Sumac gives a tangy flavour

WE should get “beyond the idea of Turkish cuisine,” according to Robyn Eckhardt.

There isn’t a single definition, just as we have discovered the same about Italy.

Eckhardt, author of Istanbul & Beyond — Exploring Turkey’s Diverse Cuisines, says in Van, the province near Turkey’s border with Iran, villagers use foraged herbs to flavour cheese made with milk from their sheep and goats.

In this predominantly Kurdish area, cooks use sumac rather than lemon juice to give a tangy flavour to such dishes as cabbage rolls in tomato and sumac sauce.

Fish and cooked leafy greens are important to the diet in the Black Sea area of northern Turkey. In contrast to other parts of the country, people in this region eat beef rather than lamb; in neighbouring Georgia, their diet includes a lot of corn.

With its location between Syria and the Mediterranean, Hatay, which just won an award from UNESCO for its gastronomy, has Levantine cuisine, with vibrant flavours of chillis, fresh herbs, tomatoes, olive oil and pomegranate molasses.

Fingerprint Flatbread

When marking the shaped bread, be sure your fingerprints are deep and clearly visible, advises Eckhardt; otherwise they will disappear during baking.


For the dough:

  • 1¾ cups plus 1 tbsp room-temperature water
  • 1 tbsp instant yeast
  • 4¼ cups plus 1 tbsp bread flour
  • 1½ tsp fine sea salt

For the wash:

  • ¼ cup all-purpose or bread flour
  • 1¼ cups boiling water
  • 1 egg
  • Wheat bran or whole wheat flour (for shaping)
  • 2 tsp sesame or nigella seeds, or a mixture (for sprinkling, optional)


Put water in a large bowl and sprinkle with yeast. In another bowl whisk flour with salt. Pour flour over water and use your hands or a dough scraper to mix and cut ingredients together.

When they begin to come together, lightly flour a work surface, turn the dough out, and knead, using a dough scraper to remove bits of dough from work surface and returning them to the mass.

In eight to 10 minutes dough should be smooth and elastic.

Transfer dough to a lightly oiled large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1½ to 2 hours or until doubled in size. Fold dough over itself three times while it is proofing, after 30, 60, and 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, make wash: Put flour in a medium deep bowl and add boiling water in a slow stream, whisking.

Continue to whisk to eliminate as many lumps as possible. Let cool completely; then beat in egg and set aside.

One hour before baking, place a baking stone or heavy baking sheet on middle oven rack. Heat oven to 220º.

To shape bread: Turn dough out onto a lightly-floured surface. Divide it in half. Form each half into a loose ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough relax for 15 minutes.

Gently pat each ball of dough into a 15 to 18cm disk about 2.5cm thick. Cover and let relax another 15 minutes.

Whisk wash again. It should have consistency of heavy cream; if it is too thick, whisk in room temperature water one tablespoon at a time, to achieve the right consistency.

Pour into a shallow bowl big enough to dip your hand into.

Liberally dust a baker’s peel or upside-down baking sheet with bran. Transfer one of the disks to peel or sheet.

Dip your palms and fingers in the wash and gently pat disk to a circle about 2cm thick, washing its surface as you go.

To score the bread, dip sides of your hands in wash and use them to score outer edge of dough in an approximate circle, leaving a 1.3 to 1.9cm-wide border. Start by positioning your hands at opposite sides of dough, palms facing each other.

As you push the sides of your hands into the dough to score it, gently move them outward to stretch the dough 1.3cm or so. Dough will now be a rough oval.

Work your way around the bread, dipping your hands in the wash as needed to keep them from sticking, until dough is roughly circular again.

Don’t worry about creating a perfectly scored circle, but be sure that the scores join to make a continuous line around edge of bread. When you’re finished, bread should be 22 or 23cm in diameter.

Dip your fingertips in the wash and place your hands side by side on the dough, about 2.5cm from the circular score along bottom edge of dough.

Push your fingers deeply into dough (don’t tear it) and then repeat, moving your hands apart to create a score in a single line that does not extend beyond outer scored border.

