Niagara Gazette

June 23, 2014

Bulgur for lunch! Class get taste of Turkish foods and culture

By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Second-graders don’t usually like parsely. And they surely don’t often eat bulgur wheat.

So it’s hard to imagine they’d be interested in a Turkish lunch of bulgur salad, with stuffed grape leaves, and cheese pocas and baklava.

But most all the students in Amy Benjamin’s class at Maple Avenue Elementary School enjoyed a Turkish buffet, freshly prepared by their classmate Murteza Gokcek’s mom after she gave a brief cooking demonstration. Many went back for seconds of the bulgur.

They had watched attentively as Hulya Gokcek added hot water and lemon to the dried bulgur and then covered it and let it sit a bit before adding fresh parsely, lemon juice, and a mixture of onions, and red pepper and tomato paste. A dash of pomegranite juice and some finely chopped peppers and onions were added and the salad was ready to serve.

While the children were waiting for the bulgur to soak up the fluids, they helped to make borek, rolling a mixture of potato, onion and parsely mixture into phyllo dough.

The lunch was in preparation for their teacher Amy Benjamin’s upcoming trip to Turkey with Murteza’s family.

The teacher had learned early in the school year that Murteza’s father, Dr. Mustafa Gokcek, is her professor at Niagara University where she is studying for her doctorate in educational policy and leadership.

As the class’s interest in Turkey intensified, and Benjamin’s friendship with the family grew, she decided to continue her doctoral research in Turkey and so, on Sunday she traveled to that country with the Gokcek family, immersing herself in Turkish culture with the assistance of her professor and his family, and meeting and interviewing Turkish educators.

Her class will benefit by video and live conversations which she will share with them through “Skype” sessions today and Tuesday. But, in the meantime, the students and their teacher seem to be excited to learn more about the Gokcek’s homeland.

When asked to share what they know now about Turkey, many of the second-graders raised their hands. Corinne Ball noted that “They all wear headscarves there,” while David Lounsbury added “they take their shoes off in church because they don’t want to get any dirt in church.” Aidan Snyder, remembering a lesson on ancient Cappadocia, noted that “some people live in caves.” Ava Mitchell added that Turkish people “pray five times a day.”

Benjamin said the lessons fit perfectly with the Common Core requirements that the class learn about Asia this year. The have also studied Japan, and where they learned about silk making first hand and visited the Silk Road trade routes on the Asian continent, with the help of Google Earth.

While some educators balk at the requirements of Common Core, Benjamin appreciates the world view of the program. “It prepares them for a global world and I think we really lack that in a lot of our curriculum.”

The Turkish component was added after Murteza brought a treat to class that no one could recognize. It was a sort of Turkish pizza with ground meat on pita bread. “It pretty much tasted like a taco and we all enjoyed it,” Benjamin said. The treat, and Murteza’s family’s willingness to share their customs, has lead to a wide ranging year-long lesson on Turkey and Benjamin’s interest in researching teachers’ interest in expanding cultural lessons.

Benajmin has been learning right along with her students, she said, and remarked with a smile about how her second-graders now have some understanding of different religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. “When I was in second grade, I barely knew about Catholicism,” she laughed, as she watched her class enjoy the Turkish cooking demonstration.

She added how impressed she was at how open her 7- and 8-year-olds were to trying new foods.

“These kids are fantastic eaters. They’ll try a little bit of everything,” she said, noting that earlier in the year she’d had Chinese food delivered and they had all eaten with chopsticks.

As for the Turkish meal, it clearly surprised many in the class, such as Helena Johnson who was reluctant to try the bulgur salad and almost didn’t take any. Murteza’s mom gently convinced her to try just a little bit and after taking a spoonful, Helena went back for seconds. Her opinion on bulgur was delivered with a smile: “It’s really good!”