This month we are exploring the talented Meliz Berg and her debut cookbook, Meliz’s Kitchen: Simple Turkish-Cypriot Comfort Food and Fresh Family Feasts.
Influenced through her Turkish-Cypriot heritage, Meliz shares a melting pot of unique cuisines from across the Mediterranean to the Middle East, showing readers how to create easy-to-follow recipes that pack a punch full of flavour and spices.
One thing Meliz is passionate about within her writing is how to create flavoursome meals for a busy family life. You don’t need to stick to the same-old dishes that you cook everyday when you have this book in your hands…simply adding a few spices influenced from her heritage will elevate a dish in seconds and creates dinner time to be exciting again!
Meatball & Chickpea Stew (Kofteli Nohut Yemegi)
This delicious stew is a perfect to warm you up during the cold winter months! The meatballs (kofte) are coated in breadcrumbs to keep the meat beautifully soft and tender when fried to keep the meat succulent. The meaty oils then coat and infuse the onions while they slowly caramelise with the buttery roux, which will thicken the delicious tomato and sweet red pepper sauce.
Serves: 4-6 people
- 1 chicken stock cube
- 600ml (20 fl oz) boiling water
- 400g (14 oz) minced beef
- 100g ( 3, 1/2 oz) fine breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp dried mint
- 1sp dried oregano
- 1 tsp pul biber
- 10g (1/4 oz) finely chopped flt leaf parsley leaves
- 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
- 1 tsp Maldon Sea Salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 tbsp Turkish sweet red pepper paste (tatli biber salcasi)
- 50g (1, 3/4 oz) unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 400g (14 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- Dried mint
- Pul biber
- Maldon Salt
- Black pepper
- Fresh parsley
- In a heatproof jug, dissolve the stock cube in the boiling water and leave to one side.
- Place the minced beef in a large bowl. and add the breadcrumbs, paprika, dried mint, oregano, pul biber, parsley, garlic, Maldon Salt and pepper. Mix everything together well with clean hands. Shape the mixture into around 40-50 mini meatballs.
- Add the olive oil to a large pan over a medium heat and brown the meatballs, in batches, then remove to a plate.
- Add the onion to the oil and soften for 12-15 minutes until translucent and slightly caramelised.
- Add the tomato puree and sweet red pepper paste, coating the onion and allowing the red pastes to full release their oils for a minute or two. Add the butter to the pan, str through until it melts, then add the flour and whisk to form a thick roux (paste).
- Slowly pour in the stock, whisking the bottom of the pan consistently so that the roux dissolves into the liquid, and then add the chickpeas and ,eatballs to the pan. Stir everything very gently to avoid breaking the meatballs, and bring the stew to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to a slow simmer, place the lid on the pan and leave to cook for 20-25 minutes until the sauce has reduced and thickened a little.
- Serve with an extra sprinkling of Maldon Salt, dried mint, pul biber, cracked pepper and fresh parsley. Raw onion wedges, pickles, olives and fresh bread are also delicious to serve on the side.
In Conversation with Meliz Berg
We were lucky enough to sit down and talk with Meliz in getting to understand where her inspiration to release a cookbook came from. We also explore in ways to elevate family dishes and also revealing her own personal favourite recipe from her book.
Meliz, firstly we wanted to congratulate you on your debut cookbook recently: Meliz’s Kitchen! Where did the inspiration come from for you to finally collate your delicious recipes into a book?
Thank you so much! I honestly wanted to write this cookbook for as long as I can remember. Oral tradition has played a huge part in passing down these recipes for my family; I watched my grandmothers, mum and aunties cook these recipes instinctively, over and over again, yet when I first moved out into my own home, I would regularly call my mum so she could talk me through cooking the recipes myself; even though I’d watched her for so many years, I took for granted how easy and instinctive she would make it all look. These recipes are so special to me, and I wanted to preserve them; by writing them down and collating them into Meliz’s Kitchen, I have now preserved them indefinitely, not just for my own family, but for others who share the same culture and traditions as my own, and have also exposed them, including the ingredients and cooking methods used, to unfamiliar audiences too.
