During our trips to Turkey, we happily took part in a daily delightful morning ritual… going out for breakfast! This first meal of the day happens to be my favorite. Besides waking up hungry and wanting to nourish my belly, breakfast has such comforting memories for me. Certain dishes can draw me back to the kitchen of my childhood. I can picture my Mama hovered over the stove with her frying pan in one hand and the spatula in another, dishing out fried eggs to her three impatient children seated around the table. (Suddenly, a picture of baby birds chirping in a nest with Mama bird standing above them with a worm clasped between her beak, enters my mind. Yeah… we kinda looked like that. Peep, peep, peep.)
For me, dining out for breakfast in Istanbul was like waking up on Christmas morning and heading for the stockings. I just knew there would be something exciting waiting for me. In Turkey, it seems that breakfast is so popular, that many establishments specialize in it and only serve dishes around this morning meal. A hearty plate of various cheeses, olives, cured meats, tomatoes, cucumbers, slices of hard-boiled eggs, jams, bee hive honey and creamy butter were the typical ingredients that decorated this platter, along with a cozy basket of bread. If that was not enough, you could also add an omelette, boreki (stuffed spinach/cheese pastry) or a bowl of spiced red lentil soup. This breakfast cornucopia came with such an abundance of food that it invited everyone to partake in a mid-morning communal feast.
On my latest visit to Istanbul, I was completely knocked out by a restaurant that concentrates solely on breakfast food. The Van Cafe kahvalti, located in the Cihandir neighborhood (photo above was taken there) provided all the delicious edible material I just listed and more! It was there that I became acquainted with “Tahini Peznak,” a tasty spread that stirred my curious palate. A combination of tahini paste and grape molasses which, in this part of the world, has been enjoyed for centuries. The creamy texture of the sesame mixed with the sweetness of the grapes and then spread across a slice of freshly baked bread was divine! Just imagine good old peanut butter and grape jelly, but a thousand and one nights better (and healthier for you too!)
Day after day, I indulged in this sweet pairing. On my final morning in town, I visited the Van Cafe and shared one last Turkish breakfast with a dear friend. We sat outside on tables that lined the sidewalks surrounded by other breakfast goers. Moments after the waiter took our orders, a huge storm appeared and buckets of rain came thrashing all around us. Luckily, we were sitting under a huge and sturdy canvas umbrella which managed to keep us dry. The rain remained throughout our insouciant breakfast. We believed the ill weather would cease by the end of our meal, but instead it continued to pour. We had no other choice, but to face the rain and get drenched. However, I couldn’t return to Prague without a container of my new-found sweetness. With two hours left in the city, a new fixation for grape molasses, and despite the heavy rainfall, I trekked my way to the nearest supermarket. Soaked, I traveled up and down the aisles of the Carrefour grocery store until I found my jar of uzem pekmezi. It was stacked right next to its familiar partner- tahini.
Lately, this sweet and nutty duo has made many regular morning and mid-afternoon appearances on our table. And since discovering it, I have also been obsessed with finding a way to use it in other baked goods. Cookies, shortbread, cakes? How about a snack bar with an oatmeal base that could hold the creamy syrupy tahini peznak and allow its flavors to penetrate through to your taste buds?
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Bottom Layer Base:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup oats
1/4 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
In a medium bowl:
Beat butter and sugar until creamy.
Then add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. It will look a bit crumbly.
Grease a 8×8 square pan.
Bake the base for 10-12 minutes.
Tahini Peznak Top Layer
1/3 cup tahini
1/2 cup grape molasses a.k.a. Uzem Pekmezi
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup chopped pistachios
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. flour
In a medium bowl:
Combine all the ingredients together.
Then pour over the oatmeal base.
Bake for 25-30 minutes.
When cool, sprinkle some powdered sugar on top.