Turkish Temptations? Tell Me More!

photo by Debra Somerville

photo by Debra Somerville

I shared an hour on the phone with Moshe Aelyon last Friday afternoon and hung up with a deep hankering for Turkish cuisine.  I had planned to spend the afternoon with him,  chatting in his handsome kitchen while he prepared a distinctly Turkish, kosher style, Sabbath dinner for his regular, weekly client.

But our plans were  blown away by yet another Nor’Easter in CT and I didn’t taste these deeply flavored dishes until this week. When I did,  I was so busy kvelling (gushing), that maybe it was better that the tasting and interview had been forcibly separated by a weather event.

Moshe is an event planner, interior designer, cook,  and most recently, creator of Dinner with Friends by Room Temp.

I wanted to know more.

Kosher Like Me: What is the concept behind Dinner with Friends by Room Temp?

Moshe Aelyon:  Dinner with Friends is a service I offer to prepare delicious food and coordinate a meal in one of our selected venues. Venues might be a client’s home or my place, a garden or nursery, a wine shop or garage. I am open!  My concept is both an attitude and a description of the food. Serving dishes at room temperature allows the host to serve family style so she can relax and be a part of the fun.

KLM: What are you preparing for your client’s Sabbath dinner, today?

Leek meatballs

MA:  The dinner tonite is very Turkish. The leek meatballs first require careful cleaning of the leeks, and then a lot of chopping. My maternal grandmother used to make these and when guests oooh’ed and aaah’ed over them, she would remind them of how much loving prep they required by exclaiming, “You have to have golden teeth to eat these!”

KLM: How did your Turkish and Jewish upbringing influence the foods you cook?

MA:  My first understanding of celebration came from the weekly preparations for our Friday night dinners.  My two grandmothers (two “Queen” Esthers) and my Armenian step-mother began preparing on Wednesdays and cooked straight through until they served it after my father recited prayers on Friday night.

The Sabbath dinners of my childhood were a little like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. There were often over 20 dishes on the table. Our immediate family numbered 14 and we always had guests. I would nap in advance of our late dinner and was soothed by the fragrance of borekas wafting into my grandmother’s bedroom where I slept. So my most distinct food memories are tied to celebrating as we ushered in the Sabbath and enjoying it all over again as leftovers for lunch the next day.

Baked Eggplant

Baked Eggplant

KLM: Who were your greatest influences in the kitchen?

MA:  My  Turkish/Armenian step-mother, Iren, joined the family when I was five and she was the best non-professional cook I ever met. She was deeply influenced by French and Turkish cuisines. Her flavors were bolder and unfussy, though, more like fabulous street food.

KLM: What role did your father play in your family’s food story?

MA: My father, Yusuf, was a textile merchant in Istanbul and he worked near the food markets. He was a foodie to his core, willing to travel an hour to the edge of the city for the best charcuterie.  He knew how to focus on the best ingredients and they didn’t need to be highbrow.

He had clout in the markets because he did the food shopping for three women: his mother, mother-in-law and his own wife. He was sous chef to his powerful Armenian wife and “producer” of the our Friday night Shabbat dinners!

KLM: How would you describe Turkish cuisine?

Zucchini Skins

Zucchini Skins

MA: Turkey has four seasons and the menus reflect seasonal crops and local ingredients. Turkish cuisine is quite refined and often simple,  allowing fresh ingredients to shine. It is a melange of French, Ottoman, Mediterranean, Aegean and Middle Eastern cultures.

KLM: What about outside influences impact your cooking?

MA: When I discovered Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurants in London, it was as if all of my food preferences and styles had been fully articulated by this brilliant chef. His vegetarian book, Plenty, is a great resource. Jerusalem, co-authored with Israeli Arab business partner, Sami Tamimi, is an inspiration.  They explore their families’ food cultures, having both grown up in Jerusalem. His focus is on ingredients and community sharing. That resonates deeply for me and I carry that through in my own cooking and entertaining style.

KLM: What was the most challenging event you have been asked to produce or cater?

MA:  I’ve produced a lot of store opening celebrations. It is really challenging to plate sizzling wontons for 300 people from an eight foot table wedged into a dressing room!

KLM: With Passover approaching, what is your favorite holiday dish?

MA: I love my Mom’s traditional nut cake, lightened with lots of whipped egg whites and mixed with walnuts. NOBODY makes it like my Mom, KOKO!

I also love these leek meatballs which are easily adapted for the holiday by using matzah meal to bind them along with the eggs.

Note:  Moshe has been helping his clients celebrate their major moments by planning events, designing interiors, entertaining  and cooking for more than 17 years. His work has been featured in many magazines including Westport Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Brides and House Beautiful.

Moshe Aelyon may be contacted at: Room Temp by Moshe or by e-mail at moshe@roomtempbymoshe.com.

Enjoy Moshe’s flavor jammed  Leek Meatball recipe. Consider adding it to your Passover Menu!


10 Comments

  1. Your pictures and your writing make me are hungry every week no matter what time it is! I love the idea of a room temp gathering. It really does allow you to be with your guests!
    Thanks Liz

    • I agree! I thought about Room Temp as I prepared our Shabbat meal last night. Everything except for one dish was room temp. It DOES make it so much easier for the cook.

  2. Liz, your post this week was both a beautiful cultural and culinary journey….Turkey, London…such rich impressions and delicious looking food. Makes me want to go. Nice to know a taste is available close to home. thanks for the recipe!!! Love trying them. :-)

    • Glad you enjoyed this ride. Moshe shared his food memories so openly. It really helped me to imagine his family’s Shabbat table loaded with lots of variety and so many choices for all preferences.

  3. Sorry for the late comment but had to let you know I made Moshe’s Turkish leek meatballs for Passover. They were a huge hit as they were delicious and came out great. They almost looked as good as the ones in your amazing photo! Had to make more the next night as friends insisted on having them again for the second night.

    • Like-minded eaters, yes! Moshe’s food is rich with both history and flavor. It was great fun to write about him for KLM. Thanks for starting up and contributing to the pinterest board. It is a great repository of tantalizing recipes.

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