Traveling along the Turkish Turquoise Coast via Gulet is all about submitting yourself up to debauchery—one of Turkish delights.
It’s an excuse to feast on fresh Mediterranean fare while the sea tickles your hair and the sun slices the water.
The main objective of the crew is to take care of your every need and want. Specially to offer multi-course traditional meals from the Turkish Mediterranean basin.
It seems our cook Ibrahim works from daylight to well after sunset.
He is content to carve the middles out of short peppers and elongated eggplant. A mixture of aromatic rice, onions, garlic and herbs are neatly stuffed inside each—the rice is not cooked.
He plunges the lot into a large pot of boiling water tempered with a sluice of oil. Here they tumble and boil as the rice puffs and cooks and fills the skins.
These stuffed wonders are served at room temperature with homemade Turkish raviolis called Manti. Small and triangular, they are filled with meat and smothered in a warm yogurt with red pepper and oil sauce.
The gutted interiors of the peppers and eggplant are employed as a base for the cold garnishes that will appear at supper.
One day it is cool and rainy. We sit inside and listen to our captain; Yusuf recounts his days of gastronomic discovery. Only after years of cooking under his father’s direction on the sea did he earn the title of Captain.
Because it is chilly, the lesson is about lentils. Our Captain explains that there are four types of lentils: bright red that cook easily and green, yellow and black that must be soaked first. Once softened, they can be turned into a stew or mashed with hands into dumplings.
Under his tutelage Ibrahim prepares a traditional red lentil soup.
Smooth and spicy, this traditional soup is easily made and often served with a squeeze of lemon and paprika-infused oil.
After sorting through one cup of bright orange lentils and sautéing them with onion, olive oil, and a pinch of salt, they are cooked in a sweet broth. The ingredients cook for 20 to 30 minutes until the lentils have fallen apart and the carrots are completely sodden.
Cumin, paprika, mint, thyme, black pepper, and red pepper are added. Then, in a non-traditional twist, Yusuf makes a roux of butter and flour and adds it to thicken and flavor.
Ibrahim grinds the soup through a colander for the desired consistency.
He makes the topping by swirling together a few tablespoons of olive oil, paprika, and red pepper in a small saucepan over medium heat. The moment the paprika bubbles, he removes the sauce from the heat. It’s done.
The bowls are anointed with a drizzle of the paprika oil, wedges of lemon, and extra mint and red pepper.
The soup is served with a panoply of cold starters made from leeks and carrots, eggplants and tomatoes—many are ingredients torn from the middle of the luncheon vegetables.
A large green salad studded with tomato and black olives finishes the feast.
One day we visit a local market in Oren, a very small village on the mainland. The sights and smells are exotic, the cabbages gargantuan, tomatoes, beans and peppers in every form and shape!
I buy something for its beauty—I know not what it is. Turns out to be a bitter melon used for medicinal purposes by the local grandmothers.
Our captain buys fresh pumpkin flowers for the next evening’s feast.
He shows us how to make this local “dolma” with stuffed pumpkin flowers and cabbage leaves.
A mixture of raw white rice is mixed with mint, parsley, minced beef and garlic. He shows us how to roll the mixture in the leaves of a cabbage—one that never forms a true head.
They are rolled and laid down in the bottom of a sturdy pan.
Next, Yusuf shows us how to take the pumpkin blossoms and pluck off the naughty stems, boles and all the hairy bits.
He gently takes the flowers into his hands and stuffs the remainder of the rice, meaty mixture into the center of the blossom. He folds them tenderly into the middle and lays them down like babies in a blanket.
He covers them with some of his mother’s olive oil and a ration of salt.
They rest until the next evening when they are gently simmered in water and enjoyed with salads.
For the next day’s lunch, Ibrahim begins making Adana shish or Turkish lamb kabobs. He combines lamb and beef with slightly more lamb, mixed with salt, which will keep them juicy- along with paprika flakes.
Molded thinly by hand, they are gently fried in oil and set aside. The same oil is used to deep fry large wedges of yellow potatoes—or as the Brits on the ship call them – “chips.”
Large flatbread is warmed over the pan to soften and then folded with bits of onion, parsley and the meat.
Heated briefly in the oven, they are split open and laid beside the chips—served with a yogurt -leek dressing, more onions and a spicy Middle Eastern salsa.
It reminds me of a shawarma sandwich I once ate in Tel Aviv.
One evening a barbecue that is literally strapped onto the side of the ship is fired up. Chicken wings and pieces that have been marinating in paprika, oil and salt are skewered and await the flame.
Our captain offers eggplant and peppers to the flames to make a sort of baba-ghanoush.
The chicken is served with tomatoes, stewed leeks, sautéed beets, greens, and green beans—all retrieved from the Oren market.
I have failed to mention the breakfasts in this post. They always have the usual fare: peeled tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, yogurt, bread and jam. But each one has a special addition—one day a spinach and cheese Gozleme, a Turkish folded flatbread. Another day, thick French toast, fried in pure butter and topped with a prune plum, quince compote and more butter.
Sadly, we come to the last evening; Ibrahim has been cooking all afternoon while Yusuf hoists the sails one last time.
He grates onions, parsley, carrot and potatoes into a bowl. Milk, flour and eggs are added. He spoons them into hot oil to create little savory fritters.
He has steamed celeriac, leeks and a bit of lemon for one of our cold starters. He chops eggplant and red peppers into cubes and fries them in bubbling oil.
The sails are lowered, and we motor to our final inlet as the hot oil spits and shivers.
A filet of beef is served, cooked in water first and then hot oil. Perfectly rare and then medium and for the uniformed—well done!
I’m thinking of organizing a culinary Gulet tour in a year or two.
The captain and crew would be happy to cook and teach some of their ancient Mediterranean culinary secrets to a few gourmands on the Aegean.
Let me know if you would like to join me on a Gastronomic Gulet Getaway.