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Ottoman Cuisine--An Introduction

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    Posted: 06 March 2016 at 00:10
It’s often said there are only three cuisines in the world: French, Japanese, and Turkish.
When it comes to the influences these have had on other food cultures, there’s much truth in that aphorism; although I’d substitute Chinese for Japanese in that regard.

Of the three, there’s no question Turkey has affected more cuisines than the others put together. At its height, the Ottoman Empire---which lasted more than 600 years---stretched across three continents. If you draw a broad crescent from Venice to the Moroccan border you get an idea of how far the Turkish influence reached. As we’ve seen from other explorations, there’s a Turkish influence on parts of Italy, Greece, Hungary, the Balkans, Georgia, Ukraine, all of the Mideast stretching east into India, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and many of the Mediterranean islands, including Sicily, Sardinia, Malta, Cypress, and Crete.

Oddly enough, what armies couldn’t accomplish the Atlas Mountains did. The Ottomans ruled the Maghreb, except for Morocco.

True enough, Turkish cuisine had a vast effect on the foodways of those countries and regions. But, at the same time, the Ottoman Empire, particularly as in applied to palace food, was equally influenced by exposure to new flora and fauna, much of which was incorporated into their foods.

While we’ve all prepared dishes from other cultures that had a Turkish influence, I thought it time to go right to the source, and explore aspects of this greatest of the three world cuisines.

There are several things to keep in mind about Ottoman cuisine---and, by extension, modern Turkish cookery---that marks it as different.

First, and perhaps most important, Ottoman palace cuisine had a trickle-down effect. While the thousands of chefs and food workers did, indeed, strive to impress, it was done more through manipulation of common ingredients than through the use of rare, exotic, and costly products. What they used, and the ways they used it, was adopted by the population at large; especially those living in the cities. Thus, while the common Parisian did not eat the way the nobility did, the commoners in Constantinople often did.

Next, palace food has come down more in the way of oral tradition than in any codified manner. Ottoman palace chefs were very secretive, and never wrote down their recipes. A story is told to this day about the time the Empress Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III) visited Istanbul. She fell in love with the dish now known as Sultan’s Delight. This is, essentially, stewed lamb shoulder on a bed of eggplant puree. She asked her host if she could get the recipe, which he readily agreed to. So, Eugenie sends her chef to the Sultan’s, armed with his scales, and measuring cups, and recipe book. The Sultan’s chef throw them out. “An imperial chef,” he told Eugenie’s man, “cooks with his feelings, his eyes, his nose.” Eugenie went home without the recipe.

The fact is, most written records of Ottoman cooking were not produced until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some notable exception appeared in the mid-19th century. But that’s it. Before that, palace chefs kept everything pretty close to their vests.

With staffs as large as were found at the palaces, however, it’s difficult to keep secrets. They were passed on orally, however, not in the form of written-down recipes. Another reason for the trickle-down effect. Many of the regional variations of a dish found throughout Turkey can be attributed to this oral tradition, and the ways it was interpreted by commoners far from the palace walls.

Kitchens and staffs were, indeed, huge. They had to be when you were feeding upwards of 4,000 people every day. At Topkapi alone, the kitchen took up more than 5,200 square meters. That doesn’t include the pantry, vegetable ward, and other storage facilities.

The kitchen was divided into eight sections, each with its own head chef and group of assistants. A single head chef oversaw all eight sections.

At its height, the palace kitchen was home to literally hundreds of cooks and their assistants (who were called, interestingly, “rice cookers”).

Finally, many world cuisines are identifiable with a single ingredient or style of food. French cooking, for example, is all about the sauce. Italian is hallmarked by pasta. Such a situation never existed with Ottoman cooking. There is no iconic ingredient or style of cooking one can point to, and say, “Turkish!” How could there be, given the incredible geographic spread of the empire, and the diversity of foodstuffs it supplied.

That said, there are a couple of more common items one can associate with Turkish cooking, both modern and antique. When the word “meat” is used, it most often means “lamb.” Lamb was the number one choice among the Ottomans, and remains so in modern Turkey. Other meats were most certainly used, including beef, goat, and game. But lamb ruled the roost.

Speaking of roosts, chickens were rare, and considered an exotic treat, reserved for special occasions. Until the last half of the 20th century, when chicken raising was put into mass production, Istanbul remained the only major city in the world where residents habitually kept chickens in the back yard.

Almost any vegetable you can name is used in Ottoman cooking. But the most popular is eggplant. Baked, fried, boiled, smoked, pureed, and probably methods I can’t call to mind were all ways of preparing this most favored of vegetables. So much so, that I believe if all the Ottoman and Ottoman-inspired eggplant dishes were suddenly to disappear, an eggplant cookbook wouldn’t have very many pages.

There are two exceptions to the “nothing iconic” rule of thumb. First is Turkish red pepper paste. This is a combination of red chilies and red sweet peppers, ground fine and cooked down to the consistency of tomato paste. There are an infinite number of combinations, from pure hot to pure sweet. Most often, however, the paste is made with equal amounts of both peppers, along with a bit of sugar, salt, vinegar and olive oil.

Red pepper, itself, is a common ingredient, with each region of Turkey having its own preference. In southeastern Turkey, they like more heat in their food than is usual in the rest of the country. Chilies, elsewhere, are used more for their flavor than their heat. As a general rule, however, Aleppo pepper is considered quintessentially Turkish, and can be used any time red pepper is called for.

