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planning an evening of turkish...ish... delights- menu help?

Well, more like nibbles of the vaguely Middle-Eastern inspired. But I couldn't resist the pun.

I'm throwing a dinner next week for a small group of friends and so far, the plan is starting off with crudites (cucumbers, radishes, mint, basil, carrots) and homemade hummus (tahini, cumin, garlic, maybe some za'tar?) and white bean dip with roasted garlic, along with dishes of olives, figs and feta, and homemade pita chips on the side. For kind of a main course/buffet, I was hoping to do falafel (probably out of a box and broiled, given the timing) with toppings- strained yogurt dip with mint/basil/garlic, thinned tahini, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, alongside green beans tossed with shallots, olive oil, s/p and preserved lemons, the persian rice salad from epicurious (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...) and "cold salad of sweet potato wedges and diced red onion tossed with chopped mint and sumac" from slashfood.

Does this sound reasonable? Part of the problem is that I'm mostly vegetarian and most of my friends aren't- would you all still consider this a satisfying array? Should I throw in grilled eggplant?

Oh, and for dessert, I'm totally lost. It's technically my birthday party but I keep getting distracted by flavors and I can't decide! The cinnamon-scented devil's food cupcakes (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...) are calling me, but I'm also dreaming of something with rosewater or lemon in it...and fresh berries....

thank you for any thoughts!

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  1. For dessert, a selection of baklava seems like it would be perfect. A little time-consuming, but if you don't feel like making it from scratch, maybe you could pick up some at a Middle Eastern shop.

    1. Yes, it sounds like a totally satisfying array. Another entree, if you're so inclined, is the preserved lemon, roast beets and lentils from Deborah Madison's Veg Cooking for Everyone. Though not Middle Eastern per se, it's pretty Middle Eastern-y and it's super delicious.

      This sour cherry tart is delicious and easy to make: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/281699

      This tempting orange blossom water thread may provide other dessert ideas:

      1 Reply
      1. re: rose water

        That DM lentil recipe is SO GOOD! A family favorite!

      2. Locum candy. If you don't have time to make them, Applets & Cotlets are a really good commercial version.

        1. It's your birthday, and if the cupcakes are calling you, I say listen to them! Maybe a bowl of fresh macerated berries and lemon curd for topping as a secondary dessert.

          I recently had dinner at a Moroccan restaurant and we had an assortment of starters --
          one of which was a room temp beet salad with rose blossom water. I just Googled and didn't find anything close. It was just cooked, diced beets with a very floral note to it. Lovely for a small taste.

          1. Mouhammara is my favourite middle eastern dip.

            5 red bell peppers, roasted and peeled
            1 medium white onion, coarsely chopped
            1/4 cup walnuts
            2 T. pomegranate molasses
            3/4 c extra virgin olive oil
            3/4 c canola oil
            3 c dried bread crumbs

            Place first 4 ingredients in the container of a food processor. Cover and puree whil streaming in the oils through the feed tube. Puree until pasty.

            Add bread crumbs a bit at a time, continuing to puree, until mixture is spreadable.

            Serve with pita bread. Makes about 4 cups.

            And for a main course, my favourite is a Moroccan Tagine.

            For dessert, why don't you make a flan flavoured with orange flower water. Cooking Light had a nice lower cal version of flan that I make all the time.

            2 Replies
            1. re: sarah galvin

              I LOVE muhammara, it is so fattening but so delicious...I would add a pinch of red chili flakes to that recipe because it is supposed to have a slight bite of heat.

              To the original query, I suppose do whatever you want, but za'atar is not usually added to hummus, if you are going for authenticity.

              If you happen to go to a Middle Eastern grocery for the baqlawa (a suggestion which I second if you have a good fresh Arabic pastry maker in your town), then pick up some sesame sweet called rahash or halwa tahiniyyeh. It is just untoasted sesame ground with sugar. It is served with the cold savory dishes and eaten with pita bread, even though it is a sweet. You could also serve fresh cream drizzled with honey to eat with pita and expand your dishes. Also, you could pick up some makdous, pickled stuffed small sized eggplants---they are stuffed with red chilies, walnuts, and other fun stuff. Serve with your main cold dishes on a small plate.

              Be sure to have a plate of unseasoned fresh greens like a few carrot sticks, jarjeer/rocket. mint, cucumber.

              Have fun.

