I arrived in Konya well after midnight, to participate in the Atesbaz-in Culture Cuisine Cultural Days (Atesbaz-in means “the person who plays with fire” ie. the cook) a conference devoted to the cuisine of this special part of Anatolia, and to Rumi, the poet and philosopher who made Konya his home.
From the moment I arrived, welcomed warmly by the conference organizers despite the hour, the experience was a bouquet of sensations, information, education. I was fortunate to be part of the program, where I presented a demonstration of French cooking while explaining its fundamental roots in both terroir and the spirit of “grandmother”, notions which found resonance in my colleagues and the international public present at the conference.
The cuisine of this part of Anatolia, the wheat basket of the country, is rich with bulgur and succulent lamb, huge fresh figs and gorgeous blue cheeses aged in caves outside the city. It is aromatic with cinnamon, punctuated by tahini and pomegranate molasses, swathed in Kaymak (cream) and suzme yogurt (strained yogurt) , anchored by pastry-wrapped everything (bourek).
What I remember most, though, along with the multitude of flavors and textures, the sights and the atmosphere of Konya and its neighboring town of Sille with the church of St. Helena, is the exceptional warmth and generosity of the people. With a kiss on the back of my hand, I offer you a few glimpses of Konya. (…and keep strolling for a simple, Konya-style recipe).
This is a very, very simple version of a Turkish side dish that resembles pilaf. It is ideal on its own or as an accompaniment to roast lamb.
1-1/2 cups dried bulgur
½ cup dried apricots (preferably unsulfured)
Fine sea salt
1 fresh bay leaf (or dried, imported)
¾ cup cooked garbanzo beans
Turkish pepper paste OR medium-strength paprika
- Place the bulgur, the apricots, and enough water to cover by about 3 -inches (7.5cm) in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium so the water is still boiling gently, add about ½ teaspoon of salt and the bay leaf, stir and cook until the bulgur is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, reserving about ½ cup (125ml) of the cooking liquid.
- Return the bulgur and apricots to the saucepan, stir in the garbanzo beans and enough of the cooking water to moisten the mixture, and heat it over low heat until it is steaming. Adjust the seasonings, and serve.
Side dish for 4 to 6