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Friday, April 2, 2010

Turkish Cuisine

Turkish cuisine is largely the heritage of Ottoman cuisine, which can be described as a mixture of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines. Turkish cuisine has also influenced these cuisines and other neighboring cuisines, as well as western European cuisines.

There are not only common Turkish specialties but also many region-specific specialties. The cuisine of the Black Sea region (northern Turkey) is based on corn and anchovies.

The southeast – Urfa, Gaziantep and Adana – is known for its kebabs, mezes and dough-based desserts such as baklava, kadayif and kunefe. Olive oil is the major type of oil used for cooking especially in western Turkey where olive trees grow in abundance.

Characteristics of Mediterranean cuisine are found in the cuisines of the Aegean, Marmara and Mediterranean regions. They are rich in vegetables, herbs and fish. Central Anatolia is famous for its pastry specialties such as keskek, manti and gozleme. Sometimes the name of a city or region is included in the name of a specialty. The difference between the Urfa kebab and Adana Kebab is the use of garlic instead of onion and a larger amount of hot pepper.

The most popular appetizer is Turkish Zucchini Fritters which in Turkish language is "Kabak Mucveri". It is an appetizer that can be eaten hot or cold. These Turkish Zucchini Fritters are made with spring and yellow onions, fresh dill, fresh parsley, feta cheese, four eggs, a cup of flour, some pepper, olive oil and zucchini. This takes about 15 minute to prepare. Some chefs add tomatoes or boiled eggs to give the dish a different taste.

This appetizer can be served with a garlic sauce made with lemon juice, yogurt and chopped garlic. Another delicious appetizer is the Olive Pita which is made with olive oil, chopped black olives, crushed garlic, onion, salt and pita bread. It is served hot as a starter before lunch or dinner and may even be eaten as a snack between meals.

Babaghanoush is made with eggplant grilled until it is soft and mushy. Then it is blended with garlic, tahini paste (a paste made with ground sesame seeds), lemon juice, salt and parsley. Served with toasted Turkish bread.
Cucumber Dip – Cucumbers are shredded and salt is added. Dill and mint leaves are chopped. Then olive oil, garlic and water is added to yoghurt. Blended until smooth. Excess water is squeezed out of the cucumbers. Then the cucumbers, dill and mint are added to the yoghurt and blended. Salt and sugar are added to taste and garnished with dill sprigs.

Humus – Chick peas are cooked with onion, cilantro and cumin until soft. Then the chick peas along with garlic, tahini, lemon juice, sunflower oil are pureed.
Ispanak – Fresh or frozen spinach can be used. Fresh spinach is coarsely chopped and placed in a pan for 7 -8 minutes just until wilted. Onion is fried and added to the spinach along with feta cheese, egg and parsley. The ingredients are combined and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Kofta – Breadcrumbs are added to ground lamb and egg and blended. Then salt, pepper, cumin, allspice, mint, garlic and parsley are blended in. Then the meat is shaped into balls. These are then fried. They are served as an appetizer hot or at room temperature.

There are a wide range of soups in Turkish cuisine which are made from old recipes. For instance, yogurt soup appeared in the days when there were no fridges and the milk from soup transformed quickly into yogurt. The soup is made with rice, salt, water, flour, egg, butter, mint and yogurt. Turkish soups are usually made with fresh vegetables, meat and flavored with the finest seasonings. They are healthy, consistent and easy to prepare.

Arabasi – Flour is sifted into a saucepan along with salt and water and blended well. Set aside. Water is brought to a boil and the flour mixture is added. Then it is poured into a shallow pan and allowed to cool. Afterwards cut into cubes and set aside. Margarine is melted in a saucepan and flour blended in and browned slightly. Then water and tomato paste are mixed in and simmered for 5 minutes. Chicken broth and cooked diced chicken is added and stirred. Seasoned with salt, black and red pepper and lemon juice is added and brought to a boil. Served hot with the cold batter.
Cream of Green Lentil – Green lentils are cooked until tender and set aside. Onion is sautéed and flour is added. Then water, green lentils and rice are stirred in. After the rice is tender the soup is placed into a food processor and processed until blended and creamy. Seasoned with salt and brought to a boil. Meanwhile slightly beaten egg is mixed with milk and blended into the soup. Then sprinkled with red pepper and topped with toasted bread cubes.

Cream of Red Split Lentil and Vegetable – Lentils are placed in a saucepan and water added. Set to boil and then finely chopped onion and grated carrot are mixed in and seasoned with salt. Once the lentils and vegetables are tender they are cooled and processed until well blended and creamy. Flour is browned in margarine and tomato paste is blended in. The diluted with a little soup and mixed. Then the mixture is added to all the soup and heated for 5 minutes.

Hamsi – Anchovies are cleaned and heads and backbones removed. Then rinsed and chopped finely. Set aside. Onion is sautéed the salt and water is added and brought to a boil. Diced carrot is stirred in. Flour is dissolved in water then stirred in the simmering mixture and fish is added. Simmered until tender. An egg-lemon juice mixture is stirred in seasoned with thyme and served.

Cacik – Cucumbers are chopped into small cubes. In a separate bowl yogurt is mixed with garlic, water, dill, mint, oil and salt. The mixture is stirred until it is of the consistency of thick soup. Then cucumbers are added. Covered and placed into the fridge and served very cold.

Choban Salatasi (Turkish "Shepherd's" Salad) – Tomatoes, cucumbers, green pepper, radishes, green onions are diced. Parsley is chopped finely. The ingredients are all combined and mixed with a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper.
Fasolakia – Fresh green beans are placed in a pot along with onions, tomatoes, garlic, chopped parsley and cooked for 20 minutes. The potatoes cut in wedges are added. When all is tender then served hot.

