I have a delightful friend called Semra who is an artist whom I met on my very first visit to a little artists’ club when we first moved back to Turkey from Cyprus in 2014.
She is 75 years old and so full of life. She is the most wonderful cook and would never ever consider using a recipe book. Her recipe for Sultan’s Cauliflower here is truly delicious. It is worthy of the best restaurants serving it and I really hope you will enjoy it as much as we do.
Sultan’s Cauliflower is one of those recipes that is extremely easy to put together yet has an impact well over the effort put in. It is truly a knock-out and I urge you to try it.
Sadly, it is not the prettiest dish but I can tell you that when you taste it, all your senses will fire up and you will have visions of eating this over and over! Even sneaking out of bed to take a nibble in the middle of the night! Yep, that good!
You might notice here that my signature white china with the gold trim is missing in the photos. It had to go. We felt the crockery just did not match our new nautical life and had to be retired. In times, the culinary photos will take on a different theme I guess, but for now, it’s a matter of which dish is not packed?
What do we still have in the cupboards? It’s countdown period now and my super organised husband has the packing under control he tells me. I am guessing we will be on paper plates anytime soon!
I can see a sprinkling of parsley here would have definitely helped with presentation but we were totally out of greens and short of grabbing some grass cuttings from the mower, there was no choice but to just hoe in and start eating.
The wonderful culinary odours prevented us from going to extremes when photographing this dish as it was just driving us crazy and we couldn’t wait.
Now I regret it, but I tell you, I didn’t at the time!
- 1 medium sized cauliflower, washed and cut into florets
- 1 medium sized chopped onion
- 1 Tbsp pine nuts
- 250g minced meat beef, lamb or a mixture
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 Dsp currants
- Chilli flakes / pul biber
- 2 cups water
- Lay the florets in a shallow sided casserole dish or deep frying pan that has a lid
- In another pan fry chopped onion with the pine nuts for a few minutes
- Add mince and continue frying for several minutes until it goes grey
- Add the tomato paste and stir well
- Add the salt, pepper and cinnamon
- Stir well
- Lay the meat mixture over the cauliflower florets
- Sprinkle the currants on top and take note of their colour
- Sprinkle with chilli flakes to your liking
- Pour 2 cups water gently round the side of the pan
- Cover with the lid
- Turn heat onto med-high and as soon as you can hear it boiling turn it down to low
- Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes maximum as you want the cauli to keep a bit of crunch to it
- When the currants change colour and become a creamier colour (this is the Turkish reference) then the dish is ready.
Now I would like to tell you about Semra whose life I find quite fascinating. You might need to go make yourself a cuppa before we start.
When she was 11 years old she graduated from primary school and actually from this age, many Turkish girls finished school at this age and were expected to help their mothers full time in the house, look after their younger siblings or had to take up apprenticeships in beauty salons or as hairdressers, dressmakers or work as shop assistants or in a factory.
Whilst Semra could read and write with the Latin script her mother could only read and write in Arabic. (Semra also reads coffee cups!)
Semra was fortunate enough to be accepted into a special institute called The First Selcuk Career High School for Girls. It was established by a very famous person back in the early 1900s by a man named Milhtat Pasa. He ran the school on the ‘eski tarihhi okulu’ system meaning the school was based upon the lines of the Selcuk times during the Ottoman period.
Semra was referred to in many instances as Student 634 which was her registration number and she said she will never forget this number. She adored her school and has kept many of her school friends even though the school was in Istanbul and she now lives in Fethiye.
All girls were expected to participate in every class with no exception. These included culture, history, geography, foreign languages – in her case, she chose French which was the international language at the time. German and English were also offered. Other subjects included sewing, lacework, crochet, flower arrangement as well as learning the names of all the local flowers and their seasons.
Most importantly she had many classes under the heading of Evi Diaresi. This subject included cleaning, washing, how to wash up and rinse correctly, She told me that they learnt what soaps were best for what jobs. There was only green and white soap available then, the green soap was called Arap Sabunu (Arab soap) and was soft and mushy and contained petrol in it so it destroyed your hands.