              1. re: luckyfatima

                The onion actually gives quite a bite in this recipe. I had to let it sit overnight before I could eat it!

                ps it's only fattening if you eat the whole thing ;)

            2. Sounds like a wonderful set of flavors. Since you asked, I would throw in some grilled eggplant, but that might just be greediness on my part!

              I do have a recipe for a rosewater pudding that's quite light and tasty:

              5 cups whole milk
              3/4 cups granulated suagr
              1/2 cup heavy cream
              1/2 cup rosewater (for FOOD use, not the kind for your skin!)
              1/3 cup cornstarch

              Combine 4 cups of milk, sugar, gream, rosewater. Heat in saucepan and bring slowly to a boil, stirring. Make a slurry of the remaining 1 cup of milk and the cornstarch; stir into the saucepan. Over gentle heat, cook for 10-14 minutes, or until the mixture thickens.

              Pour into serving dishes to cool completely, then refrigerate. I like a bit of grated nutmeg and cinnamon, and a whiff of grated orange rind on top. This a dessert that is not cloying in flavor. For a similar application, try making fruit kissels (google these); light, un-too-sweet (what a word!), cornstarch puddings. Quite appropriate for Turkish menus.

              Enjoy. Sounds delicious.


              1 Reply
              1. re: cayjohan

                Mayber add some stuffed grape leaves you can do them with rice nuts and dreid fruint or add meat to them. Also you might add Aggalemmono (Egg&lemmon soup.

              2. I made a beautiful cardamom-lemon chiffon cake with rose-saffron frosting and pistachios with candied rose petals that went over like hot cakes for Easter brunch at my church this year. Even with the entire table full of sweets, my four layer cake went within an hour.

                Your menu sounds satisfying even for a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore like myself. Personally, though, I would prefer something a little more filling than falafel (which isn't especially Turkish anyway). Eggplant does tend to be an easy favorite, though I'd opt for a filling (but easy-to-make) musaqa over just grilled eggplant. Otherwise dolmeh are terribly Turkish and quite satisfying, though I would still hit the richness portion of your guest's palates with the addition of yogurt cheese, feta or boureki.

                6 Replies
                1. re: JungMann

                  That cake sounds amazing - would you mind posting the recipe when you have a chance? Any time someone mentions cardamom, I get an incredible craving and have to go inhale the scent from my tin of ground cardamom!

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    I used the Persian Love Cake recipe from Epicurious: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... . As written it's absolutely splendid, but I have also doctored yellow cake boxed mix for an equally well-received dessert. If you enjoy these kinds of flavors, you can increase the cardamom by a pod and should add an additional teaspoon of rosewater to get the full floral benefit. In my experience, one rose provides more than enough petals for the cake.

                    The recipe also calls for more whipping cream than I actually needed so tonight I'm doing a twist on my cardamom panna cotta with grapefruit gastrique by adding rosewater to the cooked cream. I'm excited for the results!

                    1. re: JungMann

                      Thanks! Where did you find organic rose petals?

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        Organic roses were a nightmare to track down, even in Manhattan. Kalustyan's had candied petals for $15/oz. Whole Foods in Columbus Circle only had bouquets. I ended up going with Gardenia Organic in the West Village which not only was a friendly, sustainable neighborhood florist, but also turned out to have the most reasonable price. The florist even offered to collect extra rose petals for me at no charge. I highly recommend them.

                      2. re: JungMann

                        My husband made this for my birthday when the recipe was first published(I think it was a cover recipe? it was a few years ago).

                        This cake has since become a favorite for both family and friends. We make it a couple times a year, usually by request. If you like the flavors used, this is a not to be missed recipe!

                  2. Your menu sounds delicious. I might add some courgette and feta cakes, but that's just because I'm, er, greedy!

                    For pudding, I'd buy baklava and maybe, if you can get it, some proper Turkish Delight with rosewater or pistachio.

                    1. I'm a big fan of Paula Wolfert, and I would heartily recommend her recipe for Circassian Chicken from (I'm pretty sure) Mediterranean Cooking. People go absolutely wild for it. Looking at the recipes available from other sources online, it seems like her version has far, far more walnuts in it.

                      She also has a wonderful salad with butter lettuce, orange slices, and a sweet dressing of orange juice and rose water that is a perfect after-dinner salad. I think it's called Shlada Belech?

                      I've been wanting to try the Persian love cake, mentioned above, but there's always baklava. If you have time to mail order, Shatila Pastries in Michigan makes outstanding baklava.

