Onions – it all comes down to the onions,” one of my fellow dicers opined as we chopped yet more of the tear-inducing alliums, before watching them sauté for longer than we’d usually spend on a whole meal.
“Why, how long do you normally spend getting your dinner together?” asked teacher Semra.
A look of shock flashed across Semra’s face. We were on a vegetarian cookery course at Turkey’s Yediburunlar Lighthouse, a small hotel with a huge reputation for its organic and predominantly vegetarian cuisine. Semra Aydeniz and her husband, Leon, built the hotel themselves, in a remote and rugged spot with stunning coastal views along the famed Lycian Way. It’s not a real lighthouse but, approaching the hotel at dusk, its lights shining like beacons through the swirling sea mist, its name made sense.
Having received accolades for Semra’s cooking – as well as repeated requests to be shown how it’s done – Yediburunlar has introduced week-long courses; I was on the second one. To a background soundtrack of tinkling goat bells and singing crickets, we would sit around a wooden table, chopping and peeling, assisting (or hampering) Semra with the dishes that would comprise each lunch and evening meal.
Ingredients were all local and seasonal, and we were surprised at the intensity of flavours given the simple components. Semra’s main secret seemed to be patience – something that we, her pupils, all with busy lives back in the UK, had a shortage of. The onions would sweat away for 15 or 20 minutes. “You can be getting on with preparing everything else meanwhile,” admonished Semra.
While some of the dishes were adaptations of international veggie favourites, it was the more authentically eastern Mediterranean recipes that interested us most. Our falafels were moist and delicious, homemade hummus a zillion times better than any from a supermarket. Cheese and potato stuffed pastries – börek – were a big favourite, and magic was performed with humble cauliflowers, carrots and broccoli.
Salads – purslane with pomegranate juice, grape molasses and walnuts; grated courgette with yoghurt and garlic; carrot with peach – were packed with flavour. But the most surprising, and popular, was the onion salad. Served raw with parsley, rocket, lemon and garlic, we couldn’t get over just how tasty it was. “The secret is to squeeze the onions with your hand,” explained Semra, “it gets rid of all the bitterness.”
Yes, I had to agree: in the end, it all comes down to onions.
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Ingredients:1 pack pastry (Turkish if possible; brik or filo will do)
1. Mix all the ingredients together; make sure the mixture is dry
2. Cut the pastry into triangles and brush lightly with oil
3. Spoon some filling onto the widest part of the sheet; roll into a cigar shape
4. Shallow fry in batches until golden brown
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