The other iconic item is guvec, which means, “casserole.” As with the Moroccan tajine, guvec refers to both the dish, itself, and the vessel in which it is cooked. A guvec is a clay cooking pot, usually with a domed or truncated pyramid shaped lid. Tajines, btw, are also a commonly used cooking pot.

Despite all this, Ottoman/Turkish cooking remains simple. It does not depend on exotic, hard-to-find ingredients. Nor does it use many specialized techniques. As we’ve seen with Ana Sortun’s take on Ladies Thighs (, it can be time
consuming. But there are few (frankly, I’ve yet to find any) recipes beyond the ability of a home cook. And all the ingredients are either readily available, or there are common substitutes.

Perhaps the best place to start an exploration of Ottoman cooking is with Hunkar Begendi, the dish that so captivated the Empress Eugenie. While the recipe remains essentially unchanged, there are minor cook-to-cook and regional differences in how it’s prepared. The major change is the amount of lamb included. I’ve seen versions using as little as a quarter pound of meat, and those with as much as three pounds; all designed to produce six servings.

The lower amount is likely more akin to true Ottoman cooking, in which meat was often used more as a flavoring for a vegetable dish than a main component. But I greater amount of meat is more in keeping with American and European tastes.

This version comes from Ozcan Ozan’s book The Sultan’s Kitchen, as prepared at the Boston restaurant of the same name. Note that there are two ways of cooking the eggplant; broiling and grilling. As with Baba Ghannouj, the smokiness of grilled eggplant makes a better tasting dish. But broiling works just fine.

Hunkar Begendi
(Sultan’s Delight)

¼ cup unsalted butter
3 tbls virgin olive oil
3 lbs boneless lamb shoulder or shank, trimmed of excess fat and cut in one-inch chunks
1 medium onion, diced (3/4 cup)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp tomato paste (or Turkish red pepper paste)
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped (2 ½ cups)
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 ½ cups lamb stock or water
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley

For the eggplant:

3 ls eggplant (about 3 large)
3 tbls lemon juice
3 tbls salt
1 cup milk
2 tbls heavy cream
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 oz kasseri cheese, grated (can sub mozzarella or mild white cheddar)

Melt the butter and heat the oil together in a heavy medium-size saucepan very high heat. Brown the lamb all over, stirring it with a wooden spoon, about 6 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook, gently, stirring, for 1 more minute. Add the tomato paste, tomatoes, thyme, oregano, and stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat, cover he saucepan, and simmer for about an hour or until the lamb is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Skim the surface occasionally to remove any scum that rises to the top.

While the lamb is cooking, prepare the creamed eggplant. Prepare a charcoal grill or heat the broiler. Using the tip of a skewer, prick the eggplants all over to allow the heat to penetrate. Place the eggplants on the grill, set about five inches above the coals, and grill them for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until the eggplants have collapsed completely. If you’re using the broiler, cook for 25 minutes, turning frequently. Meanwhile, blend the lemon juice, three cups water, and three tablespoons salt in a large bowl and set it aside.

When the eggplant are cool enough to handle, peel them, and place the pulp I the bowl of lemon water. Let them stand for ten minutes, to help prevent discoloration. Transfer the pulp to a strainer and let the excess liquid drain through by pressing the pulp gently with the back of a large wooden spoon.

In a small saucepan over low heat, mix the milk and heavy cream and heat until warm. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, then add the flour and cook gently, stiffing with a wooden spoon, for about a minute. Using a wire whisk, slowly add the warm milk and cream, whisking constantly to incorporate the milk mixture completely, and cook gently without boiling the mixture for one more minutes. Add the eggplant pulp and then the cheese, whisking constantly to puree the eggplant. Fook for four minutes, whisking until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Spoon the creamy eggplant onto the center of warmed plates and arrange the lamb around each serving. Top with some of the sauce from the pan of lamb. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve at once.

But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 March 2016 at 10:30
Well, Brook - I knew from our email correspondence that you had taken an interest in Ottoman cooking, and it is an interest that I share. 

I am loving your report, as well as the research and thought that went into it. The historical background and geographical context are absolutely key to this cuisine, as they demonstrate both the influence that went into it as well as its migration out across the region.

As I've looked into this cuisine, I've also found that first impressions aren't what they seem. Initially, I thought that such beautiful, opulent creations were completely out of reach for a home cook, but - as you also discovered - it is just a small matter of paying attention to detail and following procedures. Similarly, the "palace" cuisine really isn't all that far removed from that of the "common peoples'" it's essentially the same thing, but prepared with more care and a high desire to please the eye as well as the palate - something that "everyday folks" rarely had time for, in those days.

I found one recipe for red pepper paste here, at a Turkish cooking blog:

I'll transcribe the recipe when I can, but the link above has some great information.

Considering the peppers that I am hoping to get from my garden this year, I am hoping to see some of this paste on my canning shelf this autumn; but until then, this looks like something great to try for some spring and summer recipes as well. This recipe doesn't mention vinegar, but if one wishes to add a little, do you have any suggestions as to what kind and how much?

Excellent job, Brook - I am looking forward to reading more.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 March 2016 at 12:02
There are dozens of variations on the theme, Ron, almost all of them based on the heat levels. The paste ranges from strictly sweet, as is the case with the link you sent, to scorching hot.

At the local MidEastern market, the only commercial versions are made completely with hot chilies, which would never work for Friend Wife or the Beautiful Mrs. Tass. But more usually, the paste is made with half sweet and half hot peppers. Keep in mind that this past is not a condiment, in the usual sense. Rather it’s something used in smallish quantities as a flavoring component.

