After saying goodbye to Z. after my first-ever great morning at cement beach, M. and I walked up the hill, now expert at pre-stretching our legs in order to elude shin splints. Upon entering the house, Kalinka was upon us, unleashing a stream of Turkish over M.’s way – the only word of which I understood was “peştemal.” A peştemal is a Turkish-style towel, often woven in lovely, simple hues in the Bodrum area. M.’s sister-in-law referred to it as “Bodrum cloth.” Apparently, M.’s niece was missing her favorite peştemal and a new one needed to be purchased immediately, or all hell would break loose. M. explained that we needed to drive his sister-in-law over to the village bazaar immediately, although it was already late in the day “for the good stuff.” It was the last of our days on the Bodrum penninsula – and we hadn’t been to the bazaar yet, so this was welcome news. Kalinka (the Moldovan maid who saves my life every time she smiles) warns us that we had better high-tail it over there, and we hop to it, salty hair from swimming and all. While we are waiting for sister-in-law, Kalinka hoots and hollars in Turkish before saying to me in Russian, our shared broken language, “more fun than house!”
I am excited to shop for some peştemal. Now that I am done with my burqini fantasy, it’s all about the cotton beach wrap - peştemal - to feel more modest along cement beach in the gated compound regardless of the machine gun-toting guards, for my last afternoon there, that is! M. and his sister-in-law are conversing with great hilarity about something else – something called “patlican” (“pahtleejhahn” skinny, Chinese-style eggplant in U.S. parlance or aubergine to the Brits). I hear kuçuk (small) and buyuk (big) and peals of laughter along with this word. “What ever are you talking about?” I ask M. wishing that my flair for language would finally make its appearance with respect to Turkish. Hacivad made his presence known just then, with a simple clearing of the throat “So, you are thinking so far, no luck, in the country 3 weeks and counting, must be patient. Remember, Rumi says “patience is the companion of wisdom.”
“Aubergine, um, eggplant,” M. explained a broad smile still inhabiting his face, “patlican is eggplant – and you can’t get better than the Turkish one, I can’t find it in the States. We are going to make patlican salatası.” Let me move from potato salad – to safer territory, roasted garlicky eggplant. This territory is a bit safer and we had nothing to navigate here, as there was no American equivalent for me to get pissy about vis-a-vis my mayonnaise mania. By the way, I must admit, I am embarrassed to look back at myself then – so convinced that I was open to new things! I had so much to learn, and am old enough to know that I have too much more to learn than I can realize. At least I am more open to that reality now. Wouldn’t trade middle age for anything. And yes, it is just potato salad and mayonnaise we are talking about, but sometimes the tough stuff comes out in sheep’s clothing, I suppose.
In any case, back to the bazaar, as we meandered through informal rows underneath the white canvas tent on the bazaar grounds, M. bounded up to me happily, saying that he had found not only the perfect peştemal, but also the perfect patlican seeds. “This is excellent!” M. said, hands waving akimbo, “finally the seeds – I can never find the right eggplant back in the U.S.!”
“Hmm,” Karagöz noted, “p-items, items beginning with the lovely letter P! P into the sea! P all over me! P, it’s free!” Kenne pulled him off of his impromptu stage with a hooked cane, shushing him along the way. He reeled in giggles despite the cane. Oblivious to the presence of a very goofy Karagöz and horrified Kenne, M. began to explain his eggplant-cooking process. “We have to cook it on the coals (on the mangal or BBQ) to make it smoky, until it explodes and you mash it with garlic – then you can try my version of Turkish junk food.” Now there’s a concept, I thought, Turkish junk food other than the Turkish-flavored crisps from Lay’s, for example. “OK, sounds good to me – but junk food, I don’t know about that characterization.” Armed with patlican and peştemal galore, we snaked through the streets at breakneck pace, feeling glad to be in the sturdy steel-tank that is a Volvo station wagon.
On the way home, M. talked nonstop about his various favorite eggplant dishes. We became so hungry that we stopped for a snack. An unassuming place by the roadside, with no other customers. While this did not bode well to me, M. is blessed with the nose for the best places to eat – anywhere in the world – and I had already in our short months together learned to understand this. M. knew the ancient-looking owner – who sits at the front table molding köfte (“keufteh” spiced meat balls) by hand in the shade of a white pine tree. Although the place was empty, I had faith that M.’s food judgement was still working.
Sitting there, we tried not only mashed eggplant with garlic, but also what M referred to as “my favorite version of Turkish junk food.” Essentially, it is slices (think potato French fry shape) of eggplant, grilled, along with yeşil biber (“yesheel beebehr” long skinny light green color peppers) that have been grilled until they are wilty. These are then dredged in strained sheep’s milk yogurt (cow’s yogurt would be fine too) that has been blended with fresh garlic (vs. dry) that I find often has a different and more pungent and almost fruitier taste. We spent an hour or so just talking eggplant with the waiters and chefs…with me writing down words as I understood them, once M. was up-to-here with the translating.
That night at dinner, M. referred to this visit to the little lokanta as
“research on Turkish junk food.” Since then, we have done a lot of “research” all over Turkey on this form of Turkish cuisine – as in “two plates of patlican salatası, please!”
Once at home for the evening with M.’s brother, we prepared the mangal on the terrace at the top of the house, which is situated on a hill. We savored the
wood smoke that comes from the special charcoal they use here – real wood (that in 2011, is all the Whole Foods rage). Here is the home-style recipe for what we did that night – and many other nights in the years since…
Homestyle Patlican Salatası
Step 1: Place the eggplants on the grill – as pictured – or directly on the coals if you prefer. Once they are white with heat, wait for them to explode – sort of like a sausage bursting a seam.
Step 2: After getting them blackened and soft with a split seam, so to speak, extract the soft, oozy interior, mashing the strands of eggplantness with a fork while mixing in extra virgin olive oil, crushed (vs. chopped) raw garlic to taste – we use a whole bulb, but we are garlic fanatics), fresh lemon juice and salt.
Step 3: Try not to eat the entire deliciousness at one setting with a spoon.
Note: People often add in roasted peppers, parsley and tomato to this salad as well – but we like it straight up. Patlican salatası rules! Delicious…and never possible, to date, to re-create quite as well Stateside!
- It’s a mantı melee (slowly-by-slowly.com)
- Tea at breakfast: Sweltering in my smile with Hacivad and Karagöz (slowly-by-slowly.com)