Istanbul stands majestically astride Europe and Asia, symbolic of the nature of Turkish cuisine. The bridges straddling the Bosphorus link two culinary heritages, though each has in itself evolved through centuries of history.
n the 1920s Ataturk determined to Westernize all that is Turkey, including her cuisine. I am so glad that he did not complete this part of his project, though fried pastries using a choux pastry base and dondurmas (water ices) certainly look as though he made some attempt.
A tour of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, once home of sultans, princes, their wives and concubines, gives a further insight into Turkish cooking. The names of the recipes emphasize the romantic, exotic era when Turkey's cuisine was being developed: Sultan's Delight.
(Hünkar Begendi), Ladies' Navels (Kadin Göbeği), Ladies' Thighs (Kadın Budu), Lips of the beauty (Dilber Dudağı), Dainty Fingers (Hanım Parmağı), and Swooning Imam (Imam Bayıldı)—the latter certainly not because of any of the former, I assure you.
In Turkey the sea and its gifts plays a large part in the lifestyle and the food. One favorite dish. Skewered Swordfish (Kılıç Şiş), is a Turkish delicacy long remembered by visitors. The aroma offish cooking over glowing charcoal or by other means permeates the air around the shores of the Bosphorus—Sardines in Grape Vine Leaves (Sardalya Sarması), Stuffed Mussels (Midye Dolması), Baked Fish (Balık Pilaki), and many more. A favorite sauce served with many seafoods is Tarator, a delectable combination of ground nuts, garlic, olive oil and vinegar. Though hazelnuts are generally used, almonds, pine nuts and walnuts are sometimes substituted.
This famous Turkish specialty is found throughout Turkey and other countries of the region, though it is definitely Turkish in origin. As it is impractical for home preparation, a description will have to suffice.
Even-sized rounds of boneless lamb, taken from a whole carcass, are marinated for 24 hours in a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, onion, parsley, thyme, oregano or other combinations of herbs. A long, very heavy spit is loaded with the meat, layers interspersed with slices of fat from the tail of the lamb. The bottom of the spit is fitted with a disc to keep the meat in place and the top is finished with a whole green pepper and a tomato for color. The loaded spit is then placed before a vertical fire of charcoal or electrically heated elements. It is motor-driven so that the kebap revolves to cook evenly. As the lamb cooks on the outside, it is deftly sliced off into a special pan and served immediately in pide (flat bread) with salad. The doner kebap is now prepared in many Western cities with ethnic groups, since it is as popular in Lebanon, Syria, Greece and Iraq as it is in its native Turkey.
THE FLAVOR OF TURKISH FOOD
Turkey's cuisine, colored by its history, is a mixture of Oriental and Byzantine influences, with the subtlety of Western cuisine softening the impact. Yogurt would have to be one of the most important elements, its use stretching back into pre-history. While mostly enjoyed in its simple form, with perhaps a dash of salt or a sprinkling of sugar, yogurt is also married into soups, becomes a sauce with little effort, and imparts a delicious flavor to cakes and desserts.
Perhaps the next pillar of Turkish cooking would be its pilavlar, or pilaf, renowned in world cuisine and worthy of their place. In researching, writing and testing the recipes, I became aware that no matter how they were formulated there would be some cooks who would agree and others who would strongly disagree with my methods. This is the beauty of Turkish cooking: a dish is a reflection of the cook, her love of food, and her dedication to its preparation for the pleasure of her family.
Herbs are subtly used in Turkish cooking, predominantly parsley, dill, mint, bay leaves and to a lesser extent thyme and oregano. In spicing, pepper, bahar (allspice), cinnamon and paprika are the most widely used. A favorite Turkish garnish for foods is paprika steeped in oil. Circassian Chicken (Çerkes Tavuğu) goes one step further: a dedicated cook will painstakingly extract the oil from walnuts to blend with paprika for the garnish. This, by the way, would be without doubt one of the most delicious chicken dishes I have ever tasted.
Turkey produces a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, all excellent in their season, but tomatoes in summer are a special joy. A good Turkish cook would prefer to use fresh tomatoes rather than tomato paste, but certainly uses the latter when tomatoes are out of season.
Olive oil, safflower oil and butter are favored for cooking, though peanut or corn (maize) oil can be used for general frying, particularly for pastries. Olive oil is essential for vegetable dishes, not only for its flavor, but because such dishes are often eaten cold.
Herbs and flavor adding ingredients are highly developed in the Turkish Cuisine. Adding black pepper and pepper flakes into the dishes is almost traditional.
Red pepper grown in Southern Anatolia, Bursa and Kayseri is vivid red colored and bitter with a special aroma. It is sold os dried and crumbled in tiny pieces. Besides adding flavor to the dishes, it is known to be an appetizer, stimulant and good for the arteries. Red pepper is called "isot" in Urfa.
Thyme grows in highlands and has small leaves with strong aroma. Thyme is dried and used plentiful in meat dishes. When the herd grazes in thyme growing pastures, the meat is very delicious. Thyme has tran-quilizing, soothing effect on the stomach, is an antiseptic and stimulant of blood circulation and helps pass worms.
Daphne is an evergreen tree which reaches 3-10 meters height. It grows mainly in the Aegean and the Mediterranean Coasts of Turkey. The leaves are 5-10 cm long and 2-3 cm wide and is good for the stomach as an antiseptic, Also, causes perspiration. Fresh green leaves are often used to add to the flavor of grilled fish.
Basil is a leafy plant that grows 10 - 40 cm in height and is white. The leaves are 2-6 cm large, notched and aromatic. The tranqulizer, soother basil is used as herb. Rice is decorated with basil leaves to add aroma.
