Mint

Rice Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers

A few years ago, when my in-laws were visiting from Turkey, we were invited to a 4th of July block party organized on our street. We were told that there would be a bake-off contest and a potluck. So the cooking members of the family, which included my mother-in-law and me only, split the duties – I  was in charge of a baked goodie, while mother-in-law set out to make something savory, which she is exceptionally good at.

Remember my zebra cake picture? That picture was taken randomly at that very party as we waited for the bakeoff to take off and I, in particular, to selfishly grab the winning title. Alas, my zebra cake won a silver medal. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, was crowned as the unofficial winner (as there was no cook-off contest) of the potluck! She stole the show with her olive oil-cooked stuffed mini sweet bell peppers. Cute as buttons and extremely addictive. Everybody loved them!

So, meet the winning recipe  -  zeytinyagli biber dolmasi, one of the many dolma varieties the Turkish cuisine  proudly boasts. Here, bell peppers are stuffed with delicious mint-studded rice filling cooked in olive oil. Typically, large bell peppers are used to make this particular dolma, but my mother-in-law makes them with mini peppers too, whenever she finds them. These stuffed cuties make a perfect prelude to a hearty meal. Try and see for yourself. You’ll love them.

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Turkish Yogurt Soup (Yayla Chorbasi)

Just like in neighboring Azerbaijan, yogurt is an indespensable kitchen staple in Turkey, too. It is added to salads, made into sauces with garlic to scoop onto pasta dishes, used to moisten the layers of borek pies, to fix a refreshing yogurt drink, ayran, or turned into this wonderfully  light but still a filling soup called yayla corbasi.  Yayla chorbasi is somewhat similar to the Azerbaijani yogurt soup called dovgha (to be in my cookbook), with the main difference being in the herbs used- the Azerbaijani soup features a variety of fresh herbs (cilantro, dill,  spinach etc), while its Turkish counterpart is flavored with dried mint only. Both soups are delicious in their own way and I make them often to ease off the frequent yogurt craving tantrums of the family, the most scary ones coming from me.

Here’s the recipe for yayla chorbasi from my mother-in-law’s recipe collection. The soup is very easy to make and is very delicious. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Turkish Yogurt Soup (Yayla Chorbasi / Yayla Çorbas?)

Serves 4 to 5

3 cups plain yogurt
4 cup water
1 egg
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons medium grain rice (Calrose rice works)
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons finely crushed dried mint
Pinch of paprika (optional, do not overdo, or the soup’s color will be dark)
Salt, to taste

In a medium saucepan, combine the yogurt, water, egg, flour, and rice. Do not season the soup with salt at this point or the yogurt will curdle while cooking (you will add it once the soup is cooked). Whisk until well blended and smooth and no lumps remain.

Turn the heat to medium to low, and cook, stirring constantly (very important, to prevent the yogurt from curdling) with a wooden spoon in a circular motion, until the mixture comes to a boil. Continue to cook, this time, stirring frequently but not constantly until the rice is tender to bite. Remove the soup from the heat.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a small frying pan. When it begins to sizzle, immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the dried mint and if using,paprika, to it. Stir for about half a minute then pour the mixture into the soup. Stir. Season the soup with salt, to taste.

Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and serve immediately, with bread.

Variation: A variaton of yayla soup calls for chickpeas. If opting for this version, presoak ¼ cup dried chickpeas in water for a few hours, then boil until tender. Drain the chickpeas and add them to the already cooked soup. You can also use canned chickpeas – about 1/2 cup or more to taste. Rinse them and add to the cooked soup. Remove the skins of the chickpeas by squeezing them between your fingers – the skins will peel right off .

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