Adrift in the Culinary Doldrums

Something bleak and oppressive has taken hold of me.

It’s the cook’s version of writer’s block, and it’s tormented me for weeks. The cupboards are a barren wasteland of half-empty spice packets and spilled lentils. The burners are cold. The kitchen smells of…nothing. A couple days ago I wandered through the aisles of the local Migros and emerged empty handed.

I’m out of ideas.

“What’s for dinner?” my family usually inquires around 5 pm.

“Um, I don’t know.”

“Well, what’s in the fridge?”

“Two wizened cucumbers, a kilo of rotting spinach, a heel of farmer’s cheese, some Chinese curry paste and three eggs.”

This grim reply silences my interrogators and casts a pall over the apartment.

Now to be fair, I’m dealing with some limitations. In the first place, we don’t have an oven. In the second place, meat isn’t a huge option. Being in a Muslim country, there’s no pork, unless I want to shop at the overpriced and culturally questionable “Pork Shop,” a local business that caters to English expats. Beef, lamb and chicken are available, but the beef and lamb are pricey; as for chicken, well, let’s just say I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than eat more chicken. And it doesn’t help that the sublime fruits (figs, nectarines, peaches) and flavorful tomatoes of summer are long gone, replaced by the duller, more stalwart offerings of winter.

Come to think of it, my culinary inspiration always dries up this time of year.

But enough whinging. I need to snap out of it before the kid runs away from home.

Fortunately today is Tuesday, which means the sprawling Fethiye farmer’s market is on.

Although the bounty of summer is over, bins still overflow with onions, potatoes, carrots, peppers, unfamiliar leafy greens, leeks, cabbages, herbs, green beans, radishes, zucchini, pomegranates, chestnuts, tangerines, plums, apples, melons and more. Opened sacks of dried legumes, grains, nuts, and mysterious spices and powders punctuate the produce tables along with cases of locally produced honey, cheeses, yogurt, and olive oil. My culinary cup is not half empty but half full.

But what to do with it all?

Before hopping on the dolmuş and heading down the hill, I’m going poke around my favorite Turkish-recipe websites for some new ideas, something I should have done weeks ago. The Turks work magic with grains and vegetables, so by focusing in that direction, it should be easy enough to reinvigorate my repertoire. After all, these Ottoman green beans I made a couple weeks ago were a hit, and the kid couldn’t gobble them down fast enough.

These are my favorite Turkish-recipe websites. Let’s see if they can help me out.

Binnur’s Turkish Cookbook

Ottoman Cuisine

Turkey’s for Life

Wish me luck! I’ll report back after the market.

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