Recipes: The Alice Waters of Istanbul presents sophisticated Turkish food

Semsa Denizsel's simple but sophisticated restaurant is lusty, exuberant and real

Los Angeles TimesAugust 14, 2013 

ISTANBUL, Turkey — No mistaking when you meet Semsa Denizsel. She is the real deal: a female chef in a place where that's unusual enough, self-taught, outspoken in her opinions, fierce in her love for Turkey and its food. She's been called the Alice Waters of Istanbul. Not only do they share a farm-to-table philosophy, but they also have the same uncompromising sensibilities, with Waters' restaurant in Oakland, Calif., and Denizsel's here in Istanbul.

At Kantin, her restaurant, the plating is natural, unforced, a woman's eye. "I don't like fussy. It's not my style," Denizsel says. "I don't try to be something else I'm not, which is very important. This is the food I know. This is the food I feel comfortable cooking. This is the food I like to eat."

And after one bite of any of her dishes, you trust her completely. The following are two of her recipes.

ARTICHOKES ALLA ROMANA ALLA TURCA

1 hour, plus cooling time. Serves 10.

1/4 cup medium-grain rice, well washed

1 lemon

15 large artichokes

1 1/4 cups (300 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 onion, very finely diced into 1/8-inch pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper

12 to 15 cloves garlic, chopped or thinly sliced, divided

Leaves from one bunch parsley, chopped

1. Soak the rice in hot water for 30 minutes, then drain.

2. Meanwhile, peel the rind from the lemon into thumbnail-size pieces and halve the lemon, squeezing the juice into a bowl of water.

3. Prepare the artichoke: Peel, trim and clean the artichokes down to the bottoms; each bottom should be 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Cut each artichoke into 5 to 6 pieces (4 pieces if the bottoms are a little smaller). Hold the artichokes in the bowl of lemon water to prevent browning.

4. In a shallow pot, combine the olive oil and onion over medium-high heat until hot. Cook until the onion is softened, careful not to brown, about 5 minutes.

5. Stir in the rice and cook for a few minutes, then add the lemon rind. Add the artichoke bottoms and season with three-fourths teaspoon salt, or to taste. Reduce the heat and gently cook, covered, stirring occasionally to make sure every piece of artichoke cooks evenly until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. About halfway through cooking the artichokes, add half of the garlic.

6. When everything is cooked, remove from the heat, and stir in the parsley and the rest of the garlic. Season with freshly ground pepper and additional salt, if desired. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a serving platter and cool to room temperature.

7. Before serving, drizzle over a little more olive oil.

Nutrition per serving: 367 calories; 6 g protein; 29 g carbohydrates; 16 g fiber; 28 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 0 g cholesterol; 2 g sugar; 288 mg sodium

MEATBALL HASLAMA WITH TAHINI LIAISON

1 hour, 45 minutes. Serves 10

3 to 4 slices (3.2 ounces) stale bread

3/4 pound ground beef

1/3 pound ground lamb

1 egg

1/2 small onion, finely grated

1 to 2 cloves garlic, mashed, plus 2 cloves sliced, divided

1 to 2 bunches dill, stems removed and sprigs chopped (about 1/3 cup), plus 2 to 3 (2/3 ounce) bunches dill, sprigs only, divided

About 3/4 bunch parsley (2 1/2 ounces), stems removed and chopped (about 1/4 cup)

1 1/2 bunches basil (2/3 ounce), stemmed and leaves chopped (about 1/3 cup)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

About 8 1/2 cups (2 liters) chicken broth, more as desired

Scant 1 cup (7 1/2 ounces, 220 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 pounds boiled potatoes, diced to walnut-sized pieces.

40 pearl onions, peeled

5 egg yolks

Juice and zest of 2 lemons

5 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)

14 ounces Swiss chard, stemmed and leaves torn

1 pound, 1 1/2 ounces (500 grams) sugar snap peas

Sea salt, for garnish

Fresh basil and dill, for garnish

Extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish

1. Soak the bread in water until softened, about 5 minutes, then drain, squeezing out any water. Remove the crust and place in a large bowl. Stir in the ground beef, lamb and egg, along with the onion, mashed garlic, chopped dill, parsley and basil, one-half plus one-eighth teaspoon salt and one-quarter teaspoon pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.

2. Form the mixture into golf ball-size pieces and set aside. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

3. Bring the chicken broth to a boil. Reduce to a gentle simmer and season to taste.

4. Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add three-fourths cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons (200 ml) olive oil and saute the potatoes just until crisp on the outside, 10 to 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the potatoes to the broth to finish cooking until tender. Likewise, saute the pearl onions until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes, then add to the chicken broth to continue cooking until tender.

5. Fry the meatballs, in batches as necessary, until browned, 8 to 10 minutes per batch. Place the meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet and continue cooking in the oven until the meatballs are cooked through, about 5 minutes.

6. Prepare the liaison: Blend together the egg yolks, lemon juice and zest, one-fourth teaspoon salt, a few grinds pepper and sliced garlic using an immersion blender. Slowly add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons (20 ml) olive oil in a stream, then the remaining dill sprigs and tahini, to form a smooth liaison. Add a ladleful of hot broth to the liaison while beating to temper it. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.

7. Add the Swiss chard, sugar snap peas and meatballs to the chicken broth in the pot (add extra chicken broth if needed to cover) and bring to a boil to heat everything through. When the broth is boiling, remove the pot from the heat and gently whisk in the tahini liaison so it does not curdle.

8. Serve immediately in warmed bowls, garnished with a sprinkling of sea salt, fresh basil and dill, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Nutrition per serving: 531 calories; 18 g protein; 36 g carbohydrates; 5 g fiber; 36 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 144 g cholesterol; 6 g sugar; 1,121 mg sodium

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