Turkey may be famous for its kebabs, but the popular dish is just the tip of the iceberg with regards to Turkish food.
Covering over 300,000 square miles, the European destination’s rich and different food is largely thanks to its landscape. Plateaus and fields of fertile soil formed by now extinct volcanoes, snow-covered mountains and fast-streaming rivers lend themselves to a rich and varied table.
This includes olive oil based dishes from the Mediterranean coast, hearty pastries from central Anatolia, subtle zesty flavors from the east and southeast, and that’s just for starters.
Traditional Turkish nourishments rely less on seasonings and more on tasty fresh ingredients rolled, kneaded, shaped and cooked to perfection with care, dedication and passion.
In fact, the Turks love their food so much they even write songs about it – “Domates, biber, patlican” by the famous Anatolian rock star Baris Manco translates to “Tomatoes, pepper, eggplant.” Here are 15 top Turkish dishes beyond the basic kebab.
According to legend, this dish was dreamed up by an unhappily married woman named Ezo who was trying to prevail upon her mother-in-law by means of her stomach.
She concocted a zesty soup consisting of red lentils, domato salca (tomato paste – sweet or hot), grated fresh tomatoes and onions, served with dried mint and pul biber (stew pieces) sprinkled on top.
There’s no proof it actually worked, but just in case, ezogelin (which literally translates to bride Ezo), originating from a small village close to Gaziantep, is still the food of decision for brides-to-be.
Turkish cooking incorporates a huge scope of vegetable dishes known as zeytinyagli yemegi – nourishments cooked in olive oil.
The majority are vegetable-based and include green beans, artichokes and of course, eggplants. One of the tastiest eggplant offerings is Sasuka.
Here smooth purple skinned cubes of green tissue are cooked with zucchinis, garlic, tomatoes and bean stew – the amount of the latter depending on where in Turkey it’s made.
Kisir is a salad made from fine bulgur wheat, tomatoes, garlic, parsley and mint. There are numerous versions from everywhere Turkey, but the Antakya one includes nar eksisi (sour pomegranate molasses) and pul biber (hot red stew chips). They like it hot down south.
Antalya’s piyaz salad is one of the Turkish city’s most famous dishes – and its secret ingredient is its beans.
They’re not just any old butter bean, but a small version known as candir, named after the inland province where they’re grown.
Delicate and delightful, candir are mixed, together with tahini thinned with a little water, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, garlic, flat-leaf parsley and olive oil.
In the very traditional version, a soft boiled egg is generally chopped up and mixed through just before serving.
In the Isparta version of yaprak dolma, rice is cooked with tomatoes, a bunch of parsley, onion, garlic, tomato paste, olive oil, black pepper, salt and water.
A spoonful of this mixture is placed on a plant leaf, folded in and carefully rolled by hand into neat little cylinders. While leaves are sold at most street markets, the best ones come from a neighbor’s tree, usually picked at midnight.
Yaprak dolma are part of Turkish Aegean cooking and sometimes include a pinch of cinnamon in the blend, a nod to the Rum people, Greeks born in Turkey.
Meatballs are so much more than just balls of meat in Turkish food. Each style brings its own remarkable serve of history. One of the best known is Inegol kofte, invented by one Mustafa Efendi.
Originally from Bulgaria, he migrated to Inegol in northwest Turkey in the 19th century.
Not at all like other Turkish kofte his blend uses only ground beef or lamb and breadcrumbs, seasoned with onions.
Known to Diyarbakir locals as belluh, mercimek kofte is a vegetarian delight. Made from red lentils, fine bulgur, salt, finely chopped onion, scallions, tomato and aci biber salca (hot red pepper paste) and crushed cilantro, they come in handy bite-sized servings.
Just pop one of these nuggets of flavor onto a lettuce leaf, add a press of lemon juice, roll it up and crunch away.
Located in northwest Turkey, Bursa is famous for three things – silk, the ski fields of Uludag and a type of kebab called Iskender.
Apparently a gentleman of a similar name first cooked this dish for workers in the city’s Kayhan Bazaar back in 1867.
Thin cuts of doner meat are reverently laid over bits of stout pide bread, smothered in freshly made tomato sauce, baptized with a scramble of sizzling melted butter and served with a portion of tangy yogurt, grilled tomato and green peppers.
Hamsili pilav – a stove baked rice dish with a layer of fresh anchovies on top. Hamsi, otherwise known as European anchovy, is a staple in Turkish Black Sea kitchen. In the city of Rize, the slender fishes are prepared with rice to make Hamsili Pilav.
This dish is cooked in a stock made from fried onions, butter, peanuts, Turkish allspice and raisins, which is mixed with fresh parsley and dill. Then fileted anchovies are arranged over the rice and the entire lot is cooked in the stove.
The town of Siirt is home to perde pilav, or curtain rice, a rice-based dish wrapped in a lush buttery mixture, baked in a broiler and served up hot.
Usually served at weddings, perde pilav is cooked with chicken, currants, almonds, pine nuts and butter, and seasoned with salt, oregano and pepper.
The state of the dish is thought to represent the creation of another home – the rice symbolizes fertility and the currants are for future children.
The people of Erzurum take their meat very seriously. So much so, they’re prepared to wait more than 12 hours for a bit of hot and tasty lamb cag kebab.
First the meat is smeared with a blend of onions, salt and black pepper and left to marinate for half daily. Then it’s fed onto a long stick and cooked horizontally over a wood fire.
Divine on its own, cag kebab is also served wrapped in flat magmas bread with cuts of tomato, white onion and long thin green peppers called sivri.
The most popular type of manti, small squares of batter with various fillings, are those made in Kayseri.
This central Anatolian version contains a spoonful of mince sealed into a small package, but they use cheddar elsewhere.
The manti are dropped into boiling water and topped with yogurt and pul biber (stew pieces). Legend has it, a good Turkish housewife can make them so small that 40 fit onto one spoon.
Pide are a firm favorite among Turks, with some of the tastiest originating in the Black Sea region. Here batter balls are stretched out into an elongated base and loaded with a selection of fillings.
The most popular is sucuklu yumurta, fiery Turkish sausage and egg mixed with kasar (yellow sheep cheddar) but ispanakli kasar, spinach with cheddar, is equally good.
It’s the crust that makes pide a champ. Cooked in a wood-fired stove, the high temperature produces a fresh crunchy base ideal for all types of ingredients.
This specialty of the Nevsehir region features pottery made in Avanos, using red mud from the famous Kizilirmak River.
First the dirt container is filled with beef, tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic and a knob of butter. Its opening is then sealed with a peeled cut of potato and covered in alfoil, before the container is placed in a wood-burning stove.
Once the contents are ready, the cook must hold the alfoil covered top in one hand and a small sledge in the other to break open the supper.
The trick is to focus on the thin line orbiting the body of the vessel three quarters of the path up.
lternatively known as sac boregi, pastry cooked on a sac, a hot convex metal plate, gozleme are flat appetizing pockets usually filled with salty white cheddar, spinach or minced beef.
Although often considered village food, it takes expert handling to roll out the paper-thin batter without tearing it.
The word goz signifies “eye”, and the name gozleme is believed to come from the dark spots that form as the pastry cooks and absorbs the oil on the sac, forming “eyes.”
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