National Dish of the Week – Turkey

October 20, 2011 at 12:20 PM | Posted in baking, Food | Leave a comment
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Turkish cuisine (Turkish: Türk mutfağı) is largely the heritage of Ottoman cuisine, which can be described as a fusion and refinement of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines. Turkish cuisine has in turn influenced those and other neighbouring cuisines,

Imam Bayildi with Borek

including that of western Europe. The Ottomans fused various culinary traditions of their realm with influences from Middle Eastern cuisines, along with traditional Turkic elements from Central Asia (such as yogurt), creating a vast array of specialities- many with strong regional associations.

Turkish cuisine varies across the country. The cooking of Istanbul, Bursa, Izmir, and rest of the Aegean region inherits many elements of Ottoman court cuisine, with a lighter use of spices, a preference for rice over bulgur, and a wider use of seafoods. The cuisine of the Black Sea Region uses fish extensively, especially the Black Sea anchovy (hamsi), has been influenced by Balkan and Slavic cuisine, and includes maize dishes. The cuisine of the southeast—Urfa, Gaziantep and Adana—is famous for its kebabs, mezes and dough-based desserts such as baklava, kadayıf and künefe (kanafeh).

Especially in the western parts of Turkey, where olive trees grow abundantly, olive oil is the major type of oil used for cooking. The cuisines of the Aegean, Marmara and Mediterranean regions are rich in vegetables, herbs, and fish. Central Anatolia is famous specialties, such as keşkek (kashkak), mantı (especially from Kayseri) and gözleme.

A specialty’s name sometimes includes that of a city or region, either in or outside of Turkey, and may refer to the specific technique or ingredients used in that area. For example, the difference between urfa kebab and adana kebab is the thickness of the skewer and the amount of hot pepper that kebab contains. Urfa kebab is less spicy and thicker than adana kebab.

Homemade food is a must for Turkish people. Although the newly introduced way of life pushes the new generation to eat out, Turkish people generally prefer to eat at home. A typical meal starts with soup (in the winter), followed by a dish made with vegetables or legumes boiled in a pot (typically with meat or minced meat), then rice or bulgur (crushed wheat) pilaf in addition of a salad or cacık (made from diluted yogurt and minced cucumbers). Another typical meal is dried beans cooked with meat or pastırma mixed or eaten with rice pilaf and cacık.

Although fast food is gaining popularity and many major foreign fast food chains have opened all over Turkey, Turkish people still rely primarily on the rich and extensive dishes of the Turkish cuisine. In addition, some traditional Turkish foods, especially köfte, döner, kokoreç, börek and gözleme are often served as fast food in Turkey. Eating out has always been common in large commercial cities. Esnaf lokantası (meaning restaurants for shopkeepers and tradesmen) are widespread, serving traditional Turkish home cooking at affordable prices.

Frequently used ingredients in Turkish specialities include: lamb, beef, chicken, fish, eggplants, green peppers, onions, garlic, lentils, beans, and tomatoes. Nuts, especially pistachios, chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts, together with spices, have a special place in Turkish cuisine. Preferred spices and herbs include parsley, cumin, black pepper, paprika, mint, oregano, pul biber (red pepper), and thyme.

In the Ottoman cuisine, fruit frequently accompanied meat as a side dish. Plums, apricots, dates, apples, grapes, and figs are the most frequently used fruits (either fresh or dried) in Turkish cuisine. For example, komposto (compote) or hoşaf (from Persian khosh âb, literally meaning “nice water”) are among the main side dishes to meat or pilav. Dolma and pilaf usually contain currants or raisins. Etli yaprak sarma (vine leaves stuffed with meat and rice) used to be cooked with sour plums in Ottoman cuisine.

Eggplant (Turkish: patlıcan) has a special place in the Turkish cuisine. It is combined with minced meat in karnıyarık. As a speciality of eastern Turkey, there are patlıcan kebabs, such as Tokat Kebab, a specialty of Tokat province, and Antep’s eggplant kebab. In a large number of mezes, side-dishes, and main courses -such as şakşuka, patlıcan salatası (“eggplant salad”, an eggplant purée/dip), patlıcan dolma (“filled eggplant”), hünkâr beğendi (eggplant purée prepared with cheese and traditionally served with lamb stew), imam bayildi, and musakka- eggplant is the major element. In Antalya province it is used for making eggplant jam (“patlıcan reçeli”) .

In some regions, meat, which was mostly eaten only at wedding ceremonies or during the Kurban Bayramı(Eid ul-Adha) as etli pilav (pilaf with meat), has become part of the daily diet since the introduction of industrial production. Veal, formerly shunned, is now

Kokoreç cooking on a spit

widely consumed. The main use of meat in cooking remains the combination of ground meat and vegetable, with names such as kıymalı fasulye (bean with ground meat) or kıymalı ıspanak (spinach with ground meat, which is almost always served with yogurt). Alternatively, in coastal towns, cheap fish such as sardines (sardalya) or hamsi (anchovies) are widely available, as well as many others with seasonal availability. Poultry consumption, almost exclusively of chicken and eggs, is common. Milk-fed lambs, once the most popular source of meat in Turkey, comprise a small part of contemporary consumption. Kuzu çevirme, cooking milk-fed lamb on a spit, once an important ceremony, is rarely seen. Because it is a predominantly Islamic country, pork plays no role in Turkish cuisine.

Yoghurt is an important element in Turkish cuisine. In fact, the English word yoghurt or yogurt derives from the Turkish word yoğurt. Yoghurt can accompany almost all meat dishes (kebabs, köfte), vegetable dishes (especially fried eggplant, courgette, spinach with minced meat etc.), meze and a speciality called mantı (folded triangles of dough containing minced meat). In villages, yoghurt is regularly eaten with rice or bread. A thicker, higher-fat variety, süzme yoğurt or “strained yoghurt”, is made by straining the yoghurt curds from the whey. One of the most common Turkish drinks, ayran, is made from yoghurt. Also, yoghurt is often used in the preparation of cakes, some soups and pastries.

Turkey produces many varieties of cheese, mostly from sheep’s milk. In general, these cheeses are not long matured, with a comparatively low fat content. The production of many kinds of cheese is local to particular regions.

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