Fava – Fava broad beans are cooked until mushy. Then placed in a blender with water, mashed garlic, salt, sugar, olive oil, lemon juice and blended. Then poured into platters and when set cut into squares and served with olives and parsley for garnish.

Mercimek Salatasi – Lentils are boiled until tender. Placed in a bowl with green onions, chopped parsley and then mixed with salt, pepper, vinegar and garnished with ripe olives.

Patates Puresi – Potatoes are boiled and mashed well in a bowl. Then chopped onions, parsley, salt, pepper, vinegar, oil, lemon juice are added and mixed well. Hard boiled eggs and tomato wedges are placed on top of the salad and garnished with black olives.

Turkish Eggplant Salad – Unpeeled eggplant is cooked until the flesh is soft and then peeled. The eggplant is then placed in a bowl with lemon juice and salt and mashed well. Olive oil, garlic and vinegar are blended in. Served on a plate garnished with tomato, onion and olives.

Meat dishes:
Etli Lahana Dolmasi – Cabbage leaves are filled with a mixture of ground beef or lamb, chopped tomatoes, garlic, green peppers, parsley and red pepper paste. The cabbage rolls are place in a large saucepan and hot water with salt and pepper is poured over to cover the cabbages. Served hot with lemon juice.

Kuzu Kapama – (Roast Lamb with tomatoes and potatoes) – Onions, garlic and parsley are chopped finely. Potatoes and peeled and sliced along with tomatoes. The onions and garlic are mixed together and half the mixture is sprinkled over the bottom of a roasting pan. Tomatoes and potatoes are placed in a layer on top. Then sprinkled with chopped parsley and salt and pepper. The sprinkled with the remaining onion and garlic mixture and 4 tablespoons of stock are poured over all. A leg of lamb is rubbed with garlic, salt and pepper. It is placed on the bed of vegetables and roasted in the oven.

Lahmacun (Turkish Pizza) – Peeled tomatoes are placed in a processor with onions and ground. Salt, black pepper and ground beef are added and processed 30 seconds. The mixture is spread over pitas and put into the over and baked.

Ramadan Kebab – Onion is cooked then ground beef or lamb and salt and pepper are added. After the meat is cooked add tomatoes and cook 5 minutes. Set aside. Mix yogurt with garlic. In a saucepan sauté red pepper flakes in margarine. Warm pita bread which has been cut into squares in the oven. On each dinner plate place pita squares and sprinkle with warm water. Spread on the sautéed meat and then the garlic yogurt mixture. Pour over the red pepper and sprinkle some mint on top.

Even though the majority of Turks are Islamic, alcoholic beverages are as widely available in Turkey as in Europe. There are a few local brands of lager such as Tekel Birasi, Marmara 34 and Efes and a large variety of international beers that are produced in Turkey such a Skol, Beck’s, Carlsberg and Tuborg. There are local wine brands such as Kavaklidere, Doluca, Corvus, Kavra, Pamukkale and Diren. A range of grape varieties are grown in Turkey. It is also quite popular to produce wine on private farms and sell them in the locality. Raki a traditional alcoholic beverage flavored with anise, is the usual drink with meze, fish or kebabs.

Among non-alcoholic beverages people drink black tea at breakfast and all day long. There is Ayran (a salty yogurt drink) which is the most common cold beverage. Kefir is prepared with kefir grains and milk. Another beverage which is usually combined with kebabs is Salgam suyu (mild or hot turnip juice). A traditional winter drink is Boza which is also known as millet wine served cold with cinnamon and sometimes with leblebi (a kind of snack made with roasted chick peas).

Sahlep another favorite in winter (served hot with cinnamon). It is extracted from the roots of wild orchids and may be used in Turkish ice cream as well. Sherbet (serbet) is a traditional Turkish sweet soft drink made of rose hips, cornelian cherries, rose or licorice and spices. Turkish coffee is a world-known coffee which can be served sweet or bitter.

Kabak Mücveri (Turkish Zucchini Fritters)

35 min | 15 min prep
• 1 lb zucchini
• 1/2 cup chopped green onion (spring)
• 1 small yellow onion, grated
• 1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
• 4 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
• 1/2 cup kasseri cheese, grated or feta cheese, crumbled
• 4 eggs, slightly beaten
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• fresh ground pepper
• olive oil, for frying
1. Grate the zucchini and place in a colander; sprinkle with salt and let drain for 30 minutes; squeeze out moisture and pat with paper towels.
2. Place the zucchini in a bowl and add the green and yellow onions, dill, parsley, cheese, eggs, flour and salt and pepper to taste; mix well.
3. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, pour in oil to a depth of ¼ inch; when the oil is hot, drop the batter by heaping tablespoonfuls into the pan (or form into small patties), allow space in between fritters; fry for 2 minutes on the fist side, then turn to brown on the second side for about 3 minutes; using a slotted spatula transfer to paper towels or newspaper to drain; repeat with remaining batter.

Lahmacun (Turkish pizza)

a pack of pitas
1 lb ground Beef
1 lb white Onion
1 or 2 tomatoes
salt, black pepper to taste

Peel, wash, place onions with tomatoes in a food processor and ground. Add salt, black pepper and meat, ground 30 seconds more. With the help of a spoon spread this mixture over pitas. Put them in oven and bake at 400F about 20-30 minutes. Check to see whether meat is cooked. Serve hot. By Rasma Raisters

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