There is always one certain food for everyone that means the world to them. You know, one food that combines a host of your memories into one simple bite. And just the sight of one picture, or the memory of how it smells, or of how or with whom you used to eat it opens the flood gates and leaves you with deep sighs. You know that you are back home and everything is alright when you are eating it.
Who would have thought a simple dough, twisted and made into a ring shape, dunked in molasses and sesame seeds, sold on those crowded, dusty streets would be the food every Turkish person craves and longs for the most? Who would have thought that even after many attempts to make it in our homes, no matter how close it is to the real thing, we would still say “This is not the same, something is missing!” and we would believe that it will never be the same unless we buy it from the guy we knew when we were kids who sold it on that particular street corner for a buck. These guys either have a cart that they roll around the streets, or in the bazaars you can see them carrying a tray on their head, simits lined up neatly.
(Photo by Capitan Giona on flickr.com)
A simple morning breakfast in our summer house in Turkey would start with putting the çaydanlιk on the stove, getting ready to make tea while my grandfather made every possible noise he could make to get everyone up “accidentally”. A couple of fresh tomatoes would be sliced, salted, drizzled with olive oil and pomegranate molasses. Little perky cucumbers would be cut into small chunks. Several different types of cheese – aged and fresh -, jams, green and black olives, real butter and fresh bread along with the day’s newspaper would be placed on the table in the balcony. Then, from a distance, we could hear our simitçi (the person who sells simit on their trays) yelling “Siiimiiiiiiiiiiitttt”! My brother or I would rush down the stairs, grab a couple, and hurry back to the breakfast table. It is best when it is eaten warm and fresh, with olives, tomatoes, feta cheese, and a hot glass of Turkish tea. The act of breaking the simit to share while we chatted at the breakfast table with our tea meant the world to me during those summers.
So I have been craving, longing for this simit for years. I have brought it in vacuumed packages from Turkey, buried them deep down in my freezer and occasionally enjoyed a bite or two, savoring the taste. But I came to a point in my life that I had to roll up my sleeves and get to work. So I had been working on different recipes I have found online. I was not happy with the results. Then, when I was in Turkey last September, I stopped at the simit shop. They thought it was very funny that I was after such a simple taste. They let me feel the dough to understand its consistency but didn’t really give me the exact recipe. They sent me home with 2 lbs of the sesame seeds that they use.
When I came back to the States after that trip, I purchased two cookbooks: Classical Turkish Cooking by Ayla Algar and Mediterranean Street Food by Anissa Helou. I found they both had very similar simit recipes. The important thing is that the dough has to be stiff and should spring back when you press it. It took me 17, yes, seventeen minutes to knead 4 cups of flour and one and a half cup of water into a nice, stiff dough! After tasting it, although my husband thinks this is the closest I have gotten to the authentic taste… for me something is still missing. Like a wood burning stone oven in my backyard to make “real” simit! Maybe one day…
Simit (adapted from Classical Turkish Cooking)
- 3 teaspoons of instant yeast
- 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups of lukewarm water
- 4 cups of all purpose flour
- 1-1/4 teaspoons of salt
- 1 cup of grape molasses (pekmez)
- 1 cup of water
- 2-3 cups of sesame seeds (hulled)
- Cornmeal to sprinkle on the pizza peel or on the back of cookie sheet
1. Mix flour, yeast and salt together.
2. Add lukewarm water to the flour mix gradually.
3. Flour the kitchen counter, and knead the dough until you have a smooth, stiff dough.
4. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let it rise until it doubles in size.
5. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces (4 oz each) , roll into a ball, cover and let it rise for another 30 minutes.
6. Make a 14-inch rope from each ball, hold at one end, twist it and make it into a ring shape. Press the ends to seal an close the circle.
7. Cover and let it rise for another hour.
8. Mix 1 cup of molasses and 1 cup of water in a bowl, whisk until they combine. Put the sesame seeds in a large plate where you can easily put the rings in and cover with the seeds.
9. Dip the rings in molasses mixture, then cover with the seeds completely.
10. Preheat your oven to 550 degrees. Put your baking tile in. Put a small ramekin dish full of hot water on the side or on the bottom level. Keep a spray bottle handy to spray water in the oven time to time. Be quick to open and close the door to prevent the heat from escaping.
11. Let the rings rest for another 30 min. They might shrink a bit. You can enlarge them lightly (up to 7-inch) but I left them alone. This 30 min will give enough time as well for the tile to get hot.
12. Sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel or on the back of a cookie sheet. Place the rings on the peel. Quickly slide them onto the baking tile.
13. In 15 min, they should be done. They will look burned but it is due to the molasses.