Kumpir: Turkish Filled JPs

For 4
I hardly dare call this a recipe. Surely we learn to bake potatoes at the same time as we make our first butterfly cakes and boiled eggs with soldiers…? But a book about Middle Eastern snacks and street food would be incomplete without mention of the wonder that is kumpir. In the end we settled for posting it here instead of actually printing it.
Anyway, the concept offers both thrift and fun, commodities which are often in short supply in the mid-week food department. Great for when the kids bring friends round for tea (do kids still do that? I do hope so).
Iranians enjoy baked potatoes in the street just about as plain as plain a tatty can be: they are baked in the embers of a brazier, and then served with just salt and golpar, only occasionally being shown a knob of butter.
But the Turks have turned them into an art form, especially in Istanbul where there is a whole street dedicated to spud vending. Backpacker heaven.
The potatoes used are humungous, and they are filled to overflowing with all manner of naughty and nice-ness. Here, for what it’s worth, are a few pointers…
You will need:

  • 4 super-large potatoes
  • butter
  • salt + black pepper
  • grated cheese

AND a selection of the following, thus offering an excuse to empty your cupboards and fridge:

  • pitted sliced olives
  • canned sweetcorn
  • canned peas (or fresh)
  • pickled cucumbers
  • capers
  • sundried tomatoes
  • mixed pickled veg
  • sliced cabbage
  • chopped spring onions
  • sliced tomato
  • sliced cucumber
  • sliced mushrooms
  • plain yoghurt
  • mayonnaise
  • tomato ketchup

…you get the picture. You could also add chopped frankfurters, tuna, ham….
Prick your potatoes (to let the devil out, apparently) and bake them at gas mark 7 (220˚C) for around 45 minutes or until they are crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. Spread out all your optional toppings on the table, meze style.
When the spuds are done, cut them lengthways and mash the insides thoroughly with butter, salt, pepper and cheese. Let the assembled masses create their own edible artworks. And then stand back and marvel at your empty fridge/full wallet.

Ortakoy Street in Istanbul: image (used with thanks under the Flickr creative commons licence) from Alif Ayiter.