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The Turkish Dining Table

Türk Sofrası

An article about Turkish Food, its history and its daily serving by Terrie Wright Chrones. Manisa Turkish has asked permission to republish this article as it faithfully explains about the Turkish Dining Table. There are some culinary terms and recipes towards the end of the page.

This article was written by an American lady who spent her childhood growing up in Izmir at about the same time as the author was himself living there. Manisa Turkish feels that this article really does give an excellent explanation about Turkish food and consequently we would like to share this experience with our readers.

Manisa Turkish has tried to contact Terrie Wright Chrones to ask her permission to reproduce this article, but up to date we have not been able to make any contact with her. Consequently we ask her indulgence in this matter as Manisa Turkish itself is a non-profit, non-advertising free site itself and we try only to publish third party articles with requisite permission. But this one is so good

History of Turkish Food

Turkey offers the traveler an opportunity to try the exotic after a familiar trip to Europe. The friendly, courteous Turkish people have been hosting visitors in one form or another for centuries.

Turkey is a unique republic located on the eastern end of the Mediterranean. While most of her citizens are Islamic, the government of Turkey is both democratic and secular. Turkey has always been the meeting point for European and Middle Eastern neighbors, becoming an important link between east and west. Consequently, her customs and cuisine are modern, and at the same time historic. Turkey has often been called the crossroads of Europe. Over the centuries the Hittites, Seljuks, Persians, Greeks and Romans have ruled the area.

The Turkish Diet

It was during the rise of the Ottoman Empire 1453-1909 which at its height extended into Eastern Europe, Egypt, and Inner Asia, that the genius of Turkish cooking had its greatest influence. Centuries of Ottoman empire rule helped to spread Turkish cuisine and ingredients into Eastern Europe and throughout the Middle East. Many well-known recipes show an influence from Turkish cuisine: yogurt salads, fish in olive oil, stuffed vegetables and vine leaves, and syrupy filo dough desserts.

Turkish food is regarded as one of the world's great cuisines. Today, travelers are discovering Turkey, and dining well. The Mediterranean diet, which includes Turkey's, is considered a healthy diet to follow. "Everyone loves Turkish food," a ceramics dealer confided in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar.

Despite the influence of western foods and even fast food chains in the larger cities, Turkey zealously preserves her culinary heritage. In the last decade, chefs of main hotels and international food symposiums have helped to re-introduce Turkish cuisine to the world, educating her citizens about a proud food heritage.

Blessed with a huge country that straddles Europe and Asia, Turkey's varied geography provides a seasonal climate that allows tea cultivation in the cool north and hot pepper and melon plantings in the south. The Black Sea, Sea of Marmara, Aegean, and southern Mediterranean provide Turkey with boundless fish and shellfish. Turkey is one of the few countries in the world that has been self sustaining, producing all its own food.

Vineyards are cultivated for the famous yellow sultana raisins and wine. In southern cities, it is customary to see grapevines trailed upwards along apartment balconies, providing shade and fruit at each level. Herds of sheep and goats proliferate. Lamb and chicken are the main meats. Forbidden in Islam, pork is absent. Under classic ruins of Roman columns, ancient olive, fig, and pistachio trees embellish a beautiful landscape, adding to the air of antiquity.

Turkish mezze table

The Ottoman courts passed laws to regulate the freshness of food. Modern Turkish food is notably fresh. Leftovers are uncommon in a household. Newly baked bread is a staple. Seasonal vegetables and fruits abound, and are served during the height of their growing periods. Turks love their famous eggplants, spring peaches, summer figs, fall quince, and delight throughout the year in olives, dried apricots, and all type of nuts. Turkey exports most of Europe's hazelnuts, or filberts.

To dine on Turkish food is to dine on centuries old recipes. Ancient Greeks introduced wine cultivation in Anatolia, eastern Turkey. The Persians introduced sweets, sugar, and rice. Skewered and roasted meats, the famous shis-kebab, show the nomadic heritage; as do flatbreads which are baked upon an overturned griddle called a saç. The saç is similar to a flattened wok. "Yogurt" is a Turkish word, her most famous contribution to world cuisine. Yogurt made its way north to Bulgaria and Eastern Europe during the Ottoman occupation. Olive oil production is thousands of years old and part of the whole Mediterranean culture.

