A Repertoire of
Traditional Turkish Cuisine
A survey of the
types of dishes according to their ingredients may be helpful to
explain the basic structure of Turkish cuisine. Otherwise there may
appear to be an overwhelming variety of dishes, each with a unique
combination of ingredients and its own way of preparation and
prsentation. All dishes can be conveniently categorized:
grain-based, grilled meats, vegetables, seafood, desserts and
beverages. Before describing each of these categories, some general
comments are necessary. The foundation of the cuisine is based on
grains (rice and wheat) and vegetables. Each category of dishes
contains only one or two types of main ingreidients. Turks are
purists in their culinary taste, that is, the dishes are supposed to
bring out the flavor of the main ingredient rather than hiding it
under sauces or spices. Thus, the eggplant should taste like
eggplant, lamb like lamb, pumkin like pumkin, and so on. Contrary to
the prevalent Western impression of Turkish food, spices and herbs
are used very simply and sparingly.
"Dolma" is the generic term for stuffed vegetables , begin a derivative of the verb "doldurmak" ( to fill ). There are two categories of dolmas : those filled with a meat mix and those whit a rice mix . The latter are cooked in olive oil and eaten at room - temperature . The meat dolma is a main - course dish eaten with a yogurt sauce , and a very frequent one in the average household.
Any vegetable which can be filled with or wrapped around these mixes can be used as a dolma , includig zucchini , eggplant , tomatoes , cabbage , and grape leaves . however , the green pepper dolma with the rice stuffing , has to be the qoeen of all dolmas . A royal feast to the eye and the palate ... In addition to these general categories , there are numerous meat and vegetable dishes which feature unique recipes . When talking vegetables , it is important to know that the eggplant (or aubergine) has a special place in Turkish cuisine . this handsome vegetables with its brown-green cap , velvety purple skin , firm and slim body , has a richer flavor than that of its relatives found elsewhere . At a party , a frustrating question would be "how do you usually cook your aggplant ?" A proper answer to this question would require hours ! Here , too , it will have to suffice to mention just two eggplant dishes that are a must taste . In one , the eggplant is split lengthwise and filled with a meat mix . this is a common summer dish , eaten with white rice pilaf . The other one is "Her Majesty's Favourite ," a delicate formal dish that is not easy to make but well worth trying . The name refers to Empress Eugenie , the wife of Napoleon III, who fell in love with it on her visit to Sultan Abdülaziz .
"Kebab" is another category of food which is typically Turkish dating back to the time when the nomadic Turks learned to grill and roast meat over camp fires. Given the numerous types of kebaps , it helps to reslize that they are categorized by the way the meat is cooked. The western world knows the "shish kebab"and the "döner" introduced to them mostly by Greek entrepreneurs , who have a good nose for what will sell ! shish kebab is grilled cubes of skewered mead . Döner kebap is made by stacking alternating layers of graund meat and sliced leg of lamb on a large upright skewer, which is slowly rotated in front of a vertical grill. As the outher layer of the meat is roasted, thin slices are shaved off and served.
"Meze" Dishes to Accompany the Spirits
In Turkey, despite the Islamic prohibition against wine and anything alcoholic, there is a rich tradition associated with liquor.Dirinking alcoholic beverages in the company of family and friends, both at home as well as in taverns and restaurants, is a part of special occasions. Similar to the spanish tapas,"meze" is the general category of dishes that are brought in small quantities to start the meal off.These are eaten , along with wine or more likely with "raký", the anise -flavoured national drink of Turks sometimes referred to as "lion's milk" , until the main course is served . The bare minimum meze for raký are slices of honeydew melon and creamy feta cheese with freshly baked bread . Beyond this , a typical meze menu inludes dried and marinated mackerel , fresh salad greens in thick yogurt sauce and garlic , plates of cold vegetable dishes cooked or fried in olive oil , fried crispy savoury pastry , deep-fried mussels and calamari served in a sauce , tomato and cucumber salad , and fýsh eggs in a sauce. The main course that fallows such a meze spread will be fish or grilled meat . When the main course is kebap , then the meze spread is different . In this case , several plates of different types of minced salad salad greens and tomatoes in spicy olive oil , mixed with yogurt or cheese , "humus"(chick peas mashed in tahini) , bulgur and red lentil balls , "raw köfte ," marinated stuffed eggplant , peppers with spices and nuts , and pickles are likely to be served .
"Hamsi" is the prince of all fish known to Turks: the Black Sea people know forty- one ways of making hamsi including hamsi börek , hamsi pilav and hamsi dessert ! Another common seafood is the mussel dolma, eaten deep-fried poached , or as a mussel dolma and mussel pilaf . Along the Aegean , octopus and calamari are added to the meze spread . The places to taste fish are fish restaurants and taverns. Not all taverns are fish restaurants , but most fish restaurants are taverns and these are usualy found on the harbors overlooking the sea .
The Real Story of Sweets:Beyond Baklava
The most well-known sweets associated with Turkish Cuisine are Turkish Delight , and "baklava", giving the impression that these may be the typical desserts eaten after meals . This , of course , is not true . First of all , the family of desserts is much richer than just these two. Secondly , these are not typical desserts served as part of main meal. For example, baklava and its relatives are usually eaten with coffee , as a snack or after a kebab dish. So, to further our education in Turkish cuisine we will survey the various types of sweets .
The most wonderful contribution of Turkish cuisine to the family of desserts, that can easily be missed by casual explorers, are the milk-desserts - the muhallebi family. These are among the rare types of guilt-free puddings made with starch and rice flour, and, originally without any eggs or butter. When the occasion calls for even a lighter dessert, the milk can also be omitted; instead, the pudding may be flavoured with citrus fruits, such as lemons or oranges. The milk desserts include a veriety of puddings, ranging from the very light and subtle rose-water variety to the milk pudding laced with strands of chicken breast.
Grain-based desserts include pastries, fried yeast-dough pastries and the pan-sauteed desserts. The baked pastries can also be reffered as the baklava family. these paper-thin pastry sheets that are brushed with butter and folded, layered, or rolled after being filled with ground pistachios, walnuts or heavy cream, and than baked, after which a syrup is poured over them. The various types, such as the sultan, the nightingale's nest, or the twisted turban differ according to the amount and placement of nuts, size and shape of the individual pieces, and the dryness of the final product.
Beverages: Beyond the Turkish Coffee and "Ayran"
Volumes have been written about the Turkish coffee ; its history, its significance in social life , and the ambiance of the ubiquitous coffee houses . Without some understanding of this background, it is easy to be disappointed by the tiny brew with the annoying grounds, which an uninitiated traveler (like Mark Twain) may accidentally end up chewing . A few words of caution will have to suffice for the purposes of this brief primer. First, the grounds are not to be swallowed , so sip the coffee gingerly . secondly , don't expect a caffeine surge with one shot of Turkish coffee; it is not strong , just thick. Third, remember that it is the setting and the company that matter - the coffee is just an excuse for the occasion ... Tea, on the other hand, is the main source of caffeine for the Turks . It is prepared in a special way, by brewing it over boiling water and served in delicate , small , clear glasses to show the deep red color and to transmit the heat to the hand . Drinking tea is such an essential part of a working day , that any disruption of the constant supply of fresh tea is a sure way to sacrifice productivity . Once upon a time , so the story goes , a lion escaped from the Ankara Zoo and took up residence in the basement of an office building . It began devouring public servants and executies . It even ate up a few ministers of state and nobody took notice . It is said , however , that a posse was immediately formed when the lion caught and ate the "tea -man," the person responsible for the supply of fresh tea !