Vibrant and crunchy

Home-cooked Turkish delights
By LINDSAY STERLING  |  January 16, 2008
PREPARED BY HAND: Berna Uygur's traditional dishes.

In the shadow of the Maine Mall is a residential street lined with duplexes that all look alike. Inside one lives Berna Uygur, a graduate student of applied science at the University of Southern Maine. From behind a curtained shelf next to the door, she pulls a pair of new pink terry cloth slippers, the flip-flop kind with a band across the foot-bend, and offers them to her guest, who has arrived for a lesson on how to cook two traditional Turkish dishes: sautéed mushrooms and potato salad.

The dining table is set with a white tablecloth, white napkins embroidered with flowers, a bowl mounded with bunches of green leafy herbs, and a Turkish tea set: two clear glass cups slightly taller than shot glasses with mild hourglass curves. The cups sit in circular white dishes with scalloped edges, decorated alternately with red dots and gold insignias. “Very traditional, these are,” she says, pointing to them.

She pours a couple tablespoons of olive oil into a medium pot on medium heat, and right over it, in her hands she dices with a paring knife a whole yellow onion, boop boop boop, the small pieces falling into the pot. Then she slices three cloves of garlic slit slit slit, again right from her hand into the pot. After a couple minutes, she slices two packages of large white mushrooms fft fft fft midair. Half a green pepper she dices chit chit chit, and the pot is nearly full.

While the mushrooms are cooking, she steps to the table where she makes potato salad in the same manner — without a cutting board, right into a glass serving bowl. Flit flit flit she takes the skins off three whole boiled potatoes with a paring knife, and then bite-size chunks of potato fall into the bowl. Crack crack crack she cuts the stems from a half a bunch of dill against her thumb and works up through the fronds. The stems give extra crunch. Next she cuts the stems and leaves of half-bunches of parsley and mint right against her thumb. She slices a stalk of celery up the wide bottom three times and then quickly crosswise. Four green onions, half a yellow onion, and the rest of the green pepper, diced, fall into the bowl.

Back at the stove, once the liquid has cooked out of the mushrooms, she cuts the skins off three tomatoes with her paring knife. Then she cuts the tomatoes in half, goads the oozy seeds onto a plate of scraps with the tip of her knife and then sht sht sht — bite-sized chunks of tomato meat fall into the mushrooms. She adds a half-teaspoon of salt, fresh pepper ground from a yellowish metal grinder from her homeland, and lets the tomatoes cook for just a minute before spooning the mixture into a lovely hammered-copper pan with two decorative metal handles. She sprinkles a quarter-cup pizza cheese on top, and sets it in her toaster oven on broil.

To finish the potato salad, now a delightfully leafy-green jumble of freshness, she pours a dressing made of the juice of one lemon, three tablespoons of olive oil, and a half-teaspoon each of salt, garlic powder, and dried oregano.

As the student spoons the golden brown mushrooms out of the lovely copper dish, she mourns the blah-ness of American broiler-proof pans, but then the rich, gooey taste of the mushrooms on a crunchy warm roll, takes over. Boom! Razz! The lemon-bright, crunchy Turkish “potato salad” gains the sparkle of true translation — potato salad is in quotes!

Lindsay Sterling can be reached at

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