A Platter of Savoury Turkish Delights

Our gastro travels on this week’s culinary tour brings us to Turkey, a country I love for its yogurt – a pot is always on stand-by in our fridge.


The Brief, in short

CulinarytourLG_finalTour1On the culinary tour, your recipes can be:

  • Traditional: make one of the country’s national or traditional dishes.
  • Contemporary: take a traditional recipe and contemporize  it.
  • Or, using the flavors and techniques of the country we are visiting, create your own recipe.

On this tour, I decided to make 2 easy recipes with Tel Kadayif (shoestring pastry), perfect for mezze. I’d say they were mix of experimental contemporary dishes!

IMG_1049I was inspired by two things – watching a contestant in the British Masterchef professional Finals, wrap some prawns with pastry threads and a Knafeh Bil Jibne recipe from Swirl & Scramble, also on page 179 of Foodies of the World, you know the book in which recipes from my very self feature.


Wanting some insider info, I accosted Ozkhan – my almost name-sake Turkish colleague. I told him I was travelling the world, via food and kitchen with Joan of Foodalogue on her 2011 Culinary Tour.  The first thing he said was ‘I love gastro-tourism’. Aptly put. Born and raised in Istanbul, he describes the genesis of Turkish food culture as being ‘where East meets West’ – the synthesis of Arabic and Mediterranean cuisines. Doner kebabs and olive oil, co-habit peacefully and have done through the ages with such richness, diversity and colour as a Turkish rug.


Even though there are points of union across Turkey, each region or area has its own ‘folk cuisine’ .

The fantastic Turkish Cuisine Portal, (a useful resource on Turkish food, evolution and culture)  says ‘Folk cuisine reflects the basic elements of the geography in which it (the cuisine) exists. All the products which nature provides are complimented with the foods created by mankind in harmony with nature, and it is upon this balance that culinary culture is founded.

The search for innovation – and even a direct opposition to nature – is not to be found in folk cuisine, where everything is based on meeting a need and basic life functions.

The local elements identifying folk cuisine – environment and climate – are directly reflected in eating habits. Grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables with meats and animal products are common across Turkey. The difference is the way they are prepared or cooked, differing from region to region.

Ozkhan makes me laugh with his descriptions of ‘Tel Kadayif’ which can be bought or made . The tradition of making it at home is mainly the preserve of grandmothers and mothers. He talks about young people his age/my age making it, in a ‘quick’ and easy way….unlike his grandmother did. His next point of differentiation – ‘commercial’ versus homemade.

He says ‘The homemade version is light-textured when compared with the condensed, organised version of the ‘bakery’ shop. When I eat kadayif at home, I love the distinct layers – crisp and puffy on top, sweet and chewy at the bottom. I love the taste in my mouth. But when I’m hungry, I prefer the chewy, homogeneous, dense commercial kadayif; it tastes better in my stomach’. I laughed so hard because I ‘got’ it, I understood what he was trying to say!

So what is Tel Kadayif? Essentially, it is fine vermicelli pastry, made from wheat and water. In Turkish, Tel means rope/strands/strings/wire and Kadayif means pastry.

Other names: Shoestring pastry. Vermicelli pastry. Shredded strands. Ropes. Pastry threads. Shredded phyllo.

Any alternatives? Yes, Shredded wheat according to Anni who said this on Chowhound: ‘…instead of the traditional “shredded dough” that is so difficult to find in the U.S., I use shredded wheat, a trick I learned from Turkish friends when I lived there. Kadayif can be made two ways. One is to break the shredded wheat into crumbles, and use it in layers. The second way is to pinch the seam carefully from each side of a biscuit of shredded wheat, then lay the “unglued biscuit” in the pan side by side and as close as possible to each other without stacking’.

