With Halloween imminent, bright orange jack o'lanterns are hanging out on every stoop on my street, making ghoulish faces at the road. Of course, this puts me in the mood for some pumpkin. Halloween is not celebrated in Turkey. We do, however, celebrate the arrival of fall fruit such as pumpkin and quince with desserts that put the fruits front and center. One such preparation is "kabak tatlısı" which translates simply as "pumpkin dessert". It is, to my knowledge, the only pumpkin dish in all of Turkish cuisine. I decided to forgo a jack o'lantern this year and have a Halloween alla Turca instead by learning how to make this popular dish.
You'll be astonished at the ease of preparation of this dessert. It has just two main ingredients, and the only difficult part is peeling and cutting the pumpkin. Even this is not so hard if you have a sharp knife. You put the diced pumpkin into a pot, sprinkle on some sugar, turn on the heat, and wait. After a while, the pumpkin will release a surprising amount of water. Gently poaching the fruit in its own liquid concentrates its sweetness. At the end of 45 minutes, you will be left with glistening pieces of candied pumpkin. The flavor of the fruit comes through bright and clear in this dessert: A true taste of fall.
Kabak tatlısı is always served sprinkled with finely chopped walnuts. In my family, we also like it with a bit of kaymak on the side. This is a thick, clotted cream which is a traditional accompaniment to many Turkish desserts. A lot of Middle Eastern markets carry kaymak; if you cannot find it, English double cream makes a decent substitute.
Happy Halloween to you all!
Turkish Poached Pumpkin Dessert
This recipe comes from my good friend Zeynep. Don't use the huge jack o'lantern pumpkins for this, as they are usually tasteless and tough. Small sugar pumpkins are a better choice. Serves 6-8.
1 small sugar pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1x2 inch pieces (you need about 5 cups of chopped fruit)
1.5 cups (300 g) sugar
1 cup walnuts, pulsed 4-5 times in the food processor until very coarsely ground
Kaymak to serve (optional)
1. Put the pumpkin into a heavy-bottomed pot. Sprinkle on the sugar. Don't stir as you want some of the sugar to remain on top. Put the pot on medium-low heat.
2. After a few minutes, you will see that the pumpkin has released some water. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.
3. After 30 minutes, taste a piece. It won't be cooked yet, but you need to check for sweetness. Pumpkins have varying levels of sugar, so if the dessert is not sweet enough to your taste, gently stir in a few more tablespoons of sugar. Cover and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes, until the pumpkin is tender when pierced with a fork. Transfer the pumpkin to a serving dish, leaving behind any liquid that may still be in the pot, and let cool completely.
4. Serve with a generous sprinkling of walnuts and a dollop of kaymak on the side.