Doğum günün kutlu olsun

Or, “Happy Birthday” in Turkish.  My parents visited last week and we decided to celebrate our two October birthdays while they were here.  So for my mother and my two-year-old, we had a Turkish birthday party.  We lived in Turkey when I was a kid and we have the best memories of all of it, especially the food.

I made an old favorite, Chicken Tava, which was what my mother always ordered when we ate at BP in Turkey.  Yes, BP as in “British Petroleum”, the gas station.  There was an old shopping district where we lived called The Alley, at the end of which was a restaurant in an old BP.  At least I don’t think they were an operating gas station at the time, but I could  be mistaken.  Don’t get the wrong idea, eating at BP was NOT like getting a crispy rotating hot dog from a stateside gas station.

When you sat down in the open-air dining room, they would put a giant piece of hot pita bread in front of you, called alligator pita because the holes made by fingers (more like perforations) made it looked like an alligators back.  It was served with big slices of butter on cold metal plates and when you put the cool butter on the hot bread, the butter would melt and pool in the tiny holes.  I heard that years after we left and the restaurant changed hands, the bread was served with a cinnamon honey flavored butter, catering to American tastes, which just breaks my heart.

The restaurant had a brick oven and the Tava came out in individual metal pans with slightly charred pieces of chicken poking through the tomatoes and garlic with swirls of butter and olive oil.

I used this recipe because it looked like it most closely resembled the Chicken Tava from my childhood of all the recipes I found.  In this recipe, the meat braises in the sauce, so it has a fall-apart texture.  Next time, I’ll either grill the chicken separately, or cut the cooking time in half and finish it under the broiler to more closely resemble the chicken I remember from the blazingly hot brick oven.

We started with hummus, pistachios and olives and I made a “Shepherd’s Salad” to go with the tava.  Shepherd’s Salad is simply cucumbers, tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion and parsley with a dressing made of only lemon juice and olive oil.  There are no pictures of the salad because nothing ruins a birthday celebration like stopping to capture the action every few minutes.  If you look for Shepherd’s Salad recipes online, you’ll find lots of examples with olives and feta and an array of spices, but the Shepherd’s Salad we ate at BP was remarkable more because of it’s acidic simplicity than it’s number of ingredients.

We listened to this:

Stellamara, “Seven Valleys”

The only thing missing was a view of this:

With a milky glass of this:

There’s always next year.

– Catherine

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