in     by Admin 08-13-2016
5.00 of 3 votes

Cooking Class visits the kitchens of area restaurants, whose chefs share their popular recipes.


After 20 years in the hotel industry and traveling the world, Turkish-born Adnan Pehlivan settled in Pittsburgh and opened a restaurant in Regent Square.

Two-and-a-half years after the launch of Istanbul Sofra, Pehlivan is expanding his eatery by adding another room to the cozy complex. He attributes the growth to his Mediterranean/Ottoman menu and emphasis on customer service.

“Money may come and go, but your reputation is everything,” says Pehlivan, who entrusts the kitchen to business partner and head chef Edip Sensel and his staff of Turkish cooks, so he can focus on greeting and chatting with diners. “All of my business has been word-of-mouth, and a lot of it is repeat customers.”

Pehlivan and Sensel grew up together in Tarsus in south-central Turkey. Istanbul Sofra (Table) is their way of sharing the customs and cuisine of their homeland. In the Turkish tradition, every guest receives a complimentary glass of tea from leaves grown near the Black Sea, served from a swinging brass tray.

The restaurant's rooms are appointed with exotically patterned textiles and mosaic glass chandeliers Pehlivan imported from Turkey. Paintings that depict ancient cities of the Mediterranean hang on the restaurant's persimmon and aqua walls.

“We're not just serving food here,” he says. “We are representing a culture.”

The menu is equally authentic and reflects a standard that emphasizes quality and freshness, Pehlivan says. “In Turkey, everything grows except coffee — I mean everything — and we eat what we harvest right away. We use a lot of vegetables in our cooking and garlic. You can't cook without garlic.”

In one of the restaurant's more popular dishes — karniyarik, or eggplant stuffed with lamb — only baby eggplant will do, Pehlivan says. “The big eggplants are bitter. They don't have the same taste.”

Although the menu includes chicken, fish and many vegetarian items, lamb is the dominant meat.

“If you go to a Turkish restaurant, you must eat lamb,” says Pehlivan, who buys only meat slaughtered in accordance with Muslim dietary laws (halal) from suppliers in New Zealand and Australia. “It's the same as kosher. I want everybody who comes here to be able to eat what we serve.”

Lamb is prepared as shish kabob (chunks), adana kabob (ground) and as chops and doner, which Westerners know as gyros. “Doner means to turn on a fire,” Pehlivan says. “In Europe, no one knows what ‘gyro' is.”

Noncarnivores will find plenty to choose from, including stuffed grape leaves, baba ghanoush, falafel, deep-fried zucchini patties, dumplings stuffed with ground vegetables or the nonmeat alternative to karniyarik, a classic Ottoman dish called the Iman Fainted.

The restaurant serves house-made yogurt and house-made desserts, including rice pudding, baklava, milk pudding with caramelized coating and semolina cake served with orange syrup and walnuts.

Recently, Pehlivan introduced weekend breakfasts featuring a variety of omelets, including some with feta cheese, meats and vegetables, and Turkish cheese and vegetable platters.

Deborah Weisberg is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.


This is a classic Ottoman dish served with bulgur pilaf and house-made yogurt. Pehlivan says his cooks use baby eggplants ­— because they are more flavorful and tender than large eggplants — and ground leg of lamb. After deep-frying the eggplants, he allows them to drain, refrigerated, overnight.


5 baby eggplants

Vegetable oil

For the sauce:

12 cups water

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Pinch of salt

12 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

12 teaspoon paprika

12 teaspoon thyme

For the karniyarik:

Vegetable oil

2 yellow onions, minced

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 green bell pepper, minced

12 teaspoon salt

12 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

12 teaspoon thyme

1 pound ground lamb

12 bunch parsley

12 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Tomato, thinly sliced, for garnish

Green bell pepper, thinly sliced, for garnish


Peel the skin from the eggplants. Heat vegetable oil in a pan and saute (or deep-fry) the eggplants until golden brown. Drain and refrigerate overnight.

To prepare the sauce: Combine the water, tomato paste, salt, black pepper, paprika an d thyme in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside.

To prepare the karniyarik: Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Heat vegetable oil in a separate pan and saute the onions and garlic until they are translucent. Add the green pepper, salt, black pepper and thyme and saute. Set aside.

In a separate pan, using enough oil to keep the meat from sticking, add the lamb, parsley and paprika, and fry until the meat's doneness is medium rare. Add the vegetable mixture and the tomato paste and mix well. Remove from heat.

Smash the center of each eggplant to create a well. Spoon the meat-vegetable mixture into the well of each eggplant. Cover with the sauce. Garnish with a thin slice of tomato and a thin slice of green pepper. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 5 servings.