In Topkapi, the sultan's palace in Istanbul, chefs perfected these dishes with specialized recipes. chefs would spend whole careers refining recipes such as pilafs, milk puddings, and desserts. Certain villages were known for producing chefs who would work in the palace. As a result of this imperial cuisine, the general population had a raised expectation and appreciation for excellent food. This appreciation continues today.

It is common in the markets to taste before you buy. Holes cut into melons allow the shopper to taste first. Delivery boys bring tea on copper trays to shoppers while they sample the peppers, spices, and fruits. Sacks of linden tea, dried fruits, sea sponges, henna, jars of amber honey, olives, and spice blends compete for attention.

As a traveller in Turkey, or a cook here at home, recipes are easily identifiable and not difficult to prepare. The beauty of Turkish cooking is in its affordability, use of fresh ingredients, and ease of basic cooking techniques. Dishes are simply presented, not hidden under sauces, or excessive presentations. Classic recipes from centuries of palace and home cooking are well known to all home cooks. The most common seasonings are: dill, mint, parsley, cinnamon, garlic, and the lemony sumac. Yogurt is a common side condiment. Another southern condiment is Aleppo pepper flakes, or "pul biber." This semi moist, hot, flaked red pepper is sprinkled upon foods before eating. Vegetarians and meat eaters easily find much to choose from on the menu.

Turkish cuisine also has many specialties and variations: there are at least forty ways to prepare eggplant alone. Unique are the strings of dried, hollowed out eggplant. It is reconstituted and stuffed with rice in winter. Honeys, preserves, nut mixtures, and cheeses round out a menu.

The Daily Meals

The first meal of the day is breakfast. A typical Turkish breakfast is fresh tomatoes, white cheese, black olives, bread with honey and preserves, and sometimes an egg.

Lunch often will include a rice or bulgar pilaf dish, lamb or chicken baked with peppers and eggplant, and fresh fish grilled with lemon. A popular lamb cut is pirzola. These are extra thin cut lamb chops which are seasoned with sumac, thyme, and quickly grilled. Favorites include sucuk, a spicy sausage, and pastirma, a sun dried cumin-fenugreek coated preserved beef. It is sliced thin much like pastrami. For lunch or dinner, soups are central in Turkish cuisine. In addition to the famous red lentil soup, there is a well-known soup with the exotic name of Wedding Soup made with lamb shanks in an egg broth.

Turkish mezze

Dinners will most commonly start with mezeler [singular: meze] or appetizers. Mezeler are Turkish specialties, showing off the originality and skill of a restaurant. Roasted pureed eggplant, fine chopped salads, miniature filled pasta called manti, pepper and turnip pickles, mackerel stuffed with pilaf, sardines rolled in grape leaves, and "köfte", spiced lamb meatballs, all tantalize the diner.

One unique specialty of Turkish cuisine is the zeytinağlı or olive oil course. Foods such as peppers or tomatoes are prepared with olive oil. These are typically served at room temperature.

Dessert is commonly melon and fresh fruit. Desserts made with filo dough, puddings of rose water and saffron, are favored. Another favorite is dried apricots drenched in syrup, stuffed with buffalo milk cheese and garnished with pistachio nuts. All sweets are usually served with Turkish coffee. Turks are credited with the spread of coffee throughout their empire and later Europe.

During the day the popular drink is tea, served in crystal tulip shaped glasses. Tea houses are popular among the village men, while coffee houses cater towards the young moderns in cities. Two popular winter drinks are: cinnamon flavored sahlep, a drink made from powdered iris root, and boza, a fermented barley drink. Raki, an anise liqueur is the national drink of Turkey. Sour cherry juice, turnip juice, rose tea and elma çay, apple tea are all popular.

In restaurants, the waiter will help the traveler select a meal, with breads and olives always available. Put your dinner into the hands of the restaurant and you will not be disappointed. Regional specialties abound, ask for them. In southern Turkey, Adana is famous for Adana kebab a spiced minced meat. Istanbul is known for midye or pilaf stuffed mussel meze. The Aegean region near Izmir, is known for its figs, fish, and peaches. In some restaurants, lemon cologne is available after dining to pour over hands as a refreshing cleanser.