They learnt how to remove all kinds of stains, how to clean towels effectively. Also which was the most economical forms of cleaning that worked best, for instance, when to use bi-carb soda. How to use çöven – a tree stem to soften the washing, long before fabric conditioner was heard of.
How to clean carpets? The most effective way of doing this she told me was to use snow. Of course, it’s not possible in all climates to do this but it sounds interesting and I would like to see how it was done.
Such a shame that so many of these wondrous things she has been taught will be lost. As there is no snow where we live, I can’t see myself documenting that one!
Classes also included how to make babies, how to have babies, how to wrap babies up in swaddling, how to feed them. Cooking classes included the basics and beyond beginning with dolmas, boreks and hot and cold salads, olive oil dishes and water based meals.
Then they moved along to cover cakes and pastries, more complicated casseroles and learning what foods could become dangerous. ie she was taught that stale fish cooked with yogurt was highly poisonous. I had not heard of this one but I’ll take her word for it.
Semra also learnt how to iron and fold correctly.
How to invite and receive guests was considered very important. How to serve them correctly and what order must follow. Nothing was left to guess.
Then there were the physical activities. There was a Scouts group as she called it (Izci) She also participated in quite high level gymnastics that all were expected to take part in. They also had rhythmic gym using ribbons and music and sounding quite advanced and then there was volleyball.
There were over 1000 girls in the school and each class had up to 30 students and the school ran for 5 years from 8.30 in the morning through to 3 in the afternoon, five days a week. She attended from the age of 12 to 17 where upon she received a diploma.
After gaining her diploma she took herself off to typing school and learnt how to type doing a 3 month course. Once completed she got a good job in a dressmaking factory and then later moved to UK. There she got another job in a clothing factory and worked for a Turkish businessman who was very successful. She was whipping up over 100 pairs of trousers a day which was no mean feat back in the days where you didn’t have the highly technical methods for cutting fabrics etc.
In not time at all, she was promoted and became the head designer and cutter with no formal training but an eye for detail and a very creative mind. She worked for 9 years in UK and then returned to marry a successful man back in Turkey.
It was a luxurious lifestyle until he took up gambling and although he was a successful gambler, he was overly generous and gave everything away to the point of desperation. He turned to drinking and finally Semra had to say ‘enough’. Some time later she moved down to Fethiye where one of her brothers lived.
Nadir her brother was a very sweet and gentle man speaking a few languages and also very clever with his hands. Building his own house, doing his own electrics as well as making his own clothes on his industrial sewing machine.
One day Nadir went to the First Aid bus that was in town waiting for blood donors. The nurse popped an IV into his arm and left the room to go and have a cigarette. After some time a fellow patient screamed for a doctor and they came running. Nadir’s IV had not been inserted correctly and had sent oxygen through the veins and blood was squirting all over the place. Nadir remembers nothing of this incident but it sadly left him completely paralysed on one side and unable to speak at all.
Semra took up the role of caring for him although he insists on being independent. She lives about 3km away from him and brings him food every day. He manages to clean most of the house himself and has taught himself to still hem his own pants etc using just one hand and a foot.
He is unable to form any words at all but can make noises which only she can understand. It is incredibly sad because he is a lovely person and so desperately would love to communicate. He has a battery powered wheelchair and can drive it down to the local market if he needs something basic.
The social security system has not helped him at all. He has never been compensated for the negligence and was fined last year for having not paid tax, insurance or registration on his motorbike for the past 8 years.
The system is so totally and utterly frustrating. How could a disabled man be blamed for this? No one gave another thought to the deteriorating bike under his house and poor Semra has had to come up with all the goods as he naturally has not been able to earn anything since the accident and was not up for a pension when it happened.
His wife fled within weeks of the disaster taking all she could at the time, leaving Semra in a really hard place. And yet still, Semra manages to create beautiful art, wonderful meals, always has a gorgeous smile on her face and is ready to laugh at anything.
Sometimes we just don’t know how lucky we are.