Aylin Öney Tan - email@example.comThree colors constitute the traffic lights: Red, yellow and green. These three colors are also indicators of spring in Turkey. A plate of red cherries, yellow loquats and greengages has an unquestionable place at a spring table. This wonderful trio of fruits adorns tables in an inseparable combination often served instead of dessert, presented with a few ice cubes to emphasize juicy freshness. Greengages, as I mentioned in last week’s article, are the green light for spring. When they appear in the market, it means that spring has really arrived. The loquats and cherries are soon to follow. Loquats are short-lived; like its traffic light counterpart, they only light up the markets temporarily. With their shiny, sunny face, they tell us red is soon to follow, that is, cherries. Cherries herald the end of spring and the start of the full bounty of summer fruits, apricots, peaches and so on…
Loquat is also the telltale sign of the kebab calendar in Southeast Turkey. In Gaziantep, recently designated as the City of Gastronomy in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, kebabs have their own agenda with ingredients changing according to the advance of the seasons. Spring brings fresh green garlic and parsley, followed by whole garlic bulbs, loquats and desert truffles. In summer, sun-ripened tomatoes, peppers and eggplants take over, and in autumn kebabs with onions and quinces take the stage, giving way to winter kebabs.
In late spring, the fresh garlic heads become larger, announcing the imminent arrival of summer. At this point the garlic cloves are fully formed, but still not dry and full of crunch. This is also the season for desert truffles and loquats, and all three together make a stunning flavor combination. Loquat kebab is a much-loved local specialty, a spring delicacy preferred for its tangy bite, giving the kebab a nice kick of acidity. To achieve this, only slightly under-ripe fruit is used, the fully mature ones are good to eat as fruit, but too sweet for kebabs.
The loquat tree is not native to this part of the world, but it has ultimately become very Mediterranean. Japanese in origin (Eriobotrya japonica), it is now like a true local. However, though it has taken its place very comfortably on Turkish tables, even in kebabs, our name for it is very strange. It is either called “Yeni Dünya” (New World), or sometimes “Malta Eriği” (Maltese Plums). Apparently sometime in the past, it came from the sea, so people thought it could be from Malta, or further afar, maybe from the New World. Anyway, it is no longer a novelty, but good old taste, even nostalgic for many who used to nibble it directly from the trees we used to have in our gardens.
Loquats are luscious and delicious. Full of freshness, they are juicy, tangy and sweet, with the perfect combination of acidity and sweetness, making it suitable to match with both sweet and savory tastes. Enjoy the loquat as its own together with sweeter cherries and tarter green gages; it will be at its prime for a few weeks only!
Bite of the Week
Recipe of the Week: One of the most intriguing kebabs in Turkey is the loquat kebab from Gaziantep. The loquats are used while they are still sour and under-ripe; their tartness balances perfectly with the fattiness of the meat. You can use minced meat but it is best with hand-chopped meat if you have the stills, or a good knife.Take 750-800 g of finely chopped meat with tail fat and knead with 1 teaspoon of salt well to make a pliable mass. A good combination would be 500 g of lean veal or beef, 250 g of lamb and 50 g of tail fat of lamb; the best is to ask the butcher to prepare it for you. Otherwise, medium-fat minced meat will be fine. Split 1½ kg of large, fleshy, slightly sour loquats into two lengthwise and remove the stones (reserve them to make a liquor with a faintly bitter almond flavor). Roll pieces of the chopped meat into balls as large as walnuts. Thread half a loquat and meatball alternately onto skewers and grill over a medium charcoal fire, turning frequently in the same direction. If you do not have the facilities to cook on fire, you can bake the kebab in the oven. Instead of threading them on skewers, place the meatballs and loquats alternately in a spiral fashion in a baking pan. Be sure to place the loquats cut side tightly cuddling one meatball, backed with another one, as if threaded on a skewer. You may also tuck in a few whole fresh garlic cloves. Brush the top with olive oil and bake in a hot oven for 25-30 minutes. Serve on flat bread soaking up all the pan juices.
Fork of the Week: To bake a proper loquat kebab, one needs a proper pan. A good heavy copper pan would be ideal, but an enamel-lined pie dish would also serve fine and be cheerful on the table, too. For the first, check http://www.soy.com.tr/ for high-quality copper pots and pans. For the latter, it is easy to order online: refikadan.com has a variety of lovely enamel kitchenware.
Cork of the Week: Loquat kebab can be paired with both whites and reds, at least to my taste. Try two SWA Gold Winners at the Sommelier Wine Awards in Britain from the Sevilen winery: 900 Fumé Blanc, an attractive white with herbaceous aromas even with a hint of thyme and pear; or 2013 Plato Kalecik Karası, a good balanced red with delicate plum and sweet spice notes that is dry on the palate.