An early morning walk through the dusty streets of Istanbul down to the banks of the Bosphorus, a long and choppy crossing over the Sea of Marmara, a death-defying ride on a horse-pulled phaeton (there are no cars on Büyükada, the largest of the Princes Islands, just mad horsemen) followed by a hot and steamy mile-long climb up a mountain. That’s some effort for a lunch that consisted of a simple salad, a bowl of cacik (yogurt with cucumber and herbs), a plate of dolmades and a basket of bread. The thing is though, that was one of the most memorable lunches of our summer; the simplicity of the food was the point because we were sitting in a slightly overgrown garden next the Greek Orthodox Aya Yorgi Church quietly enjoying the stunning views over the glistening sea to the vast expanse of the bustling city and the chance to be, for a few short hours, returned to nature. It’s the little things isn’t it, that make your heart sing? The salad we ate that day was comprised of plump white beans mixed with sliced onions, sweet ripe tomatoes, a boiled egg and a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. This is my version of the classic fasulye piyaz we ate that day; mine may be slightly more refined but, whenever we eat it, we are immediately transported back to Büyükada and that beautiful, beautiful lunch.
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 tsp sumac, plus extra for garnishing
2 free range eggs
400g can of can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
16-20 ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
16 pitted black olives
30g flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
A few fronds of dill, finely chopped
How I make it
Place the sliced onion in a bowl and, using your hand, work in the sumac. Cover and set aside (this process removes the natural sourness of the onions making them much nicer to taste and easier to digest).
Meanwhile, bring a small pan of water to the boil and then lower it to a rapid simmer. Carefully lower the eggs into the pan and let them cook for six minutes. Drain and leave them under a tap of cold running water for a couple of minutes so they cool down.
In a large bowl, gently combine the onions, the beans, the tomatoes, 10 olives and the chopped parsley. Mix together the olive oil and lemon juice to make a simple dressing and add it to the bowl. Mix and season to taste.
Tumble everything onto a beautiful plate.
Peel away the shell from the eggs and cut them into quarters.
Garnish the salad with the egg, the remaining olives, a sprinkling of sumac and the dill.
If you enjoy a briny zing, add a handful of rinsed capers or caper berries.