Thursday, July 13, 2006

Jer: Kofte with Warm Eggplant Salad

One of my most memorable trips was a solo visit I did to Istanbul in 1999. I was mesmerized by the city – the spice market, the bazaar, the beautiful Hagia Sophia which was once the largest church in all of Christendom juxtapoxed against the Blue Mosque, a beautiful place of Islamic worship just down the road. I stayed at a very low-key inn the first part of my trip and then splurged on a majestic room at the Four Seasons for the second part of the trip which is located right in the center of town in a former prison. From the hotel’s rooftop you could see clear across the former Constantinople. On this trip I drank tea, haggled for and bought carpets, enjoyed Turkish delight, watched the ships along the Bospherous, chatted in numerous cafes with warm and friendly Turks, and ate a lot of eggplant salad and kofte.

I had never tried making eggplant salad at home so I found this recipe choice a real delight as it rekindled some truly wonderful memories that I have of this trip. I am in the middle of reading a book that follows the travels of Mandeville through the Byzantine Empire and in the car, I just finished Gilgamesh on audiobook, so I am particularly craving middle eastern food, culture and music right now. Also, tonight we celebrated the birthday of a good friend here who in October is embarking on a three week trip with two other buddies to Oman, Yemen, Dubai, and (if they can make the visas work), Iran. What better meal to serve him in honor of this upcoming trip than one of eggplant and lamb.

As is normally the case, Chino Family Farms provided incredible inspiration this morning. They had six or seven varieties of eggplant and the same number of tomatoes. I went to town and splurged on a few of each variety.

I put everything on the grill for the salad (the eggplants, tomatoes, the Italian green pepper, the Serrano chili, the spring onions and the garlic) and cooked them until the skins were fairly charred. There was an article in last week’s New York Times Food section about eggplant salad. In the recipe it said to slice the eggplant in half (but don’t cut it through) and tuck some slivered onions in the middle of the eggplant before grilling. I did this and found that it flavored the eggplant really nicely. I included the onions that I put into the eggplant into the salad. I made the salad a good 3-4 hours before dinner time and set it in a colander over a plate to drain. I think this was an important step as the finished product was thick with very pronounced flavors (the flavors were duller earlier in the day so letting it sit and thicken really helped elevate the flavor). I adjusted the salt/sugar every hour or so by tasting it. By the time I served it the eggplant salad was perfect. A little spice from the pepper, a little sweet from the sugar, a little tart from the lemon – wonderful and summery and everyone at the table loved it.

The kofte also turned out really well. I had some leftover onions (that were salted) so I chopped those up with the parsley and included them with the lamb and I thought the flavor was very nice. I think its important to use lamb as opposed to beef as the spices in this recipe are really authentic (good find!) so I think if it weren't lamb the dish wouldn't taste truly Turkish. The kofte were extremely moist and I wonder if that has to do with the soda water. I have never used soda water in meatballs but I think I will try it the next time I make Italian meatballs as I believe it is what really allowed the kofte to hold its moisture. Along side the kofte and eggplant salad I served a few lamb kebabs over couscous. I also served tzatziki on the side which I think was a nice addition to the plate. We did not have pita bread and I don't think its all that necesarry. The kofte and eggplant salad have such nice flavors that I think bread would just cut into that flavor. I did not reheat the eggplant salad as I thought it was just perfect at room temperature. I did not drizzle butter over the kofte. What I did instead was glaze them with olive oil before putting them on the grill and I think this was just the right amount of fat. I also think using fresh nutmeg is important as we could really identify the nutmeg in the kofte.

Our friends couldn’t stop raving about the food and Peter said that tonight’s meal was one of the best I had made in a long time. In fact he said he would repeatedly order that eggplant salad from a restaurant. Not too many Turkish restaurants here in San Diego so perhaps that means we’ll need to head back to Istanbul in the near future!

5 Comments:

Blogger Ashley said...

Finally another post!...I thought everyone was MIA there for awhile. Your dinner looks great - I'm glad that you have fun with the recipe! You've inspired me to get off my butt and go down and get some Aleppo pepper. I have been procrastinating it for too long!

13 July, 2006 17:36  
Blogger Elaine said...

Hi everyone, Just got back from San Diego. I haven't cooked a serious meal in ages due to my food aversions. The good thing is my kitchen stove is spotless. I'm going to try and motivate and cook this week.

15 July, 2006 18:47  
Blogger Kate said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

18 July, 2006 07:13  
Blogger Kate said...

I have been missing for a while..sorry. I went to my mums in England and had the break ive needed for some time.
I made the Kofte the before I went but just couldnt get the time to post it.
Jer your ingreds look superb.

18 July, 2006 07:14  
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