Here at YellAli, we were delighted to get the chance to interview the well -respected cook and author Özlem Warren of Özlem’s Turkish Table.
As many of you will know, the popular blog ‘Özlem’s Turkish Table’ shares delicious recipes in English, a go-to for foodies wanting to try out delicious Turkish dishes.
She very kindly agreed to share a special recipe for our readers.
Below is her interview and fascinating story…
You can purchase a signed copy of Özlem’s Turkish Table here. The perfect Christmas present!
Where you are from?
Merhaba, my name is Özlem, I was born and bred at my homeland, Turkey and lived there for 30 years. I count myself very lucky to be from this magical land.
I was born in Ankara, as my father, Orhan was a lawyer for the Transportation Municipality. However my roots go back to ancient Antioch, today’s Antakya.
Both my parents, Orhan and Gulcin, as well as my grandparents are from Antakya and it is this fascinating city and its culinary traditions, that inspired my cooking immensely.
Özlem's grand mother's house
Could you tell us a little bit about how you got into cooking and writing?
I always loved cooking and sharing. I grew up with the role models of my mother, father, grandmother and extended family with their generous hospitality and love of food.
I spent many happy childhood holidays at my grandmother’s 450 year old stone home, where we would dine under the fig and pomegranate trees.
My food merchant grandfather Suphi and uncle Sakir would bring cases of aubergines, tomatoes and more, and we would share with our neighbours and extended family.
My grandmother would always place an extra few plates on the table, as someone would always knock on the door unannounced and would be welcomed to our table.
So the passion for good food and sharing has been instilled in us since childhood, though I got into it more when I started living abroad.
My husband, Angus (with a very Scottish name, born in Beaumont Texas and from Wiltshire – England) wanted to do his MBA in Austin-Texas after we got married in 2002.
Living abroad was a great experience but I missed home dearly, not only my folks, but the Turkish cuisine, and our passion for sharing and hospitality.
I started teaching Turkish cookery at the Central Market Cooking Schools in Texas as a guest chef, in Austin, Houston, San Antonio and had a chance to share our rich, delicious Turkish cuisine there for 5 years. At that time, I also launched my blog, Özlem’s Turkish Table.
https://ozlemsturkishtable.com/ To share wholesome, authentic Turkish recipes with readers worldwide.
I always aimed to showcase what is cooked in Turkish homes, authentic recipes and how healthy Turkish cuisine is.
It was a lifeline for me as it connected me back home and I was delighted with everyone’s interest. 10 years on, I managed to gather my recipes and personal stories at my cookery book, Özlem’s Turkish Table.
Recipes from My Homeland:here
I have been delighted with everyone’s interest in my cookery book, as 1,800 copies already sold; general release is in 2019, but Signed copies of Özlem’s Turkish Table can be ordered here.
Baked Cauliflower with feta, red onions, dill recipe (Firinda Karnabahar Mucveri)
Your past times & hobbies, any pets etc?
I love traveling, we are now based in Surrey, England and I travel and teach (I was in Amman, Jordan, Edinburgh- Scotland, Texas- USA, and in Turkey this year with teaching and book signing).
We have friends all around the world and love traveling at any opportunity. I also love tennis and music (I was an amateur radio DJ at Kent FM – Istanbul, when I was at the University!)
What are your favourite Turkish foods/dishes?
I generally love all categories in Turkish cuisine although I have a soft spot for our mezes, boreks- savoury pastries and Zeytinyaglis – vegetables cooked in olive oil.
We are so lucky in Turkey that we have such great variety and abundance of seasonal produce, great olive oil, herbs, pulses and legumes, such a healthy cuisine.
Where do you like to visit in Turkey?
My parents now live in Istanbul, as do my sister and family, so we go back to Istanbul at least a few times a year.
I still have aunts and extended family in the Hatay province so try to visit them as often as I can.
We usually go to Bodrum for the summer holidays as my parents have time share property, we also love Kalkan.
I hosted 7 Culinary and Cultural tours to Turkey (and am planning new tours in 2019) and loved exploring the Cappadocia area, as well as the South East, including Mardin. Fascinating parts of Turkey with rich culinary heritage.
I also would love to explore more of the Black Sea region, such unspoilt natural beauty and history there.
What is your favourite fresh produce available in the winter?
I love cabbage, cauliflower also the winter greens like the kale, Swiss chard – in Antakya, we have a delicious leafy green called Zilk, similar to Swiss chard, delicious cooked with onions, peppers, garlic; I serve over toasted pine nuts.
What are your favourite things about Turkey in the winter?
I love that we have four seasons in Turkey and appreciate the beauty in every season. For the winter, snow always used to make me feel so excited! And the roasted chestnuts from the street stalls, and the delicious sahlep drink, so comforting.
Ozlems book - out now
A recipe for YellAli readers…
I would love to share my Baked Cauliflower with feta, red onions, dill recipe (Firinda Karnabahar Mucveri) from my cookery book, Özlem’s Turkish Table here .
One of my favourites and a delicious way to enjoy and flavour cauliflower. I hope everyone enjoys it – Afiyet Olsun! and thank you for having me here.
Baked cauliflower with red onions, feta and dill – Firinda Karnabahar Mucveri
During one of my culinary tours to Turkey, we had a Turkish cooking class with the lovely Hatice Hanim at the Bizimev Hanimeli Restaurant, near the charming Sirince in the Aegean region.
We made lightly battered, delicious cauliflower fritters as part of our class. Inspired by this dish, I created this version and tried baking cauliflower with feta, dill and onions in the oven.
The result was a great success - baking brought out a sweetness in the cauliflower which balanced nicely with the feta, a lovely dish, packed with flavour.
I serve this baked cauliflower with Cacik (yoghurt dip with cucumbers) and Shepherd’s Salad. It can be served hot or at room temperature with a grilled main course and lemon wedges on the side.
1 medium cauliflower, cut into very small florets
200g/7oz Turkish white cheese or feta cheese, drained and crumbled
60ml/4 tablespoons all-purpose/plain flour
3 medium eggs, beaten
1 small red onion, finely chopped
3 spring onions/scallions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Small bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped
30ml/2 tablespoons olive oil
10 ml/2 teaspoons Turkish red pepper flakes or chil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
22cm x 22cm/7in x 7in baking dish to bake
15ml/1 tablespoon olive oil to grease the baking dish
Wedges of lemon to serve
Preheat the Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4
Cut the cauliflower into very small florets, wash and drain the excess water in a colander.
Place the cauliflower florets in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the chopped red onions, garlic, spring onions/scallions, parsley, dill, olive oil and the crumbled feta cheese to the bowl. Season with salt, ground black pepper and Turkish red pepper flakes or chili flakes.
With clean hands, mix and combine all the ingredients well. At this stage, you can check the seasoning – add more salt or peppers to your taste. Then stir in the beaten eggs and flour to the cauliflower mixture and combine well.
Grease your baking dish with 15ml/1 tablespoon olive oil and spread the mixture to the baking dish. Bake in the preheated oven at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 30-35 minutes, until the cauliflower florets have a nice light brown colour on top.
Slice and serve hot or at room temperature with a wedge of lemon at the side.
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