Here’s a typical recipe:

Biber Salcasi
(Turkish Red Pepper Paste)

1 pound red chili peppers, cored and seeded
1 pound red bell peppers, cored and seeded
1 tsp sugar
2 tbls white wine vinegar
2 tbls extra virgin olive oil

Char the peppers and wipe off the skins by whatever your preferred method. For me, live fire is the only way.

Put the peppers in a food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan over very low heat, add the sugar and season with salt. Simmer, uncovered, for about 25 minutes. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Pour it into a glass jar, add the vinegar, and stir. Pour the olive oil in gently so it stays in a layer on top of the pepper paste. Cover the jar and store in the fridge. The paste will stay good, refrigerated, up to three months providing you assure a layer of oil remains on top.

Stir the sauce before using.

From the ingredients this seems like it would make a lot. But once everything reduces you wind up with a reasonable quantity. Plus it keeps two days longer than forever; and can be frozen if you think there’s too much to have on hand.

For Friend Wife’s sake, I use a half-pound of chilies to a pound of sweet peppers, and she handles that heat level quite well.

Alternatively, you can make the recipe you found, and add about a teaspoon of ground Aleppo pepper for a similar flavor profile.

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And sae the Lord be thanket
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 March 2016 at 12:57
I'm liking the sound of it, Brook. Hopefully, my pepper harvest will be such that I can try this; but if not, we've got red Fresno peppers available to us up here.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 March 2016 at 08:34
I mentioned, above, that eggplant and lamb constitute the two most popular ingredients in Turkish cooking. There are, in fact, more than 100 ways of preparing eggplant. The number of recipes that use lamb have probably never been counted. But it has to approach, or even surpass, a thousand different ways of preparing it.

The popularity of these two is such that they often are combined in the same dish.

To put a point on it, just a cursory look at my various references revealed nine such dishes. These are distinct, not merely variations on the theme.

Patlicanli Kebab (Eggplant Kebab).
Etli Patlican Dolmasi (Eggplant Meat Dolma).
Patlican Moussaka (Eggplant Moussaka).
Patlican Karniyarik (Eggplant stuffed with meat & herbs).
Sultan Pilavi (Sultan’s Rice Pilaf).
Pehli Kayseri (Lamb Loin Chops & eggplant Stew).
Kilis Kebabi (Kilis Kebab).
Kavurmali Patlican (Pan Seared Lamb with Eggplant).
Patlicanli Islim Kebabi (Lamb kebabs with eggplant)

Notice the inclusion of three kebab dishes, even though I said they are all unique. Perhaps it’s time to clear up some confusion. Sis Kebabi (Shish Kebab) has become so popular, worldwide, that the word “kebab” is taken to mean a dish made of meat and/or vegetables threaded on a skewer and grilled. Many kebabs do, indeed, fit that definition. However, in Turkish & Ottoman cooking, “kebab” refers to a dish cooked with dry heat, with no liquid added. So, while skewered meats are kebabs, so, too, are dishes prepared in a dry pan on the stovetop or ones baked in the oven. At least one authority claims that the non-skewered versions outnumber those that are skewered.

In the above list, the Patlicanli Kebab is made in a skillet, and includes lamb, eggplant, onions, green peppers, and tomatoes. The Kilis Kebab, on the other hand, alternates meatballs and eggplant chunks on skewers, which are then either broiled or grilled, and served with a sauce. Two very different takes on the meat/eggplant theme.

Despite their similarity of name, Patlicanli Kebab and Patlicanli Islim Kebabi, as we’ll see, are two radically different approaches, with the latter being a dish in the palace tradition

Note, too, that lamb and beef are interchangeable in most of these recipes, although lamb is usually favored. In his translations and adaptations of early Ottoman recipes, Turkish food historian M. Omur Akkor very often just lists “meat” as an ingredient because of this.

We find, too, that later 20th century English language Turkish cookbooks use beef almost to the exclusion of lamb. I suspect this is because lamb was not common in America at the time, and was expensive when it was available. So the authors took the liberty of specifying beef instead.

In practical terms, either is acceptable in any of these dishes. But lamb is the true gelt.

By the same token, tomato paste, a common substitute for red pepper paste, is often specified because the red pepper paste was unavailable at the time.

I’m not going to type out all nine recipes. If anyone requests one of them I’ll provide it. But one I’m partial to is the Pehli Kayseri, both for its taste, and because of the unique ingredient. In Turkey, as in most of the world, stews are made with chunks of meat. This one is different in that it uses bone-in loin lamb chops.

(Lamb Loin & Eggplant Stew)

2-3 large eggplant (2 lbs)             
Sea salt
3 tbls oil               
2 tbls butter
12 loin lamb chops     
2 onions, chopped fine
6-7 garlic cloves, chopped fine              
4 cubanelle or bell peppers, seeded and chopped
4 large tomatoes, peeled & finely chopped
Black pepper     
1 ½ cups hot water
1 tbls tomato paste

Peel eggplants in half-inch stripes lengthwise. Cut eggplant into 1 ½ inch cubes. Salt generously and let drain in colander at least 30 minutes. Rinse and drain well.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and butter and sauté each lamb chop three minutes per side. Add the onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes and salt & pepper to taste. Mix water with the tomato paste and pour over the meat mixture.

Cook, covered, over medium heat for ten minutes. Reduce heat and simmer until lamb chops and eggplant are tender, about 30 minutes, shaking pan occasionally.

