Ana Sortun Remembers a ‘Turkey Potluck’…it isn’t what you think!


As a chef I travel a lot to the Mediterranean for inspiration.  My restaurants, both Oleana and Sofra, serve Mediterranean cuisine with an emphasis on Turkey and parts of the eastern Mediterranean.  I love using bulgur wheat to make dumplings (kibbeh or kofte).  I recently had a class on making many kinds of them in Lebanon in 2012.  The recipe I share below for a red lentil slider has all the flavors of Turkey and is filling and as delicious as a hamburger.  I also love these sliders as a great alternative to a veggie burger.

Some of my favorite Mediterranean memories are of Turkey. In 1997, I was working at Harvard Square’s Casablanca restaurant, cooking Mediterranean food mostly inspired by my travels to Italy, Spain, and the south of France. While at Casablanca, I was invited by Ayfer Unsal to visit Turkey for the first time and to study the cuisine from her hometown, Gaziantep. When I thought about going to Turkey, I imagined genies and flying carpets. I had no idea.  But it’s the memory of a potluck she threw for me that is tattooed inside my head forever. It was a turning point and a revelation in my career as a chef.

Her friends graciously threw me a welcome lunch (potluck) in the park. Everyone prepared a favorite recipe (Ayfer made me make one too!) and there were 30 amazing dishes spread out from one end of the table to the other. I tasted every single one and it was all so unfamiliar yet very rich and complex. I realized that I had tasted 30 dishes, essentially making my way through a 30-course tasting menu and I didn’t feel terrible. Even though the flavors were complex, the dishes were light. This idea of food being rich but not heavy was something new for me. I’ve been hooked since that day and it has changed the way I cook forever. It became a study from there on and I explored ingredients, spices, recipes, and techniques, eventually coming up with my own style of Mediterranean cooking that is modern, interpretive but inspired by what I learned and continue to learn from travels to Turkey and other parts of the Mediterranean.

Makes 8 sliders (that will fit in a regular burger bun)



2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium white onion, minced
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped green cabbage
1 cup peeled & diced apples
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons hot paprika
1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
4 cups water
1 ¼ cup fine ground bulgur
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil for pan frying
½ cup zhoug
1 cup apple pickle
8 whole wheat or homemade burger buns (or small whole wheat pita)
8 large spinach leaves, washed and finely shredded

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the white onion, cabbage, apple and carrot and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste, cumin and paprika, then add the lentils and water and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until the lentils are tender and have absorbed about ¾ of the liquid, about 12 minutes.

Stir in the bulgur and remove from the heat. Let stand until the liquid is absorbed and the bulgur is softened, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the lentil mixture to a rimmed baking sheet and spread in an even layer to cool.  Form into little patties.

In a small saute pan, heat olive oil and fry the sliders for 3 minutes on both sides until golden brown.  If the mixture is wet and falling apart, use a little flour to coat the outside.  Toast the brioche bun.  Spread zhoug (recipe below) and apple pickle and top with red lentil cake.  Sandwich with romaine or shredded spinach.

Makes about 2 cups

4 cups of rough chopped Hungarian hot wax peppers, no stem
1 large bunch of cilantro, cleaned with a little stem left & roughly chopped
One half bunch flat leaf parsley, cleaned with a little stem left & roughly chopped
2 teaspoons chopped garlic, about 3 cloves
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon Spanish sherry vinegar
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until very smooth and season well with salt.


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