The 12 pillars of Turkish cuisine
The Turkish kitchen is clear proof national kitchens can harmoniously combine diverse flavors. Many different peoples and their cuisines influenced Turkish cuisine. Nomadic Turkic peoples lived with the Chinese. They later migrated south and got influenced by the sub-continent cuisines. They afterwards moved to the west and, on their way, interacted with the Persians. As centuries passed, they moved towards the west, interacting with the East European and the Middle-eastern cuisines. Turks finally settled in the eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans.
It is no surprise why there are so many common dishes in Armenian, Greek, Jewish, Lebanese, Italian, Russian, Romanian, Persian cuisines, and Turkish cuisine.
The best-known indispensable features are the meze starters, rich variety of olive-oil-based vegetarian dishes, fresh bread served with each meal, the various kebab dishes, köfte, and of course pide, the Turkish pizza.
If you now feel like swinging your wooden spoon and cooking in a typically Turkish way, start with our top 12 ingredients of Turkish cuisine!
TOMATO PASTE (SALÇA)
Salca makes it easier to add flavour to each dish. There is also a pepper-based version which is called “Biber salca.” This one is elaborately cooked and refined with many spices. Salca is sometimes spicy, sometimes mild, sometimes intense, or less spicy. So every salca is a bit different and provides the typical Mediterranean touch in Turkish recipes.
Yogurt is the gift of Turkic nomads to world cuisine. Etymologically, yogurt comes from the Turkish verb “yogur” which means “curdling”; thus, yogurt means “curdled milk” in Turkish. In Turkish cuisine, yogurt is used in a variety of dishes and is also used to make the national drink, the Ayran. You can easily prepare this refreshing summer drink at home using water, yogurt and a little salt.
You can’t imagine a Turkish kitchen without the biber. Your mum would have a few varieties of dried chilies; black and then shades of red, paprika, etc. But you would also have that fresh chili; green and sometimes hot, sometimes sweet.. Green pepper or Green chili would add that irreplaceable flavor to each dish its added to.
As for dried chili; anyone who has ever ordered “kebab with extra chilli” has certainly come up with the taste of Pul Biber. The Turkish chili flakes are in every spice rack in the kitchens and should be strong dark orange to red, smell like pepper and will turn your fingers red when rubbed. Only with aromatic Pul Biber the right seasoning comes into play!
Legumes are simply indispensable in Turkish cuisine. White beans, chickpeas and red lentils are among the most used legumes in Turkish cuisines! Large white beans are used in many meze dishes with plenty of olive oil.
Bulgur is easy to prepare and, like noodles and rice, has many uses – but lasts longer and is much healthier. By the way: Bulgur is not to be confused with couscous. Couscous is originating from North Africa and it consists of moistened semolina made of durum wheat, while the Anatolian bulgur consists of pre-cooked durum wheat. A trendy Turkish dish made with bulgur is kisir, a dish similar to Tabouli.
Just like in Italian cuisine, olive oil also plays a major part in Turkish cuisine. But especially the pickled olives, in all their green and black shades, have an essential role in Turkish cuisine as you will find them at every breakfast table!
Yufka is the name given to the pastry leaves used to make Baklava, Börek, or Gözleme. Yufka is similar to traditional puff pastry but is much thinner and less greasy. It is either relatively freshly prepared and rolled out or bought ready and then processed with ingredients such as sheep cheese or spinach.
Your average Turkish national would say that tomatoes just taste different in Turkey. And it’s true – when you walk across a Turkish bazaar, you will see many varieties of tomatoes with more variety in color, a more aromatic scent, and of course with much more intense flavor! Although Tomatoes were introduced to Europe and Turkish cuisine after the discovery of the Americas, Turkish farmers helped create more than 100 tomato species native to Turkey.
TURKISH WHITE CHEESE (FETA)
Although it is widely known as a Greek specialty in Australia, there are 193 known types of Feta made in different regions of Turkey. Feta is widely used, from boreks to brioches, and is served at every breakfast table alongside olives.
Like hot chili flakes, you will see dried mint leaves in every spice rack. The mint has less menthol than the peppermint. You can find mint in many dishes in Turkish cuisine, but the most general application is found in Cacik (tzatziki).
Imam bayildi and Karniyarik are among the most known aubergine-based Turkish dishes. Perhaps the most revered Turkish dish, although not well known outside Turkey, is “hünkar beğendi” (Sultan’s delight) which is made with meat, laid on a mixture of mashed eggplant.
Last but not least: the onion. It is one of the essential ingredients in most Turkish dishes and can be found in all shapes and colors of Turkish markets. You will find them in the meze dishes and in the many delicious soups, stews, and salads. The onion should not be missed in the Turkish kitchen.