Food travel is about the unexpected. I had traveled to Turkey—Istanbul and Anatolia, then down south to Antakya—with a list of the usual recipe suspects: wedding soup, menemen, lahmajoun, Circassian chicken, hummus, lentil soup and rice pudding. I left with a very different list, recipes well known to locals but relatively obscure here in the U.S.
Among those recipes are laz böreği (a baklava dough filled with milk pudding and simple syrup), moon cookies (filled with walnuts and chocolate), iç pilav (a rice stuffing), kadinbudu kofte (“lady’s thighs,” a fried kebab) and tuzlu yoğurtlu yumurta (scrambled eggs made with yogurt).
My favorite, however, was tepsi kebabi, a meat pizza—that is, a patty made with beef, lamb, onions, parsley and red chilies, all finely minced using a huge scimitar-esque blade called a zirh, then baked in a round pan along with tomato sauce for 10 to 15 minutes in a wood-fired oven. The surprise is that the meat pizza itself has no crust—instead, pide ekmeği, the dimpled Turkish flatbread that accompanies it, is served on the side.
Why did I love it so much? The flavors are fresh and in perfect balance. The juices in the pan mix with the tomato sauce to wonderful results. And the bread is the ideal utensil for grabbing mouthfuls of meat and sopping up juices. Deeply satisfying and simple.
My favorite version was prepared at restaurant Tugay Kasabi (“kasabi” means “butcher”) in Antakya. There the cook—who was as much philosopher as butcher—explained through a smile, “If you do something without love, you will get nowhere.”
His expertise with the huge zirh blade was like watching Jimi Hendrix play “Purple Haze”—throwing his upper body into the work, he reduced a mess of ingredients to a fine mince in short order with seemingly little effort. (Upon my return, I purchased a similar knife and found that, as the cook had pointed out, becoming a master of this technique must be hard-earned, though I finally got the job done.)
He topped his tepsi kebabi with peppers, tomatoes and sliced potatoes. In our version, we did the same but precooked the potatoes in a microwave. A 450°F oven did the trick for the rest, with a 5- to 7-minute broiler finish.
So the next time you have an urge for hamburger or meatloaf, try tepsi kebabi. It’s quick and simple. Serve it with warmed flatbread on the side (store-bought naan is fine) and, of course, make it with love.