Because I’m blessed with a fantastic Turkish shop, I headed there to get my pastry and some cheese, excited at the prospect of making my first proper Turkish recipe. I also took the opportunity to buy a slab of Tel Kadayif, made with pistachios. Boy, it was a thick, dense mass of pastry, syrup and soaked, crushed pistachios……….extremely sweet and sticky. I had partial calibration and could agree in part to Ozkhan comments about ‘filling the stomach’ but I decided to wait till I completed the test with my homemade version.


According to Saveur, Shredded phyllo dough (called Tel Kadayif in Turkey)—essentially the same delicately layered pastry as regular phyllo but processed into thin strands for a shaggier texture—is the base for many crunchy, sticky desserts across the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

In the Turkish pastry called künefe, shredded phyllo is paired with fresh cheese and drizzled with sugar syrup; in the Greek pastry known as kataifi, the dough is stuffed with chopped walnuts, almonds, or pistachios and scented with orange or rose water. The ingredient is equally versatile for savory pastries. Made from nothing more than flour and water and usually sold frozen, it will dry out quickly if not properly handled and stored. Brushing shredded phyllo with melted butter before baking helps to prevent sticking and cracking and gives desserts like kataifi their golden color. Thawed shredded phyllo should be stored in the refrigerator under a damp towel and wrapped tightly in plastic wrap; it will keep for about a week. Frozen shredded phyllo can be found in the freezer case of most Middle Eastern food markets and in specialty stores.

Traditionally, the baked pastry is finished off with some sugar syrup, often scented with rosewater or orange blossom water. I decided to infuse my syrups with typical Turkish herbs and spices. Defne, leaves of the Bay Laurel tree aka Bay leaves are used in various fish, meat, poultry and game dishes, in kebab, and in certain pickles and preserved foods; Ardıç, Juniper to you and I, is an evergreen tree bearing fragrant, blackish round berries. These are used in poultry dishes and in marinades for meat.


Make the syrups ahead of time and refrigerate. Gently warm before using/drizzling over the pastries.

Note I haven’t given any measurements in the recipes – both are easy recipes, with use as you need/like ingredients

The Platter

Recipe #1: Shrimps in Shoestring pastry, with a Lemon – Bay Leaf syrup

King Prawns, shells removed but tail left on
Tel kadayif
Salt and pepper, to season
Oil, to deep fry
Lemon – Bay Leaf syrup to serve , recipe below
How to


Dry prawns and season with salt and pepper.


Remove a small quantity of pastry strings and wrap them around the prawns, leaving the tail free.


Heat some oil in a pan to deep fry the prawns. When the oil is hot and just a bit hazy, put the prawns in and let fry on the underside till golden, a couple of minutes. Flip over and let the other side cook, another couple of minutes. The prawns are ready when they are pink all over (the parts you can see) and the pastry is golden brown.


Drain on tissues and serve with the lemon bay leaf syrup on the side, or drizzled over the top.


Lemon – Bay Leaf Syrup
4 strips of lemon zest, using a veggie peeler
3 crushed juniper berries
2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried
¼ cup water
¼ cup sugar
1/2 small red chilli, cut into rings (or to taste)
How To

Combine all the ingredients in a pan except for the chilli, on medium heat. Boil till reduced and a shiny, sticky syrup  is formed, about 5 minutes. Add the chilli, stir and leave to infuse for a few minutes before using. Serve warm.

Recipe #2: Kunefe

Tel Kadayif
Butter, melted
Grated lemon, to taste
Kasar cheese or buffalo mozzarella in small portions (essentially you want cheese that’s not salty and is stretchy, when melted)
Toasted pistachios,  roughly crushed (optional)
Rosemary – Lemon syrup to serve , recipe below
How to

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (360 degrees F) and grease a baking pan with some butter.

Put the Tel Kadayif in a bowl then dip your hands into the melted butter and remove a small quantity of pastry. Gently massage the melted butter into the strands such that they are coated. Repeat for the remaining quantity so that the butter is evenly distributed – this prevents the pastry from sticking, cracking and drying out. You’ll notice that the off-white unfattened pastry transforms into  light yellow/golden strands. The baked result will be even more golden and attractive to the eye.


