightly seasoned (or dry) pan just to harden the outside a bit.