Time for turlu

Meet the Turkish cousin of the famous French ratatouille.

ugly salad 88  (photo credit: Courtesy )
ugly salad 88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
These days, at markets around the Mediterranean, farmers' carts are bursting with eggplants, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and much more. For centuries the exuberant bounty of this season has inspired cooks to create casseroles combining these vegetables. In kitchens around Turkey this type of dish is called turlu. It's the Turkish cousin of the famous French ratatouille and of the Romanian-Bulgarian guvetch, which I first got to know in Israel. Like ratatouille, turlu comes from a word meaning mixture. As with many traditional preparations, the components vary from one kitchen to another. Some make their turlu meatless, while others include cubes of lamb, beef or chicken, or, for quicker versions, ground meat. Cooks also disagree on which vegetables to use. Most recipes include eggplant, tomatoes, peppers and onions but my host in Istanbul insisted that eggplant is not included in turlu, only in guvetch (a term meaning an earthenware casserole like a French terrine, and used by some Turkish cooks interchangeably with turlu, and by others to refer to a different dish). Potatoes and carrots might also enter the turlu pot. Pare these recipes down to their bare essentials, and you get vegetables in tomato sauce, a favorite Israeli basic. Turlu can be elaborate, with a grand assortment of all the summertime vegetables, or as simple as two kinds of vegetables stewed with tomatoes and fried onions. Generally the onions are cooked in olive oil or vegetable oil, but in some regions, cooks prefer butter. Tomatoes can play different roles in turlu, depending on the proportion and form of tomatoes used. If you add relatively few tomatoes and leave them in fairly large pieces, you get a stew of diced vegetables. Use a high ratio of tomatoes, and the turlu becomes a vegetable medley in chunky tomato sauce. If you grate or puree the tomatoes or add tomato sauce or tomato paste, the result is a dish of vegetables in a smooth tomato sauce. Meri Badi, author of 250 Recettes de Cuisine Juive Espagnole featuring the Turkish-Jewish style, makes her turlu from green beans, okra, potatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplant cooked with sauteed onions, grated tomatoes, tomato paste and a pinch of salt and sugar. She serves turlu with a simple stew of beef, onions and tomatoes, and reheats the leftovers together, turning them into a meaty vegetable stew. Esther Benbassa, author of Cuisine Judeo-Espagnole, starts off her turlu with sautéed onion and cubes of lamb or beef, which she then stews briefly in water and adds the vegetables. In some homes turlu is accented with garlic, green onions, semi-hot peppers or bay leaves, but seasoning is usually simple. Benbassa uses only salt and paprika in her rendition. It's the quality of the vegetables and the generous amount of tender, sautéed onions that make the dish delicious. EASY EGGPLANT, ZUCCHINI AND MUSHROOM TURLU For this simple meatless version of Turkish turlu, I use canned tomatoes to save time. Mushrooms are not classic but they give the stew a terrific taste. Serve it as a vegetarian entree with pita, green salad or Israeli salad, and, if you like, with feta cheese, labaneh or yogurt. 350 gr. eggplant 225 gr. zucchini or pale-green squash (kishuim) 110 gr. large mushrooms 2 to 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 1 large onion, chopped Salt and freshly ground pepper 3⁄4 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained 1⁄2 cup water, or more if needed 1 to 11⁄2 Tbsp. tomato paste Cut eggplant in 2-cm. cubes, and zucchini in slightly smaller cubes than the eggplant. Halve mushrooms and cut in thick slices. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy saucepan. Add onion and sauté briefly over medium-low heat, then cover and cook, stirring often, for 3 to 5 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Add eggplant, top with 1⁄4 cup diced tomatoes, then top with zucchini, followed by remaining tomatoes and 1⁄4 cup water. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Stir once to bring top ingredients to bottom of pan. Cover and cooked over medium-low heat for 7 minutes. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper. Mix tomato paste with 2 to 3 tablespoons water and pour over vegetables. Cover and cook for 3 more minutes or until vegetables are tender; check, and add water by tablespoons if pan becomes dry. If you like, drizzle lightly with a little more olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings. TURLU WITH MEAT In this stew you can omit any of the vegetables but do include the tomatoes. Rice pilaf is a favorite Turkish accompaniment for this dish. As the stew simmers, check the liquid occasionally so that there is just enough sauce to coat the meat and vegetables and keep them moist; the dish should not be soupy. If you'd like to make this turlu vegetarian, omit the meat and 1 cup water. After sautéing the onions, add the vegetables and continue with the recipe. If you prefer that the green beans stay bright green, cook them separately in a saucepan of boiling salted water for 5 minutes or until nearly tender. Rinse and drain well. Add to stew during the last 2 to 3 minutes of simmering. 2 to 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil 2 large onions, halved and sliced 500 gr. boneless lamb, beef or chicken, cut in 2.5-cm. cubes 11⁄2 cups water, or more if needed 2 boiling potatoes, cut in chunks (optional) 110 gr. fresh green beans, cut in two pieces, or frozen green beans a 450-gr. eggplant, unpeeled, cut in 2.5-cm. dice 4 small tomatoes, cut in wedges 250 gr. pale green-skinned squash (kishuim), cut in 3⁄4-inch dice 2 sweet green peppers, cut in large dice 110 gr. small slim okra, caps trimmed lightly, or additional green beans 1 to 2 Tbsp. tomato paste 2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped (optional) salt and freshly ground pepper Heat oil in a stew pan. Add onions and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes or until beginning to turn golden. Add meat and brown it lightly. Add 1 cup water and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat until meat is nearly tender: beef for about 2 hours, lamb for 1 hour, or chicken for 20 to 30 minutes, adding more water if the pan looks dry. Add potatoes, green beans, and eggplant dice in layers and top with half the tomato wedges. Then top with squash, peppers and okra in layers, last with remaining tomato wedges. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, adding a few tablespoons water if pan becomes dry. Stir stew lightly so the vegetables don't break up. Mix tomato paste with remaining 1⁄2 cup water and garlic and pour over stew. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Return to a simmer. Cook over medium-low heat for 10 more minutes or until meat and all vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast.