In Turkey, mostly among women who stay home every day, it is very common to come together with neighbours during the day and eat, talk, “gossip”, spend an afternoon, which is called “gün” (Literal translation: day). Nowadays it is more like “…. günü” (meaning, “…. day”, like “gold day” or “dollar day”. In these kinds of day gatherings, the host provides food and fun, while the guests bring “gold” or “dollar” or whatever the event is named after. Pretty good way to save some money, no?
As an ever shy woman around people who are not the family, my mother never liked organising these kinds of events, she did not really like visiting our neighbours and I remember just a bunch day gatherings organised at our home only because she felt the pressure coming from invitations she received to the others’ events. Since I was a small kid back then, I had to join her when she had to go to a neighbour’s home, and that was the most boring time of my life. Of course, I had to be as shy as my mother at that time, so I did not really go and play with the other kids but instead, I was glued to my mother. But that gave me the chance to observe these adult women. I did not always understand what they were talking about fully, but I could realize well enough that mostly they were gossiping while my mother and I were only listening.
While the gatherings were extremely boring, the food served was generally incredible. It was like a competition between women. It was never enough to do one type of salty, one type of sweet; there were always so many different kinds of food and drinks..
This side dish, called “Kisir” in Turkish, was almost always served as part of the menu in these events. In fact, this salad with rich ingredients and taste is so common in Turkey that it is sure to be found in many events. The salad changes by region or even by people’s own preferences: you can change some of the ingredients from my recipe, add other spices or herbs, you can knead it for a more homogenous salad or you can just mix it for a grainy taste, like mine. You can do it completely raw or cook the onions a bit, like I do (because raw onion disturbs my stomach a lot). So as you can see, it is a salad which is open to your own creativity!
The main ingredient which you cannot do without is couscous, tomato paste and paprika paste, spring onion. Actually, in the traditional version, in Turkey, bulgur is used instead of couscous. But bulgur that is sold here again upsets my stomach a lot so I switched to couscous and it is equally tasty.
It is good to make the salad a few hours earlier than serving, so that all the ingredients give out their flavour gradually and the overall taste gets richer. You can keep the salad in the fridge with a well-sealed cover for a few days.
Now make Kisir salad and invite your friends for a “day”. What day can it be in Finland? “Euro day”? “Hug day”?
1/2 cup / 1.2 dl vegetable oil (or you can also use olive oil)
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp / 15 ml tomato paste
1 tbsp / 15 ml paprika paste
2 cups / 4.8 dl. couscous, washed well
5 dl. hot water (hottest tap water is enough, you don’t have to boil the water first)
5-6 pieces of spring onion, chopped
1 tsp / 5 ml chili pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper
1 tsp / 5 ml ground cumin
black pepper to taste
salt to taste
lemon juice to taste
other things you can add:
1. In a pan, put vegetable (or olive) oil on medium heat and let it warm for about 1 minute. Add onion and sauté until it gets translucent.
2. Add tomato and paprika pastes and stirring continually, cook all until the pastes are well incorporated, about 5 minutes, then let it simmer for 2 more minutes on low heat. Take it away from heat and let it cool down for a few minutes.
3. In a medium mixing bowl, put couscous and pour hot water over it. Stir a little bit and let it sit for 5 minutes, until the couscous grains get bigger. It is good to stir once or twice within these 5 minutes so that it does not get too stiff.
5. Add spring onions, chili pepper flakes, cumin, black pepper and salt and stir well. At this point some people actually knead the mixture for a more homogenous salad, but I think it is much better in this grainy state.