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Cooking klatch Buffalo "cooking coach" turns her love of making meals with fresh ingredients -- and her Turkish heritage -- into a social experience with friends and neighbors

The concept of home cooking is hardwired into Mine Dosluoglu's DNA.

And the cooking coach and food guru has a message: Delicious and nutritious fresh food made simply is an intrinsic part of life.

A native of Turkey, she noticed that cooking delicious meals, using "whole" or unprocessed foods was, literally, a foreign concept to many in Buffalo.

To get her message out, Dosluoglu went to a playgroup she and several area women had formed when their children were small. With all the kids now in school, the mothers still get together to socialize ... and cooking is their focus, with Dosluoglu as their "coach."

In a world where very often women are trying to do everything all at once, it provides the friends a chance to slow down and smell the cumin.

"People were telling me that they always buy the same food," she said. "They wanted to do something different. I started by doing things like lentils, beans, rice and stews -- the principle is that I cook easy, unique and 100 percent nutritious food. I don't want it to be too scary or different."

So far, Dosluoglu (pronounced dose-loo-OH-glue) works only with friends or through word of mouth. The women donate money for the food and the use of the kitchen. Aside from sporadically scheduled groups in her home, she will go to other people's homes to prepare a meal with them. She eventually plans to offer food at local festivals.

>A sample session

Attending one of Dosluoglu's cooking sessions is a living culture lesson. Food-related stories of her childhood pepper her ongoing narration and comments as she cooks and guides the group.

Her great-grandfather, she says, was a judge who traveled in rural parts of the country. This enabled her grandmother to sample and learn all the regional differences in familiar recipes, passing them on through the generations. Dosluoglu tells of ingredients, or even entire meals, being harvested from her grandmother's garden and then immediately prepared and eaten.

While many of her recipes are based on those she grew up with, they are often tempered to conform to Westerner's palates, often by toning down some of the spices. She calls it "Turkish fusion."

On a recent morning, the women arrive carrying a bag of assigned ingredients, including munchies to be consumed while waiting for the food to cook. Once the meal is done, the results are divided and taken home in containers, to be served to their families for dinner.

On the menu that day was Turkish style "fake" vegetarian dolmas, or grape leaves stuffed with rice (not the more traditional recipe with meat). Also, kibbes, a sort of falafel-like mixture of bulgur wheat and lentils, fragrantly seasoned, rolled into balls and eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves.

Dosluoglu prepares her own stocks from scratch when she has time. For her cooking sessions, she shares her spices and condiments, many of which are hand-delivered by her mother from Turkey, or recommends specialty shops here for the purchase of specific and necessary items.

One of the first orders of business this day is rinsing the bottled grape leaves and briefly boiling them to remove their briny taste. Then they are deveined.

>Rolling grape leaves

While the women were tasting, chatting and laughing, a natural production line formed. "Great work, girls!" says Dosluoglu. "Keep rolling!"

As they move through the instructions, Dosluoglu relates how she was taught to fill and roll grape leaves. The qualification is that your finished product must be as small as your pinky. No self-respecting Turkish girl would make thumb-sized dolmas! Striving for the same goal, her friends end up being awarded the high honor of joining the "decorated dolmas roller's league."

As the clock neared 2 p.m., most of the women head off, toting their filled containers or with promises of returning to retrieve their portion of the food later.

They go off to work, to exercise, pick up the kids, run errands. Dosluoglu never wavered from her generous and fun attitude, offering to deliver the goods if someone was too busy to come back.

Dosluoglu's ways of spreading her food gospel are sociable and communal. It is not just the food, she seems to be saying, it's the preparation: the seasoning, sampling, sniffing.

That, after all, is truly the culture of food: sharing.

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