A couple of years ago, I drove with my Turkish friend Ayfer to a town called Vakif in the foothills of the Musa Dagh, a gorgeous, old-world citrus growing region just a few miles from the Mediterranean. No signs showed us the way. Ayfer had to stop frequently to ask directions. But when we finally arrived she became enormously excited, for Vakif is a pure Armenian Christian village, one of the very few still remaining in Turkey.
Our hostess was Surpuhi Karfun, a strong, slim, shy young woman in her early thirties, wife of the village leader. Her stucco house was comfortable—no telephone or running water, but everything was immaculate and beautifully kept. The kitchen was incredibly simple: a two-burner stove and a few aluminum pans and copper pots plated and lined with tin.
But such food! It was different from anything I’d ever eaten in Turkey: a blend of meat and bulgur (such as kêbeh) poached in a delicious stock enriched with an addition of cooked preserved yogurt; baby eggplant stuffed with bulgur and lamb flavored by mint and pomegranate molasses; a stew of lamb, chickpeas, and taro root; a green bean pilaf topped with fried onions; and tea served with delicious twirls of preserved bitter orange peels, called turunc.
After lunch we took a walk to the center of town, a square with benches sheltered by poplar trees. Here Ayfer talked politics with the men, while Surpuhi joined the women’s sewing circle.
The sky began to darken. It was getting time for us to leave. We made a quick visit to the stark stone church, center of village life, distributed our gifts, said our farewells, then drove back down through the hills.
Before leaving, Surpuhi gave me the recipe for the candied orange peel I so admired. Candied in a curled state, they’d been served on a piece of candy paper with a toothpick. She used the rinds of bitter oranges. I’ve substituted grapefruit peel, adding a little grapefruit and orange juice to the syrup. This confection isn’t quick to make, but is definitely worth the trouble and especially good with Turkish coffee or tea.
The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert. Copyright © 2003 by Paula Wolfert. Photographs copyright © by Christopher Hirsheimer. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.