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Some Specialties and Forgotten Dishes of Hatay Cuisine

Sadık Ayhan İpek

Within the whole of Turkish cuisine, that of Hatay has special place. Although it has preserved its character until recently, certain dishes are in danger of being forgotten or simply abandoned. Some of these have never entered the literature because those who are engaged in this profession do not hold them in high esteem.

They are being forgotten because of the difficulty of their preparation, and because the generation who knows how to make them is disappearing. This should serve as a reminder to lose no time in researching these dishes so that we can pass this knowledge onto future generation. The purpose of this article is to act accordingly, and highlight some of these dishes and certain specialties of Hatay cooking.

Yoğurtlu Kebap (Kebab with Yogurt): Grind lean meat three times, then shap into marble-size balls and sauté in butter. Cut stale bread into cubes, place into a pot, and onto this, pour meat broth. Over the soaked bread, add a layer of either sheep’s milk yogurt or strained cow’s milk yogurt flavored with garlic. Top this with dry mint, red flake pepper and the sautéed meat. Heat well and serve. It is an all-season dish.

Arap Kebabı (Arab Kebab): In the kitchens of Antakya, mincemeat is made in two different ways. The first way, as throughout the country, is to grind it in a meat grinder one or two times. This type of mincemeat is used only in şiş kebab. The second way is practiced only in the butchers of Antakya; the meat is cut with rounded knives 40-50 cm long and 8-10 cm broad. The meat is cut to the size the customer desires. Naturally, this is a job done by well-trained butchers, because it is not a job that everyone can do well.

Arap kebabı is made from medium fatty, coarsely-cut meat. Saute ½ kilo of knife-cut meat on medium heat till half cooked, then add two chopped medium onions and red flake pepper. When the onion is transparent, add 3-4 finely chopped skinned tomatoes, and cook the mixture on high heat. The tomatoes first give up their water; when the extra water is evaporated, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. It is generally served alongside çiğ köfte, or “raw köfte.” Both dishes are topped with chopped parsley. In the old days, these were only made in summer but now are made year-round.

Patlıcan kebabı – Eggplant Kebab: This is made with the long, think eggplants of the variety known as kemer in Turkey. Cut eggplants into 2 cm sections, unpeeled. As with the previous dish, the meat is medium-fatty, coarsely cut meat, seasoned with black pepper and ground red pepper. Form this into rounds the same size as the eggplant, and put onto a spit, beginning and ending with eggplant, and roast over hot coals. Then place it in a pan, still on the spit, together with cooked previously cooked tomatoes, fresh peppers and a bit of butter and cook covered, for 15 minutes.

Ezme Kebabı – “Puree” Kebab: Cook a large tomato on a spit over the coals. Then place medium fatty knife-cut meat on a spit alternately with slices of onion, and cook on two skewers. When the kebab is finished, top with the pureed tomato and chopped parsley.

Seyis Lahmacunu – Seyis Lahmacun: Ingredients: 200 gr medium fat knife-cut mincemeat, one medium tomato and 2-3 cloves of garlic. Cut the tomato small like mincemeat. Add salt and black pepper to the meat and knead all the ingredients gogehter. Roll out some a piece of bread dough very thin and cook half way in the oven, then take out and top with the meat mixture and return to oven until done.

Fırında Buğulama Pirzola – Oven-Steamed Steak: Take a beef stake 20 cm in diameter and beat it with a meat hammer until fairly thin. Cut an onion into thin rounds and knead with salt and black pepper, and rub the steak with this. Spread onions soaked in vinegar, whole parsley and kuyruk over the steak and roll it up, then wrap in oiled paper. Wrap this with 3-5 thicknesses of newspaper, and tie with a string. Dip into water and place into the back of the oven. Bake 2 hours

Dil Şiş Kebabı – Tongue Şiş Kebab: Boil and remove the skin from a beef tongue, then cut into cubes and cook like tail. Serve with the same vegetable garnishes as other kebabs.

Bakla Ezmesi – Broad Bean Puree: Bakla ezmesi is an important dish in Antakya cuisine; it serves as an early-morning breakfast as well as a snack at any time; for this reason it is sold at almost all the hummus shops. It is also a popular ready-made food and meze.