Because ground lamb is both readily available (most supermarket chains carry it), and less expensive, a dish using it is probably a good starting place for exploring Turkish cooking. So here’s a recipe for

(Pan Seared Ground Lamb with Eggplant)

1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ pound ground lamb
2 tbls butter
5 small eggplants, roasted
½ cup lamb or beef stock
½ cup water
½ tsp cinnamon
Chopped parsley to garnish

Add salt and pepper to the ground lamb, mix well. Sear the meat in the butter in a medium pan until just cooked through.

Chop the roasted eggplant flesh coarsely and put in a medium saucepan. Add the seared meat, the stock, water, and cinnamon and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the parsley.

And, for no other reason than it’s a fun dish, here is the way to make

Kilis Kebabi
(Kilis Kebabs)

2 lbs Asian style eggplants (these are the long, thin types)
1 lb ground lamb or beef
1 onion, grated, and 2 onions sliced in half moons
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbls butter
1 green pepper, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced
3 large tomatoes diced in ¼ inch cubes
1 tbls red pepper paste
Salt and pepper
1 cup hot water
2 tbls pomegranate molasses (or sub 2 tbls fresh lemon juice mixed with 2 tsp brown sugar)

Trim the stems from the eggplant and cut them in one inch pieces.

In a bowl combine the lamb and grated onion. In a separate bowl combine the salt, pepper, and allspice and season the meat with that mixture, working it in well with your hands. Divide the mixture into walnut-sized meatballs. Thread the meatballs onto flat skewers, alternating with eggplant pieces, and press the meatballs to resemble the eggplant in size and shape.

Prepare a charcoal grill or preheat the broiler. Grill the skewers for three to four minutes on each side. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter. Add the sliced onions and sauté for three to four minutes. Stir in the pepper, tomatoes, red pepper paste, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 8 minutes, then add the hot water and pomegranate molasses. Gently slide the meatballs and eggplant pieces into the sauce. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 15-20 minutes.

Finally, to show how palace food took common ingredients and cooking dishes and turned them into something special, we have

(Lamb kebab with eggplant)

3 tsp butter
1 ½ lbs lamb shoulder or leg, cubed
2 medium onions, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
2 mld green chilies, seeded and finely chopped
4 cups hot water
1 tsp salt
6 Asian style eggplants, all about the same size
Sunflower or other oil for frying

for the garnish

1 large green pepper, cut in six squares
1 medium tomato, cut in six squares
Pinch of thyme
Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the lamb, onions, and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for ten minutes

Add the tomatoes and chilies. Cook for another five minutes. Stir in the hot water and salt, cover, and cook over medium heat for about an hour, until the meat is tender.

Meanwhile, partially peel the eggplants, lengthwise, in alternate strips. Remove the stems and cut each eggplant into six lengthwise strips, ½-3/4 inch thick. Rub with salt and place in a colander to drain, for 25 minutes. Rinse and dry the strips and fry in hot oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels or a rack.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Arrange the strips in a shallow bowl so that each overhangs the bowl equally, turning the bowl after each strip is added so they are equidistance apart. Divide the meat mixture into six equal quantities. Place one quantity of meat over the strips and fold over the overhanging eggplant strips to cover the meat. Carefully turn the bowl upside down onto an oven try to form a dome. Repeat with remaining ingredients to form six such domes.

Garnish each dome with a square of pepper and a square of tomato, placed on top of the dome and secured with toothpicks. Spoon any remaining sauce over the domes and bake for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with thyme and serve hot.

Although this sounds complicated it really isn’t.

A variation of this uses lamb meatballs wrapped in the eggplant slices

A comment on finding lamb. Most chain markets, if they carry it at all, stock only ground lamb and leg of lamb. Many Ottoman dishes call for other cuts. If you can’t find it where you shop, check and see if there’s a Mid-Eastern or Halel market in your area. They usually butcher their own lambs, and can supply any cuts you like.

As a side-benefit, they are often less expensive than the big markets. And the lamb is certainly fresher. My local Halel butcher gets whole lambs in every five days, for example.

Turkish eggplants, by the way, tend to be smaller and thinner than the large, teardrop-shaped ones we are used to. In most recipes, the Asian style are a better choice.

But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Effigy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 March 2016 at 13:19
From someone who didn't like lamb!
I agree Brook Middle Eastern/North African flavours are wonderful. Lamb, tomato, onion and green pepper is a fab combo without spices. With spices slow cooked in a tagine with chickpeas and steamed couscous is one of my favourite winter meals.

Using a spice rub on lamb lifts the flavour of the meat without overpowering it. Here are a couple of versions that I use.

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves


  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon clove
  • pinch cayenne, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic, to taste, (garlic power works well)
I store it pre mixed in bags in the freezer. You can also add a pinch into your ground lamb (here we call it lamb mince) to make the meatballs.

Great stuff Brook. Have you done any investigation as to how this ties in historically with the cooking of Ancient Rome?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 March 2016 at 13:56
Great question, Anne.

I haven’t seen any direct links I’m aware of. However, the Ottoman Empire covered much of the same geography as the Roman. We know that the Romans did influence the cuisines of those various countries (as well as being influenced by them). So, I think it a safe presumptive conclusion that there are Roman influences on Turkish food, albeit indirect ones.

them would be an interesting thesis for somebody going for an advanced degree in food history, I reckon.

Another interesting aspect: Did Persia have a direct influence on Turkish food? Or did it go the long way around, with Alexander carrying the Persian influence to other countries, who, in turn, contributed it to the diversity of Ottoman cookery?

