in the kitchen with: eating asia’s turkish noodle soup

kesme asi served with hot red pepper and croutons fried in butter
The temperature is finally dropping close to freezing at night here in Rome, which is actually one of my favorite times of the year.  I love keeping the fireplace going and burrowing under a pile of warm blankets on the bed, and most of all I love winter foods.  I thought a very hearty soup would be a perfect way to start off the month of December.  The team from Eating Asia blog, Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman, have just the soup for us, and I am really happy to have learned about this dish.  It is a Turkish soup with tomato and green lentil soup with chewy noodles and crispy croutons, called kesme asi and it looks divine.  If you find you’re in need of a very hearty winter soup, you’ve found it!  Note- it can be made vegan-friendly with a couple of tiny adjustments.  -Kristina

About Robyn and David

Food and travel journalist Robyn Eckhardt and editorial and commercial photographer David Hagerman live in Penang, Malaysia and road trip often in Turkey. They collaborate on a twice-monthly column on street food for Wall Street Journal Asia, are on the masthead at Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, and are contributors at food and wine website Zester Daily. Their work –separately and together — can also be found in Saveur, New York Times Travel Section and SBS Feast. Robyn was the founding Food Editor at Time Out Kuala Lumpur. When not on the road Robyn leads private street food walks in Penang. David conducts group and private photography workshops in Penang and in Turkey.
For the last eight years Robyn and David have published the visually rich, award-winning food blog EatingAsia, which explores street food and culinary traditions in Asia and Turkey. They are currently researching their first cookbook, on the foods of Istanbul and eastern Turkey, to be published by Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2016.

See how to make Robyn and Dave’s soup after the jump!

ingredients for kesme asi - all purpose flour, egg, salt and water

 

mixing the dough

the dough is rolled out with the aid of a long rolling pin called an oklava

Kesme Asi
Tomato and Green Lentil Soup with Chewy Noodles and Crispy Croutons
Serves 4

If you’ve never made noodles by hand, this is the perfect recipe with which to start doing so: the dough for this rustic pasta isn’t rolled super thin and it doesn’t matter if the noodles end up unevenly shaped.  Kesmi asi broth can be made ahead — in fact the flavor improves with some time in the refrigerator– and the noodle dough can sit for up to three hours in the refrigerator. But the croutons should be made, and the noodles added to the broth to boil, right before serving.

For the soup:

– Scant 1 cup dried green lentils
– 2 tablespoons butter
– 1 teaspoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
– 1 medium onion, diced
– 1 medium carrot, diced
– ½ teaspoon salt
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 4 large plum tomatoes (or 4 medium regular tomatoes), chopped
– 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper or more to taste (you can use pul biber, Turkish red pepper flakes, if you can find it)
– 2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 3 tablespoons water
– 1 small potato, diced
– 4-5 packed tablespoons purple basil leaves, minced (or substitute Italian basil)

Melt the butter and grapeseed oil together in a 3 to 5-liter sauce/soup pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrot, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook and stir for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook until they give off their juices and soften almost to a paste, about 8 minutes.
Add the Turkish red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste/salca and water mixture, then add the potatoes. Drain the lentils and add them to the pot, along with 1 3/4 liters of water. Bring the soup to a boil and then lower to a steady simmer and cook, partially covered, until the lentils are soft and the broth tastes rich and tomato-ey, about 45 minutes to an hour. (The broth should be thick but not stewy; add more water 1/2 cup at a time if needed.)

Stir in the basil and remove from the heat. At this point you can go ahead and make the noodles or set aside/refrigerate the soup for later.

For the noodles and croutons:

– 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1 large egg
– Tepid water
Sift the flour into a large, wide bowl and add the salt. Use your hand to stir the ingredients together.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and break the egg into it. Use your forefinger to break the yoke and to mix it with the white. Now, mix the flour and egg by drawing the flour into the egg with the tips of your fingers, and then using the heel of your hand to press the ingredients together. Turning the bowl as you go, repeat until the flour and egg are combined (the mixture will be crumbly).

Add water to the mixture, starting with 2 tablespoons for the first addition and 1 tablespoon at a time after that. After each addition of water work the liquid into the dough with your fingers. Stop adding water when the dough is firm but soft enough that your finger still leaves an imprint in it, and not sticky; a Turkish cook would say it should feel “like your earlobe”.

Knead the dough until it is smooth and shows a bit of elasticity, about 3-5 minutes. Form it into a ball, wrap in plastic, and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour and for up to three hours.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and separate out approximately one quarter of the dough. Wrap the rest of the dough up and set it aside.

Roll the small piece of dough back and forth between your palms, shaping it into a short thick rope. Lay the rope parallel to your body on a wide floured surface and roll it back and forth, using your fingers to stretch it as you roll. When the rope is about 2 feet long press your fingers or the heel of your hands along its length, flattening it as you go. Cut the now flat length of dough into ½ -inch squarish pieces and set aside on a plate.
Unwrap the rest of the dough and divide it in two. Working on a lightly floured surface use a rolling pin to flatten and stretch one piece until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Don’t worry if the dough piece is of uneven thickness or an odd shape.

To cut the noodles, place your hand flat on the edge of the dough farthest from your body, palm down and thumb facing you. Slice pieces of dough ¼ to 1/2-inch wide, using the upper edge of your hand to guide the knife along its curve. Move your “guiding” hand around the piece of dough, cutting as you go, until it’s used up. Don’t worry about making the noodles perfect! They’re meant to be rustic and uneven in size, some long and others short, inconsistent in width.

