Favourite Istanbul Meze: Yoghurt with Celeriac

Yoghurt with Celeriac

Like every other cook, I plan my holidays around what I can put into my gob, and where. Neither I, nor the majority of my friends would consider going away without having made The List, a document on which is collated restaurant and other food oriented recommendations extracted from mates, Twitter and Google in the weeks running up to the trip. As useful as these lists can be however, I also find them an albatross. There’s a lot to be said for exploring a city simply by arseing about with no particular plans or direction, and it can often lead to the best discoveries. I stumbled across Has Urfa Lahmacun for example on a morning when we were slightly lost, and desperately hungry; we just pitched up there out of necessity and had one of our favourite meals of the trip. Being too tied to The List can mean one ends up ping ponging from place to place, frantically trying to tick off experiences without stopping to actually enjoy just being somewhere new. I’ve definitely been guilty of that.

What I try to do now is just mark out a few places that really MUST be visited, and keep the rest in reserve. Çukur Meyhane, a ‘Turkish pub’, was in the former category; I’d heard good things about the food, but also I knew that (DANGER! DANGER!) they specialise in raki. If you’re not familiar, raki is an anise flavoured spirit, like pastis, Pernod, or arak, but with the ability to induce next-level drunken irritability. Unfortunately we have quite a taste for it. Or should I say ‘had’. The fridges at Çukur Meyhane are rammed with bottles distilled in different areas of Turkey (some labelled with people’s names – for their use only), but I have to admit, they all tasted the same to me.

What I really enjoyed was the food. We gorged (and I do mean gorged; I rolled around afterwards like a fatted seal pup) on aubergine and yoghurt salads, pastries, stuffed vine leaves (not sure I’ll ever really come round to liking vine leaves that much), and a seriously good grilled liver flecked with ground coriander and chilli, which I’ve since tried and failed to re-create on the BBQ. This yoghurt dish was my absolute favourite. You’ll find a yoghurt meze dish on every menu in Istanbul, but this was different. At first I thought it contained grated celery which had been allowed to drain its water, but then I recognised the earthiness of that weird knobbly root. I’m not the  biggest fan of celeriac in soup, or even just cooked, to be honest; baked in ash at The Ledbury is one thing, but at home? Meh. Remoulade all the way, for me, and now of course, in this yoghurt. It spoke to me, basically. Give it a whirl.


Raki pictures line the walls at Çukur Meyhane

Yoghurt with Celeriac

The original: yoghurt with celeriac at Çukur Meyhane


Hazy Raki days

Istanbul Cats

Sunbathing cats

Yoghurt with Celeriac (we ate this as a meze between 4)

500g full fat Greek style yoghurt. I used Total, but you could also use a strained yoghurt. Don’t use low fat if you can help it and don’t use one that is too thin (hence my suggesting strained if you can’t find the Total brand).
Juice 1/2-1 whole lemon
Small handful parsley leaves, finely chopped
80g celeriac, grated
1 large clove garlic

Cook the garlic clove in boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain and set aside. Put the yoghurt in a large mixing bowl, then beat it with a fork until smooth. Grate in the celeriac and squeeze in about half the juice from half the lemon. Crush the garlic clove and add it, then stir in the parsley, add a good pinch of salt, and set aside to sit for an hour or so at room temperature. After this time, stir again, taste, and add more lemon juice and salt if needed. Eat with warmed or toasted bread.

Çukur Meyhane, Kartal Sokak 1/A, Beyoglu, Istanbul 
Telephone: 212-244-5575
Quite a few tables were reserved on the evening we went, so get there early or call ahead.

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  • Avatar
    Reply Gene May 5, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Beautiful pics! I agree on ‘The List’. I always create one myself and will always gladly ignore it when I come face to face with what looks to be a better option and quite often those end up being some of my favorite places and memories. Besides when you’re back home discussing the trip with friends it’s far a more interesting story that starts ‘well, I stumbled upon this place and decided to give it a whirl’ rather than the one starts ” well, it was on the list so we went there’. Sometimes, as with public speaking, it’s best done extemporaneously!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 5, 2014 at 10:17 pm

      Ha! I was about to disagree on the public speaking thing and then I remembered a couple of examples. Preparing for public speaking is still kinda necessary for me though, I have to say. Argh! Sweaty palms thinking about it.

