I was recently introduced to a cookbook group, and as the name obviously suggests, it involves exploring cookbooks and cooking from them. Every month there’s a new cookbook to cook from and most of us just post photographs of our efforts within the group page on Facebook.
The group has been in existence for about a year and one of the books chosen previously was Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour. I avoid buying cookbooks where non-vegetarian dishes are the main feature because such cookbooks aren’t of much use to a vegetarian like me. I am also short of shelf space for my cookbooks so I don’t generally buy them anymore unless there’s a book I’m sure I really want. Yet, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Persian flavours always attract me, because they’re similar to a lot of flavours that go into Indian cooking because of the Persian influence on Mughlai cuisine
So while I was still wondering whether I should cave in to temptation and buy the book, I came across some recipes from the book on the net. Two recipes caught my eye, and one was this salad Sabrina Ghayour’s Tomato Salad with Pomegranate Molasses and the other a Pistachio Almond Cake which I shall try out once my oven gets back from the service centre.
You might know that I am not a salad lover in general, but I don’t mind them so long as they feature less of green leaves and have something going for them in terms of taste and texture. This Turkish tomato salad, known locally as Gavurdaği Salatasi, is a popular fresh and piquant salad made with easily available ingredients and local flavours.
The salad hails from Gaziantep, and is supposedly named after the Gavur Mountains in South-eastern Turkey. The main ingredient is tomatoes with some onion and peppers, slightly sweet and tart pomegranate molasses, sumac and crunchy walnuts.
This salad can be found as part of the Turkish meze spread (a selection of small dishes served as appetizers before the main meal) and is usually served with the Turkish pide bread, butter and the crumbly Turkish white cheese. Otherwise it is served with kebabs and meat.
Gavurdaği Salatasi is usually made with large tomatoes cut into smaller chunks, but you can use cherry tomatoes if you prefer. Turkish long peppers are supposedly slightly hot and you can substitute any green long pepper of your choice. You could also use chilli flakes for the heat but it the salad would taste different.
I get the Bhavnagari variety of long chillies here which are used to make stuffed and fried fritters. They’re supposed to be on the milder side, but I’m not open to risking having my mouth on fire, so I always deseed the chillies before using them.
There’s no real substitute for Pomegranate molasses but I’m told that a good balsamic vinegar should work well. It’s very easy to make some of your own though so I would rather go to that little extra effort of making my own molasses, especially as I do not like vinegar especially Balsamic.
The other hallmark of this salad is Sumac. Sumac is a seasoning of Mediterranean origin that has a tangy, lemony kind of flavour and lemon zest with a few drops of lemon juice or even a very light sprinkle of aamchur (dehydrated and powdered dried raw mango) might a close substitute. I have a small, closely guarded stash of Sumac thanks to my good friends Harini and Niv so I got to use the real thing here which makes all the difference.
I couldn’t find flat leaf parsley, so I used fresh coriander instead since I know it goes well with tomatoes in salads. Use regular tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, depending on what you can find. Traditionally, this salad is made with regular tomatoes. If you cannot find Turkish long peppers, use any long green pepper that is mildly spicy. You can also use green bell peppers, cut into strips, if you like them.
The Gavurdaği Salatasi isn’t anything exotic and just another fresh, light and summery tomato salad but it’s the flavours of the Pomegranate molasses and the Sumac that give it a unique flavour. This is a salad that would go very well with Indian flavours as well, especially served with chappathis, naan or other flatbreads or even on the side with a pulao or biryani. You can also try it with some cheese and bread for a light meal.