Another question I’m in no position prepared to answer.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 March 2016 at 12:17
For most people, the Mezze---platters full of small plate dishes, used as appetizers, and most often designed for sharing---is synonymous with Turkey.

While the word is distinctly Turkish, it would be a mistake to attribute the concept only to Turkey. We find the same sort of thing in many cultures. Greece, for instance, has its Mezze Table, and we find Zakusky Tables in the Ukraine.

Note, however, that wherever such practices exist, the cuisine was influenced by the Ottoman Empire. Thus, Mezze, as such, is certain to have originated with them. But not in the style we think of.

Ottoman’s did not have dining rooms, as such. Instead, meals were served on low tables (sofra), which were put in place when needed. The sofra were covered with cloth, and the food served on huge platters, called “sini.” And I mean huge. They were typically large enough to cover the sofra, which can in sizes serving two to six people.

There were no courses as such. Instead, various dishes were placed on the sini, in no particular order.

This is very reminiscent of the “tables” set in England and the English colonies during our own colonial period.

The sofra were very low, about knee height. Diners sat on the flour, in front of the table. Knives and forks were unknown. Instead, diners ate with their hands, either cupping a mouthful in their fingers, or picking it up with chunks of bread. Spoons, however, were an integral part of eating, used primarily for soups, sherbets, and similar dishes; and, sometimes rice.

In Greece, Ukraine, and modern Turkey, Mezze is served separately. Although it varies regionally, in Greece the Mezze Table most often is the meal, with family and friends gathered around it, to share the various treats, engage in conversation, and socialize. In Ukraine, the Zakusky Table precedes the main meal, as it does in modern Turkey. That is, a mezze/zakusky table is set, and is followed by a main meal.

It escapes me how so many people can eat so much food at one time. Granted, a meal often stretches to three or more hours. But, even so? You may recall that in my Ukrainian themed meal, we did a Zakusky Table at mid-day, with a main meal in the evening. And even that was a push.

Unlike modern Turkey, for the Ottomans mezze appeared as part of the sini tray, and were eaten all through the meal.

As should be obvious, mezze are great for entertaining. You set out a variety of tastes for your guests to enjoy.

There are, literally, hundreds of mezze, ranging from simple dishes such as spiced olives and stewed tomatoes, to more complex ones, such as boereks and Circassian Chicken.

Circassian Chicken, the iconic Turkish pulled chicken with walnut sauce dish, was actually served as a mezze under the Ottomans. I’m going to reserve a discussion of it for another time. But here are a half dozen other possibilities to get you started. I've chosen these because they demonstrate the diversity of Ottoman cookery. And, they make a great introduction to a mezze table for your next gathering.

Five Fingers (Hamsi Kizartmasi)

Although this is kind of complex to produce, it demonstrates the importance of presentation to the Ottomans. Although cooking, itself, was simple, the palace chefs spent much time producing dishes designed to impress.
     Whitebait are called smelt in the U.S. Brislings, of course, are sardines. But, in this use, refer to whole, fresh ones.

1 ½ lbs brislings or whitebait
Salt to taste
½ cup flour
1 ½ cups oil
Few lettuce leaves
1 lemon, sliced

Wash and clean fish, leaving heads and tails in place. Dredge fish in flour spread on a sheet pan or sheet of wax paper. Hold five fish together by the tails in a fan shape. Add a bit more flour to the tails, and wet it so the tails stick together. Set aside on a tray and prepare rest of fish the same way.

Heat the oil I a skillet. Fry each fan-shaped group of fish until golden brown, about one minute per side.

Serve hot on lettuce leaves, garnished with lemon slices.

Stuffed Onions (Sogan Dolmasi)

In Turkey, as in many other parts of the world, stuffed onions are made by slicing the onions in half, hollowing them out to form cups, and stuffing them with a meat or vegetable filling. The Ottoman’s took this a step further. They used individual onion layers, filled and rolled, much in the way of Stuffed Cabbage. The finished onions were laid on a plate in the form of a flower, with pomegranate seeds piled in the center. Again, we’re talking about presentation being the watchword.
     Although either work, I prefer red onions for this, because they make a prettier dish.

2 lbs large onions
Large bunch of parsley, minced
1 lb ground lamb or beef
1 cup long-grain rice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
5 tbls olive oil
1 tbls pomegranate molasses
2 cups water (approx.)

Chop one of the onions finely. Set it aside. Score the rest of the onions from top to bottom, extending to the core. Boil these onions in plenty of water for 15 minutes and drain. When cool enough to handle, separate them, layer by layer, and set aside.

Mix the minced onion, parsley, ground meat, rice, cinnamon, black pepper, and salt in a bowl. Knead well and add the olive oil and molasses, working them in well.

Put about a heaping teaspoon of this filling on each layer, and roll them. Align the rolled layers in a broad saucepan, as much in one layer as possible, seam side down. Weight them with a plate.

Add salted water to the top of the plate. Bring to boil, lower heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the plate, cover the pot, and let rest for 30 minutes more.

Zucchini Fritters (Kabak Mucveri)

Fried patties, made with vegetables and meat, were very popular among the Ottomans, as well as modern Turks. You can adapt this recipe by substituting partially poached, flaked fish for the zucchini, and eliminating the Feta. Instead of the flour, use two slices of day-old bread, soaked and squeezed out. Fish Fritters are called Balik Kofesi.
     It’s important that you hand grate the zucchini. Using a food processor makes them too watery.
     Zucchini fritters are served with a yogurt-garlic sauce.

