Caffe Torino June 6th Dinner: A Night of Friends, Turkish Food the day before the Turkish elections

This was my second dinner at Caffe Torino located in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle. This time the task was a bit more challenging – I had to cook for 41 people. In honor of the upcoming elections – I blended the meal with spices arriving from Southeast region of Turkey.

The real preparations started the day before. Cooking for large crowds is different than hosting a crowd at home. This year of transitioning into evenings at a restaurant, I realized the value of pre-planning in cooking. A plan of when to cook what makes the cook appear calm and collected.

The day of the event I arrived at Caffe Torino at 1 PM. We started the day with Caffe Torino regular and a friend Joanie.  We chopped mints, parsley and tomatoes and started the prep work.

The prep work started in early afternoon!
The prep work started in early afternoon!

Around 4 PM I started prepping for the arrival of guests and plating the first course which was a Chilled Cumin Yoghurt Soup with spring onions and carrots.

The menus for the evening!
The menus for the evening!
Preparing for the first course
Preparing for the first course: The Chilled Yoghurt soups served in espresso cups!

As I was preparing the dishes the guests started arriving. It was an early summer day in Seattle. The sun was bright and was complemented with a slight breeze. As the guests awaited the first course they enjoyed the weather with the aid of prossecos.

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The charm of the pop-up dinners at Caffe Torino is as much of food as the group of people that attend each time. It is a bi-monthly event that all of us regular participants and cooks look forward to.

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We slowly transitioned to first course. In the US – Urfa pepper/biber- as spice has become the it-spice these days. A lot of restaurants in Seattle serve this pepper – a delicacy also from the Southeast of Turkey. Although there is so much variety to the red pepper – some spicy but sweet, some so spicy, some mild but flavorful. A spice yet to make it here is haspir – also known as fake saffron. It indeed looks much like saffron but much more affordable- acquired the same way from pedals of a flower. In places like Gaziantep, haspir is sprinkled most often on warm yoghurt topped dishes as garnish. So I used haspir for the cold soup and coupled the haspir with some dried mint also from Gaziantep.

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Friends awaited patiently as we prepared the food in the kitchen.

Next up – the appetizer- was a rendition of the Gavurdagi salad- a salad that combines herbs, greens, walnuts, onions and tomatoes. I am very lucky to have my parents who just brought me a very fine pomegranate molasses from Gaziantep. When you can access someone who can make something usually bottled fresh for you – be their best friend. I acquire most my ingredients through personal connections – the pepper paste I use is homemade in Gaziantep for instance. If we were closer to Turkey, all jams served would also be homemade.

I added something usually not in this salad- arugula. I also made a tangy lemon, pom molasses and olive oil dressing  spiced with sumac. I bought small sandwich cutters from France last year. I used them to make heart and flower shaped pita croutons. (who can tell me now that all the fun kitchen appliances are useless?)

According to Matt this me bossing him around as he was taking my picture.
According to Matt this me bossing him around as he was taking my picture.
Alex was a tremendous help in the kitchen. We plated most dishes together.
Alex was a tremendous help in the kitchen. We plated most dishes together.
Salads waiting to find their eaters!
Salads waiting to find their eaters!
The owner of Caffe Torino and staff of the caffe was hard at work in the front of the house.
The owner of Caffe Torino and staff of the caffe was hard at work in the front of the house.

There were two main course options  – first one was lamb shanks rubbed with a Turkish honey/spice rub -in a spicy sauce served with hunkar begendi – a cheesy eggplant puree – or if you were vegetarian you got a piece of my rendition of the imam bayildi – the cold eggplant dish filled with onions, tomatoes and peppers.

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The vegetarian main: Imam Bayildi!

I prepared a small decoration station for the main dishes. Being organized really helps in a setting like this.

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The meat main: Lamb shanks with hunkar begendi – decorated with mint and pomegranates.
Friends catching up in between bites!
Friends catching up in between bites!
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Our friends Pia and Gary have been my test subjects- this was the third time they tasted the menu! Thank you guys!
My Turkish friends liked the meal :)
My Turkish friends liked the meal 🙂

We concluded the meal with a new invention: Revlava- basically it is the fusion of two different deserts: baklava + revani. Revani is a syrup soaked semolina cake – also known as basbousa in the Middle east. The cake is dense and soaks the syrup. Baklava is baklava- the layered pieces of thin dough filled with crushed nuts of different kinds. I slightly modified the revani syrup recipe to mimic a baklava syrup. I topped each piece of revlava with pistachios from Gaziantep. Underneath the desert was honey mascarpone cream.  Unfortunately I don’t have a close up of this last bite.

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Here is our only shot of desert plates.

The experience provided me the opportunity to understand one more time the true meaning of the term: contemplation – worries and life lost in the process of doing something you love – the all consuming feeling of connecting with something you care for. That is what draws me to cooking  – the possibility of being able to be lost in the midst of spices, meat and plates, the joy of problem solving for issues such as – how do I fit 38 shanks in my fridge- how to plate quickly enough and all that comes before –  and the anticipation – dedicating days to the process of dreaming of all these details before they happen!

Hope to see all of you in a future meal!

The cook-fie
The cook-fie

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