Last summer Max and I met in Istanbul after being apart for several months. Max flew in from Detroit the day before I flew from Prague, and in a way that truly seemed miraculous, we met in the airport without sending a single text message. Having had a cell phone for eleven years, it almost seems impossible that there was a time people frequently did such things without a thought.
We spent ten days there, and there are a lot of things that come to mind when I think of my trip. Like the moments that were truly “exotic” in a way that you can hope for but not anticipate–such as the lamp shops that lit up the night.
Or the color of the sea. We took a short cruise to the ruins of a castle and this was the view from there.
Of course there are various architectural marvels to gawk at, too.
But some places seemed hidden and all the more exciting for that hint of authenticity when getting to know a foreign city.
And I will never forget the fresh fruit. Peaches the size of my head, figs the size of my hand. It was incredible.
One of the best meals we had in Istanbul, hands down, was called mantısı (from what I could tell, pronounced man-tuh-suh) especially the Kayseri variety. They were billed on the English menu as “Turkish ravioli” and being a complete dumpling fanatic, I had to try it. They can vary in size and can also be called mantı (perhaps the bigger variety?) but the little mantısı were no larger than tortellini and tasted truly exquisite.
We often saw women making these in restaurants. They sat on the floor or on a low cushion, were usually quite old, and their hands moved faster than perceptible by the naked eye. I would never trust my own ability to either make the dough, which was light and delicate, or quickly wrap the filling in a perfect little bundle.
So when Max told me that he had found a sort of faux mantısı recipe, I was absolutely delighted. Though they are not the “real deal” and in some ways can’t compare, they are absolutely a taste of Turkey (but not of turkey-these guys are made with lamb!). After making the original recipe a few times with a few tweaks, I present:
Orecchiette alla Turca
1/4 lb ground lamb
1 medium eggplant
≈4 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced (separated into piles of 1 clove and 3 cloves)
1 large shallot
1/2 lb orecchiette pasta
1/2 tbsp mint or dill, preferably fresh
2/3 cup yogurt
Step 2) Mince the eggplant and toss with 2-3 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt. Lay these out on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Check out the fine mince job I did and be envious of my knife skills.
Step 3) Mince the shallot and garlic. You can also take a moment to admire my fine knife skills again before heating up about 1 tablespoon of olive over low heat. Keep in mind once you add the lamb you will get a of rendering fat, so don’t overdo it with the oil.
Step 4) Is the oven pre-heated yet? If so put the eggplant in. You’re going to need to check on them after about 7 minutes, when you should give them a gentle stir to make sure they are cooking evenly. I believe our total eggplant cook time came to under 15 minutes so keep your eye on them. Set them aside when they have cooked.
Step 5) Add 3 minced cloves of garlic and the minced shallot to the (hopefully large) pan with oil. Stir for about a minute, then add the lamb.
Step 6) As you can see, the lamb will kind of ball up at first. Keep stirring it and eventually it will start looking more like the picture below right, which is what you’re going for.
Step 7) Mix the yogurt and the reserved minced clove of garlic together. Add a couple pinches of salt.
Everything ready yet?
Step 8) Mix together the eggplant (which should look like the picture on the right if that helps) with all the ingredients in the pan. If your pan is large enough, mix in the orecchiette really really well in the pan. Either way, mix it all in really well.
Step 9) Sprinkle the herbs on top and a bit pepper as preferred. Add a dollop or two of the yogurt mixture, and you are ready to eat!
We used a Whole Foods brand of orecchiette that was only about $2 for the 1lb box. That felt like a steal to me, and the pasta was good. If you make this brand (or most orecchiette), though, you have to be sure to stir frequently as it boils because otherwise lots of “little ears” will stick together.
Okay, and now the moment you’ve all been waiting for….
The original recipe called for stirring in a whopping 2-6 tablespoons of butter but there is no way you will be able to digest that. It also calls for FOUR TIMES the lamb, which is absurd. As it is, I might try draining some of the lamb-grease from the pan next time and adding 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter. But no way on top of that grease. As it is, there is a good chance of inducing a stomach ache. But that just means it’s authentic! Trust me, you’ll have a stomach ache at least once in Istanbul.