Unique specialties of Turkish cuisine make souvenirs from a trip. Lokum - a gelled sweet often mixed with hazelnuts or pistachios, is cut into cubes and rolled in powdered sugar. In the United States it is commonly called Turkish delight. Rose, banana, and eggplant liqueur are savored. Sweet hot red pepper paste, Muhammara, notes the Arabic influence. Rose petal or sour morello cherry jam, fig and quince preserves are popular. Pulverized Turkish coffee, black Rize çay or tea, and raki are happy reminders of alfresco dinners. A thicker version of filo dough, called, yufka can be found in middle eastern markets.

Turkish Cooking Methods

Turkish Food Terms

aşure (Noah's pudding)
a pudding made of cereals, dried and fresh fruits, nuts, sugar and spices, Noah's pudding.
a drink of beaten yogurt, cold water and salt.
beyaz peynir
a medium soft brined cheese.
filled pastries in various shapes, baked, fried, or grilled.
grated cucumber with diluted yogurt, garlic, salt, sprinkled with dill and olive oil.
a tapered cup with long handle for making Turkish coffee.
any filled or stuffed vegetable. The term means to stuff, the most famous filled grape leaves
a sweetmeat dessert of flour, semolina, butter, sugar, milk, and nuts.
finely shredded pastry used to make a dessert. It looks like shredded wheat cereal.
lamb cut into small cubes, braised and browned, for use in stews.
meatballs with ground meats, or bulgur and rice meat mixture.
roasted and dried chickpeas used an appetizer much like salted nuts.
Turkish delight, made of sugar, cornstarch, gelatine, grape juice and flavouring agents.
small pastries filled with minced meat, similar to ravioli, but very small.
a long smooth rolling pin, tapered, 24-32 inches long, used to roll flatbreads and filo.
similar to stuffed vegetables, only fried, and filled with browned spices then simmered.
heavily spiced sun dried beef
grape molasses used like molasses
a flattened, oval bread served plain, or meat filled Turkish pizza - pide
any kind of dried bean salad with egg and vegetable.
the curved griddle used to cook yufka, filo, or börek
a bean dish cooked in olive oil, served cold with lemon
any dish of wrapped leaves of grape, or cabbage. Fillings are either minced meat or rice.
a preserved meat product similar to pepperoni, made of lamb and beef.
the ground berries of the edible sumac, used to give a tart lemon taste to food.
şiş köfte
known as shis kebab, meat-balls grilled on skewers
a beehive shaped oven in the wall or free standing, used to cook pide and other breads.
the Turkish word for sweets and candies, or desserts.
a sauce of egg with lemon juice, used in some köfte, dolma and vegetable dishes.
ready made thin flatbread made upon a saç.

Kitchen and Restaurant Terms

  • acı hot or bitter
  • ak ekmek white bread
  • ançüez anchovy
  • armut pear
  • asçı cook
  • az pişmiş rare
  • az şekerli slightly sweet
  • badem almond
  • baharat spices
  • bal honey
  • balık fish
  • bardak drinking glass
  • beyaz white, as in white beans
  • beyaz şarap white wine
  • bezelye pea
  • biber pepper
  • biftek beefsteak
  • bira beer
  • buz ice
  • buzlu çay ice tea
  • buzlu su ice water
  • ceviz walnut
  • cay tea
  • çiğ raw
  • çilek strawberry
  • çorba soup
  • dereotu dill
  • dolma stuffed vegetable
  • domates tomato
  • dondurma ice cream
  • ekmek bread
  • eksi sour
  • elma apple
  • erik plum
  • et meat
  • fasulye bean
  • fındık filbert or hazelnut
  • fincan cup
  • gazoz soda drink
  • gül rose
  • güveç earthenware casserole
  • ham green
  • ham şeker brown sugar
  • havuç carrot
  • hazırlop hard-boiled
  • hıyar cucumber / idiot
  • incir fig
  • işkembe tripe
  • kahvaltı breakfast
  • kahve coffee
  • kakao cocoa
  • kara / siyah black
  • kara biber  black pepper
  • karanfil clove / carnation
  • karides shrimp
  • karnabahar cauliflower
  • karpuz watermelon
  • kavun melon
  • kayısı  apricot
  • kekik thyme
  • kızartma browned in oil
  • közleme grilled
  • kuru dried
  • kuzu lamb
  • limon lemon
  • lokanta restaurant
  • mantar mushroom
  • maydanoz parsley
  • meyve fruit
  • mısır corn
  • mutfak kitchen or cuisine
  • muz banana
  • nane mint
  • nar pomegranate
  • orta medium, as in medium sweet coffee
  • orta şekerli  medium sweet
  • pancar  beet
  • pane breaded
  • pazar farmer's market
  • peynir cheese
  • pilaki cold dish with olive oil and onions
  • reçel jam
  • sade  unsweetened coffee
  • sakız gum arabic
  • sarımsak garlic
  • sıcak hot
  • soğuk cold
  • sulu yemek  home cooking
  • sut milk
  • şarap wine
  • şeftali peach
  • şeker sugar
  • şişe bottle
  • tava frying pan
  • taze fresh
  • tuz salt
  • un flour
  • üzüm grape
  • yarım porsiyon half potion
  • yeşil green
  • yeşil zeytin green olive
  • yumurta egg
  • zeytin olive
  • zeytinyağlı served with olive oil