In order to make this dish, professionals buy enough broad beans to last them the entire year. As broad beans take a long time to cook, the desired amount of beans are washed and placed to soak a day ahead in specially made tinned copper vessels. The beans are washed, then water is added again, and these vessels are buried in the embers which heat the water for the hamams (Turkish baths). There they stay all night, and by morning they are perfectly cooked, and are taken to the shop. When an order comes in, the desired amount of broad beans and cooking water are dipped up with a special ladle. The beans are pounded with several cloves of garlic in a porcelain or copper mortar and pestle made especially for this job. The resulting product, which is fairly thin, is mixed with tahini and lemon juice. Then the customer seasons it with cumin, olive oil and parsley to taste. It is generally served with pickles or radishes. It is very nutritious and stimulates the appetite.

One of the characteristics of broad beans is that eaten alone, they are rather difficult to digest and create a lot of gas. However they are a good source of protein and amino acids that the body needs. The cumin, tahini and garlic add to the flavor, but also decrease the unpleasant gas-forming properties and aid in digestion. It is an especially good source of nutrition during the winter. In other areas of Turkey, broad beans are made into a dish called “fava.” Fava has no tahini, thus it creates a considerable amount of gas. But in Antakya broad beans are widely consumed. The same shops also make a similar dish out of chickpeas called “hummus.”

Halevet: Halevet is the name for the very light-colored, chestnut sized pieces of fat which are found near the intestine and around the liver of steers. These pieces are rubbed with cumin and salt and threaded onto a skewer, then cooked as kebab or roasted in the oven. They are very much in demand by those who like them; people either love it or hate it. It is the highest-quality fat in the animal’s body, hence its fine flavor. In Antakya, it is quite widely consumed.

Tepsi Kebabı, Kâğıt Kebabı – Pan Kebab, Paper Kebab: The ingredients for these two roast meat dishes are nearly the same. To a kilo of medium fat minced beef, add a mixture of two tablespoons of black pepper and one teaspoon of cumin, one teaspoon ground dried mint, one teaspoon thyme, two teaspoons of ground red pepper and three bunches of finely-sliced parsley. Evenly press the meat mixture 3-4 mm deep over the bottom of a baking pan (tepsi). Over the top, arrange sliced tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes if desired. Add some thinned tomato paste and bake in the oven till done. Serve with thin flat bread.

For kâğıt kebabı, spread tomato paste over a piece of oil paper, then press the same meat mixture 3-4 mm thick over the paste in a circle and smooth the edges with a knife. Arrange a few slices of tomato and pepper over the top and bake in the oven. Serve with flat bread. These kebabs are made with machine-ground meat. They are mixed with the parsley and other ingredients by cutting them in with a curved knife.

Bıçak Kıyması – Knife-Cut Mincemeat: In Antakya, the minced meat used in vegetable dishes is made with a knife 40-50 cm long and 7-8 cm broad, which is rocked back and forth over the meat like a cradle. Even the meat ground by machine has its sinews and gristle cut out first. Nowadays electric meat grinders are common in Antakya, but only 15-20 years ago, they were never seen at a butcher’s shop; all mincemeat was knife-cut.

In Antakya, butcher and baker are prestigious professions. Not just any butcher or baker can satisfy the public, because there are certain foods that require a high level of mastery and not everyone makes them well. One of these is katıklı ekmek (lit. “bread with food”). A filling made of spinach, a special local salted yogurt, finely chopped onion, curd cheese, ground red pepper and olive oil is wrapped in a piece of bread dough, which is then rolled out to 40-50 cm in diameter. Naturally not all bakers can make it. Other items which require special knowledge are the very popular lahmacun biberli ekmek, külçe, kete, oruklar, kömbe and various pastries. Bakeries also produce several different types of bread.

Housewives also have many dishes made at the stone ovens in their neighborhoods. For this reason the bakers of Antakya must have a considerable amount of knowledge, and are a great help to the housewives. It is also for this reason that there are many neighborhood bakeries; even though there are more and more bread factories, the neighborhood bakeries still survive.

Bulgur is a mainstay throughout our country, but in Antakya it is even more important and indispensable an ingredient. Today, modern methods have made the production of bulgur much easier but up until the 1950s, it was made under very harsh conditions with a lot of hard work on the part of the people. In July and August, every family bought enough wheat to make bulgur for an entire year. This was cooked in special large cauldrons. During this time the  household busied itself with nothing else.

Locally, the cooked wheat is known as zılka, and children especially liked to mix it with small multicolored candies. In Anatolia, the wheat thus cooked is called hedik, and is eaten by adults as well. In old Antakya houses, the wheat was spread out to dry on stone patios called havuş. After drying for 2-3 days, the wheat was put into special bags and stored. When it was needed, people called bulgur grinders to their homes. Today, bulgur is made in factories.