To finish the soup:

– 2 tablespoons butter
– 2 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
– a handful of purple basil leaves, roughly chopped (substitute Italian basil)

Bring the broth to a boil and drop in the noodles. Cook them at a medium simmer, stirring occasionally to make sure that they cook evenly, until they are tender and cooked through but still a bit chewy, 12-15 minutes.

While the noodles are cooking, melt the butter together with the grapeseed oil over medium-low heat in a 12-inch skillet (preferably non-stick). When the butter-oil mixture bubbles, add the croutons and cook, stirring, until they crisp, puff up and become golden (don’t let them go to dark brown). Remove to a piece of paper towel to drain.

Serve the soup in wide bowls, garnished with the croutons and the chopped basil. Pass Aleppo pepper or other red chili flakes at the table.
the dough is rolled out with the aid of a long rolling pin called an oklavahand cut noodles

DS_DRH (7)

kesme asi served with hot red pepper and croutons fried in butter

Why Robyn and Dave love this recipe
This dish is from Kars, a province in Turkey’s far northeast. Kesmek means “to cut” in Turkish – a reference to the rustic noodles in this soup, which are cut by hand. The dish also speaks to Kars’ proximity to Caucasus; Kyrgyzstan also has a noodle soup (with lamb) called kesme. Kesme asi is true ev yemegi (home-style food).   We love this recipe because beyond the fact that it’s delicious and incredibly comforting, it confounds preconceptions that many people hold about Turkish cuisine as being very meat-centric with a limited range of flavoring and herbs, and not having many noodle-based dishes.  This soup has all three of those elements.  Many people think that the only pasta dish in Turkey is manti. But in fact dried noodles called eriste are pantry staples for most Turkish home cooks and in the northeast, at least, it’s not uncommon to make fresh noodles for a meal (you would probably find few noodle dishes in restaurants).

Robyn-Eckhardt_David-Hagerman

Kristina

Hi Frippery Vintage! It does kind of look like a lot of work, but I think a lot of soups follow this procedure. Maybe you can try making it in a pressure cooker to speed it up? Then you’d just have to do the noodles and the final touch. If you do try it in the pressure cooker, or get somebody to make it for you, let me know how you like it!

Robyn

Hi Frippery Vintage — the recipe is long but it’s really not a lot of work. The soup prep comes together in like 15 mins, then it just cooks. The noodle dough is mixed in 15 mins and then it goes in the fridge. Later, you roll out the dough quick (advantage here — you do NOT want even, pretty noodles from an evenly shaped piece of rolled out dough), cut it, 10 mins tops. Then just cook the noodles and sauté the croutons. A fair bit of cooking-on-the-stove time but really not much active cooking time.
I’m biased of course but I had *never* made pasta by hand before I developed this recipe. It worked and suddenly homemade noodles seem like a no-brainer.
Hope you’ll give it a try!

Connie

Think I’m going to make this tonight! I mis-read “Turkish” for “turkey” and kept looking for turkey on the ingredients list….actually glad it is not there, ’cause I have everything else on hand.

Daphne

thanks for the recipe. Turkish food does have a huge variety not represented in kebab restaurants in North America. It’s nice to see some of it featured here.

However it’s a bit unclear – are the croutons just small pieces of the raw dough?

Doris

I made this for dinner on Sunday, and it was so delicious! We made a few changes. Since we’re vegan, I subbed blended soft tofu for the egg in the dough. The vegan noodles were delicious! The croutons didn’t get crunchy, but they were chewy and still excellent – more like little tiny zeppole. And we used margarine instead of butter. I made a few other changes based on what I had on hand. I subbed French lentils for the green lentils, and subbed 1 can of diced tomatoes and 1 small can of tomato sauce for the fresh tomatoes and tomato paste + 3 Tbsp water. I also left out the potato and the basil, and doubled the garlic because we love garlic.

Next time, I’m going to make the noodle/crouton dough first, so that I can make the broth while the dough is resting/chilling in the refrigerator.

This was so good! I highly recommend it!

Halime Tosun

Hello there, I am from Turkey. And the recipes are good.. Thanks for sharing them. But there is an issue related to this particular recipe. And ıf you don’t mind I’d like to add some information about it.This is s recipe which my mother always coocks for my family. The noodles are cut in more narrow strips. And the noodles aren’t fried in the recipe. Also, in my city, it is known as soup.Now I don’ have any pictures of them but if you like i can send a few photos for you :)

Robyn

Hi Halime, This is a version of kesme asi which I observed being made in a village home in northeastern Turkey. Of course, kesme asi is made all over Turkey, and as is the case with many recipes every Turkish cook does it her way. If you go to Kars and eat in home kitchens, and even in some restaurants, you’ll find kesme asi made with the “croutons” of noodle dough as per this recipe. But not in Istanbul or in the west. That’s the beauty of regional cooking, isn’t it? One recipe, many many ways.
Happy New Year.

Robyn

Hi Daphne — yes, sorry. The croutons are bits of noodle dough. There is so much to Turkish regional cooking that’s still unknown even to some folks who were born and raised in Istanbul. I hope to bring it all to light in my cookbook.

Hi Doris — Brilliant re: the changes. The greatness of many Turkish homestyle soups is that they can easily be vegan … not bec many Turks are vegan but because, out east, meat is not eaten as much as some might think. A Turkish cook would probably use sunflower oil and just omit the egg for a wheat flour-salt-water dough as is often made in China. With intensely flavoured Turkish red pepper and tomato pastes, you really don’t need meat stock for the soup base. An eastern Turkish home cook might through in dried tomatoes where you used canned.
Thanks for trying the recipe. Glad it worked for you!

Halime Tosun

Yeah, you’re right. Asap I’ll try this version :) Enjoy your new year :)

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