                      1. Oh, wow, thanks for all the suggestions. I should probably have noted that I am, unfortunately, still a college student and while I would love to have a full array of grape leaves and dips, I would like to be able to eat the week after the dinner too, lol. Also, as much as I love my college, the area leans way more to the preppy and thus decidedly un-baklava selling sort of shops. But I'm definitely thinking now of doing the Cinnamon Devil's Food cupcakes (I really can't resist!) with maybe homemade whipped cream with rosewater or Greek yogurt with honey and rosewater on top of fresh berries- I'll willing to splurge on fruit.... and I'll be sure to have lots of feta. And eggplant if I can throw everything together in time. The cake looks AMAZING but the dorm has one me and two terrible electric ovens and also, no cake pans. Sometime!

                        As for the za'tar- I know, and this is the Israeli blend instead of the (apparently) more sesame heavy Lebanese style- I just thought it might perk up the hummus a bit, but honestly I also couldn't resist buying it with the sumac. Any thoughts on what else I could use it with?

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: chocolatstiletto

                          Traditional or not, I love zaatar, sumac and olive oil on top of hummous. Zata'ar and olive oil is also fantastic to dip into with pita. Or put it on top of labne or greek yogurt.

                          1. re: chocolatstiletto

                            Don't sell yourself just because you're in college. I went to school in NYC and with only $400 for my living expenses still managed to build my skills as a reasonable home chef with foil cake pans, inexpensive ingredients and plenty of tenacity! Plus your dorm kitchen is problem ten times as spacious and well-equipped as the average NYC kitchen...

                            That said, if you decide to go with the cinnamon devil's food cupcakes, I would forgo the rosewater whipped cream. I don't think the two would match up very well, though you certainly could add rosewater to the yogurt parfait or to the cardamom panna cotta I described in an earlier post.

                            Your za'atar would be great with lamb, chicken, yogurt cheese, salad dressing, flavored oil or sprinkled atop a Turkish pide or lavash for a quick lahmajoun/Turkish pizza.

                            1. re: chocolatstiletto

                              You could mix the za'atar with the strained yoghurt (labneh), you could just sprinkle it on top of the labneh with olive oil. I also second just pouring some of it on a small plate next to a plate of olive oil and dipping the bread.

                              I also like za'atar for non-traditional uses such as on grilled meats and stuff. You could do anything you want with it, I suppose. I have seen so many different hummus flavors in the US, like sun-dried tomato, olive, etc, that are non-traditional but still very delicious.

                              You know, I was at a cooking presentation once where the chef made kibbeh nayyeh with raw salmon instead of raw lamb. He owns an upscale Lebanese restaurant in Australia and he said that the Australians were much more comfortable eating raw salmon cuz of their exposure to sushi than they would be eating raw lamb. So he mixed the burghul, onions, parsely, mint, red chili flakes, etc. and made this really extremely delicious concoction that was so unlike traditional kibbeh, but such a fabulous fusion idea. It was kibbeh sushi. Anyway, I don't know if you can get sushi grade salmon around you, if so you could look up some kibbeh nayyeh recipes and kind of improvise from there and serve this. Just a thought.

                              1. re: luckyfatima

                                You can make a vegetarian kibbeh nayeh by using cooked red lentils instead of raw meat. Kibbeh Addes. Really has all the flavors of kibbeh nayeh. I make raw kibbeh with very clean top sirloin.

                            2. I came back from overseas last year with a box of Turkish Turkish Delight. Lemon, rosewater, hazelnut, and pistachio. They were delicious and different. I've seen recipes using gelatin, but the genuine article seems to rely on cornstarch as a base. Not at all expensive to make (sugar, cornstarch, cream of tartar, flavoring), although I've never tried it. I even found a video on how to make it.


                              Could be a fun finale for your Turkish dinner.

                              BTW, do you know what they call a turkey (bird) in Brazil? Peru! No kidding.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Leucadian

                                And in Turkey, they call a turkey a hindi. No one calls the silly bird an American!

                                Anyway, watched the video on making Turkish Delight (lokoum). The only thing I would add is nuts before pouring it into the mold. Pistachios are an old tradition, as are hazlenuts. Almonds, walnuts, macadamias and even pecans are also good. I don't much care for peanuts in it. For a variation on a theme, diced dried apricots (Turkish, of course) are interesting, or majool dates. Well, just about any dried fruit.

