Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Art of Panini Making

Most of us in the USA are familiar with paninis.  They are those tasty, toasty Italian sandwiches sold for $10 at local restaurants and chains like Panera.  H. and I are a little thrifty  (as grad-students we really don't have a choice) so instead of spending our hard earned cash on breakfast or lunch out at a restaurant, we prefer to stay home on the weekends with our own version of brunch.

Paninis are also really common in the Turkish tradition.  They are sold on street corners, roadside stops, at restaurants and made in kitchens around the country.  In Turkish, paninis are called "tost".  Typically, they are just cheese cooked between bread.  Tost may be served as part of a larger Turkish breakfast, complete with bowls of olives, jams, different types of cheese, and pastries - as well as sauce.   What type of sauce?  In my experience it's a combination of tomatoes, green pepper and onion, but could have other vegetables cooked into it as well. 

Sometimes on weekend mornings I'll whip up a veggie sauce to eat with our Turkish tost and eggs.  However, most of the time we do things a bit differently.  H. has perfected the art of tost making over his years of living in the States and he came up with a simple, yet amazing version that combines the sauce and the tost.

It's really quite simple.  Yet, surprisingly, each time we put together a batch for family or guests they are delighted and ask for the recipe.  So here it is:

  1. First, we recommend buying good quality tomatoes.  We prefer tomatoes fresh from the farmer's market.  When that option is not possible, we try for organic store tomatoes (you can see the difference in the color between the two below). 
Guess which one is the local tomato and which is the organic Mexican one? (I'll clue you in - the redder the better) Image: Turklish

  1. Heat 1-2 tbs of vegetable or olive oil in a frying pan.  Once hot, add the tomatoes and hear the pleasant sizzling sounds of the melting tomato.

  1. Chop a little bit of garlic and add to the cooking tomato after 1-2 min.  At this point the smell of delicious tomato-garlic sauce will start to waft through the house and anyone still asleep will be draw out of the bed and into the kitchen.

  1. When the sauce is done it should look something like this:
Image: Turklish

  1. Now spread it onto your bread of choice.*  Our secret ingredient to the perfect panini is bread from the local bakery - so delicious and always crisp after toasting.

  1. While the sauce is cooking you can slice some mozzarella cheese.  I'm not very good at it and tend to form piles of cheese slivers of varying shapes and thicknesses.  It doesn't really matter - it all melts anyways.
Image: Turklish

  1. Add the cheese on top of the tomato sauce and replace the top slice of bread.
Image: Turklish

  1. Cook in a panini maker or a George Foreman, or whatever other grill or griddle you have.  I like to cook it until I can hear the cheese sizzling out of all the holes in the bread.  The cheese that melts on the griddle gets crispy and adds this oh, so delicious extra level of flavor and crispiness to the tost.  You can also add some butter to the bread in the last several minutes of toasting to get an extra amazing crisp.
These are almost done - the leaking cheese is a good sign.
Image: Turklish

  1. Enjoy with a glass of Turkish tea, of course.  For a full brunch, we eat fried eggs or an omelet to even out the meal.  In the summer we also make a Turkish salad of cucumber and tomato with oil and lemon to accompany our tost.  Çok güzel!

Afiyet Olsun!

Image: Turklish

* If we are in a rush or out of tomatoes, we also use Turkish red pepper paste to spread on the bread instead of sauce.  With a little sprinkled basil and garlic - it's pretty good.  Red pepper paste is much stronger, so use sparingly.


  1. Great that you are making such an effort to learn about Turkey. Are any trips to Bodrum on the cards?

  2. Hey BacktoBodrum! So great to see your comment! We'll be in Central Turkey this winter, maybe this summer we'll make it to Southwestern Turkey. So many places to see!


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