Next step, remove a small portion of buttered dough and place a piece of cheese in the centre.


Roll it into a small sausage or a ball of wool and place in the buttered pan. Repeat till you’ve made the quantity you want or till the pan is full. To see if the pastry could be lifted with some citrus flavour, I stirred in some micro-planed lemon zest into a handful of pastry and nestled a cube of kasar cheese in the centre. A repeat of the rolling occurred, far from perfect but sufficient to encase the cheese safely.

IMG_0993 IMG_1001

Place the pan in the centre of the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. Start checking on its readiness after 10 minutes.


It is ready to come out when it’s taken on the heat of the oven and turned a gorgeous golden colour – I panicked, not wanting my pastry to burn as I’d read the difference between golden and burnt could be a matter of seconds. Needless to say, the fair tones did nothing to affect the flavours but back to the recipe. Remove and drizzle the warm syrup over the top and garnish with your choice of chopped nuts and candied fruit.

IMG_1036I loved the resulting bed nests, with their golden translucent strands, trapping all manners of delights.

IMG_1042For fancy pants serving this up to esteemed guests, let rest for a few minutes and then remove the portions required onto a platter, impale with a toothpick or dainty skewer and smile. Feel free to serve extra syrup on the side.


Rosemary – Orange Blossom water Syrup
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup water
2 or 3 small sprigs of rosemary
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water or rose water
How To

Combine all the ingredients in a pan except for the orange blossom water which should go in at the end. Gently cook the syrup on medium heat till reduced and a shiny, sticky syrup is formed, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the orange or rose water. Use/serve warm, discarding the rosemary fronds.

The Verdict

The prawns were absolutely delicious. Sweet, well seasoned with the delightful crunch of the delicate, fried pastry. A great combination which to me tasted extremely Asian. But then, I haven’t seen this specific recipe in any Turkish cookbook. The syrup was nice – herby, fragrant with the sweetness of the lemons and the spice of the fresh bay leaf and juniper berries, with a  very welcome kick from the red chilis. This was so easy to put together that it will be a party of my Hors D’Oeuvre repertoire.

IMG_1058The Kunefe was interesting – in a good way. Once I added the syrup, there were 2 distinct layers – a sticky, chewy base, welded together in sweet unity and a crunchy, fluffy and light top. Ozkhan was right on the money with his descriptions of homemade too. I enjoyed the soft, warm stretchy cheese at the centre. It provided a nice contrast to the separate layers and brought them together. I liked the rosemary syrup as well but the chili one that went with the prawns was the top dog. I will definitely try this again, I still have loads of pastry left.  Overall, I enjoyed discovering Turkey a bit more, especially since it may be a long time before we go there as visas are required. Perhaps when the new passports are ready and picked up from Berlin. Oh yes, we have to go back to my Spandau city……


Love X X X.[wpurp-searchable-recipe]A Platter of Savoury Turkish Delights – – – [/wpurp-searchable-recipe]


  1. Always wondered what to do with that shredded phyllo dough, and here you go. It’s so crispy and wispy that it makes for a fun topping on something. Especially shrimp. Good idea.

  2. Thanks for all your comments – Mary Moh, norma, Joan, Magda, Rhonda.

    Anna, the pastry resembles vermicelli noodles only in appearance. It is moist, soft and pliable unlike uncooked, dry vermicelli noodles; it is made from wheat and water unlike the vermicelli noodles often of rice flour or mung bean flour. Saying all that, I think soaked and drained noodles might work. Great idea!

    Yes Sarah, I’m getting a passport…except that this is a Nigerian one and we were not 4th in line but 31st!!!!! A nightmare.

    Thanks Joyti, Shevon, Sally

    Valerie – you’re on, we have a date of course!

    Celia, I will seek out some apple tea on my next visit – thanks for the recommendation

    Thanks Mademoiselle d, penny, Monet, bellini

    Acky, I left a not on your blog. Mezze is to the Middle East what Antipasti is to Italy. Thanks

    Krista – I was so looking forward to exchanging hugs but………..I’m glad you had fun. Welcome back.