Famous Turkish Recipes: Eggplant (Aubergine) Salad Patlıcan salatası

Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as an appetizer
This classic dish is famous - charring adds a smoky flavor. In Arabic versions - tahini - sesame paste, is used.

Patlıcan Salatası 11kb

Pierce the eggplants with a fork. Place them in a dry iron skillet over a high burner or under the broiler. If you can cook over charcoal, even better. Turn them and continue cooking for half an hour until the skin is charred on all sides and the eggplant is soft. Place on a plate to cool.

Cut the eggplant lengthwise, and scoop out the pulp, avoiding the skin. Squeeze out the excess moisture, and mash with a fork. In a large bowl or processor, place the eggplant, and other spices with yogurt. Blend until it is a puree. Place on a bowl and garnish with olive or tomato slices. Chill for ½ hour before serving. This will keep for several days.

Recipe: Shepherd's Salad Çoban Salatası

A classic Turkish salad, very refreshing. Have all the vegetables cut into similar sized dice. English cucumbers work best, remove seeds from the larger ones. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix dressing and gently toss just before serving.

Çoban Salatası 11kb

Recipe: Lentil and Mint Soup Ezogelin Çorbası

Kuzu Güveç 11kb

Place lentils, stock, onion, rice or bulgur, tomato paste, butter, and salt into a sauce pan. Cook stirring occasionally on very low heat until lentils are tender and soup is creamy. Add paprika and mint, and let soup simmer for 5 minutes before serving. Dried mint, not fresh is used for the topping.

Recipe: Lamb Casserole Kuzu Güveç

Kuzu Güveç 11kb

Soğanları, patatesleri, sarımsakları ve domatesleri soyun, havuçları kazıyın. Kabak ve patlıcanları alacalı soyun.
Soğanları ister dörde bölüp, isterseniz de halka halka doğrayın. Havuçları halka halka doğrayın. Patates, kabak ve patlıcanları dörde bölüp doğrayın. Doamtesleri ise küp küp doğrayın. Fasulyeleri temizleyip verev kesin.
Soğan ve havuçları çok az zeytinyağında hafifçe soteleyin. Soteledikten sonra güveç kabınızın tabanına yayın. Eti de hafifçe yağda çevirin.
Soğan ve havuçların üzerine diğer sebzeleri aralarına sarımsak ve domates ekleyip baharatları serperek güveç kabına yayın. Etleri sebzelerin üzerine koyun. (Eğer normal güveçte yapıyorsanız eti en alta veya soğanın üzerine yerleştirip en üstüne yağ gezdirin, elektriklide yağa gerek olmuyor)
Güveç kabınızın üzerini kapatıp yerine yerleştirin ve orta ayarda 6-8 saat pişirin. (ya da üzerini folyoyla kaplayıp orta dereceli fırında pişirin.)

