Article: Turkish Delights -- January 2010
Turkey is located between two continents--Asia and Europe. For years, it has been called a Eurasian country. It is divided into seven regions, with a population of 71 million. Although 99% of Turkey is Muslim, it can, at times, seem like a Western European country. For example, there are no restrictions on the sale and use of alcohol. In fact, Turkey even has signature drink, called raki, which is a non-sweet, anise-flavored aperitif. There are wine vineyards in the northwest part of the country, and, a locally produced beer, Efes Pilsen, is very popular among the locals and tourists.
A True Melting PotFood historians often describe Turkish cuisine as fusion food, because many of its dishes came from the Mediterranean, Middle East, Eastern Asia and Eastern Europe. A typical Turkish breakfast might include Menemen, sucuk and black tea. Menemen is a dish made with eggs, chopped onions, sliced tomatoes, green peppers, paprika, a spice mixture (oregano, mint, black pepper, ground red pepper and salt), and green or black olives. All of the ingredients are cooked in olive oil or butter. This dish is a reflection of the Mediterranean. Sucuk (sometimes called pastirma) is a casing sausage made with ground beef, cumin, garlic, salt and red pepper. Makers usually allow it to age about one month before selling it to customers. Although it is a dry sausage, cooking is required before eating it--usually, it is sliced and fried in a skillet, like bacon. Sucuk has Middle Eastern roots. Black tea is served as a Turkish breakfast beverage (although many Turks drink tea throughout the day), usually sweetened with sugar or honey. Black tea comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, which is made into a traditional Chinese tea.
Although not eaten for breakfast, manti (dumplings) with dried meat, one of Turkey’s popular dishes, is eaten for lunch or as a side dish for dinner. They are made with flour, semolina, eggs, salt, dried beef or lamb, onions, bread crumbs, water, yeast, salt, paprika, black pepper and parsley. These dumplings can be traced back to the southeastern countries in Asia. Asian mantou dumplings are very similar to the manti. Both are usually steamed or boiled.
Spice markets can be found throughout Turkey, from simple marketplace stalls to fancy grocery department stores. Most of these places carry their own version of bahart, which is the Arabic word for spice. A typical Turkish bahart consists of a ground mixture of cloves, coriander, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and paprika. It is used to season grain, vegetables and kebab dishes.
Staples and StandardsLike most countries, bread is an important staple in Turkey. Many home cooks and bakeries make simple, daily unleavened bread called yufka, containing only flour, salt and water. These ingredients are mixed (kneaded) together and allowed to rest a half-hour. Then, they are separated into round balls, rolled into thin sheets in the shape of circles and baked on a heated griddle (aka, sac) for one minute on each side.
Turkey is known for its kebabs. The most common ingredients used are lamb, beef, chicken, fish and shellfish. Historians believe kebabs came from ancient Greece, going back as far as the eighth century. Typical Turkish kebab meals are eaten with yogurt and a salad. Yogurt is one of the most utilized food ingredients in Turkish cooking. It is mainly used as a sauce for many dishes--it helps balance spicy meat and vegetable dishes. There is a popular beverage called Ayran (yogurt drink), made with yogurt, iced water and salt. It is usually consumed with a kebab meal.
Eggplant is used in hundreds of recipe dishes throughout Turkey. The applications range from baked, fried, stewed, grilled, marinated or pickled. One signature dish is an eggplant stew, made with eggplants, olive oil, onions, tomatoes, lemon juice, parsley and ground pepper. This dish is usually served over cooked rice or some other kind of grain. There is also fried eggplant, served with yogurt or a spicy tomato sauce.
Turkey is surrounded on three sides by seas--the Black Sea, Marmara and Mediterranean. Therefore, fish is a major food in the Turkish diet. One popular fish soup dish is made from fish, onions, parsley, carrots, potatoes, rice and lemons. Fish dishes also are eaten cold and are either smoked, canned or salted. Pickled is another way to enjoy fish, as well as a way to preserve it. Pickled vegetables, or tursu, also are popular and used to supplement ingredients.
Turkish Street FoodTurkey’s largest city, Istanbul, serves a popular grilled fish, served on top of cooked flat bread, with tomatoes, onions and fresh herbs. Another dish, döner kebap, consists of chunks of lamb, chicken or beef, placed on a large, vertical skewer. The meat spins vertically, allowing it to cook very slowly against an open flame. Once the meat is cooked, it is sliced (like American-Greek gyros), placed on a piece of flat bread and topped with a spicy tomato sauce or yogurt.
The kumpir is a large baked potato, sliced in half and stuffed with various ingredients, such as spicy mayonnaise, sliced olives, pickles, cooked peas, mushrooms, corn or cheese.
There is also the simit (a type of Turkish doughnut), which is sold all over Turkey, including small towns. It is considered a staple breakfast food and is made with flour, salt, olive oil, butter, water, milk, eggs and sesame seeds (for topping). The simit is sold in ring or braided shapes.
Turkey also has a national dessert called baklava. It is a sweet pastry made with buttered phyllo dough, layered with honey, nuts (usually walnuts) and spices. As in Greece and other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, baklava is usually cut into diamond-shaped pieces after baking. pf
Wilbert Jones is the president of Healthy Concepts, a food and beverage company that provides menu, recipe and product development consulting services. He has authored four cookbooks, most recently Smothered Southern Foods. He attended Paris’ Ecole de Gastronomique Francaise Ritz-Escoffier and was a food scientist for Kraft General Foods. For more information, call 312-335-0031 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.