Fried sardine pitta and baked pomegranate salmon with kisir: Melek Erdal’s Kurdish recipes

Melek Erdal’s crispy sardines and herby potato salad in pittas.

Kurdish food is a tapestry, much like Kurdish people. We absorb from and imprint on the spaces we inhabit. It is no coincidence that our symbolic fruit is the pomegranate, the sum making the whole. Even when it is broken open and scattered, it is full of jewel-like seeds. As an Istanbul-born, London-grown Kurd, I have used food to connect, to preserve the past and to form a new community. Today’s dishes have flavours that have survived long journeys to distant places simply because they are delicious.

Pomegranate and sumac salmon with kisir (fine bulgur salad, pictured top)

Kisir salad is a staple in Turkish homes: a celebration of spring and summer and all the fresh herbs they bring. Salmon, for me, is a very London lunch that I have jazzed up here with Middle Eastern flavours.

Prep 20 min
Cook 15 min
Serves 2

For the salmon
2 fillets salmon (about 120g each)
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper
½ tsp
½ tsp
aleppo chilli flakes
2 tbsp
pomegranate molasses

For the kisir
190g fine bulgur wheat
1 tsp each of salt
, aleppo chilli, dried mint, black pepper
1 tbsp heaped
salça (tomato and pepper paste) – you can also use a regular sun-dried tomato paste
6 tbsp olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
handful of parsley, finely chopped
2 spring onions
, finely chopped
5-6 leaves romaine lettuce, chopped into 1cm pieces
1 tomato
, diced
100g pomegranate seeds

Pomegranate molasses, to drizzle

Put the bulgur and spices in a bowl and stir in enough boiling water to just cover them. Cover with a cloth or tray to trap the steam and set aside to cook through.

Add the salça to the bulgur along with the olive oil and lemon juice and mix thoroughly with your hands, kneading it almost as you would dough.

Add the parsley and spring onions and stir and mix thoroughly again, scrunching and kneading it. Add the lettuce and tomato, give everything a gentle stir to combine, then sprinkle in the pomegranate seeds.

For the salmon, heat the oven to 210C (190C fan)/400F/gas 6½. Rub the salmon with a drizzle of oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, sumac and aleppo chilli flakes, brush with the pomegranate molasses and bake for 10-12 minutes.

Serve the salmon with the kisir alongside. I suggest drizzling with some extra pomegranate molasses and a mixture of green leaves on the side.

Crispy sardines and herby potato pitta

Melek Erdal’s crispy sardines and herby potato salad in pittas.

This is a nod to Istanbul street food. Traditionally, sardines from the Bosphorus are fried or grilled, and served in a pide bread with an onion salad. In my version, I use grilled pitta as a vessel for, pan-fried sardines and a herby onion potato salad.

Prep 30 min
Cook 30 min
Serves 4-6

For the sardines
450g sardines (about 10 fish of 15cm in length)
100g fine semolina
tbsp sunflower oil or light olive oil
Pitta breads

For the potato salad
950g red skin potatoes, halved
Salt and black pepper
5 spring onions
, finely sliced
45g parsley
, finely chopped
dill, finely chopped, with some reserved to finish
30g capers
2 tbsp olive oil

For the caramelised onions
3 onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced lengthways
5 tbsp olive oil

½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cumin
30g currants

For the green sauce
30g basil
20g mint leaves
1 green birds-eye chilli
, deseeded
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
4 tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt
1 tsp pepper
½ tsp sumac
drizzle of pomegranate molasses

Put the halved potatoes in a deep pan and cover with water by 1cm. Add a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Cook until cooked through but still firm. Drain and set aside. Peel once cool – the skins should slip off easily.

Now for the onions. Put the oil in afrying pan on a medium-high heat, add the onions, a pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper, and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes, until they begin to brown and reduce by half. Add the spices and currants, caramelise for a further 10 minutes, then leave to cool.

In a large bowl, mix the spring onions, herbs, capers, olive oil, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper, then stir in the skinned potatoes.

For the green sauce, roughly pulse-blend all the ingredients bar the sumac and pomegranate molasses until coarse and not too smooth. Stir half the sauce into the potato bowl. Mix the rest with the pomegranate molasses, then sprinkle with the sumac and reserved dill, and set aside.

Clean the sardines – you can ask your fishmonger to do this, or cut down the middle lengthways and push the insides out with your thumb. Wash in a bowl of water, then cut off their heads. Butterfly the sardines by running your thumbs down the inside spine and opening up slightly.

Mix the semolina and a teaspoon of salt on a plate and gently pat the fish in the mix on both sides, dusting off the excess. Place the sardines flat on a plate and leave to rest in the fridge while you prep the salad.

Heat the sunflower oil in a frying pan over a high heat and add the fish, fanning them out like a flower. Cook on a medium-high heat for six minutes on one side and two minutes on the other.

Serve the sardines and potato salad on a platter or stuff them all into pitta bread with an extra drizzle of green sauce and molasses.