Kuzu Güveç 11kb

Preheat oven to 350° F (180° C). Sauté onions and garlic in butter in a large pot. Add meat, sauté for 15 minutes. Add water and bay leaves. cover, simmer until the meat is tender. Transfer the meat mix into a casserole. Arrange potatoes in a layer on top of the meat then, place remaining vegetables in layers over the potatoes. Add salt and pepper, dot with butter, cover and bake in a medium 350° F (180° C) oven until vegetables are tender. Add hot water if necessary. Serve hot as a man course with pilaf and salad.

Recipe: Cream Stuffed Dried Apricots Kaymaklı Kuru Kayısı

This is a simple and unusual dessert. Mascarpone sweet cheese replaces the hard to find Turkish kaymak water buffalo cream.

Kaymaklı Kuru Kayısı 11kb

Soak apricots in cold water overnight and drain. Heat sugar and water together over medium heat for ten minutes, then add apricots. Cook until apricots are tender and syrup is formed. Add lemon juice and remove from heat. With a perforated spoon. transfer apricots to a plate to cool. With a spoon, half open the apricots and fill the inside with the cream or cheese. Arrange the apricots, slit side up on a platter, pour over them as much syrup as they absorb. Garnish with the grated nuts.

Recipe: Turkish Bread Türk Ekmeği

Turkish Bread

Place the lukewarm water, sugar and the yeast into a bowl. Stir well to dissolve the sugar and the yeast. Add the salt and flour; knead for 10 minutes, till dough becomes elastic. The more you knead the better your bread will be. Cover the dough with a plastic wrap or a clean cloth and let it rest for 2 hours in a warm place, till it rises up to double its volume.

Place dough on the counter knead again to release air. Cut the dough into two pieces, then make a loaf shape with each of them. Grease a square Pyrex or baking dish and place both of the dough pieces. Or you can use a loaf pan to bake two loaves of bread. Cover it with a clean cloth and leave it for 1 to 2 hours to rise in a warm place.

Mix 1 tbsp yogurt and 1 tbsp water in a small bowl, then brush the surface of the bread with this glaze. Make a scratch lengthwise through the middle. Finally, sprinkle nigella seeds or sesame seeds on top. Preheat the oven to 425°;F (220°C). Place the bread on the middle rack. Bake for 25-30 minutes, till it becomes golden brown. After taking it out of the oven cover with a clean cloth or towel to keep the bread soft.

Türk Ekmeği

Turkish Ekmek

Ilık suyu ve mayayı bir kaseye alin, içine sekeri ilave edin ve sekerle maya çözünene kadar iyice karıştırın. Sonra un ve tuzu ilave ederek, 10 dakika hamur elastik olana dek yoğurun. Hamuru ne kadar çok yoğurursanız o kadar güzel ekmek elde edersiniz. Üzerini şeffaf film ya da temiz bir bez ile örtün ve sıcak bir ortamda, hamur iki kati kadar kabarana dek, yaklaşık 2 saat bekleyin .

Hamuru tezgahın üzerine alin ve havasını indirmek için üzerinden bastırın. Hamuru ikiye bolun ve her birine uzun ekmek hamuru seklini verin. Kare bir Borcum ya da fırın tepsisini yağlayın ve iki hamuru yan yana koyun. Ya da uzun ekmek kalıbı kullanarak iki tane ayrı ekmek pişirebilirsiniz. Üzerini temiz bir bez ya da şeffaf film ile örtün ve hamur iki kati büyüyene kadar yaklaşık 1 -2 saat bekletin .

Sonra 1 yemek kasığı yoğurt ve 1 yemek kasığı suyu karıştırıp fırça ile hamurun üzerine surun. Ortasından keskin bir bıçak ile boyuna bir kesik atin. Üzerine çörek otu ya da susam serpin. Fırını önceden 220° C (425° F) ye işitin, ekmeği orta rafa koyun ve üzeri kızarana dek 25-30 dakika pişirin. Fırından çıkarınca, tepsinin üzerini temiz bir mutfak bezi ya da havlu ile örtüp hava almasını engelleyin. Böylece Türk ekmeğiniz yumuşacık olacaktır.
Dikkat: Hamuru yoğurmak ya da dinlendirmek için metal kap kullanmayın. Metal, hamurun yapısına zarar verir.