    Velva dear – thank you

    Debi, oh yes the prawns were cushy in blankies :-), love your description

    Thanks Oui Chef. I’m smiling

  3. Dear Ozoz, I am finally home again from my travels and what do I find – you’ve totally overhauled your site!!! Well done! It looks amazing and so professional. What a fantastic and informative post. 🙂 Still sad we were able to touch base in Amsterdam, but hopefully next time it will work out for us. 🙂

  4. Oz, you always amaze me with culinary creativity. This was a beautiful way to reflect the turkish food culture. I loved it. My two favorite subjects in the world are food and culture, your post brought it home.

    As always, awesome post.


  5. Hi Oz! I loved your tale and I also read about the meaning of your name…fantastic! But, as I’m Italian I didn’t understand what is the meaning of “mezze”…sorry! Your blog is unique and the story about your friend Ozkhan is amazing, I enjoyed his description of commercial ‘Tel Kadayif’ that tastes better in his stomach! I got it too! In this Culinary Tour I made Baklava Rolls with phyllo dough and I bought the pastry but it would have been a challenge to make it by myself! …Sorry for my English 🙂

  6. Goodness…you should write a cookbook. What a gorgeous post…such great information paired with beautiful photographs and unique recipes. The prawns look and sound divine. Thank you so much for sharing with me tonight…and thanks for all the sweetness you leave on my blog…it means so much to me!

  7. Goodness, they look divine, particularly the prawns! Great job, Oz! We’ve actually been eating a bit of Turkish food lately – delicious stuff – and washing it all down with Turkish apple tea – have you found that yet? It’s a lovely sweet drink.

  8. What a journey!!! You always put your heart and soul into everything you do, Oz. I learn so much and am motivated to the nth degree every time you involve yourself into a personal learning experience like this, that you share. WOW WOW WOW and WOW. Not very articulate, I know… but, as my mouth is hanging on my chest, I had to let you hear my adulation. Brilliant ideas. Incredible crunch and sweet and sour and hot. Love the thinking behind the work. Love the artistic presentation and photography. I am in awe. Next time I am in Amsterdam, we definitely have to meet for lunch!

  9. I really enjoyed the thoroughness of your research and how much you shared as a background. Then discovering the authentic Turkish ingredient – I’ve never seen that pastry here in Dubai but can’t believe it’s not here somewhere. Maybe I’ve just overlooked it. Your talent in coming up with these recipes inspired by your discoveries is really something special. I abhor the trend for uniqueness in recipes just for the sake of doing something new but you’ve kept the integrity of the flavours and their origins in your creations. This is really inspirational cooking. So glad to have visited Turkey with you – on this gastro-tourism!

  10. I love your gastro tourism posts Oz…, fascinating stuff. I’ve seen these little morsels but never really knew much about them…., in fact I thought they were probably some vermicelli (asian) noodles…, well.., guess they kinda are…., but you’ve brought a whole new slant to using them with this post. Love it, thanks for sharing….. where to next??

  11. I’m not as fortunate as you to have a Turkish shop in my area, so I like the alternative you listed. I can imagine how fun they must be to eat with all those shredded bits. And thanks for all the nice comments you always leave me.

  12. This is a great post Oz. Greeks use kantaifi pastry as well. It is very traditional in Greek cuisine as in Turkish and kunefe is a dish I’m very familiar with 🙂 You’ve done a great job.
    I love the new design of your blog by the way.

  13. Thanks, Oz. I learned a lot with this post — most importantly that I need to get me some Vermicelli Pastry! Thanks for mentioning the shredded wheat alternative because we’re not all lucky to have a Turkish market in the neighborhood. I also thought that bay leaf syrup was very interesting!

  14. These little bites are totally beautiful and looks very delicious. I love the crunch. I suppose I can use thin rice boodles for it, too. By the way, I love prawns. I would eat everything even without those crunch 😀

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