When I go to Turkey, there is one mezze I cannot pile high enough on my pita. Even better, Murat’s Auntie makes us a large container every time we come, so for the entirety of our trip we have some for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack every day. The delectable dip is a mixture of walnuts, red peppers, and a variety of spices, and I had not tasted anything quite like it until Murat’s aunt sent over her secret sauce during my first visit.
As Murat and I neared the end of the homemade jar during my first visit, I mentioned that he should get the recipe from his Auntie. As is typical when on vacation, we forgot to ask before packing up and returning home. On the subsequent visits we were treated with the same gift each time, and I started to more aggressively remind Murat to get the recipe. I had to make this at home. I found the reason for Murat’s reluctance to share the recipe when he finally admitted, “Jacqueline, Teyze doesn’t give away her recipes.” Was it a joke? “But we’re family!” I protested. But her recipes are of such epically secret proportions that family or not, it didn’t matter.
So, I determined that through trial and error, I would figure out how to make acuka myself. I searched many recipes online, and even found out that some call acuka ‘magic sauce’ – ya, it’s that good. A big reason why I may not have run into it so much here is because the main ingredient is pepper paste. While this might be found at Turkish specialty grocers, it’s not exactly easy to get in the US.
So my first task was to figure out how make the pepper paste. Without the paste, there would be no acuka. I combed the internet and watched YouTube tutorials, and realized that traditionally the pepper paste is sun dried in large saucer-like plates on rooftops. Not exactly a viable option for me. But like always, the internet pulled through.
Using Auntie Saniye’s YouTube channel (at least one auntie was willing to share their secrets!) and the recipes found on A Simple Pantry's, Tanya Zouev’s and The Aegean Delight’s pages, I was able to learn the spices and techniques that go into making acuka. Our kitchen became a test kitchen and experimental acuka lab. Through multiple iterations and taste tests, I feel that we have an almost-authentic homemade Turkish mezze at our fingertips. It’s not quite Murat’s Auntie’s, but in some ways, that’s the fun of it. To keep tweaking the recipe slightly every time, adding notes to my Google Doc, and hoping that one day, it tastes just like Ferser Teyze’s.
Step 2 - Make Acuka:
Despite the lack of kitchen space in our lovely hobbit hole, we still manage to get creative and enjoy finding and trying new recipes. Right now, it doesn't matter that our shelves are at maximum capacity, and that the top of the fridge, above the cabinets, underneath the bed, and all manner of nooks and crannies have become storage centers for dishware and dry goods. We're learning to live with that, and know that more space will come soon enough. Luckily we are both organized and borderline anal-retentive, so we manage to fit everything into the tiny spaces like a puzzle.
The other night, I made sweet potato and black bean tacos. It was my second time making it, and now I've confirmed that it's a recipe that will be used over and over again. It's easy, it's healthy, it's delicious, and - you get to eat a burrito (or several) for dinner. Could there be any other result besides absolute enjoyment when dinner includes tortillas and guacamole?
As one who lives to eat, I’ve never understood those who eat to live. My relationship with food is a joyous one, and my life is enhanced by experiences at restaurants and family made home-cooked meals that give you both permission and encouragement to take seconds, then thirds.
Despite my love affair with food and my constant thought of ‘when will I eat next?,’ I never felt at home in the kitchen or comfortable doing the cooking myself. It even made me slightly anxious, and often left me paralyzed with visions of smoking pots and fires in the oven, quickly followed by me grabbing my phone to order take out. Suddenly, in the last few months I’ve come around to the idea of experimenting in the kitchen, and I’ve found I really enjoy it! Often when I begin, I have no idea how a recipe will turn out and have many doubts regarding my culinary abilities mid-way through, but most of the time, it actually turns out very delicious.
I’ve been documenting some of my trials (and errors) and wanted to share my adventure in Brussels (spouts) that happened a few weeks ago.
I've since made this recipe again and they came out just as delicious. Even Murat, who swore up and down he'd never eat brussel due to traumatizing childhood memories involving boiling the offensive vegetable, took seconds. High praise indeed!
Reflecting on my experiences with the world, my neighborhood, and my home.