I met Mohammad a few years ago when we were both volunteering for a local NGO. Everyone in the group knew that he was studying Gastronomy and, if you attended an event with him, you would sooner or later realise that he loved speaking in public. I reconnected with him recently in cooking events he organises every month. To know more about the project Beyond Kitchen and everything else Mohammad does, please continue reading.
Š: Please, introduce yourself briefly.
M: My name is Mohammad Alard. I am Syrian residing in Istanbul for 6 years now. I studied and graduated from the Gastronomy department at Özyeğin University in association with Le Cordon Bleu Istanbul. Through my studies, I took French cooking courses and several courses related to food and beverage studies and restaurant management.
Š: When I first met you, I have noticed that you liked to speak in a mic and cook. I am amazed by how you found a way to combine these two passions by opening a YouTube channel (Alard Vlogs) and organising pop up dinners. What was the most difficult thing when you started to create YouTube content?
M: The thing I still find the most difficult, is being consistent with my content and relevant to my followers. I started my YouTube channel for two main reasons: firstly to keep video memories on my channel, which I will be able to watch years after; and secondly to freely talk about things I feel need to be talked about, things and topics that can help others in some way. It started as a hobby and after getting good at it, this hobby started to generate extra income so I kept doing it as a side hustle with my main passion, which is food.
Š: Tell us a bit more about the Beyond Kitchen Project.
M: The pop-up dinner project came to life a year ago, after I graduated and went to 5 months summer course about Food Entrepreneurship. After the course I had an idea of building a food truck in Turkey, but it was quite difficult to make this idea a reality. After that, I came up with Beyond Kitchen idea. The project is based on collaboration with chefs once a month where I cook and prepare a full set menu of around 7 courses. For every event, I choose cuisine from a different country and then collaborate with chefs from the chosen country. My passion for food took me to create something I really enjoy where people gather and talk and enjoy some good food from around the world. This project also offers an opportunity to learn some new dishes and ingredients and a bit more from a country’s history and heritage.
(You can get more information about the Beyond Kitchen events here. I personally strongly recommend them, as I have attended Ethiopian and Iranian dinner.)
Š: When I first came to Istanbul in 2013, I soon realised that the culinary scene is not as diverse as Istanbul’s population. Things have changed a bit in the last few years. How do you see it?
M: There is definitely a lack of food options in Turkey as the Turks are proud of their food and culture. Turkish cuisine is very rich and diverse. In Istanbul, we can’t see many Turks willing to try something else apart from what they are used to. A few years ago it was a challenge to find something else to try apart from Turkish food as restaurants that were opening here many times didn’t have enough clients to sustain their business. But the situation has changed as many expats overtime established their presence in this city. We come to see more options became available in the food & beverage market. You can go to Fatih area to enjoy a variety of Syrian dishes or to Aksaray where you can find African, Uzbek, Pakistani, Georgian options. As the expat community in the city is growing, with it, it’s also growing the variety of cuisines.
Š: What is your favourite neighbourhood when it comes to eating out in Istanbul? Any restaurants that you would recommend?
M: When it comes to eating good and affordable, you will always find me in Fatih. And when I miss my hometown I will be there too. But in terms of restaurants, I always enjoy trying something different. A couple of restaurants suggestions: Le-Cuistot Studio; Ahali Tesvikiye ; Habesha Ethiopean; Saroja; Renad Mediteranian Cuisine.
A couple of restaurants suggestions: Le-Cuistot Studio; Ahali Tesvikiye ; Habesha Ethiopean; Saroja; Renad Mediteranian Cuisine.
Š: What is your favourite dish from the country you come from, or from your mum’s kitchen? Can you share a recipe and/or tricks?
M: My favorite childhood dish and still is Kibbeh in all its forms and shapes. Kibbeh’s Turkish version might be İçli köfte, but in Syria we have many different types of kibbeh. One of my favourite versions is Kibbeh Labanieh which is Kibbeh cooked in Liquid Yogurt. You can prepare Kibbeh at home.
Š: What is your favourite dish from other cuisines or a recipe you have learned while doing pop up dinner project? Could you share recipes or tricks?
M: One of my favorite drinks that I learned while doing the pop-up dinner was a Yemeni tea that is very similar to the Indian milk and tea drink. They prepare it using black and boil it with milk and cardamom for a long time on medium heat until the cardamom flavour filles the milk tea mixture. Then it is diluted with sugar and served. It is very tasty.
Another dish was very interesting for me to make was Iranian date dessert that we served on Iranian night. The dish called Ranginak and the recipe is below:
500g (3⅓ cups) plain flour
300gr salted butter cubes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cardamom
350gr fresh dates, seedless
100 g walnuts, toasted, chopped
105 g pistachios, finely chopped
Place flour and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for 20 minutes or until lightly golden and fluffy. Add cinnamon, cardamom and icing sugar, and stir to combine. Spread one-third of the dough over the base of a greased 23 cm pie dish. Arrange the dates on top in a single layer. Scatter over walnuts, then spread over remaining dough. Press down to compress layers, then scatter with pistachios Cover and set aside for 2 hours or until firm. Cut into 25 pieces and serve.
Recepie for Kibbeh Labanieh:
- Meatballs (kibbeh)
- 200g Veal meat, finely ground
- 200g Bulgur wheat
- 1 Tsp salt
- 1/2 Tsp pepper
- 1/2 Tsp cinnamon powder
- 1 Tsp dried basil
- 1 Onion, minced
- 1 Onion, minced
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 Small red onion, chopped
- 200g Veal meat, coarsely ground 2 Tbsp pine nuts Salt & pepper, to taste
- Laban (Cooked Yogurt)
- 1 Cup water
- ½ Cup short grain white rice
- 2 Tsp corn flour
- ¼ Cup of cold water
- 1½ Kg yogurt (Greek yogurt)
- 1 Tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp Tahini
- 1 Tsp dried mint
- 1 Tsp Ground Cardamom
- In a bowl, combine all ingredients for the kibbeh. Better to mix it in a machine for mincing meat with all ingredients for Kibbeh combined together.
2. For the stuffing, melt the butter in a skillet pan and cook the onion until golden. Add minced meat and spices, stirring frequently. Add pine nuts and cook for about 10mn.
3. Form balls in the size of an egg, keep it open at one end, stuff it with the meat mixture and close it.
4. Put the kibbeh in a preheated oven dish and roast it for about 20min.
5. In a saucepan, pour the water and the rice. Bring to a boil. Then lower heat
6. Melt the cornflour in 1/4 cup of cold water and add to the yoghurt. Stir.
7. Add the yoghurt to the rice and cook. Add the Tahini, then the kibbeh and dried mint cardamom. And serve with rice on the side.
(All photos are courtesy of Beyond Kitchen.)