We came across Musa Dağdeviren at a culinary conference last year. The Turkish chef dazzled the audience by effortlessly shaping minced lamb on to skewers for kebabs, and by mincing meat in no time with a two foot-long scythe-like knife. His food was fantastic. The internationally acclaimed Dağdeviren operates three restaurants in Istanbul.
Food writer Paula Wolfert first met Dağdeviren in Istanbul many years ago. In an article she wrote for Food & Wine, Paula calls Dağdeviren part chef and part culinary anthropologist. “I am trying to preserve the best of the forgotten foods from the countryside,” he tells her.
Dağdeviren doesn’t speak English and so Paula relied on food journalist Ayfer Unsal to get the excellent musakka. Paula altered it to work in her kitchen but gives full credit to Dağdeviren, often referred to simply by his first name.
“Every foodie in Istanbul raves about Musa’s cooking and the opportunity he provides to taste regional specialties never before served in the city,” Paula says, noting he does “more miraculous things with vegetables than anyone else I know.”
This particular musakka has southern Turkish roots. It’s cooked in a Turkish clay pot called a guevec, and Paula gives you additional options for pots.
For the dish, zucchini, ground lamb, crushed tomatoes, onions, and Turkish sweet red pepper paste initially are cooked in the pot on top of the stove. Chickpeas are added. Fresh lemon juice and a mashed garlic are mixed together to form a paste, which is brushed over the contents in the pot.
The dish gets a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil infused with crushed mint, before going into a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes.
“The dish bakes until the vegetables are fully cooked and the oil has browned the top slightly,” Paula says. After baking, the musakka is left to cool, to be served at room temperature with a spoonful of yogurt mixed with garlic and parsley.
No doubt, this dish will transport you to Chef Musa’s restaurant in Istanbul.
Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch