As much as I am German, I am a Turk and to be precise, a Turk from Trabzon in the northwestern Black Sea region. As rich as its kitchen, my father would always jokingly say that it consisted of green beans, collard (a type of cabbage) and corn. In essence, he's right so I'd like to share with you the corn part of this cuisine.
When the hills are as steep as in the Black Sea, it makes sense to forgo traditional wheat flour and go with calorie-dense cornmeal to make your bread or other baked goods. So why does this gluten-free flour (coarsely ground corn kernels) deserve a dedicated spot in Turkish cuisine? Because there are two kinds, roasted and unroasted. Many in Turkey are not even aware of this fact, the foremost reason why you'll see people from the Black Sea bring unroasted cornmeal by the handfuls to the cities they are migrating to. Whenever I meet up with family, I am inevitably asked at least once if I have any left.
Black Sea style cornbread
When I think of cornbread, I immediately remember the distinctive and intense smell, the golden color and how great it tastes once it is out of the oven, especially with a bit of salted butter. The great thing about using cornmeal or cornflour is that it is a gluten-free alternative to your usual bread made out of wheat. However, you need to be aware that cornbread is more on the drier side. So choose carefully what you pair with this bread and make sure you cut it into thin slices.
First, a word of warning: the quantities I have listed make for a big loaf, so halve them if you think it will be too much.
Put all the ingredients into a bowl and add about 200 milliliters (a classic Turkish water glass/1 cup) of the boiling water into it and mix with a spoon.
Gradually add water to the mix until it becomes a kneadable dough – until the dough doesn’t stick to the bowl anymore. Oil your bread pan and place your dough onto it, shaping it to your desire.
Bake at 190 degrees Celsius (374 degrees Fahrenheit) until it turns a golden brown color. Usually, I’d say let it cool off to enjoy, but this kind of bread tastes the best when it is still warm.
This is called “mısır yarması” in Turkish and is made by breaking up the corn kernel into a special kind of mill. Like cornmeal, this is a bit of a regional specialty, but once you get a taste of it, you’ll want to get more. While this type of corn is often used in collard rolls, I'd like to share with you a soup you can make out of it, perfect for chillier weather.
Black Sea style corn soup
When it comes to specialty dishes like this, it's normal for you to encounter many versions. Some prefer to add more ingredients to this, but I'll try to stick to the basics to make it more accessible to more people. This soup is also more on the thicker side, but that can always be rectified by adding more water if you so desire.
Let the corn and the beans rest in water the night before so that they soften and are easier to cook. Wash them the next day and boil them in a pressure cooker with about 2.5 liters of water for about 45 minutes. If you do not have a pressure cooker or are scared to use them (rightfully so), you’ll need to cook them for about 1-1.5 hours. Once boiling, add the salt, pepper, finely chopped onions and the vegetable oil and add more water if it has become too thick. Let it cook for another 10-15 minutes and check to see if the corn and beans have softened by then. If that isn’t the case, continue cooking until it softens. Otherwise, turn it off and serve.
Now you might wonder what this is. Many often think that mıhlama, another Black Sea staple, and kuymak are basically the same thing, especially considering that both are depicted as a cheesy porridge that stretches to oblivion. However, they are actually two separate dishes, and kuymak is a dish native to Trabzon while mıhlama is local to Rize. Here are two important points to make about kuymak: you need to use unroasted cornmeal to create this dish; otherwise it won’t thicken right and will taste off, and you’ll need a dry, strong and salty cheese, specifically “kuymak” cheese made by the locals. Understandably, not everyone will have access to this special type of cheese or the opportunity to travel to the region, hence, hard and salty cheese is a great alternative. Meanwhile, when it comes to mıhlama (sometimes also spelled muhlama), the dish requires civil cheese, also called "tel" or "çeçil peyniri" in Turkish, and typically contains more butter, while in kuymak, the star of the show is the cornmeal. The dishes you try in specialty restaurants or local places in the Black Sea region will 90% of the time be mıhlama, accompanied by a show of stringy cheese, as kuymak cheese is hard to come by.
Both dishes are served at breakfast and are a heavy meal that is usually enjoyed with some fresh bread that you dunk into it. The best part, inarguably, is the very bottom where the cornmeal and cheese form a golden-brown crust, leaving everyone fighting to scrape to get more. Considering this dish was created by fieldworkers or harvesters working day and night int hazelnut fields, you may not want to indulge in this high-calorie dish that often if you mostly work at a desk.
This dish is also time-consuming, almost strictly reserved for weekends, not when in a hurry to get to school or work but can be a crucial part of any family gathering, made by the grandma of the family, which we all know is what makes it taste 10 times better.
And if savory dishes aren't your thing, this porridge-like dish can also be made into a dessert.
Melt the butter in a pan, add the cornmeal and roast it for a bit. Add the almost-boiling water until it forms a thick mixture that is not too watery. Give it a good stir and add the kuymak cheese. If the mixture is not salty enough, add a bit more salt, turn down the heat and let it bubble.
When the butter starts to come to the top, you can add a few slices of melting cheese and let it cook just a few minutes more. If you are not sure whether it is done, take out a spoon to check to see if a crust has formed at the bottom. Turn off the heat and enjoy it while it is still hot.
I am not giving an exact amount of water here as each cornmeal is different. Some might only need 200 milliliters with that amount of cornmeal; some might need at least double the amount. So keep an eye on the mix, and strive for a thicker consistency.
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