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Cook Like a Turk: Turkish Cuisine

by
Apr 9th, 2021

There are some places in the world that, through their unique geographic locations, have served as ancient passageways for people of all origins, cultures, languages and religions to pass through. These places have deep, rich histories that span millennia of human history, preserving and protecting some of the oldest pieces of humanity we know of today. 

Turkey is one of these places. 

Located on the Anatolian peninsula in the Mediterranean, this mountainous region is one of the oldest permanently settled regions in the world, with evidence of habitation dating back nearly 40,000 years. In fact, the oldest man-made religious structure in the world is found in Turkey, estimated to have been constructed in 10,000 B.C.! 

The ancient Anatolian region is also credited as the area from which the Indo-European languages all originated. Anatolian languages are extinct today, but there is evidence that it was the first branch of the Indo-European languages that has continued to evolve throughout human history.

Both modern-day and ancient Turkey has served as a geographical bridge between the Asian and European continents, with the Black Sea to the North and the Mediterranean Sea to the South. People from both continents have passed through Turkey for thousands of years, depositing bits and pieces of their own cultures, traditions, languages and religions along the way. 

There is no way we could really dive into just how influential the region has been in the course of human history, but we can definitely dive into some of the more edible and delicious portions of it! Namely, some of the amazing food that shows the influence of the people and land that have made Turkey what it is today. 

Turkish cuisine

There is no one “Turkish cuisine” because there is no one Turkish people. The nation today is made up of over two dozen ethnic groups who speak over a dozen different languages and who practice a variety of different religions. Rather, Turkish food is heavily influenced by geography.

Turkish cuisine, in this case, refers to foods that citizens of the nation eat, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.  Here, we'll go over some popular foods that are eaten in the diverse geographic regions of Turkey.

Tea

A cup of strong, black tea is commonplace in many Turkish homes and restaurants, so much so that tea is the second most consumed drink after water! Tea was first grown in Turkey in the late 1930s after a law allowed for the establishment of tea farms in the region east of the Black Sea. 

Here’s how you can make tea in a true, authentic Turkish fashion!

Menemen

This popular breakfast dish is a simple blend of egg, tomatoes, green peppers and spices cooked together in a pan. The result is not just a quick and nutritious meal, but a rich blend of flavor and texture that’s perfect for any time of the day. 

Here’s how you can make this delicious dish!

Koftes

These Turkish meatballs are flavored and served differently depending on where in the country they’re made, but they’re certainly one of Turkey’s more popular foods. 

Generally made with a combination of ground beef and ground lamb, these meatballs burst with rich spices and that melt-in-the-mouth flavor that only comes from centuries’ worth of home cooking and recipe perfection. 

Make and serve these delicious koftes with cooked vegetables, salad, creamy sauce or whatever you fancy.

Dolmas

A culinary treat dating back to the Ottoman Empire, dolmas are a family of food made from grape leaves or vegetables stuffed with a filling and cooked. The fillings vary based on taste, preference and region, but can contain rice, meat, vegetables or seafood. 

Stuffed leaves and vegetables and leaves are a popular food throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East, but these rice-filled dolmas are a favorite in Western Turkey! 

Kashk

Known as kashk, kishk, kurut or taş yoğurt depending on where you are, kashk is a dried yogurt that’s a flavorful and creamy addition to soups, dips and roast vegetables. 

To make kashk, yogurt or sour milk is drained and dried in fine cloth, creating a round, white ball of cheese-like dairy. The kashk can then be crumbled into soups or blended with vegetables to make a dip-like consistency. 

Kebabs

Another common Mediterranean dish is the kebab, which is popular in the southeastern portions of Turkey, where the dish is said to have originated. In fact, one of the earliest mentions of the dish is found in an 11th-century Turkish dictionary, where it talks about a group of men competing with each other in skewering meat. It seems like cook-offs are just a part of human nature!

Try these flavorful lamb kebabs that are straight from the history books. And, if you’d like, organize a kebab-off to demonstrate your skewering superiority.

Baklava

We can’t possibly talk about Turkish cuisine without mentioning baklava. Although this sweet pastry is now a common dish in Iranian, Turkish and Arab cuisines, the dish as we know it today was probably created in Istanbul during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. Layers of chopped nuts separated by thin filo pastry and sweetened with syrup makes this delicate dish a popular one for not just residents of Turkey, but for all of us around the world. 

Baklava is a tricky dish to make, but it’s certainly an attainable goal! Try this recipe for walnut and pistachio baklava here.

As you can see, Turkish cuisine is as diverse as Turkish people are. Whether the foods have been shaped by the land, by people or by time itself, these delicious foods have contributed to a rich and flavorful cuisine that we can all enjoy immensely today.

Afiyet olsun!

Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/luckyhand2010

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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