Repeat to create parallel scores about 2.5cm apart on dough, dipping your fingers in wash as needed. Use same technique to create roughly parallel cross-hatch scores at about 45 degrees to the first set.

Your scores needn’t be perfect, but they should be deep — fingerprints clearly visible — or they’ll disappear during baking.

Sprinkle loaf with half the seeds and slide onto baking stone.

Bake until golden with pale spots, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating it once at the halfway point.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool or serve hot after allowing bread to rest for a few minutes.

Brush excess bran from bottom of loaf with a kitchen towel or stiff brush after it has cooled for a few minutes, if you wish. Shape and bake remaining dough.

Cabbage Rolls in Tomato & Sumac Sauce

THIS dish is a Kurdish twist on a comfort food favourite, wrote Eckhardt. The spicy filling of this stuffed cabbage is flavoured with chillis, pepper flakes, garlic and dried mint.


For the filling:

  • 1 cup short or medium-grain rice
  • 225g ground beef or lamb
  • 1 small-medium onion, minced
  • 5 garlic cloves minced
  • ¾ packed cup minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 medium-large tomato, halved crosswise and grated
  • 2 tbsp sweet or hot red pepper paste or a combination (optional)
  • 3 mild or hot green chillis, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For sauce and cabbage:

  • ¼ cup ground sumac
  • 1 tbsp coarse salt
  • 1 large or 2 small green cabbage
  • 2 tbsp plus 1 tsp tomato paste
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt


Filling: Put rice in a medium bowl, add water, and swish with your fingers to remove excess starch. Carefully drain off water and repeat two or three times, until water runs clear. Set aside.

Begin sauce: Place ground sumac in a small bowl and pour two cups of hot water over it. Set aside to infuse.

Cook cabbage: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the coarse salt. Remove any torn or damaged outer leaves from cabbage. Cut a 1cm- deep X in stem end(s) and add cabbage to water. (If using two cabbages, you may need to cook them one by one.)

Bring water back to boil, partially cover, and cook cabbage until a knife inserted into core meets no resistance, about 15 minutes, depending on size of cabbage. Do not let it become mushy.

Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath. Plunge the cooked cabbage into the cold water. When cool enough to handle, remove it from water, core it, and carefully separate leaves, stacking them on a plate.

Line bottom of a wide three-liter lidded pot with a layer of small and/or torn leaves.

Make filling: Place drained rice in a large bowl. Add meat, onion, garlic, parsley, tomato, pepper paste and chillis and mix with your hands or a fork.

Sprinkle with mint, pepper flakes, salt and black pepper and mix again.

Place a cabbage leaf on work surface with interior of leaf facing up and bottom of leaf toward you.

With a sharp knife cut out the thick rib, making an inverted V. Discard rib.

Place a mounded tablespoon of filling at tip of V and shape into a log, leaving at least 2.5cm between it and edges of leaf.

Fold left and right edges of leaf over filling, then fold bottom flaps of leaf up and over and roll it away from you to make a parcel. Don’t roll too tightly; leave room for rice to expand.

Place cabbage roll seam side down in the pot and repeat until filling is used up, laying rolls side by side when possible and close together but not snug.

Make two layers if necessary, laying rolls in second layer in opposite direction from those in first.

Line a sieve with cheesecloth or a damp large paper coffee filter, set it over a medium bowl, and pour in the sumac water.

Gather cheesecloth around sumac and squeeze our as much liquid as possible. Discard sumac. Pour 1¾ cups sumac water into a small bowl; add water if necessary to make 1¾ cups.

(Set aside any extra sumac water to add during cooking if needed or for reheating leftovers).

Mix in tomato paste, olive oil and fine salt, stirring to eliminate lumps. Pour sauce over cabbage rolls.

Set pot over high heat and bring sauce to boil. Cover rolls with a piece of parchment paper and a heatproof plate on top of paper.

Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes, checking after 15 minutes (use tongs to lift plate and paper) to make sure there is still some liquid; add ½ cup sumac water or plain water if bottom is nearly dry.

You want to end up with just enough reduced sauce to lightly coat the cabbage rolls.

Let cabbage rolls rest, covered, for at least 10 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

Serves eight to 10 (34 to 40 rolls)

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