In the book you showcase a melting-pot of beautiful, different cuisines. Is this something you feel passionate about sharing with your readers?
Absolutely. Cyprus is a melting-pot of influences, that centre between East and West, yet there has always been this misconception that Cypriot food is just Turkish and/or Greek food. Although the influences from both these cuisines is undeniable, the infiltration of so many other cultures, empires, cuisines and ingredients (Byzantine, Ottoman, Venetian, Arabic, Levantine, Mediterranean Asian, I could go on and on) over centuries has inevitably resulted in a separate, unique Cypriot cuisine in itself. Even though the umbrella of Cypriot cuisine covers recipes cooked generally by both Turkish and Greek Cypriots, some of the dishes and flavour-combinations utilised by the Turkish Cypriot community differ from those cooked by our Greek-Cypriot neighbours and vice-versa and can even differ from village to village, and family to family; the recipes that came from my family’s Turkish-Cypriot kitchen are the ones I grew up with, which I have highlighted with personal stories and anecdotes throughout the book.
You must have a favourite recipe in the book! Can you share with us?
Oh goodness, I have so many, for various reasons; some for the nostalgia, some for the triumph of not giving up on a challenging recipe until it was “perfect”, but I think, for its simplicity, layers of flavour, and popularity since releasing the book, it has to be “Kıymalı Garavolli” (One Pot Lamb Mince & Conchiglie Pasta).
What would a normal day-in-the-life be for you Meliz?
Once my children are at school, I’ll either start the day with an hour’s admin to catch up on emails before recipe testing, or, if I have more than one recipe test to do then I’ll go shopping first to pick up any last minute ingredients and start testing as soon as I get back home. If I’m working on a tried and tested recipe, then I’ll film the recipe to have some content to create reels with, and that recipe, or part of it at least, will also serve as the evening’s dinner. I usually schedule (online) meetings at the start and end of the day so that I can have a full, interrupted run of cooking and filming and try to clear and tidy the kitchen away before picking the children up from school. Then it’s after-school activities, homework, dinner, baths, and once we’ve listened to them read, I turn the laptop back on to start working again, haha! I work most evenings, either writing up recipes or editing videos and recipe reels.
Family meal recipes always seem to get a ‘bad-rep’ of being dull and boring…what are some easy ways people can elevate a dish and turn it into something deliciously new!
Have a well-stocked store cupboard with spices, condiments and pulses that will help to add flavour and umph to any dish. I love dried herbs such as dried mint and oregano, spices such as pul biber, paprika and smoked paprika, and always have extra virgin olive oil, pomegranate molasses, vinegars and honey on hand to create dressings and marinades. Stock cubes are also so underrated and I always use them to cook rice, pasta and pulses with, as well as adding them to sauces, soups and oven baked dishes too. And a sprinkling of Maldon Salt never goes amiss either!
Name 3 things in the kitchen that you can’t live without?
Grater (to grate hellim with – I cover everything in blanket of grated hellim), a pot of spoons (to taste my recipes as I cook), my trusted baking trays (I found some baking trays online that I swear by).
A little birdy told us you were a qualified music teacher before you started your recipe blog…would you say music and food are connected in a way?
I was – I taught secondary and A Level music, for 8 years, and studied music at university to Masters level; my university friends would regularly come over to my mum and dad’s house for some home-cooked Turkish-Cypriot food. I have such a deep connection with both food and music, and a song can automatically transport me back to a familiar place or time, in the same way as a bite of one of my favourite dishes can. Music, food, the arts in general, have this never-ending capacity to constantly develop, excite and satisfy.
After a busy day, what are some things you like to do to relax?
Sit at the piano and have a good old sing. I find it so cathartic.
Meliz’s Kitchen Cookbook
You can find where to purchase Meliz’s cookbook here and start creating your perfect family feast!
Make sure you have your Maldon Salt ready for these recipes! If you are running out, please feel free to browse on our Where to Buy Page to find your nearest store in which stocks our beloved Maldon Salt.