Students enrolled in the Turkish American Women Association's Saturday afternoon cooking classes in Richardson learn as much about cross-cultural dialogue as the right way to roll dolmas.
Trying to determine how thinly she needed to slice her beef for a hunkar begendi accompaniment, a student asked "Do I want it kind of like bacon?"
Lead instructor Nevin Gezgin, a practicing Muslim, cocked her head and paused.
"I say like Philly steak sandwich," she told the class.
The cooking class, now in its third year, covers traditional dishes from across Turkey. About a dozen women, none of them Turkish, turn out each week to learn how to make cakes, kebabs and eggplant salads. They also cultivate a Turkish food connoisseurship that makes them tough judges of mass-produced Mediterranean food.
"Once you've had this home cooking, forget it," says Melanie Cotton, a loyal attendee who last year represented the class in an annual Turkish cooking competition staged by similar associations statewide.
"My husband loves my coming to class," says Cotton, who replicates class recipes for Monday night dinners.
The class includes plenty of talk of husbands -- Turkish and American-born -- whose likes and dislikes apparently shape their wives' cooking habits.
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"The first question when I got married to my husband was, 'Do you want me to peel your tomatoes in your salad?'," Gezgin recalled while showing students how to make domates corbasi, a popular tomato soup. "He said, 'No, it is not necessary.' Thank God!"
The cooking classes aren't interactive, but students who sit patiently through Gezgin's demonstrations are treated to a full-on Turkish feast: Saturday's meal included the dolmates corbasi, hunkar begendi (a cheesy eggplant béchamel sauce), rice with orzo and hashasli revani, a poppyseed cake.
"When I serve this kind of dessert to people, they don't finish all the slice," Gezgin said, warning the glazed pastry might be too sweet for American tastes.
Few of the students left any cake on their plates.