In the summertime picnics, outdoor concerts and films are popular.
Turks love to have picnics. If invited to a picnic do not expect sandwiches and a thermos. Turks take a full kitchen, including a barbecue (mangal), bottled gas for making tea, porcelain plates, metal knives and forks, glasses, etc. It is a full meal cooked outdoors.
After living in Turkey for a summer, I realized that Turks really are the barbecue kings. In the summertime everyone loves to cook on the grill -- on the balcony, on the beach, at the park or even along the side of the road -- hey, anything goes!
Turkish cuisine offers variations of Turkish shish kebabs -- meat grilled on a skewer. Many of these variations are found in a number of different cultures because of fusion. As I point out in my piece “Barbecue queen” (June 20, 2007), Oriental cultures have a form of kebab called “satay” and European cultures have their adaptations. It is written that Christopher Columbus was fond of Portuguese espetadas, a beef shish kebab marinated in wine and roasted on an open fire.
Turkey is famous for its kebabs. Here the meat is usually marinated in olive oil or milk. In Turkish, “shish” means skewer and “kebab” means “roasted meat.” Kebabs were very popular among the nomadic tribes of Anatolia. The small cubes of meat threaded on the skewer are usually lamb, beef, chicken or fish. Different vegetables such as bell pepper, eggplant, mushroom, onion and tomato may also be cooked on the skewer. Also, an abundance of melons, grapes, cherries and peaches are available in the summer.
Garlic, mint and sweet basil are some of my favorite ingredients in food. You can't imagine how pleased I was to come across a book with the title "Garlic, Mint, and Sweet Basil: Essays on Marseilles, The Mediterranean, and Noir Fiction," by Jean-Claude Izzo. In this book Izzo writes about provincial meals and Marseilles, a cosmopolitan, maritime city that is greedy, sensual and warm.
If you delight in the strong flavors of rich Mediterranean cuisine and are an armchair traveler, you will especially enjoy this book as it is written in such a way to make you feel you are there, enjoying the flavors and places. This evocative and passionate collection of essays from the French crime writer is a paean to the life, cities and food of the Mediterranean.
Recently, while traveling in England, I picked up a recipe card from Tesco for a refreshing dessert to top off any barbecue on hot summer days. It is griddled watermelon with lime and mint sugar. This recipe serves six and only takes 15 minutes to prepare. For the lime and mint sugar you need the following ingredients: one lime zested and then cut into wedges to serve; four fresh mint leaves, very finely shredded and 3 1/2 tablespoons (tbsp) of golden caster sugar. For the griddled watermelon you need a medium-sized watermelon to cut into wedges. Here are the steps to make this refreshing dish:
· To make the lime and mint sugar, combine the lime zest with the shredded mint in a bowl, and then stir 2 1/2 tbsp of the caster sugar.
· Toss the watermelon wedges with the remaining tbsp of sugar, ensuring they are lightly coated on both sides.
· Make sure the coals of the barbecue are white-hot with no trace of flame. Sear the watermelon wedges for just a few seconds on each side, turning with tongs. The aim is to make the wedges with line from the grill, but not to cook them (so it is important that the barbecue is very hot, as described above).
· Transfer to a serving platter. Scatter the lime and mint sugar over the melon and serve with wedges of the zested lime, for squeezing overtop.
For many of us, summertime means cookouts. When I was living in Texas, we had barbecue parties in the back garden or on the patio. We all know a barbecue is more than just about cooking -- it is a fusion of food, connection, family, smoke, joy, love, ants and the sacrament of the shared meal. By the way, you can substitute the watermelon with wedges of pineapple or peach. Enjoy!