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Turkish Gourmets

Preparation details courtesy of Angie Mitchell, author of an upcoming Turkish cookbook called “Secrets of the Turkish Kitchen”

Regional Specialities :

As you visit different areas of Turkey, there are local specialities which must be eaten in their home region to be fully appreciated. Thus Kanlica in Istanbul is famous for its yoghurt, Bursa for its Iskendar Kebab, Gaziantep for its pistachio nuts, the Black Sea for hamsi (fried anchovies) and corn bread and the Syrian borderlands (Urfa and Adana) for spicy shish kebabs.

Breakfast :

Turkish breakfasts are dominated by freshly baked bread, eaten with salty white cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, butter, honey, jam, and often a boiled egg. Deliciously creamy yoghurt is an optional extra. Other breakfast alternatives include pastry shops which serve a variety of flaky pastries with cheese or meat fillings.

Traditional Turkish style meze :

A meal out will usually start with a selection of mezes -- appetizers -- from an enormous and very colourful platter brought to your table by the waiter. Cold mezes include stuffed mussels (midye dolma), humus, pureed aubergine salad (patlican salatasi), stuffed vine leaves (yaprak dolma) and Circassian chicken (cevizli tavuk). Among the selection of hot mezes are usually borek, (thin layers of flaky pastry stuffed with cheese, meat or spinach), sautéed lamb's liver with onions and kalamari.

Salad lovers will find a variety of unusual, spicy herbs appearing along with the standard tomato and cucumber, especially in the south. Roka is a bitter herb which translates as rocket in English, and you may also find spiky dereotu (bitter cress), nane (fresh mint) or even kuzu kulla (sorrel). A spinachy-textured vegetable frequently served in garlic-yogurt is called semizotu, known to us as purslane.

Beyond this, a typical meze menu includes dried and marinated mackerel (uskumru), fresh salad greens in thick yogurt sauce and garlic (semiz otu), plates of cold vegetable dishes cooked or fried in olive oil (called zeytinyagli) and fried crispy pastry such as the sumptuous sigara boregi. A thin dough, called yufka in Turkish, is filled with white, spiced cheese and rolled to vaguely resemble a cigar or cigarette, then deep fried. Fried mussels (midye tava) on a stick served with a delicious sauce, squid (kalamar) served in a sauce, tomato and cucumber salad, and fish eggs (havyar) are other important mezes from the Turkish kitchen. The main course that follows such a meze spread will be fish or grilled meat. When the main course is kebab, then the meze spread is different. In this case, several plates of different types of minced salad greens and tomatoes in spicy olive oil, mixed with yogurt or cheese, "humus" (chick peas mashed in tahini), bulgur and red lentil balls, marinated stuffed eggplant, peppers with spices and nuts, and pickles are likely to be served. In any case, raki goes well with all of these dishes.

Deniz Borulcesi – Dark sea greens (samphire) which typically grow in salt marsh areas, hence its saltiness. It is boiled in water first, the green fleshy part is then stripped from the tougher stems and finally it's dressed in garlic, olive oil and lemon and served cold.

Cimcim – a fish meze that is first boiled in water to remove the bones, then its sauteed with olive oil and olive puree, baked in the oven and served hot.

Saksuka - Eggplant cooked in oil, topped with yogurt and served cold

Semiz otu – leaves of purslane mixed with yogurt and olive oil, served cold

Mastika - Wild radish greens with olive oil and lemon, cooked much the same as deniz burulesi, and served with garlic yogurt sauce

Hardal – Wild mustard greens cooked and served the same as Mastika

Main courses :

Generally fish or meat kebabs, though this word is used in a much wider sense than generally understood in the West. The spices and herbs used to delicately flavor the meat varies from region to region. Guvec dishes are delicious casseroles cooked in earthenware pots. Et sote, a kind of goulash, is very good, as is coban kavurma. The eating of fish has an elevated if not cult status in Turkey. It is best eaten in an open-air restaurant by the sea, preferably Anadolu Kavagi, Rumeli Kavagi or Kumkapi, always accompanied by raki, and enjoyed in the company of good friends. The choice depends on the catch of the day, and may include swordfish (kilic), bluefish (lufer), turbot (kalkan) or lobster (istakoz).

The staple of lunch time cafeterias is ev yemek, which translates literally as home food, signifying tasty vegetable and meat-based stews. An interesting aspect of Turkish drinking culture is the all-night iskembe parlor, which serves tripe soup. It is considered medicinal after a night on the town, with crushed garlic from a bowl, red pepper, oregano and vinegar added to taste.

Desserts :

In restaurants, dessert is often a beautifully presented selection of seasonal fruits. In spring this may be green almonds and plums, generally an acquired taste for foreigners. There are strawberries in May, cherries in June, melons in July and August and apples, pears and pomegranates in autumn. Winter is the time for Turkish-grown citrus fruits and bananas.

For a wider selection of sweets try the pastane, or pudding shop, where you'll find all the traditional Turkish sweets such as lokum, or Turkish delight, baklava, kadayif, halva and asure (traditionally held to contain the forty different ingredients left in the Ark's kitchen when Noah sighted Ararat). Sutlac, or rice pudding.

Drinks :

A meal is often followed by an espresso sized cup of Turkish coffee, though Italian coffees are becoming increasingly popular.

For day-time and non-alcoholic alternatives, try ayran, a yogurt, salt and water mix.

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