I don't know what anyone else's experience with Turkish food has been, but mine was basically at zero. I couldn't tell you what defines Turkish food, what is popular in that culture or even identify any dishes or spices or anything at all. However, I am a huge fan of food, so when a friend of mine that works at High Voltage Cafe in Asbury Park said they were doing a vegan pop up dinner on February 17, I was already sold on it. You had me at vegan food. When I saw the flyer on Instagram and it said Turkish food, I was ALL IN. Again, I had no experience with Turkish food, but instead of that making me weary, it just made me excited (I love food) to try some new cuisine! The chef was Naciye Emren, who can be followed and adored over on her Instagram, @plantlovinturk. She's a private chef, who I would love to have cater my entire life. I would also love her to do another pop up, so if you have a venue for her to host one at, please reach out to her and let her know I sent you! ;)
While everyone was getting in and getting settled, we picked through a lovely cheese board that I seemed to only take blurry pictures of. Lots of fan favorite cheeses with veggies and a homemade Zeytinli Ekmek (olive bread) that my husband raved about (and I ran away from because I dislike very few foods and olives is absolutely one of them). After mingling and finally taking a seat, we were served our first course, which was Ezogelin Çorbası, a red lentil soup with mint. I tend to shrug off lentil soups because most of the time, they are just okay. I didn't have high expectations for this soup is what I'm trying to say. I would be wrong to think this. This was, by far, one of the best lentil soups I've ever had... Maybe even best soup overall. Seriously, it blew me and everyone I was with away. We weren't ready. We know better for next time. Best not to judge a soup by it's cover.
The next course was a salad, Çoban Salata. I've actually had dishes similar to this from Greek restaurants and it's a favorite of mine at a local Afghan restaurant near me. It consists of cucumbers, red onion, tomato, green peppers, parsley and Turkish spices. I already knew I would love it before it came to the table. It was hard not to fill up on this salad because it was served family style and I wanted to make this entire bowl mine. I didn't, though, because I was most excited for the main course and needed to save as much room as I could while low-key eating so much of the delicious and soft bread.
The main course. The one we had all been waiting for. I'm a big eggplant fan, but I don't seem to make a lot of it, nor do I order much out. When I do, I become momentarily obsessed and the next few times I'm able to order it, I do. Eggplant has a drug-like effect on me. This time was no different. I didn't even need to taste this dish to know it was amazing. The smells radiating out of this dish were unreal. It was an eggplant casserole called Imam Bayildi. As soon as I got home, I went on Pinterest to look for a recipe to make at home. As I am typing this blog, I'm drooling because I posted the picture in too soon. I should have waited, so I could be less distracted. The eggplant just fell apart as soon as it was touched. The seasonings had everything. It was spicy in the sense that there was so much flavor and it was mildly spicy in the heat department. It was slightly sweet and a little acidic from the tomatoes... it was everything. I cannot wait to try and make this sort of dish at home. I'm positive it won't turn out as good as the wonderful Naciye Emren's, but until I can have her's again, I will take what I can get!
The Imam Bayildi was served with rice. I don't know if there's a name for the rice, but it was simply amazing. On it's own, it had such flavor and was so pleasant. I believe it had chickpeas and orzo in it. I tried looking up similar recipes and found many with orzo or chickpeas, but not both. It went perfectly with the eggplant and soaked up all that amazing, flavorful juice you can see on my plate. I'm almost disappointed that this was my first run in with Turkish food. I could have been eating these amazing dishes all along? I was missing out!
After forcing myself to eat as much as I could stand, we were served dessert and tea. I was very much relieved that it was a small portion because the previous dishes were not small portions and I did not serve myself anything short of 70 small portions. The most perfect couple bites of baklava were served to us with a gummy square on the side. I talked myself out of eating the gummy due to being so new with braces. I imagined it getting stuck in my braces and I'd spend the next eternity trying to get it out. I believe the gummy is called Turkish Delight, but this is just from a Google search, so please correct me if I'm wrong! The tea was absolutely needed after all the eating we did and finished the night off perfectly. I hope Naciye is able to do another pop up dinner soon! If you see her post that she's doing another one, do yourself a favor and make it a priority! This was some of the best food I've ever eaten and I hope everyone gets a chance to have it!