Balik ekmek

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Helen Graves serves up her bright and delicious balik ekmek recipe, a delightful Turkish sandwich. As super-fresh mackerel can be tricky to source, Helen swaps fresh for smoked in this version. If you have some fresh mackerel to hand, do not hesitate to use this instead, simply pan-fried for wonderfully succulent flesh.

First published in 2016

Along the banks of Istanbul’s Galata Bridge, vendors sell these simple sandwiches of mackerel and salad. From the gaudy boats designed to attract tourists, to the tiny, rickety stalls, the smell of grilled seafood fills the air. They vary widely in quality, and the trick is to find the freshest fish, the softest bread, and the sprightliest of salads.

I found a favourite during my time there – a tiny set-up near the fish market in Karaköy. A man worked behind the flimsiest of well-used grills flipping glistening fillets and laying them into puffy Turkish bread. A colourful salad is added: shreds of crunchy lettuce, peppers and carrots sprinkled with lemon juice, drops glittering in the bright afternoon sun. A squeeze of pomegranate molasses and some Turkish chilli flakes and the sandwich is pressed closed.

We took our paper packages and found a lunch spot next to the lapping Bosphorous, sharing a small table with seagulls and a guy serving tea from a rickety urn. It’s a time and a place thing, this sandwich, so I’ve taken inspiration from the original to make this version.

It’s not always practical to find the best fresh mackerel, so my version uses smoked, which can be easily obtained and makes a lovely, rich filling. The salad is true to the original, crunchy and fresh, dressed with pomegranate molasses for a sweet/sharp flavour. The main deviation in my recipe is the addition of yoghurt dressing, which adds a nice creamy base to the sandwich, and makes it extra juicy. Don’t forget the napkins!




Balik ekmek


Yoghurt sauce


Make the salad dressing by combining the pomegranate molasses, white wine vinegar, honey, olive oil and some salt and pepper in a jar. Put the lid on and shake until well-combined
Mix all the salad ingredients together and add enough salad dressing to coat. Set aside
Mix all of the yoghurt sauce ingredients together, season and set aside
To assemble the sandwiches, add a layer of the yoghurt sauce followed by the smoked mackerel, broken gently into pieces (be sure to remove any bones)
Top with some of the salad, sprinkle with Turkish chilli flakes and close the sandwich. Serve with a wedge of lemon
First published in 2016

Helen Graves is Head of Content at Great British Chefs. She's also the author of the cookbook LIVE FIRE: Seasonal Barbecue Recipes and Stories of Live Fire Traditions, Old and New, and the editor of Pit, an independent magazine with roots in live fire cooking.

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