1 ½ lbs zucchini, grated (4 cups)     
1 bunch scallions, white parts only, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
2 tbls dill, chopped fine     
2 tbls parsley, chopped fine     
3 eggs     
1 tbls paprika     
Salt & pepper to taste
8 oz crumbled Feta (1 cup)     
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups oil     
1 recipe Yogurt-Garlic sauce

Put the grated zucchini in a colander, sprinkle with salt, let stand 15 minutes. Squeeze out excess liquid and mix with the scallions, dill, parsley, eggs, and paprika. Season with salt & pepper. Stir in the Feta and flour, a little at a time, incorporating them well.

Heat the oil in a skillet, lower heat to medium. Scoop out tablespoonful’s of the mixture and drop the into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot or at room temperature with yogurt-garlic sauce.

Yogurt-Garlic Sauce (Sarmisakli Yogurt Sos)

1 2/3 cups plain yogurt     4 garlic cloves, minced

In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, garlic, and salt until mixture is very smooth. Cover the bowl and refrigerate at least 15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

Saffron Rice Stuffed Squid (Samak Mahshi)

Fish and seafood was not a very important part of Ottoman cooking, except along the coasts. Part of this was the difficulty transporting it. But, authorities believe, it stemmed from their origins in central Asia, where seafood was unavailable; particularly to nomadic people.
     This recipe is a modern interpretation of an Ottoman classic.

1 ½ lbs cleaned squid, tentacles removed and reserved
4 tbls clarified butter or extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
¼ cup short grain rice
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
3 tbls chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large pinches saffron, bloomed in a tablespoon of warm water
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 cup fish stock
2-3 tbls lemon juice
6 lemon wedges for garnish
Parsley for garnish

Leave squid bodies whole. Chop the tentacles and reserve them.

Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan and cook the onion until soft. Add the tentacles, rice, pine nuts, parsley, salt, pepper, and a pinch of saffron. Stuff the bodies two-thirds full with the filling and seal the mouths with toothpicks.

Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook the squid, stirring occasionally, three to four minutes. Remove from pan and reserve. Add the sliced onions to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about ten minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking, covered, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and very soft, 15-20 minutes.

When the onions are ready, add the remaining saffron and its liquid, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Place the squid on top of the onions, and add the fish stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Uncover, increase the heat to medium-high, and reduce the liquid by one third. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice. Remove the toothpicks from the squid. Place the onions on a platter and top with the squid.

Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges.

This dish can be made a day ahead. For service, bring to room temperature or rewarm gently before serving.

Cucumbers With Yogurt and Mint (Cacik)

From the Med to India, dishes combining cucumbers with yogurt are legion. And why not? The combination is cooling, refreshing, and tasty.
     “Cacik” translates as “Turquoise,” and is world famous under that name. It’s often classed as a soup.

5 cups plain yogurt
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp salt
1 tbls dried mint or equivalent in mint syrup
3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and grated or finely diced
8-10 fresh mint leaves
Extra virgin olive oil

Beat together the yogurt, garlic, and salt until smooth. Add the dried mint, cucumber, and one cup cold water and mix well. Pour the mixture into individual serving bowls. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and a few drops of olive oil* Cover and refrigerate an hour. Serve very cold.

*For this sort of garnish, the Ottomans often steeped paprika in olive oil. It was strained, then used to impart both color and extra flavor to a dish.

Beet Salad (Pancar Salatasi)

Salads, fresh or cooked, are an integral part of any mezze table. For many years I wouldn’t eat beets. Then my tastes changed, and I now eat them frequently. So this salad was particularly appealing.

2 bunches beets, about 10
1 tbls sugar
Pinch salt
8 cups water
2 tbls olive oil
1 tbls vinegar
2 tbls lemon juice
Pinch granulated garlic
2 scallions, white parts only, finely chopped

Remove stems and roots from the beets. Scrape the cut ends lightly, but leave the skin on. Wash in cold water.

Put the beets, sugar, salt, and the water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and cook until beets are tender and the water is reduced to 1/3 cup. It’s ok to add more water, if necessary, but it should always be reduced to 1/3 cup.

Cool beets and peel off the skins. Slice very thin into a salad bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the beet juice, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and garlic. Mix well, pour over the sliced beets, cover, and refrigerate.

Serve in individual salad bowls, garnished with the scallions.

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Here are a few more mezze to keep the party going:

(Midye Tavasi)

This is a very popular street food in Istanbul, often served on skewers, after frying, for ease of eating.
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour               
¾ tsp salt     
1 egg, separated               
4 tbls EVOO
3/4 cup beer               
1 slice bread, crusts removed
¼ cup water               
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
2 garlic cloves, minced               
2-4 tbls lemon juice
Black pepper to taste               
40 mussels
Oil for frying          
Lemon wedges for garnish
Parsley for garnish

Sift together one cup of the flour and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Beat the egg yolk lightly. Make a well in the center of the flour, add the egg yolk, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and the beer. Whisk well but not enough to make strings. Let rest at room temperature one hour.

Soak bread in water for one minute. Squeeze dry. Place pine nuts in a blender or food processor and pulverize until finely ground. Add bread and garlic and pulse a few times to make a paste.
In a small bowl, combine remaining olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and the remaining salt. With the machine running, add lemon and olive oil mixture in a steady stream. Season with salt, pepper, and additional lemon juice if desired. Thin with water until thick but pourable. Let sauce sit 30 minutes before serving, thinning again with water if needed.