  • Avatar
    Reply Catherine May 6, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Looks delish and very do-able. Was blinded by hunger at your previous post so will have to re-visit after lunch! I’m going to Majorca on Sunday and am having The List dilemma, do we free-style or plan plan plan??! Aargh!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 6, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      Do the plan anyway, I always do, just don’t feel bad if you don’t do it all.

  • Avatar
    Reply Nic Miller May 6, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    Love this and love your writing generally but please please don’t use the term ‘mental’ in the manner that you have.

    We’d face censure if we used gay, disabled or black as a pejorative description (and the way you and others use the term ‘mental’ it does imply this) so please let’s push terminology that stigmatises mental health problems into the same camp.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 6, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      Hi Nic, fair point. Sorry if the term offended you. I’ll change it now.

  • Avatar
    Reply Ms Marple May 6, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Yum…can’t eat enough yoghurt….am not always sure about celariac but am going to give it a go…
    am in love with your Turkish guilt much so that I was just about to describe them to you…as something you should try…oops

    Best way to drink raki is to pour it into the lid of the bottle, light it, then throw it in the general direction of your least that’s what I decided once on a rooftop in Fethiye at sunrise…once upon a time in another life….perhaps best isn’t the right word…yrs still in a veil!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 6, 2014 at 2:03 pm

      See now THAT is a good example of what raki can do!! So pleased you like the guilt eggs. Let me know what you think of this.

  • Avatar
    Reply Hungry May 6, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    I have 2 lists!
    1) Long list of stuff I want to eat. Generally this is comprised of a list of local specialities and odd dishes (and drinks) that i’d never heard of
    2) Shorter list of places I want to eat in.

    This works better for me, as i inevitably get lost on holiday and would rather know a bit about what stuff to look out for.

    I actually love celeriac so this sounds right up my street!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 6, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      Ah I usually just wang all those bits into the same list. Let me know if you try the celeriac dish!

  • Avatar
    Reply msmarmitelover May 6, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Girl you are on FIRE blogging wise right now

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 6, 2014 at 4:38 pm

      Aww thanks Kerstin! xx

  • Avatar
    Reply Nic Miller May 7, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Thank you Helen- that is really decent of you.

  • Avatar
    Reply Lizzie May 7, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    You know I love lists, but I found what worked really well with Istanbul (and indeed any major touristy city) is to have recommended eats based around areas of interest – just so you don’t waste a meal eating in the equivalent of Garfunkels in Leicester Square. It’s never good to be beholden to The List, and I love a good spontaneous find.

    I feel the same way about celeriac. That yoghurty dip looks gooooood.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 8, 2014 at 9:20 am

      Don’t get me wrong, I still make the lists anyway but yeah, as long as you’re not a slave to them it works. Also, they can really bail you out in times of trouble! I had recommendations which I swear spanned the entire breadth of Istanbul, which you know is very large. Ouch. can’t wait to go back.

  • Avatar
    Reply Eleni June 1, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    Weirdly I think I was in Istanbul at the same time as you- we had a very similar experience where we enjoyed ourselves a lot more once we stopped worrying about the list (although it helped that we had ticked a few excellent meals off of it by then!)

    I’m really enjoying Maria Elia’s new cookbook, Smashing Plates- she has a couple good riffs on tzatziki, including swapping labneh for normal yoghurt and a fennel one that uses fresh fennel and toasted ground fennel seeds- I still like the classic cucumber more but it was a refreshing change.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen June 2, 2014 at 9:38 am

      Yes i do like that book a lot, not had much of a chance to cook from it yet though. Glad you agree on the list! Also yeah, there were a few I just HAD to tick off.

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