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Culinary Escape – The Turkish Way

written by Irene Ouso 4th October 2017

It is a little-known fact that Turkish people go very proud of their own, distinct pizza tradition. Commonly known as a Lahmajoun or the more calzone-like Pide (pronounced: pee-deh), these thin crust flatbreads are popular around the country for lunch or just a simple afternoon snack.  Yummy Editor Irene Ouso, enrols the help of a Turkish chef to teach her how to make Pide from home

Just as we were all getting used to the idea of mozzarella, basil and tomato, in comes the Turkish pide, a pizza with a Middle Eastern twist. Think soft lamb mince with white feta-like cheese or the aromas of smoked turkey and beef.

“A proper pide should be baked in a brick or other stone oven,” says Hassan Mirali, a Turkish national and chef who moved to Nairobi in 2012. Mirali, or Ekko as he likes to be called, is teaching me how to make some pide. Since I can’t make it to Istanbul, he decides to help it come alive right here in Nairobi. Ekko tells me that pide and its various varieties are widespread through Turkey and are a popular food. The base is a flat-bread similar to a regular pizza crust. Toppings vary widely and include onions, peppers, tomatoes, sausage, pastrami (seasoned beef or turkey which is smoked, then steamed) eggs, mushrooms, spinach, feta cheese and minced meat.  While we prepare the ingredients, Ekko explains that the history of pide is a little sketchy but that a commonly-held belief is that the dish was invented in the early twenties as a way of making use of the available ingredients in war-torn Turkey.

Today, we are cooking this national staple with a mozzarella, mint and a lamb mince topping. I observe Ekko as he preheats the oven to 200C and greases the oven trays. He then proceeds to mix flour, sugar, salt, yeast, water and egg into a soft bowl which he the covers and sets aside to rise.

“Rub some vegetable oil on your hands beforehand so that the dough is easier to handle,” Ekko reminds me as we are getting into the thick of it. “Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into circular flat pieces. Then gently extend each piece from the sides until you obtain long oval pieces or a surfboard shape”.

For the meat filling, Ekko proceeds to stir-fry 2 chopped onions and ½ Kg lamb mince. Once they are softened, he adds a diced red capsicum and 1 tsp tomato paste. As the ingredients bubble away, he proceeds to sprinkle the sauce with some paprika, salt, black pepper and fresh mint leaves. When the meat is cooked, he sets it aside to cool. He then brushes the flat dough with egg and ladles on the sauce. Next he sprinkles on some mozzarella cheese and folds the dough inwards from the sides, bringing it all together at the tips and brushing the base with the remaining egg.

Once in the oven, it takes about 20 minutes for the dough to start changing colour and the cheese to bubble. Ekko then extracts it, brushes it with olive oil and cuts it into thick one inch strips with a pizza cutter.

Ekko informs me that the original Pide, was made with butter and was literally dripping in the stuff. An empty Pide crust was coated with a large knob of butter before popping it in the oven to prebake, ready for a filling of pastrami or lamb which was also cooked in butter. Before serving, every pide was brushed with more butter and on the table was a dish with yet more butter, just in case. According to Ekko “Back then, without butter there was no pide. The additional butter flavours are what made it what it was.”

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