When I lived in Turkey, where many of our family plants originated, my appreciation for vegetable cookery grew substantially. I whiled away my spare time visiting open-air markets to inspect and buy garden-fresh vegetables and learned how to prepare them from native cooks.
Turkish cooks carefully choose fresh vegetables in season. Small eggplants that are long and oval are chosen for stuffing, whereas the large, thicker ones are used for stews. Rarely is a vegetable cooked alone. Instead, two or more vegetables are combined with seasonings such as herbs, onions, garlic, scallions, raisins, nuts, lemon juice and olive oil. Sometimes poultry, meat or grains are added.
Once the technique of preparing these stews is acquired, the variations are almost limitless since the vegetables can be interchanged easily. A popular sauce or topping for these stews is yogurt, either by itself or mixed with garlic, mint or dill. AVERNA BEANS (8 to 10 servings)
Staple fare in Turkish informal restaurants, or tavernas, are cold white beans served with roast, skewered or grilled meat. These beans are good for outdoor meals and buffets 2 cups dried white beans, washed and picked over 3 or 4 garlic cloves, crushed 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped 2 medium carrots, scraped and diced About 1 cup olive or vegetable oil or mixture of both 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon vinegar or fresh lemon juice 1 teaspoon sugar 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsleys
Cover beans with water, bring to a boil and boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, 1 hour. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour, adding more water, if needed. Add garlic, onions, carrots, oil and salt. Continue to cook slowly until beans are just tender, about 30 minutes longer. Do not overcook. Stir in vinegar and sugar. Cook another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Mix in parsley. Serve lukewarm or cold. GARDENERS' STEW (Serves 4 to 6) 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced 4 leeks, cleaned and sliced 2 large carrots, scraped and sliced thinly 1/3 cup olive or vegetable oil 4 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped 1 pound fresh green beans, stemmed and cut-up 1/2 pound fresh okra, stemmed and cut-up 2 large green peppers, cleaned and chopped 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubes 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme Salt, pepper to taste About 3/4 cup chicken broth or water 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or parsley
Satue onions, leeks and carrots in heated oil in a kettle for 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, except dill, and cook slowly, covered, about 25 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Check during cooking to see if a little more liquid is needed but the final dish should be without much liquid. Add dill or parsley just before serving.