This past summer while in Greece I also took a side trip to Istanbul (Constantinople). I had previously gone to Istanbul one other time in ’97. The first time I visited this magical city I had spent most of my time seeing the more touristy sites like Dolmabahce, Blue Mosque, Aghia Sophia, the Egyptian Spice Market, Grand Bazaar and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
I did spend some time on my own to explore the famed local cuisine and just when I was getting a feel for the city – the trip was over – POOF! Back to Thessaloniki, Greece. I promised myself that I would visit Istanbul again and continue to explore the city on my own. The city gets it’s name Istanbul from the Greek name, Constantinople: Is thn’ poli – which became Istanbul in Turkish. I often go back & forth with both names. Istanbul today – Constantinople of yore.
When one visits Istanbul, you’re immediately taken aback by all the people: Istanbul has a population of over 20 million and inhabitants live on both sides of the Bosporus. Istanbul is the only city that straddles two continents, Europe and Asia.
Istanbul is a historic city, many peoples lived here, there are a thousand stories to be told and to this day, history continues to be made here. In the photo below, the Tower of Galata figures prominently. From here, the Genovese merchants who lived in the city (conducting trade) would monitor shipping traffic high atop on the tower.
When one visits Istanbul, the senses are heightened – including sound. The sound of music is everywhere: be it Turks breaking out into singing with minstrels that visit the restaurants, or the sound of the clanging trolley that travels along Istiklal Street or buskers on the street performing for small change.
Istanbul is about architecture. Many styles of architecture – depending on who built the edifice. Below is a “stoa” I found on Istiklal Street. Walk inside and you will find a maze of many stores and stalls offering an array of goods. To the right of the doorway is some Greek lettering saying, ” Agora Romylias”.
When one is in Istanbul, there are markets, bazaars and shops everywhere. Lots of vendors selling their goods to the over 20 million in and around the city. When in Istanbul, one must visit the Spice Market (also known as the Egyptian Spice Bazaar).
Istanbul at night is magical. Lots of people (again) but most of the city is relatively safe (just beware of pickpockets) and it’s great for people watching and a stroll might get you lost but you’ll be rewarded with more sights to give you the courage to continue on.
When one visits Istanbul, you quickly get the sense that this is a food-obsessed city. There are fruit & vegetable stands everywhere, restaurants abound and many many eateries to tempt you inside. The open kitchens of Istanbul (much like the ones in Greece) showcase the offerings of the day. I literally wanted to taste each and every dish on display.
Enough with the sightseeing – I have many memories to share with you and many of those memories are through the foods that I tasted in Istanbul. Today I would like to share a Kunefe recipe. This dessert originally came from the Palestinian city of Nablus but it’s popularity stretches across the Levant, Egpyt, it can be found in Greece and it is very popular in Turkey.
Last week I had a craving for Kunefe as my thoughts neandered back to Istanbul. I made the dessert, posted on Facebook and the reaction I got was overwhelming: RECIPE PLEASE was the the common response. My photo even evoked a recipe to be sent to me from Alexia Alexadiou, Vefa Alexiadou’s daughter, who’s followed in her mother’s footsteps and continues the legacy of offering Greek cookery to Greek homemakers and cooks from abroad as well.
This dessert’s main ingredient is Kataifi, a shredded phyllo pastry that resembles shredded wheat. It can be found frozen in some grocery stores, surely at a Greek, Turkish or Middle Eastern grocer and it’s much easier to handle than Phyllo pastry.
Kunefe will not win any awards for being calorie-wise as it contains melted butter, a mild cheese (the Turks use a cheese called Dil, also known as Turkish mozzarella) and the dish is finished with syrup, a dollop of whipped cream (Kaimaki) and ground pistachios. Eating this dessert is like this: a bite of the Kunefe enters your mouth, soft & syrupy kataifi from the bottom of the dessert, the crunch of the top layer of Kataifi, the gooey, neutral cheese in the middle and whipped cream and pistachio nuts to round out the flavour. The prep, cooking time and ease of this dessert make it very popular and the end result is heaven.
250gr of Kataifi (shredded phyllo) pastry
1/2 cup of melted unsalted butter
(plus extra pads of butter for top)
100 gr. of thinly sliced Mozzarella cheese (low sodium)
Or as a substitute, mix 400gr. of ricotta cheese with 1 cup of Greek yogurt
For the syrup
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup of water
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup of coarsely ground pistachios
whipped cream (add some vanilla extract and icing sugar when whipping)
Pre-heated 350F oven
- The night before, place your frozen Kataifi pastry in the fridge to that overnight. The next day, make the syrup my adding the water, sugar in a small pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and set aside to cool.
- Remove the Kataifi pastry just before you are going to work with it. Pull the Kataifi apart and tear in into smaller pieces over a large bowl. Melt enough butter to equal a half cup and pour it over the Kataifi. Toss the Kataifi with your hands until it’s well coated by the melted butter.
- In the meantime, grease the inside of a pie dish (preferably metal) or 4 individual serving vessels (approx. 6 inch diameter) with butter. Place half of the Kataifi on the bottom of the vessel(s) and spread evenly and press down. Now top with the slices of Mozzarella cheese and then the remaining half of Kataifi. Again spread and press down with your fingers. Place in the fridge for 15 minutes.
- Pre-heat your oven to 350F and set the rack to top position. Remove your Kataifi from the fridge and place a few pads of butter on top. Place in your pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes or until the top is golden.
- Remove the Kunefe from the oven and pour the COLD syrup over the HOT Kunefe with a ladle. Allow to cool for 2 minutes before serving. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream on each portion with some ground pistachios on top.
If you are not reading this post in a feed reader or at http://kalofagas.ca then the site you are reading is illegally publishing copyrighted material. Contact me at truenorth67 AT gmail DOT COM. All recipes, text and photographs in this post are the original creations & property of the author.
© 2007-2010 Peter Minakis
. All rights reserved.