I have to admit that around this time of year I start to get a little tired of tomatoes and zucchinis. After summer's bumper crop it’s tempting to leave them to whither on the vine while I search for autumn’s first parsnip or cauliflower. I couldn’t take any more gazpacho, pasta sauce or zucchini soup. I want something different. It is not a moment too soon that I remember the Turks.
Can it really be more than ten years ago, a week before the Sydney Olympics kicked off, a group of friends skipped town and headed for the Turkish coast. We chartered one of these and spent two idyllic weeks eating, drinking and cruising our way along the rugged Mediterranean coastline.
My memories of ottoman ruins, azure waters and grand mosques are pretty hazy. However the food memories are as vivid and fresh as if it were yesterday. I smile remembering simple sunny breakfasts of cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, yoghurt and olives. The long outdoor lunches of smokey grilled kebabs served with piles of fresh greens and wrapped in flat breads, the gozleme :: a huge flat pancake filled with delicious morsels, the most incredible tasting baklava at the famous Pandeli restaurant and the perfectly chewy fragrant lokum (Turkish delight). All washed down with plenty of Efes.
It was in Istanbul where fish, cooked over an open fire aboard a fishing boat moored on the Bosporus, then stuffed into half a loaf bread, created a culinary memory that I’ll never forget. For a kid brought up on fish finger sandwiches, the crispy grilled mackerel served between soft Turkish bread, brought a tasty ottoman twist to a childhood favourite.
But back to tomatoes and zucchinis. If one vegetable could sum up Turkey it would have to be the eggplant, but for us there was no shortage of zucchinis and tomatoes either. I loved the zucchini and feta fritters, bursting with dill, parsley and mint, a mezze we ate almost daily. And those tomatoes. Oh my. Whether in a fresh shepherd’s salad or sautéed with onion, garlic and eggplant to make a simple Turks version of moussakka, those tomatoes were the finest I have ever tasted. They were so red and so fragrant, you could smell them from across the street. Never had I tasted tomatoes such as those. Sigh.
Fast forward ten years to southern Tasmania. Today, I take my huge Turkish platter off the wall, grateful that I made the effort to lug it home all those years ago, and carefully arrange the day’s harvest of tomatoes. Then I pull out my Turkish cookbooks and flick through the recipes for eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini. Whether simple rustic dishes or elaborate favourites from the sultan’s kitchen, they are all full of flavour, and I have enough inspiration to keep me happily eating tomatoes and zucchinis for a while yet.
Well, until that first cauliflower appears anyway.