When the bulgur is ground, it is passed through special sieves and sorted into fine and coarse bulgur, known as aşlık and köftelik (for food and for köfte). This also produced a byproduct, which was finer than the köfte bulgur, and was called düğürcük. A special köfte, which is very popular, is made from düğürcük. When düğürcuk is ground to semolina size, the resulting product is called bulgur unu (bulgur flour). This last and least plentiful bulgur product was used in the first cleaning of newly-tinned copper kettles, and also mixed with water and salt and added to turnip and other pickles to cause the water to go sour. Today both düğürcük as well as bulgur flour is mixed with the fine bulgur. But those who are really picky about their food use a sieve to the smaller particles from the fine bulgur before making köfte.

Kozlu Kadayıf – Walnut Kadayıf: In Antakya, in addition to the familiar “string” kadayıf (which resembles shredded wheat), the künefe shops also make two other products from the same dough. Generally known as taş kadayıf, and resembling small pancakes, these are cooked on a smooth cast-iron griddle. The first type, known throughout Turkey as taş kadayıf, is round, and 8-10 cm in diameter. The second, made only in Antakya, is poured 5-6 cm wide and 10-12 cm long and is known as koz kadayıf. This type is filled with a mixture of chopped walnuts and a bit of powdered sugar, they are then folded over longways and the edges are pressed together. (Because they are cooked only on one side, the tops stick together readily.) They are then arranged tightly in a pan, and drizzled with sesame oil, followed by warmed and thinned grape molasses.

This kadayıf has quite a different flavor than the others and was very popular, but for some reason ceased to be made after 1950. One reason is perhaps that it was made when sugar was scarce and expensive, and therefore made from grape molasses; and when sugar and sweets made therewith became more plentiful, it became obsolete. In Antakya, walnuts (ceviz in standard Turkish) are called koz, whence the name of this sweet. Kadayıf made with walnuts is available almost everywhere in Turkey, but this kadayif is fried. This is not very popular in Antakya because there, they are eaten “raw” (i.e. cooked and filled, but not deep fried afterwards).

Another type of taş kadayıf made in Antakya is “ağızlı kadayıf.” The first milk secreted by mammals after the birth of their babies, colostrums, is essential for the baby. In our region this milk, which is the right of the baby, is unfortunately taken by humans. This milk is mixed with normal milk. When boiled a bit, it thickens and takes on a consistency between that of yogurt and curd cheese. This is called “ağız.” Ağız made from sheep’s and goat’s milk is preferred over that from cow’s milk.

From January until the end of March, ağız is sold at dairy shops. A spoonful of this is placed in the middle of the cooked side of one taş kadayıf, and the edges is folded over into the ağız in a half circle shape. Enough of these are made to fill a pan, and then a thick sugar syrup called akit is poured over them and they are allowed to cool before serving.

Yalancı Köfte – “False” Meatball: This type of köfte is made during the summer. The ingredients are fine bulgur, pepper paste or crushed red pepper, and a mixture of fresh green or red peppers, olive oil, chopped onions and salt; this is sautéed until well cooked. Finely chopped tomatoes are added to the mixture and cooked well. More tomatoes are added to moistened bulgur and the whole mass is kneaded well. When the bulgur has softened completely and come to a good consistency for shaping, the köfte are formed and served along with the pepper, onion and tomato mixture. It is called “false” köfte because it is meatless.

In conclusion, the points that I would like to leave with you are:

In Hatay cuisine, the butchers and bakers play as important a role as the housewives themselves; they must all work together to preserve these flavors.

If the Hatay culinary traditions are not passed onto the next generations, if dishes are not taught and a taste for them is not developed, then we are doomed to lose many more of our local dishes.

In the old days, Hatay cuisine was characterized by different dishes for every season. Nowadays, because of modern methods, every vegetable is available almost year-round. In addition, the processes of grinding/milling such ingredients as minced meat, hulled wheat, bulgur etc. are now done with modern machinery. These new methods facilitate the preservation of traditional foods, and should be taken good advantage of. If we become completely caught up in the flow of everyday life, our children, which have already turned into a “sandwich generation,” will one day lose even the slightest interest in our local foods. If we want to avoid this, then we should act now.

[Bulletins of the 11th Hatay Cuisine Symposium (July 21-22 1996), Antakya 1996.]

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