There’s something about market days. People, mostly middle-aged women, because in Turkish homes, there’s always a woman in charge in the kitchen, make their way to the same stalls in the markets they always go to, to shop fruits and vegetables for the family for the week. Cheaper than the greengrocer – and much better quality than any supermarket.
There’s always a certain amount of anticipation about market day. You never quite know what to expect. Certain things are predictable. Turkish kitchen staples like tomatoes, aubergine, courgette, runner beans and cucumbers are, while mostly summer vegetables, always plentiful, irrespective of the time of year. Quality will vary with the seasons, but not availability. Others, however, are only available in season.
You never quite know when the first figs will appear. And even less when the first good figs will appear. Or when the strawberries, so plentiful last week, suddenly disappear and the same vendor instead presents a stackful of boxes full of peaches and nectarines. So I never make a detailed plan for my shopping. In fact, I never buy anything until I’ve walked through the market once, glancing at the produce from a slight distance. The best option is to consider what appears to be most attractive this week – and then shop accordingly.
Spring vegetables have now long faded and many are gone, but the autumn vegetables still haven’t made it to the markets. The late summer fruits are the stars of the show at the moment: grapes, figs, peaches, even the first pears, are wonderful these days. But the summer vegetables are still incredibly good. And so it is that as we write September, I decide to make the best I can of the summer vegetables. While I still can.
The best way of using summer vegetables are of course chopped salads (though this is also a great time to be making tomato sauce). I’m a big fan of saladless salads – I find green leaves often take up too much space without adding sufficiently to flavour or colour. And they wilt at will, especially in the heat (we’re still at nearly 30C during the day in Istanbul). But most of all because nothing beats a chopped salads with vegetables in season. They’re just too good on their own.
This recipe is for a chopped salad with chickpeas and a simple but flavoursome dressing. It should be considered more a rough guide than an exact recipe – it may be varied almost indefinitely. Use what you have. If you have no radishes, try a turnip, a carrot or half a kohlrabi. Use whatever pepper is most easily available or, better still, looks more delicious. Substitute spring onions or shallots if your red onions have run out. Use the exact measurements below, or use more tomatoes and less cucumber if you like tomatoes more and cucumber less. Improvise! Regardless, the chili and the dressing will make the whole thing come together and become something so much more than just, well, chopped raw vegetables. Yields a generous bowl, serving 4-6 as a side (it works well with both meat, especially white meat, and fish) or 2 as a main, with bread and yoghurt on the side.
- 2 sun-ripened tomatoes (c. 300 g), cut into 1 cm cubes
- 2-3 small Middle Eastern cucumbers or 1/2 regular cucumber (c. 250 g), partly peeled and cut into 1 cm cubes
- 4 small radishes (c. 80 g), cut into 1 cm cubes
- 1 red romano pepper, core removed, deseeded and deveined, cut into 1 cm cubes
- 3 long, green Turkish peppers, thinly sliced (optional)
- 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 chili (or to taste), finely chopped
- 25 g (c. 100 ml) chopped flat leaf parsley, thick stems removed
- 240 g boiled chickpeas (equivalent to 1×400 g can, rinsed and drained)
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp isot biber (urfa biber) (optional)
- juice of 1 lemon
- 6 tbsp (90 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Salad: Prepare as directed and gently mix in a large bowl.
- Dressing: Crush the garlic and a little salt to a paste with a pestle and mortar. Mix with cumin, isot biber (if using), lemon juice and some pepper. Stir well.
- Pour the dressing and extra virgin olive oil over the chopped vegetables. Fold until combined and serve immediately.