Ex Oriente Lux
The Latin phrase “Ex Oriente Lux” stands for “out of the east, light comes.” Civilization, like light, originates in the east, just as the sun rises from the East. Light is the keyword for understanding the Orient and the overlapping cultures of the Middle East.
The Arabic word for light is “noor/nour,” which comes from the root “nwr” and the subsequent Aramaic and Syriac word “nūr,” meaning fire. This explains the linguistic relation between two religious symbols: The Jewish menorah and the Islamic minaret. Minaret, or “minare” in Turkish, actually means lighthouse or tower, and comes from the Arabic word “manāra.” The same root is used in menorah, also known as hanukkiyah, the nine-lamp candelabrum used during the Hanukkah holiday. The menorah and the minaret give light, both physically and spiritually.
Tomorrow is the last day of Hanukkah, when the last candle of the menorah is lit. The English word candle comes from the Aramaic word ḳandīlā, which entered the Latin language as candela, and finally English as candle.
Before candles, oil lamps provided light. The menorah was originally an oil lamp lit in the main temple of Jerusalem. Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of an oil lamp that kept on relighting itself for seven consecutive days after the appropriation of the temple from the Greek Syrian King Antiochus.
The custom of eating sweet or savory foods fried in oil comes from the miracle of oil. Every country has a different favorite fried food for the Festival of Lights. Although not considered as traditional as potato latkes, I believe öcce, the egg-parsley-spring onion fritters of Gaziantep cuisine, has a Jewish twist: It must be an early incarnation of the oil-fried savory fritters of Hanukkah.
Öcce is a variation of eggah or ajjéh. In the past they were made in special pans that resemble traditional bimuelos pans. These pans have spherical mold-like hollows to facilitate the preparation of the shapely fritters with little oil. Each hollow is half-filled with oil and heated. Then the egg-parsley batter is poured in. The result is an amazingly tasty fritter, delightfully oily, but also fresh due to the abundant use of parsley and spring onion greens.
A strained yogurt dip makes a meaningful complement to the dish. It represents the salty cheese Judith served the Syrian king to make him thirsty for more wine, which eventually made him fall asleep out of his drunkenness. That is how Judith heroically defeated the enemy: She got him drunk and then beheaded him to save the temple.
The word Nūr could serve as a key to understanding the similarities and shared heritage in Middle Eastern cultures and religions. Oil was a source of light and a key ingredient that connected culinary cultures. This week I recommend making öcce fritters as a Hanukkah treat, to remember a common Middle Eastern heritage at a time of strain.
Bite of the Week
Recipe of the Week: Öcce is easy. You need a big bunch of spring onions, and, if possible, fresh spring garlic. Finely chop the green parts of the spring onions and the green stems of the spring garlic. Finely chop about two-three bunches of flat leaf parsley. Mix all greens and sprinkle with about two teaspoons salt so they wilt a little and loose volume. You need about eight cups of chopped greens. Add eight tablespoons of flour and eight eggs. Season with a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of coriander, a teaspoon red pepper flakes and ½ teaspoon of black pepper. Fry the batter by the spoonful in hot olive oil. Serve with a yogurt and fresh mint dip.
Fork of the Week: If looking for a themed menu, head to the Orient Express menu in the Hilton Bomonti. The recreated and reinterpreted menu of the legendary Orient Express will be served throughout December. It commemorates a journey eastwards, towards the Orient, and connects the lands through which the Orient Express used to pass a century ago. Lyonnais consommé, British style pea puree and Viennese style lamb with Turkish eggplants will take you on a culinary voyage. Hilton Bomonti will feature more themed menus also in the near future. So keep an eye out.
Cork of the Week: December is the month of malt. In winter, no spirit is more appealing than whisky. Throughout December major bars will feature a sensory whisky tasting experience in Istanbul. When you pop in to one of these bars, ask for the Month of Malt menu, and brace yourself for an adventure across whisky-land. Month of Malt experience will take place in these venues: Backyard, Escale/Passage, Finn, Grey, Hazine, Hudson, Martinez, Nopa, North Shield, People, Ruby and The Bar.
Recycling Event of the Week: Recycling is the keyword for our litter-threatened world. Istanbul is currently hosting two wildly creative recycling projects.
Architect/designer Gülnur Özdağlar, with her trademark Tertium Non Data, transforms plastic bottles into jewelry or “artwork.” Her work can be seen together with the work of Sinem Yıldırım until 28th Dec., in their joint exhibition Cycle at Kameleon, Müellif sokak 5-7, Beyoğlu, Şişhane. Visit her website to sample her amazing work.
Avoiding waste is also the motto of Turkish fashion designer Gönül Paksoy, known for her one-of-a-kind clothes often described as wearable art that uses 100 percent natural hand-dyed fabrics. She is also a highly talented home cook, author of several cookbooks. Her plates are as artful as her designs. Her new book focuses on waste-free cooking, using parts of vegetables or fruits usually thrown away.
The Zero-waste Kitchen cookbook has led to a new series of jewelry made from dried peels, stems, shells, skins of fruits and vegetables. Visit her shop at Akkavak Sokak Demet Apartmanı No.4/A Teşvikiye and come away with a unique gift for your sweetheart.