Say the word “offal” to anyone and they’ll probably turn their nose up. Say “liver”, and most will recount memories of liver and onions, with few recounting them positively.But in the foodie haven of Kalkan in Turkey, I stumbled across the best liver dish I’ve ever had, and probably ever will. So good, in fact, that my currently-lapsing-vegetarian friend smacked his lips and declared it delicious.
The menu dubbed it Albanian Liver, sounding slightly more intriguing than delicious. Forget long slabs of offal with soggy onions in a brown, sludge gravy. This starter was a whole different ballgame. Chunks of what the waiter called “beef liver” (presumably calves’) in a crispy, red/brown coating – tender inside without a hint of rubbery texture.
The taste alone was fabulous, but even better when combined with its sidekicks – plain, creamy yoghurt and a clean, piquant red onion, tomato and coriander salsa. A mouthful of liver, yoghurt and salsa made what my friend (the aforementioned lapsing vegetarian) would describe as a “Bhangra party in your mouth”. There’s something quite impressive about a series of flavours coming together in a perfect chorus, true harmony on a plate.
So, how to make it? Well, apparently the secret is Sumac, an essential ingredient in Middle Eastern, Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine.
Sumac is the fruit of a shrub, Rhus coriaria, whose berries vary from brick red to dark purple. They are harvested just before they ripen, then left in the sun to dry. Sumac, often sold as a coarse or fine powder, is easily recognisable at a spice market, its deep red hue and coarse texture singing out from the rainbow of colours on offer.
Sumac was used in Europe to add tartness to dishes before the Romans introduced lemons to the area, and it’s this tangy, lemon flavour that it brings. According to our ever helpful waiter, the cooking of the Albanian Liver dish is surprisingly simple. Fry pepper and red pepper, add the chunks of liver and pan fry with the Sumac. That’s it! Delicious chunks of tender, perfectly-cooked liver, in a crispy, slightly tart coating, with the perfect accompaniments.
From a little peruse of recipes, there’s various ways to cook Albanian Liver, some people toss the liver in flour with black pepper, red chilli flakes, thyme, cumin and salt, then serve it with a salad of red onion, sumac and parsley. I guess different interpretations have developed since the dish was being cooked across the Ottoman Empire, as has happened to so many recipes.
Either way, I came away from the latest holiday armed with a bag of Sumac from the local Turkish market, determined to give this a go. So check back, and I’ll let you know how I do!