Turks are amazingly hospitable so a word of warning in your ear: when a Turkish friend invites you round for tea, be prepared.
This is no cup-of-tea -with-a slice-of- sponge affair, oh no. Teatime is treated very seriously here and is a way of life as it is all over the Middle East.
It will be a full-scale laden table, no-supper-tonight sort of do. It is perhaps hard to reciprocate with the same intensity as English teatime is not quite so full on but your efforts will be truly appreciated!
So down to basics: coffee invitations in the morning are always for 11am, never before as Turkish ladies are not early birds. Expect to stay on. Teatime should traditionally be 5pm but the logistics of the city dictate an earlier start. I would say 3pm is more realistic and your guests will probably stay until 6.
The name of the game is to prepare a full sofra.
This word means table in the sense of what’s on it as opposed to the piece of furniture.
In London there is a very upmarket restaurant by the same name and the connotation is exactly that: what’s on our table tonight!
It is very usual for Turkish women to have their groups and large gatherings of ladies in cafes across the city can regularly be seen enjoying themselves in the afternoon over glasses of çay.
In all probability, they have been meeting on a regular basis for years and are classmates dating back to either high school or university.
Here is the recipe for this Cheese Tart, which is actually Swiss: it always goes down well. It is adapted from an ancient Good Housekeeping cookbook and Katie Stewart:
- Roll out the prepared pastry into a circle and use to line an 8 in/20cm quiche tin set on a baking tray.
- Mix the grated cheese and flour together.
- Lightly beat the eggs, cream, a seasoning of salt and pepper and a little grated nutmeg into a mixing bowl and add it to the cheese and flour.
- Pour over the pastry case.
- Place the shapes you have cut out on top. Brush with a little milk.
- Heat the oven to 375F/190C/gas no 5.
- Peel and finely chop the onion.
- Melt the butter in a pan over low heat.
- Add the onion and fry gently for 5 mins to soften but not brown.
- Spread over the pastry case.
- Place in the centre of the pre-heated oven and bake for 40 mins until the filling turns a beautiful brown. It will rise and look great. It is better served warm not hot but is also delicious cold.
- The recipe is for 8 oz pastry but I usually increase it to 10 oz with 5 oz of butter so that it is easy to roll out and there is enough left over to cut out shapes.
- A rectangular-shaped tin makes a change from the usual circular one. It looks modern and makes for easier serving.
- Go all out with your silver and two plates, one for the savoury, and one for the sweet. Make your table look great! Flowers in the centre and even candles are a good addition. Set to impress!
- It is a nice idea to finish off your afternoon, which will be verging on early evening anyway, with a little alcohol: at my last tea I served some Pedro Jimenez sherry that we had been offered in Washington DC in the summer and loved. It is eminently drinkable and the ladies thought so too!