Aylin Öney Tan - [email protected]
Carnival is all about excess and indulgence, the last craze on binge eating and drinking before Lent starts. Following Lent is not easy. Going completely dry and vegan for several weeks requires strong stamina. Some take it easier nowadays and try to detox or just abstain from favorite foods, but even that is not quite festive, and demands will power. Before such a period of distressing dedication, going a bit over the top in drinking and exaggerating guilty pleasures is totally acceptable. Deep indulgence comes in the form of deep fried greasy sweets. Though there is no religious constraint about sweets or sugary products, it just does not seem right to enjoy those addictive sweets during Lent. Spring-cleaning of the body and soul is soon, so why not enjoy the moment? This is the sweet spirit of the carnival.
Deep fried sweets are not only the trademark of carnivals. Most festivities worldwide have a tradition of such fried fancy foods. Puffy balls tossed in crystal sugar, strips of dough sprinkled with a dust of powdered sugar, or fried forms of leavened or unleavened dough or batter drenched in syrup or drizzled with honey appear in the most tempting ways worldwide. Fairs are good grounds for selling these, where freshly fried fancy morsels disappear quickly devoured by the cheerful crowds.
Refined white flour and sugar were two luxury items, so were spices like cinnamon. Use of vast quantities of fat for frying is an act of excess on its own, so white flour based dough fried in abundant fat and rolled in sugar is the ultimate indulgence.
One method is pouring batter directly into not oil, as is the case with a variety of sweets, sometimes directly from hand, as in the case of our beloved lokma in Turkey, but through specially designed utensils like funnel cake of Scandinavian or American
spring fairs. Churros and our tulumba are astonishingly similar, owning a shared heritage in Medieval Arab cuisine. One of the first records of such sweets comes from Kitâb al-Tabîkh, the 13th century Baghdadi cookery book, giving a description of zulâbiyâ mushabbaka where the batter is poured from a pierced coconut shell directly into the bubbling oil. The finished fried mass must be as dainty as lace, intricately shaped, and pleasurably crisp. Sometimes it is a syringe like apparatus, to squeeze the dough as used for making the churros and the tulumba, as well as the Portugese farturas. Sometimes unleavened dough is simple cut into strips, lozenges or squares with a zig-zag bladed pastry wheel.
Most carnival fritters in Italy are either in the form of puffy balls from yeast dough or cut shapes from rolled dough. Most bear funny names like gossip: chiacchiere; rightly so as they are as addictive and seductive as gossip, a true guilty pleasure. Now it is time to enjoy these deep fried decadences of February, a forgivable guilt in the snowy chilling winter days.
Recipe of the Week: The perfect fried puffs come from Venice. This classic recipe of Frìto’le Venessiane will give you enough to feed a wild crowd in a party. Steep a handful (about 1 cup) of golden raisins in half a glass of white wine, or grappa (rum or rakı works well too). Sift 500 grams of flour in a tray or on the kitchen counter, make a well in the center, crush 40 grams of fresh yeast in half glass warm water and add 75 grams of sugar, pour in the well, mixing some of the flour with your fingers into the yeast mixture to make a loose batter. Let stand till it froths considerably; add 2 eggs, the soaked raisins, grated rind of 1 lemon, 1-teaspoon cinnamon and a generous pinch of salt. Work into a dough and let stand in a warm place covered with cling film or wet towel about an hour, punch down when bubbles appear, let it rise once again. Take walnut sized pieces from the dough and drop in hot frying oil. Fry until golden, sprinkle warm, dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
Bite of the Week
Fork of the Week: Churros might be the quick answer to fried sweets. However, they are hard to come by in Istanbul; strangely so as people are really fond of both fried and sweet things. There is a new place worth checking; Chocca in Moda makes both classic churros to be dipped into hot chocolate and Italian sweets like cannoli to satisfy the sweet tooth. http://www.chocca.com.tr/. If you want to go beyond churros, visit Şişli Marriott Dish Room. They will be having a Spanish week between Feb. 12 and 25. One can drop in for a hot chocolate and churros or enjoy the whole range of tapas and Spanish specialties from visiting chef Carlos Novo Zarra from Barcelona.
Cork of the Week: Deep fried sweets like sweet wines. Turkey has been a little on the shy side in producing sweet wines but fortunately many wineries are taking steps in producing delicious nectar-like sweet sips. One recent favorite from Thrace region is Arcadia 333 Late Harvest Botrytis. I promise it will give a decadent golden touch to your festive table with its golden hue in the glass, rich with an almost creamy honeyed apricot aroma. Good with other possible indulgent plates like foie gras or any of the blue cheeses, especially with gooey gorgonzola.