Black pepper is blackish colored, 4-6mm puckered seeds that originate in India. It is dried and grounded and used in almost all soups and dishes. Uhen smelled, the burning bitter aroma causes people to sneeze. Consists of evaporating oil, cornstarch and fennel which gives the burning taste. Blackpepper is one of the essential herbs used in a large variety of dishes.
Saffron grows from tubered roots in autumn and has purple colored flowers and is about 20-30 cm high. The saffron inside the petals is reddish orange colored, bitter tasting and has strong aroma. It consists evaporating oil and is a very valuable herb giving color, aroma and taste. Saffron is sold in powder form and is being used in Anatolia since the times of Hitits. The tubered bulbs are planted in end-flugust/earlu September period and the flowers that blooms in October are collected twice a day and dried.
The evergreen tree of about 5-10 meters tall, grows in mid America and Jamaica. The fruit is collected before it ripens. The aroma reminds the aroma of carnation and it contains fennel, evaporating oil and tannin. It helps cure diarrhea and is an appetizer. While being added to dishes as a herb, it is also used in some drinks.
The plant grows in the Mediterranean countries and is about 50 cm tall. The flowers are white and pink. The seedy yellow petals are 5-6 cm long. Cumin has a strong aroma. Contains fennel, evaporating oil and rids stomach gasses. Romans have started using cumin as a herb.
Tomato gives dishes, color as well as taste. It is added either as fresh chopped tomatoes or used as paste in cooking. Tomato has originated from South America, spread all over the world. It gives 20 calories and contains protein, carbohydrate, calcium phosphate, iron, fat, vitamins € and K. However, solanine in tomato is poisonous and causes headache if it is eaten unripe. Tomatoes are grown in gardens and green houses. There ore 200 different kinds of tomatoes around the world. Over-ripened tomatoes in the fields are used in making paste.
Parsley is a well known plant in the Mediterranean Region added into dishes or used to decorate the plate. It was considered to have a magic spell by the ancient Romans. This plant, widely grown and used in Turkey, can grow up to 50 cm tall. It is cut and sold in bunches with stems. The large leafed ones are preferred.
First originated in Europe, dillweed grows to be 6 -130 cm tall. The wild kind is abundant in Turkey. It is grown as the parsley and is used in soups and dishes such as fresh broad beans, pea and squash dishes and fish. Dillweed is sold in bunches with stems.
People were familiar with onion since ancient history. It is believed to have originated from the Western Rusia. The inner layers of the thin yellow skinned onion is white. The red onion is used with fish dishes. The tall fresh green onion is pulled out of the earth, before the bulb has grown, and is used with salads and fish. Besides adding taste to food, onion has carbohydrate, organic asids and vitamins. Onion has burning effect and causes tears when peeling. It is known for its anti-bacterial, kidney-stimulator, muscle toner, blood-sugar balancer qualities since ages. Heredotes states in his book that during the construction of Keops pyramide in Egypt, the workers were fed on onions, garlic and radish to avoid probable epidemics. 100 gr. Of onion added to soup or any dish has 8.1 gr water, 1.4 gr protein,8.9 gr carbohydrate, 0.8 gr cellulose and 0.2 gr. oil. The calori of onion is 46 and contains Vitamins A, 6, 62 and °C.
Garlic, used to enrich the flavor of many dishes such as the tripe soup, is one of the oldest flavors known by ancient men. It is white or pinkish colored and grows 25 - 100 cm. tall. The cloves are covered by thin layers of crusty membrane. These cloves are peeled and used either mashed or sliced or as a whole. Garlic has a very strong smell and burning flavor.lt contains carbohydrate, R,B and C vitamins and evaporating oil with sulphur which completes the taste of garlic. In olden times it has been used as a preventing measure against spread of epidemics, fluthorities agree that garlic helps in curing high blood pressure, glycose, cleaning of kidneys as well as arousing appetite. The following mythological story teels us the benefits of garlic.
Asclepios is the God of Health. He cures his patients, working miracles even bringing dead, back to life. That infuriates the God of Gods and hits Asdepios with lightnings. While falling to the ground, he wants to give a last service to mankind, scribbles a recipe that he leaves behind. The God of Gods sees that Adepios is writing something, before dying, he starts to send down pouring rain. The recipe dissolves in the earth. Zeus, the God of Gods is calmed down.
He sends the clouds away and the bright sun warms the earth. Suddenly, a plant erupts at the point where the recipe was buried. This plant is garlic. Actually, garlic is a remedy for almost all kinds of sicknesses. It can be eaten fresh but the smell is too strong and repelling.
Olive oil is better than all animal products and is abundantly produced in Western Turkey and Greece. Long living olive trees are sensitive to cold weather. Olive is known and used since the times of Mesopotamia. The story goes; Poseidon and Athena compete in creating the best productive land for Athens. Poseidon slams his picthfork into the earth and salty water springs, Athena plants an olive tree. The committee decides on the benefits of olive tree and Athena is elected as the guardian Godess of Athens. A 100 years old olive tree grows between 5 -10 m. in height and blooms white flowers. The fruit is the olive which is collected half ripe for breakfast use. Ripe ones are sent to factories for oil production, Ancient mills, used to grind olives, are found through excavation. Olives contain vitamins and use of olive oil instead of butter is healthier. When two spoonfuls of uncooked olive oil is consumed, it is good for blocked gall bladder and constipation. Fine olive oil odds to the flavor of dishes as well as the salads.