A Christmas ago my sister and I flew to Istanbul to spend the holidays with our parents who were teaching there for the fall semester. It was the first time since my sister and I were children that we were in Turkey together as a family, and we spent it exploring parts of the city we’d never seen.
We marveled at the prevalence of shops dedicated to sequined, drag queen worthy gowns, in paradoxically, one of the most religious parts of town. We photographed shiny mosaics of Biblical scenes in the gilded Kariye Müzesi, and, en route, stopped for boza, a cinnamon dusted fermented millet and wheat beverage at the original place for it, Vefa Bozacı. At the suggestion of the owner, we bought roasted chickpeas to top our drinks from across the street, and when we returned, the teenage girls sitting across from us, assuming we couldn’t understand their Turkish, discussed how silly we looked, and rightly so, as we wondered what to do with our bag of chickpeas and our boza.
Later, we relaxed on warm, ancient marble after a scrub at Çemberlitas Hamam, and ambled up and down Istanbul’s hills, passing colorful and decaying wooden Ottoman houses, street vendors transporting to market their copper pots, or bags of spices, or carts full of American knock-off athletic wear, or handmade wooden spoons. We bought wooly socks and sumac, and Turkish hot pepper at those markets, and loaded up on tarhana, perhaps the world’s original dried soup mix, wonderful for a quick winter dinner.
After a trip to Mimar Sinan’s airy Süleymaniye Mosque, we ate lunch at a nearby kuru fasulye restaurant. Typically served with rice and cabbage pickles, this is a classic cool weather dish, and, using the correct dermason beans, may be consistently the simplest and tastiest meal I recreate at home.
I may visit Istanbul again this summer when Istanbul is all succulent peaches and apricots and figs; when Istanbul is sunny and musical and dusty and chaotic and smiling. Instead of boza, we’ll drink cooling ayran, and, in the evenings, and to accompany our plates of meze, we'll sip rakı on breezy outdoor terraces. But for now, it’s spring, and we must congratulate ourselves for slogging through another New York winter. And with some pretty hearty and delicious food in our bellies, to boot.
Turkish White Beans Recipe (Kuru Fasulye)
This dish is sometimes made with lamb, and can even be made with pastırma, a type of spiced Turkish cured meat. I generally make the following vegetarian version, but it can be made vegan, if you omit the butter, and use a bit more olive oil instead. This dish will taste correctly Turkish with the rich and complex dermason beans, which one may purchase here but can be made with another type of white bean, for albeit, a vastly different flavor. I buy them in New York City at a Turkish market near my house in Brooklyn. Sometimes I add entire red chiles to the cooking beans for additional heat. I made cabbage and carrot pickles to accompany this dish, but with a simple salad, some rice and/or a crusty bread, you’ve got an easy and healthy meal.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion (or 2 medium onions), chopped
Turkish red pepper flakes, also called Aleppo pepper, to taste (or whole chiles, or both)
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups dried dermason beans, soaked in water overnight
enough water to cover the beans by about an inch, or a bit more
salt, to taste
In a deep sauté pan, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the chopped onion, and saute until transparent and soft. Stir in the red pepper, if using, and then the tomato paste. When combined, add the beans and the water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook until beans are tender, adding more water if needed. The beans should have a little broth when finished cooking, and have a buttery texture. Add salt to taste.