To try Turkish recipes adapted from Musa Dağdeviren, click here for cartlak kebap (liver kebabs with onion salad); here for zahter salad (fresh thyme, parsley, and onions with pomegranate molasses dressing); and here for biber cacigi (red pepper and yogurt spread).
Musa Dağdeviren made me seriously consider learning Turkish. Ever since I met him, six years ago in Napa at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, I was dying to be able to converse with him in his language, the only one he speaks. Like me he was part of the multi-national group of guest chefs and food writers taking part in several Worlds of Flavor Conferences. From the first time I saw him mix herbs and spices to season his kebabs, vegetable stews, and salads, I was bowled over by the unbelievably enticing and complex flavors he created in dishes that looked simple and straightforward, like the liver kebap (the Turkish spelling of the word) smothered in a blend of dried mint, cumin, and Urfa pepper; or his refreshing zahter salad—a fragrant, tangy mixture of minced fresh thyme shoots, parsley, onion, and scallions dressed in olive oil with lemon and pomegranate molasses.
I wanted to ask him how he came up with these amazing dishes, so different from the Turkish food I had known all my life. Unfortunately we had to communicate in English through an interpreter who knew little about cooking and ingredients, and this proved quite a challenge. I guess, during these first meetings, the only thing I could surely convey to Musa (pronounced Moo-SAH, stressing the last syllable) was how much I loved his food, and he probably liked mine, because he asked me to write for his magazine. Besides being an incredibly talented chef, Musa is also a passionate scholar, and this is obvious if you leaf through Yemek ve Kűltűr (Food and Culture), his wonderfully produced monthly publication that explores the history and roots of various dishes, ingredients, and cooking techniques. Unfortunately the texts are in Turkish and have not yet been translated.
"Marianna can translate whatever you want to write for the magazine," he told me through the interpreter. He was referring to the Greek-Turkish author and researcher Marianna Yerasimos, whose book 500 Years of Ottoman Cuisine, is one of my favorites, a book that I consult often. Marianna lives in Istanbul, and seldom comes to Greece, let alone the island of Kea, where I live, so for years we were exchanging e-mails and phone calls. She is as passionate about food as Musa, and she often writes for Yemek ve Kűltűr. Meeting her in person and going with her to Ciya, Musa's restaurant, was a dream of mine that I finally realized last month.