Scrub mussels. Place them in a bowl of hot water and, as the mussels just begin to open, use a knife to open them completely. Remove mussels from shells, and reserve them in the fridge.

Heat two inches of oil in a deep saucepan to 375F. With a whist or mixer, beat the egg white until stiff. Fold the egg white into the batter. Toss mussels in the remaining ½ cup flour to coat, tapping off any excess. Dip mussels in the batter. Deep fry a few at a time until golden, 1-2 minutes, turning them to brown evenly. Drain on paper towels.

Place mussels on a serving platter. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley.

(Imam Bayildi)

This is another iconic dish. The story is, after returning from Mosque, an imam was served this dish by his wife. It was so delicious, he swooned with delight. In addition to being tasty, it demonstrates, further, the Ottoman fascination with eggplant.
     Traditionally, a single deep score is made in the eggplant. But I like this approach, from Joanne Weir, better.

6 Asian style eggplants or small conventional ones
4 tbls salt
6 ¼ cups water
7 tbls evoo
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 ¼ cups peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes with juice
2 small tomatoes, thinly sliced
5 tbls chopped fresh parsley
½ tsp dry oregano
¼ cup currants
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Black pepper to taste
1 tsp honey
2 tbls lemon juice

Cut eggplants in half lengthwise. Make four evenly space incisions lengthwise in each half. Dissolve the salt in six cups of water and soak the eggplant for 30 minutes.

Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions over low heat, stirring occasionally, until very soft, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking five minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, four tablespoons of the parsley, and the oregano, and simmer until almost dry, five to ten minutes. Add the currants, allspice, and cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Rinse the eggplant well. Squeeze gently and dry well with paper towels. Heat three tablespoons of the olive oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat and cook the eggplant on all sides until the cut side is golden brown and the eggplant is cooked through and soft, eight to twelve minutes. With a spoon, scoop the pulp from the inside of the shell, leaving a quarter inch of the lining intact. Finely chop the pulp and add it to the tomato/onion mixture. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the eggplant shells in a baking pan just large enough to hold them. Fill with the tomato/onion mixture. Pour the remaining ¼ cup water into the bottom of the dish. Combine the honey, lemon juice, the remaining two tablespoons olive oil, salt, and pepper and drizzle evenly over each eggplant. Top each stuffed eggplant with a tomato slice. Cover and bake the eggplant 15 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional ten minutes, adding water as necessary. Cool to room temperature, reserving the pan juices.

To serve: Place the eggplants on a platter, drizzle with the pan juices, and garnish with the remaining parsley.

(Hanim Parmagt)

A popular dish at cocktail parties, this again demonstrates the Ottoman penchant for naming dishes after body parts they supposedly resemble.
     Depending on how you shape them, this recipe makes as many as 50 fingers. So keep that in mind.

½ lb ground beef or lamb
2 medium onions, grated
2 eggs
1 tbls curry powder
5 tbls bread crumbs
½ cup chopped parsley
Salt to taste
2 cups oil for frying

In a bowl combine beef, onions, eggs, curry, bread crumbs, parsley and salt. Knead mixture well for five minutes until it makes a smooth paste. Take a small piece of the paste into your am and roll to the shape of your little finger. Place each piece on wax paper until ass the paste is used.

Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Place fingers in the pan and fry until golden brown. Insert a toothpick in each finger and serve with mustard.

(Bal Kabagi Kizartmast)

These make great scoops for any sort of dip, such as hummus, fava bean puree, or even yogurt sauce.

8 tbls flour
1 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb pumpkin
1 cup oil

Beat together the flour, water, salt and pepper until smooth.

Peel pumpkin and slice into paper-thin chips. A mandolin works perfectly for this. Dip into batter and fry in hot oil. Place each chip into a serving dish, making a nice pile. Sprinkle salt on top of each layer.

These may be served hot or cold.

(Biberli Peynir Ezmesi)

This special dip comes from the carved rock wonderland of Cappadocia, in central Turkey. The rock, there, is so soft the people carve man-made caves in it as dwellings.

1 ¼ cups yogurt
¼ tsp salt
10 oz Feta or Myzithra cheese
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp cayenne
1 tsp plus a pinch sweet paprika
4 tsp EVOO
Black pepper to taste
Black olives
Warmed pita wedges

Combine the yogurt with the salt and mix well. Place the yogurt in a cheesecloth-lied strainer over a bowl and let drain two hours.

Put the yogurt and Feta in a bowl. With a fork, mash them together to obtain a smooth paste. Add the garlic, cayenne, one teaspoon of paprika, one tablespoon of the olive oil, and pepper and mix well. Alternatively, the ingredients can be pureed in a food processor or blender.

To serve, spread the puree on a serving plate. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Sprinkle the remaining pinch of paprika over the top and garnish with the olives.

Serve warm with the pita bread, or with pumpkin chips.


Poached eggs do not have to be made a la minute if you’re cooking for a crowd. Chef Kevin Oloman taught me this trick: make the eggs earlier, and hold in the fridge. When ready to use, put them in a tray of hot water to rewarm. Tap water is fine; the idea is to reheat them without cooking them further.
     This recipe is designed for two.

2 garlic cloves, mashed
4 tbls plain yogurt
4 cups water
Pinch of salt
1 tbls white wine vinegar
4 medium eggs
1 tbls butter
Pinch of paprika
Pita or other bread to serve

In a bowl, blend together the garlic and yogurt.

