Back from a stay in Istanbul and I am still amazed at how many people could be in one place, the city was heaving with a sea of people. Also, it was an important religious holiday (Kurban Bayrami) and many places closed for four days, but we still managed to fill each day. On this visit I signed up for a Culinary Backstreets Turkish cooking class which I came across on Istanbul Eats. The Pumpkin Dessert was one of the Turkish dishes prepared during the class. Pumpkin and tahini are favorites of mine and I wasn’t sure I would enjoy this combination as a dessert, but I was pleasantly surprised.
The pumpkin is left to macerate with sugar (a note on how to macerate fruit from Searious Eats) for several hours or overnight, drawing out its natural juices. Afterwards the pumpkin is gently cooked in the sugar syrup, spiced with a few whole cloves and flavored with vanilla. We used pumpkin in the cooking class but you can use butternut squash, which I did with this recipe.
The hardest part of this dessert is peeling and cutting the pumpkin or butternut squash. Easy to make and definitely a dessert I would make again, especially good for serving after a meal of grilled or barbecued meats or fish. On my last visit to Istanbul (two years ago) I enjoyed a similar dessert made with quince and served with kaymak, a Turkish version of clotted cream. Have you ever tried kaymak? It’s very rich, thick and creamy and tastes heavenly. In fact I had some for breakfast every morning with honey… but we did lots and lots of walking afterwards.
A stroll around the neighborhood of Kurtulus, Aysin kept us up to date with some history and traditions of Turkish people. Then, back to her home where we prepared some traditional recipes and afterwards enjoyed them with a few glasses of Turkish wine…. a wonderful way to spend a relaxing few hours while on vacation.
Turkish Pumpkin Dessert with Tahini and Walnuts
600g pumpkin or butternut squash, peel, scrape out the seeds and cut into (1inch/2cm) chunks
250g caster sugar
3 whole cloves
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
tahini (sesame paste) (optional)
100g of walnuts, finely chopped
How to cook:
- Place the pumpkin into a large shallow saucepan, add the sugar. Toss until the pumpkin pieces are coated with sugar. Cover with a lid and leave overnight in the fridge. During this time the pumpkin will have released all of its juices, so no need to add any water.
To cook the pumpkin, place the saucepan over moderate heat, add the cloves and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and gentle simmer until the pumpkin is soft but not mushy, approximately 25 minutes. While the pumpkin is cooking, stir occasionally.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and leave to cool for about 10 minutes. Discard the cloves and add the vanilla extract. Leave to cool completely. To serve, spoon the pumpkin with a little syrup (if liked) onto individual serving plates, drizzle over a little tahini and sprinkle with walnuts.
Note: I left the pumpkin to macerate with sugar overnight to draw out more juices (which Aysin gave as the other alternative), instead of a couple of hours and adding some water, which was the method shown in the cooking class. Recipe adapted from the original.
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