When we lived in Istanbul, we used to frequent a fine establishment near our shop, called the Meşhur Tarihi Sultanahmet Halk Köftecisi Selim Usta – yes, a bit of a mouthful, it roughly translates as ‘The famous and historic Sultanahmet people’s meatball seller, Master Selim’. It is my kind of place because I hate making up my mind from a menu, and there’s really only one reason to go there – to entirely pig out on köfte and piyaz. (Talking of pigs, see later para).
At Master Selim’s place, the piyaz is typically Istanbul-style, a very simple salad of cooked white beans, dressed with vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil, with the simple additions of thinly-sliced red onion, diced tomatoes and loads of chopped flat-leaf parsley. This is topped with hard-boiled egg, and sometimes a black olive or two if they are feeling adventurous on the day. The salad is served alongside simply-grilled meatballs with bread for mopping up the salad. Absolutely delicious and, if you eat a whole portion for lunch, you will definitely need to bypass dinner (or need a bypass before dinner – one of those). I definitely recommend sharing with your companion if you ever visit. It is handily next-door-but-one to ‘The Pudding Shop’, made famous (or notorious) as the setting for the drugs exchange in the movie Midnight Express. It’s a great place to go for profiteroles or rice pudding if you can possibly fit one in after your meatballs.
I transgress. Now then, down here in the province of Antalya, piyaz moves up a notch. As Antalya is the sesame capital of Turkey, they tend to be pretty free and easy with tahini around these parts. When you are served piyaz here, especially if you are in Korkuteli or Elmali – little towns high up in the mountains on the approach to Antalya from the west – you will find the dressing has been jazzed up with garlic and tahini, which makes it completely and utterly creamily delicious, though I have to be honest, it does look a little dubious. You don’t really need anything on the side – a bowl of piyaz and a lump of bread for dipping in the sauce makes a complete meal. It is always served at room temperature, which seems exactly right.
If you want to keep this vegan, then of course just omit the hard-boiled eggs. If you prefer to use dried beans, start with about 200g dried beans to end up with 400g cooked beans – you may end up with a little more than 400g, but there’s no need to be too precise.
Back to the pigs – sorry, I am all over the place today – here are some of our wild porcine neighbours visiting our next door neighbour’s onion patch. And in broad daylight too. Ahem. Two mothers and their nine cute striped offspring discover convenient boar-sized hole in fence and take full advantage of it – oh dear.
That’s it for today. Tomorrow, if you are good, you can hear about my (messy) adventures making jam in the microwave.
Piyaz (Turkish white bean and tahini salad)
Serves 4 – 6 people as a side dish
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vinegar (any sort except malt – I used ordinary Turkish grape vinegar)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (about half of a juicy lemon)
4 tablespoons tahini (well-shaken if it has separated in the jar)
2 tablespoons cold water
1 garlic clove, finely grated or minced
Salt and pepper
For the salad:
400g canned white beans (800g can, drained weight) or same weight of cooked cannellini or navy beans
1 tomato, seeded and diced (use a teaspoon to scrape out the seeds)
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
A couple of big handfuls of chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon Turkish pul biber (red chilli flakes – if you can’t get them, use ordinary chilli flakes, but use less if they have a lot of seeds)
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and diced (omit if you want to keep this vegan)
A few black olives
For the sauce, put all of the ingredients into a small mixing bowl and whisk briskly for a few seconds, until it has emulsified into a thick creamy dressing.
In another bowl, mix together the beans, tomato, onion, chilli flakes and most of the parsley (save a little for the top).
Pour in the sauce, mix gently until everything is combined, then tip into your serving bowl. Top with the diced eggs and the remaining parley, then dot the black olives over the top.
Serve at room temperature.