                              2. Is there a Middle Eastern grocery anywhere near you? I've found several in my area, and I started visiting them frequently to cook from Ana Sortun's great book SPICE. I made and really enjoyed her hot buttered hommus with basturma (really snazzy presentation for guests, and the basturma is Armenian cured meat that is wrapped around little balls of buttery hommus, then baked. I made a great cooling pomegranate salsa/salad from that book, and some red lentil koftas. All fantastic. If you can get (ground) Aleppo chiles, you should definitely try them!

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: foxy fairy

                                  There isn't really, which is a total bummer. Also, as much as I love spices....this is, haha, a group of nine or so college girls, not all of whom are as enamored as I am of herbs and other dried bits of plants.

                                  Also, I NEED that book. I was fortunate enough to go to Oleana, her restuarant in Cambridge, for my birthday a couple of weeks ago and it is AMAZING. We actually thought the hummus was a little bland (although I avoided the meat, my parents still thought it was a little lacking) but oh, my goodness. the spinach falafel! The spicy carrot purree! If only I didn't have classes and could just cook and cook for this!

                                  1. re: chocolatstiletto

                                    I bet you can get the book at the library -- that's what I did ;) If you end up in the Boston area, you should certainly be able to pick up some of the ingredients there. She specifically names a store in Cambridge which is well-stocked with everything you'd need for her recipes.

                                    1. re: foxy fairy

                                      Oh, luckily, I live for real in Washington, D.C. (I stock up on pomegranate molasses and mint chutney whenever I'm home!) It's only this time around that I'm marooned in the suburbs of Philly. I think though that it's one cookbook that might be worth getting it stained and well-loved, and some time when I can devote an adult budget and adult attention span to it, I shall. Thanks for reminding me though, there's no harm in asking for an early, uh, Christmas gift? Are there other recipes that you liked from it, or any ingredients that keep sneaking in to your every day cooking?

                                2. Just thought I'd give a final report- first, thank you so much for all the fabulous ideas. I can't wait to have an excuse to try more of them out, especially that rose/lemon/pistachio cake...

                                  Honestly, this was just a lot of fun. It did require an insane amount of prep (oh, did I mention this was the first time I'd ever cooked for a group? fun!) but thanks to a visit from a loving parent and a trip to the Italian Market, everything was top notch and almost fun to play with. Fresh mint! It's finally spring!

                                  So the final menu was basically what I started out with, because it just ended up being too complicated. I'd never cooked rice before (thank you, once again, oh benevolent parent, for getting me a great Cephalon pot), or baked a straight up cake. Taste-testing everything the day before was definitely the best part, that, and discovering how astoundingly easy making hummus and dips are. Oh, and I discovered that as much as I love new and exciting flavors, and as much as I have exciting friends, the two categories don't have much in common. So I ended up munching a lot of the mint and basil myself. To whomever suggested the pound of feta: THANK YOU. Especially since even I thought the falafel was lame unless dunked in a 1:1 ratio of yogurt dip.


                                  Homemade pita chips (mix of TJ's white and whole wheat pitas, broiled and sprayed with olive oil, sea salt and cumin), cucumbers, carrots, mint, basil
                                  feta slices, oil-cured olives
                                  drained yogurt dip with cucumber/mint/black pepper/'yogurt dip spices' from the afghani market, cannelini bean dip with olive oil, smoked paprika, roasted garlic and za'tar sprinkles on top, hummus with cumin, garlic and olive oil/sumac topping

                                  Actual food:

                                  Persian rice salad (This was perfection. Lots of fresh lemon, and it must be fresh, double at least of cinnamon, lots of roasted cashews and a touch of honey and ohh, delectable. Which is good because I was eating leftovers for days!)
                                  Sweet potatoes roasted with red onions and garlic and sumac
                                  Fresh green beans steamed and then mixed with sauteed shallots, preserved lemons etc.
                                  Falafel (definitely better deep fried. Really by this point, everyone was psyched about the carbs and I was having too much fun to keep checking the broiler anyway.)

                                  Cinnamon-scented devil's food cake, with a glazy icing of confectioner's sugar, butter, boiled milk and vanilla and almond extracts, coated with freshly toasted almonds and served with fresh strawberries. This? This was my birthday gift to myself. It really doesn't need any more adjectives. Yum.


                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: chocolatstiletto

                                    What an ambitious and fantastic first dinner party. Sounds delicious! Happy birthday, and thanks for the report back!