Here in Turkey, we take our food very seriously. Eating is an exceptionally important part of our lives and therefore it isn’t too surprising that we’ve come up with a number of brilliant recipes over time.
Most of these dishes take hours to prepare, and merely minutes to devour. You might think that would be aggravating; we think it’s entirely worth it!
Let’s start this off with a soup, shall we? (It’s the Turkish tradition after all.) Tarhana is our go-to soup on cold winter nights. Tarhana is much more complicated than what you’d expect from a mere soup, and it all starts with the tarhana dough. This special dough is made out of peppers, tomato and several other vegetables mixed with bulgur, yogurt and left to ferment. The mixture is then spread out and dried during the hot summer days. Then, when the need for a bowl of hot soup arises, we boil the crumbled dough and voila!
When you think about it, it’s basically instant soup, except one that you’ve seen from start to finish.
- Etli Sarma
Now for the main course…To make this dish, you need to get some cabbage, chard or vine leaves and gently boil them. After that, you prepare the stuffing with minced beef, onions, salt, pepper and oil. Now, here comes the hard part. You take individual leaves from the pile you’ve boiled, place a piece of the stuffing on them and roll them as neatly as possible. It is said that a well-done sarma shouldn’t be bigger than your little finger! Sounds pretty exhausting, right? That’s because it is—especially if you’re cooking for lots of people. Still, when there’s sarma for dinner, it’s bound to be the best part of your day. Just don’t forget to serve it with a good dollop of Turkish yogurt.
(The vegetarian version of this is stuffed with rice and spices and generally served in olive oil at room temperature)
- İçli Köfte
İçli köfte is essentially a ball of dough made of bulgur wheat filled with a stuffing of minced meat, onions, nuts and a variety of spices. You can easily get a taste of içli köfte, meaning filled meatball, at any given kebab shop—they’re usually served as appetizers before the actual meal of kebabs. As a specialty of Kilis, a city in the Southeast region of Turkey, the best kind of içli köfte is soft, savory and sure to leave you wanting more.
- Su Böreği
Börek is a very popular pastry in Turkey. We eat it for breakfast, alongside our afternoon tea, or even as a quick replacement for dinner. There are countless different kinds of börek, but su böreği has to be everyone’s favorite. Because, you guessed it, it takes the most effort. Quite literally, su böreği means ‘water börek’, and the reason for that is because every single layer of dough is boiled in hot water. That happens after you’ve rolled out really thin sheets of dough out of the dough you’d prepared yourself in the first place. You see why it’s a tedious process, right? But when done right, it’s the best piece of pastry you could ever dream to put in your mouth.
Before we move onto the desserts, we saved our favorite for the last.
At first glance, mantı looks like a tiny ravioli, the famous Italian dish. And yes, while the cooking technique of mantı resembles that of ravioli, the comparison doesn’t do mantı justice at all.
Making a good dish of mantı requires a lot of effort, and we mean a lot of effort. First, the dough comprised of flour, salt, water and eggs must be prepared. As that is left to rest, the filling is made of minced meat, onion and spices. Just like with sarma, here comes the tedious part. The dough is spread thin with the help of a rolling pin, cut up in little squares, filled with filling and sealed together at the ends. It is said that for a dish of mantı to be considered good, forty pieces must fit in a spoon at once! Imagine how long that would take. If you can’t, we have a time estimate for you: Two average-skilled people, making mantı for four, would get the entire task done in about three hours.
Baklava is probably among the most popular of Turkish food, and rightfully so. It’s made of really thin sheets of dough, pistachios and syrup. It’s a crispy, savory treat that dissolves in your mouth to perfection.
Just like most of the food mentioned in this list so far, baklava is held in pretty high regard. In Gaziantep, the home of baklava, they measure the quality of the dough sheets by holding a piece of writing behind it. If you can’t read what it’s saying through the sheet, it’s not good enough!
This dessert is less known compared to baklava, but it is just as amazing. It isn’t something you’d usually encounter in restaurants or dessert stores. It’s the secret recipe our mothers reserve for special days. But what is kalburabastı? Well, imagine your regular home-made cookies. Now, douse them in syrup, and you have yourself a fine serving of kalburabastı. That is simplifying the process by miles of course; kalburabastı takes a ton of effort to prepare and getting it right is a lot harder than you’d expect.
Well, who’s hungry after this?