When I was a kid, there was nothing I loved more than sitting on our kitchen table as my father cooked. I would volley question after question about life and everything within it, all directed at him. “How do planes stay in the sky?” I asked as I watched my father stir a large wooden spoon around in a saucepan. “What will happen to humans when tsunamis wash away all the buildings? And just how big does my lace bow have to be before I start to look like Madonna?”
My parents worked long hours, but Turkish cooking often requires lengthy periods bent over the table rolling vine leaves or stirring sűtlaç continuously so that it does not burn. My father, I knew, was essentially captive to that tiny space every night, and thus captive to the machine-gun questioning style of his nine-year-old daughter trying to make sense of a crazy world.
Years passed us by this way. And – somewhere in between listening to long-winded answers that often sounded like they were lifted from fairytales (I now realise many were), as well as detailed explanations on how to get the dishes just so – I grew up.
My father, I knew, was essentially captive to that tiny space every night, and thus captive to the machine-gun questioning style of his nine-year-old daughter trying to make sense of a crazy world.
Today, my father and I are like two peas in a pod and I make the kind of sűtlaç he’s proud of. “She doesn’t add nişasta (starch),” he’ll tell anyone within earshot. To repay the favour, I refrain from mentioning any one of the half-truths he cobbled together quickly to get me off his back over the years.
30 years later, it’s an experience I’m reliving, this time with my own nine-year-old daughter firing questions at me. Correctly identifying meal prep as the one pocket of time she can hold me hostage, she scrambles onto the bench and starts a dialogue I by now know almost off by heart.
“Why aren’t we doing more to stop world hunger?” she asks (okay yes, she’s far more switched on than I was at her age). “What can we do to reduce global warming and how do we get started? Why are humans so cruel to animals? How was Trump voted in?”
30 years later, it’s an experience I’m reliving, this time with my own nine-year-old daughter firing questions at me.
When Mum’s stuck in the kitchen, she knows I can’t fob her off with a quick “let’s talk about this later” or “I don’t know sweetheart, why don’t you ask your dad?”.
And so it’s become our nightly ritual. As she sits on the bench and helps me stir, garnish and pour, we talk about the things that really matter. We discuss why racism exists and hypothesise about what happens to us after we die. When we’re waiting for the microwave to ping or for the sauce to reduce, we Google things like ‘The top 5 most dangerous sharks’ and discuss possible escape plans should we ever find ourselves in open water with great whites, tiger sharks, bull sharks, the shortfin mako or an oceanic whitetip.
Sometimes the conversations can be tough and often I can’t find the right answers (or the right words) to answer her questions right away, but there’s something about being locked in this tiny world together while I’m chopping and stirring – where it’s just mother and daughter trying to work things out and nothing else seems to matter. She might come away from the experience with a back catalogue of recipes or a sense that Mum may not be as smart as she thinks she is; she’ll definitely come away from our cooking adventures with a strong sense of her mother’s love and time and that’s the best any parent can ask for.
I’m not going to lie – we’ve yet to solve any of the world’s greatest problems, or even some of the smaller ones, but I’m not too worried. My daughter has a notebook at the ready and what she tells me is a "brain full of lots of ideas". I have hope for the future.
In summer, I live on chopped salads. They always have sprouts, cooling herbs and an avocado. I change the dressings to suit the other vegetables I add. If you haven’t tasted a chopped salad before, you are in for a treat. The idea is to serve the salad on the chopping board, so make sure you have a really big board and try not to make too much of a mess when chopping.
What we call stuffed vine leaves, dolma, in the UK are thought of as wrapped vine leaves, sarma, in Turkey. Dolma is only used as a term to describe things which are stuffed in Turkish-like hollowed out courgettes (zucchini) or tomatoes, or even stuffed squid. Whatever you’d like to call them, these vine leaves, filled with bright red, slightly fiery burghul (bulgur) wheat, are delicious. They are also easy to assemble.