As I described in more detail in my first post, I’ll be the first to say that you don’t need to leave Ann Arbor, Michigan, or nearby Ypsilanti to travel the world, at least by way of your taste buds.
With more than 363 restaurants within a twenty-mile radius of Ann Arbor, plus the draw of the so-called “Ivy of the Midwest” – the University of Michigan – educated and traveled residents and visitors alike have created a perfect storm for gastronomic delight. Added to this, is the widespread appreciation among chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans in the area who appreciate the quality that comes with savoring foods seasonally, locally, made-from-scratch and in small batches. Many are on a first name basis with their farmer-suppliers.
This sense of real food and quality comes as no surprise to us homesteaders and back-to-the-landers who my wife and I have long come to revere, respect and celebrate. We’re amazed by the abundance that comes from their organic backyard growing fields, urban vertical growing walls and bustling kitchens turning out crocks of sauerkraut and stew simmered in slow cookers or sun ovens.
Among the many restaurants I had a chance to try on a recent visit to Ann Arbor, Ayse’s Turkish Café was perhaps the closest to feeling like a home-cooked meal. Many were just like meals served on my farm. Simple, but packed with flavor. While the photos of the dishes might not trend highest on Instagram (as if this really matters when it comes to nutrition, flavor or taste), they're homemade delicious.
The Café’s unpretentious owner Ayse Uras doesn’t have a menu board, per se, because she keeps changing it based on what’s in season. When I asked for a recipe, I learned many are not written down. The recipes are just in her head. Sound familiar? I can whip up our pesto recipe my memory (but written down, too, in Farmstead Chef). Stuffed grape leaves, spinach borek, rice pilaf, pepper lamb dolma and sultan’s delight with chicken are just a few of her more popular items.
“My dishes are mostly inspired from my childhood,” explains Uras. “Growing up in a small town in Anatolia we only had access to limited seasonal vegetables. Being a farm town, we always had to rely on staples like chick peas, wheats and beans. Now, I try to use local vegetables when available and make my recipes based around those.”
“There are few items that we almost always have daily,” adds Uras. “Others are based on the ingredients available in season. We try to have a beef, chicken, vegetarian dish available every day. Our menu changes continuously. During the [growing] season, we get our vegetables from the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. Eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard and beets come from several local farms.”
So, after numerous conversations and some back and forth via email, I finally nailed her down on her Beet Yogurt Salad which can also be served as an appetizer dip with some pita bread triangles or chips for dipping, This recipe comes just in time for our first beets ripening in my family’s growing fields. In Turkish, the beet yogurt salad is called pancar salata (pronounced "pahn-jar").
Courtesy of Ayse’s Turkish Cafe
Yield: 5 servings
• 12 medium size red beets
• 6 cloves garlic, minced
• 4 tbsp olive oil
• 5 cups whole milk Greek yogurt
• 2 tsp salt or more to taste
1. Remove tops and bottoms of beets, then briefly cook them in boiling water until easily pricked with fork, but not mushy.
2. Shred the beets with a medium, hand-held shredder. Put in strainer for a few hours to drain as much moisture as possible from the shredded beets.
3. Mix shredded beets, yogurt, garlic, olive oil and salt in a large bowl. The yogurt will take on the red beet color.
4. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 5 hours.
5. For serving, place beet yogurt salad on a serving plate, garnish with a slice of cooked beets on top and have some pita wedges or pita chips for dipping.
John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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