Turkish inspiration and kisir bulgar salad
A jewel is hidden deep in the heart of Hackney. Step off the train at Dalston/Kingsland, trod straight through the murky depths of the Ridley Road market and walk to the far end. If the giant snails and eyeballed goats heads (this is a heavy-duty West African market, not the inspirational sort) haven’t grossed you out completely at this point, then cross the road. Right smack in front of you is the Turkish Food Centre (TFC).
Bursting with produce, dried fruits, spices, and fresh-baked bread; TFS is sparkling clean and has the most pristine meat imaginable. One aisle is dedicated solely to bulgur wheat with golden bags stacked high, ranging from extra-extra fine to fat pearl-like pieces. My visit began as a quest for two obscure ingredients to make kisir (a bulgur wheat salad similar to tabbouli, only better). Pepper paste (biber salcasi) and Turkish chili powder (pul biber) are difficult to source and most Middle Eastern stores don’t carry them. After reading about them in Moro cookbooks and Greg and Lucy Malouf’s Turkish travel/cookery book, Turquoise, I was keen to track them down.
Most London Turkish food shops are situated in Green Lanes in the far Northeast corner of the city. Although it sounds intriguing, Hackney is an easier and closer option. I found everything I wanted and much much more (I did resist the amazing metal kebab skewers). Lacking any restraint, I piled Persian cucumbers, long sweet green peppers, pomegranate syrup and spices into my basket, handed over a £20 note and waddled to the train with my bulging bags. Although you can buy these on-line from www.turkishsupermarket.co.uk, its more inspiring to walk around this mecca of Turkish cuisine.
Another carrot to lure you over is lunch at Mangal Ocakbasi on 10 Arcola street, about 10 minutes from the market. Considered the best Turkish food in London, its famous charcoal grilled kebabs, garlicky cacik and heaping plates of lemony salad will complete the experience.
A Turkish friend gave me this delicious recipe. Before I bought the pepper paste, I substituted tomato concentrate. They look the same but it lacks the intense roasted taste. The coarse, oily pul biber chili flakes are surprisingly mild with a smoky chili aroma. I’m already dreaming what shish kebabs will taste like sprinkled with it. So did the paste and chili powder make a difference? Indeed they did and it was worth the trek.
makes 8 cups
preparation time 30 minutes
400g/2 cups fine bulgur wheat
125ml/4 fl oz extra virgin olive oil
12 spring onions finely sliced (green and white)
4 tbsp Turkish pepper paste (if not use tomato concentrate)
juice of 2 limes
juices of 2 lemons
1 tbsp Turkish pul biber red chili flakes (if not use 2 tsp mild chili powder)
1 long cucumber, diced (seeds and skins can be used)
4 plum tomatoes seeded and diced
1 (30g) large bunch flat leaf parsley chopped
1 (15g) bunch fresh mint, leaves only chopped
2 tbsp pomegranate syrup
2 tsps sea salt
Place the bulgur in a large bowl and cover with 250ml/1 cup boiling water. Let sit for 10 minutes and then fluff up with a fork. Add all the other ingredients and stir together. Taste for salt. Cover and refrigerate up to 4 days.
For more Turkish recipes, thumb through this gorgeous book. The ‘spoon salad’ is my favorite thus far. The Malouf’s lend a cosmopolitan touch to authentic dishes without being too peasant-like.