Eyes still filled with the colors and smiles of Turkey.
Teşekkür ederim. Merci. Thank you.
The frenetic city of Istanbul teaching me its wealth of culture and history, showing me its people and their kindness while I find my way through its maze of narrow streets.
Jewish, Spanish, Arabic, Greek, Armenian influences throughout the city.
Straddling the continents of Asia and Europe, Istanbul offered me so much more than expected.
A big inspiration for this week’s recipe, perfect for Thanksgiving, rich in Turkish flavors and imparted by experiences from far, far away.
There is always something happening in Istanbul.
A cat stretching in the sun.
Tasting creamy goats’ cheeses in the Spice Bazaar.
Antique furniture shopping in Çukurcuma where the store owners casually wait outside sipping Turkish coffees.
Eyeing fresh pumpkin flans from the street vendors.
An older woman making flower crowns.
Pomegranates and oranges squeezed together for delicious juices on the side of the road.
Or the quiet serenity inside the city’s many mosques.
I made many friends in Istanbul.
The meyhane owner displaying with pride his beautiful tray of mezes and talking to me through the entire dinner about his eastern Turkey background and upbringing.
The little boy on the boat gliding on the Bosphorus carefully listening to my English playfully shying away from questions.
The pack of 4 dogs strolling with me throughout the city for 2 hours to show me the way – barking with joy as they made me the 5th element of their tight group.
The street vendor who wanted to sell me an old record player. Next time! he said in English.
The Turkish pumpkin desserts I ate and saw sold in the streets were a big inspiration for this post’s recipe.
Poached pumpkin desserts – Kabak Tatlısı.
Or pumpkin flans with a sweet crusty top.
And how ironic that Thanksgiving is right around the corner.
A new dessert that almost tastes like a slice of pumpkin pie but remains interestingly foreign and different.
A twist on everyone’s favorite dessert to bring to your Thanksgiving table.
The rose water from the soft Turkish delights.
The hazelnuts from the sticky pastries.
And the cloves from the pieces of baklava.
With each street corner, a new surprise.
Crowded and noisy.
Colorful and exotic.
And a walk through the Spice Bazaar, where the East meets Europe, as eclectic as one can imagine.
Spices, herbs, honey, nuts, Iranian caviar, teas.
Bags full of seeds as tall as me.
My nose and my eyes weren’t prepared for this labyrinth of flavors and scents.
As I write this post eating a piece of the pumpkin cake and going through the many pictures of this beautiful trip, my 10 favorite Istanbul moments come back rushing.
10- Boating on the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara to the Princes’ Islands on the Asian side of Istanbul. The crowd, the sun, the views and that break from the bustle of the city.
9- Admiring the golden Arabic calligraphic ornaments in most mosques – mesmerized by the art of Ottoman calligraphy.
8- Laying on warm marble and looking up the small, star-like windows piercing the main dome of the old historic 1741 Cağaloğlu Baths.
7- Dipping my hand in a giant bag of seeds at the Spice Bazaar.
6- Licking my fingers after eating a sticky piece of baklava on narrow and busy Nevizade Sokak near the fish market.
5- The softness of the rugs under my socks – shut away from the noise and the world while exploring mosques.
4- Exploring the atmospheric historic streets of the Fener and Balat neighborhoods – home to many of the Greeks in the city.
3- Chatting up with the restaurant hecklers at night trying to grab your attention while choosing a place to eat.
2- Watching the sunset over the Golden Horn, behind the mosques and the Palace.
1- Picking out mezes to eat from giant trays filled with small dishes already prepared for you to choose from.
Turkey-Inspired Pumpkin Cake with Rose Water, Hazelnuts and Cloves
use an 8-by-11-inch baking dish OR a 14-by-4-inch tart pan
1 small sugar pumpkin – peeled, seeded and cut into small cubes (3 cups – about 680 g)
1 stick of butter (melted and cooled) + 2 Tbsp (113 g + 30 g)
1/4 cup of blonde cane sugar + 3 Tbsp (50 g + 35 g)
3 Tbsp of rose water
3/4 cup (105 g) of buckwheat flour
1/4 cup (25 g) of hazelnut flour
2 Tbsp of millet flour
2 Tbsp of coconut flour
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
a dash of ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
a sprinkle of sea salt
3/4 cup (150 g) of light brown sugar
1/2 cup (55 g) of chopped hazelnuts – or pistachios
Preheat the oven to 350 °F (180 °C). Butter the baking dish or the tart pan.
Heat 2 Tbsp of the butter, 3 Tbsp of the sugar and 2 Tbsp of rose water in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the pumpkin cubes and cook for 6-7 minutes until tender. The water should be absorbed and evaporated at that point.
Let the pumpkin cubes cool and set aside.
In a big bowl, mix together the flours, cinnamon, ground cloves and nutmeg, baking powder and soda and the salt.
In a medium bowl, beat together the melted stick (113 g) of butter, the remaining 1/4 cup (50 g) of blonde cane sugar, the remaining 1 Tbsp of rose water, the brown sugar and the eggs until creamy, pale and smooth – about 2 minutes.
Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined.
Add the hazelnuts and the pumpkin and stir until combined.
Pour the batter into the baking dish or the tart pan (do not fill the tart pan up to the top) and bake for 35-40 minutes until firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Divide the cake into bars, almost like a brownie.