Photo: A traditional Turkish dish of eggplant kebabs during a hands-on turkish cooking class at The Mosaic Foundation. The foundation offers cooking classes as one of the ways it teaches about Turkish culture. (Photos by Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)
AURORA — About noon on Sunday, not long after some returned from church services, about 40 people gathered for a Turkish cooking lesson from two women wearing hijabs.
The instructors, Elif Akbulut and Gulsum Ciftci Katmer, are members of the Multicultural Mosaic Foundation, a nonprofit organization that hosts social, cultural and educational activities. The foundation was founded by Muslim Turks interested in establishing interfaith relationships with Christians, Jews and others.
Many of those who showed up for the cooking class had been to a Mosaic Foundation- sponsored lecture, movie, Turkish language lesson or trip that also featured Turkish food. The meals garnered so much interest that the foundation’s president, Ismail Akbulut, decided to add cooking classes to the center’s activities.
“I just got back from Turkey, and I’m here because the food is fabulous and I love to cook,” said Jaclyn Yelich.
“And I want to cook homemade Turkish food. I loved the meatballs there, and how fortunate we are to be making them today!”
Meatballs and eggplant kebabs were on the menu. A cafe table held copies of recipes for the kebabs and a pilaf — pilav in Turkish — that, alternating with bulgur, accompanies nearly every meal.
As Elif Akbulut demonstrated toasting the rice and a little orzo (she likes to add a couple spoonfuls of the grain-shaped pasta to make rice look more appealing), the others leaned forward. Most of the students were women who already know how to cook rice, but not like this.
“Rinse the rice first, and in southern Turkey, they add lemon juice to make the rice very white,” Akbulut said.
“Then you can cover the rice with hot salted water and leave it alone until it’s cool. Or you can first put the rice in a pan with a little oil or butter, and fry this until the rice toasts a little, and then add the water. I like to add some orzo to make it look nice.”
Her audience looked puzzled but interested. Add orzo, a pasta, to rice?
Elif Akbulut, left, and Gulsum Katmer demonstrate how to prepare Turkish pilaf during a hands-on turkish cooking class.
Photo: Elif Akbulut, left, and Gulsum Katmer demonstrate how to prepare Turkish pilaf during a hands-on Turkish cooking class.
“It does make it look prettier,” said Amy Tamminga, after she sampled the finished pilaf, freckled with golden bits of orzo.
Then Katmer demonstrated eggplant kebabs, which include the meatballs Yelich likes so much, seasoned with finely ground onion, bread crumbs and spices.
Traditional Turkish cooks mince onions into fine pieces that almost are a paste, Katmer explained, “but I like technology.” So she put roughly chopped, peeled onion pieces into a mini-blender and gleefully watched them dissolve into mush.
“Faster,” she said with the satisfaction of someone who knows the tedious task of mincing an onion with only a knife.
She mixed the decimated onion into ground beef, along with other ingredients, deftly shaping meatballs the size of walnuts. Then, assigning cutting boards to four onlookers, Katmer and her helpers sliced slender Japanese eggplants — much slimmer than the outsize pear-shaped version at supermarkets — into round slices that matched the size of the meatballs.
One of the helpers was Amina Guder, age 9, who clearly is handy with a knife, slitting green chile peppers into thin slices.
“I like to cook at home,” she said. Her father, Ismail Guder, the foundation’s executive director, looked on as Amina and the others alternately threaded eggplant slices and meatballs on skewers.
The communally made kebabs baked in the foundation’s oven while everyone sat down to plates of previously prepared eggplant kebabs, pilaf and a salad of diced tomatoes and cucumbers.
“This is so good!” said Rosann Engblom, who brought her daughter, Quinn, a high school senior who’s been studying world religions.
“I’m all about food, and I love learning different ways of cooking. The eggplant is delicious! It melts in your mouth! Is that how the kebabs we made will be?”
Katmer, who was at the same table, smiled a little guiltily.
“No, these eggplant slices were fried in a little oil before they went on the skewers,” she admitted.
“For me, this tastes better, but it’s not as healthy as if you don’t fry the eggplant. But it tastes so good!”
Claire Martin: 303-954-1477, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/byclairemartin
Source: Denver Post: http://www.denverpost.com/food/ci_26909877/undefined?source=infinite