In a large shallow saucepan bring the water, salt, and vinegar to a boil, then lower heat. Break one egg at a time into a bowl and slide it carefully into the hot water, making sure the eggs do not stick together. Cover and cook for two minutes.

When the whites have set and the yolks are veiled, carefully remove the eggs with a slotted spoon. Touch them to a paper towel to remove excess water, and place on a serving dish. Pour the yogurt over the eggs.

Melt the butter in a small pan, stir in the paprika, and pour over the yogurt-topped eggs. Serve hot with bread.

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Hard to believe that a simple dish of poached chicken in a creamy, bread-thickened walnut sauce can so capture the imagination of so many people. But so it is with Circassian Chicken.

Beloved of the Ottomans, it has maintained its popularity to the present day. It is said Circassian Chicken was a favorite of Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey. Favorite? Hard to say. But he certainly enjoyed it.

Like so many foodstuffs which have come down through the mists of time, the origins of Circassian Chicken are lost in antiquity. Given the Ottoman chefs’ penchant for secrecy, this syndrome is intensified. Rather than facts, of which there are few, we depend on legend to account for its popularity. That and its taste, of course.

Circassia sits in the northern Caucasus mountains, between the Bosporus and the Black Sea. It’s known for rugged terrain and beautiful women. And that’s where the legends begin.

One version is that Circassian women, imported to Istanbul to become part of the Sultan’s harem, brought the dish with them. Perhaps. Not many of those women got to cook, however, so that legend is iffy at best.

Building on that are those who claim the name comes from Palace chefs, who were reminded of the creamy complexion and soft curvature of Circassian women. Given their sense of whimsy, and how often they named dishes after body (particularly female body) parts, that interpretation has more credence.

Some evidence suggests, however, that the dish actually originated in Georgia, where walnuts are an iconic part of the cuisine. A Georgian dish called Satsivi is all but indistinguishable from Circassian Chicken. If it, indeed, came from the Caucasus, this is a likely scenario, given their geographic proximity.

The Arabic Sharkasey is also similar, and very popular in Egypt and Syria to this day. It’s probable, though, that the Arabs learned it from the Turks, as part of the culinary cross-influencing that took place when the Ottomans became Muslims.

Circassian cooking relies heavily on fresh coriander (cilantro). Some authorities insist, therefore, that the original used a lot of it, which the Ottoman chefs toned down. Mebbe so. But Ottoman cooking also relies on coriander as a basic seasoning (along with mint, parsley, and dill). So I have to wonder just how heavy-handed the Circassian cooks would have been if their use of cilantro was too much for the palace chefs.

One thing that’s definitely Ottoman is the use of pepper-oil to garnish the dish. This is made by steeping red pepper in oil, until the oil takes on a reddish color. The pepper is strained out, and the oil used as a drizzle to decorate many dishes.

Originally a main dish, Circassian Chicken is mostly served as a mezze nowadays. I’ve looked at numerous recipes for it. All of them are so similar as to make no never mind. The major difference, other than minor differences in flavoring amounts, is the size of the chicken pieces. This ranges from a modern interpretation, which uses a whole chicken cutlet, to pieces shredded so fine the dish is more of a dip than anything else.

Most commonly, the chicken is pulled, similar to American pulled-chicken in size, or broken into mouth-sized chunks.

Here is my version, adapted from Ozcan Ozan’s in the book, The Sultan’s Kitchen:

(Cerkez Tavugu)

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken     
3 cups chicken stock
2 tbls walnut or extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp paprika
2 tbls coarsely chopped parsley     
Walnut halves
1 recipe Walnut Sauce

Put stock and chicken in saucepan. Bring to boil, lower heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Strain and reserve the cooking liquid.

Shred chicken. Mix in about half the sauce. Transfer to serving platter and cover with the remaining sauce.

Warm the walnut oil in a small saucepan and stir in the paprika. Drizzle over the chicken. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and decorate with walnut halves.


2 slices day old bread     
2 tbls clarified butter
½ cup finely chopped onion     
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ tbls paprika     
1 tsp ground red pepper
1 ½ cups finely chopped walnuts     

Soak bread in a little of the stock, squeeze dry, and crumble into a small bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the butter, add the onion, and sweat 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic, paprika, and red pepper. Set aside.

To the nuts add 1 cup reserved liquid, the onion mix, and bread. Season with salt and blend well to make a smooth sauce, adding more liquid if necessary. The sauce should be creamy and pourable, but not runny.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 March 2016 at 18:55
Excellent, Brook!

I've been out of town on business, but it was a joy to return and see these installments. The recipes are a joy, but to me, the back-story and your comments are even more valuable. Many thanks for taking the time in posting a true signature thread for our forum ~ Star

As you know from our email correspondence, some of these dishes are definitely on my list, especially this time of year. I'll report on results!

If you are a visitor and like what you see, please click here and join the discussions in our community!
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One hallmark of Ottoman cuisine is their acceptance, nay, enthusiastic welcoming, of new ingredients. Whether through conquest or trade, when new fruits, vegetables, and animal proteins appeared on the scene they almost immediately incorporated them as part of their cookery.

In her definitive study, 500 Years of Ottoman Cuisine, Marianna Yerasimos includes a number of timelines for when recipes and ingredients appear in Ottoman cuisine. As noted above, there are few actual written-down recipes from the first few centuries of Ottoman rule. Instead, she turns to other sources, including purchasing records, traveler’s journals, and the like to trace the evolving nature of Ottoman cooking.

Time after time we see the introduction of new foodstuffs. Take eggplant, for instance, the sine qua non of Ottoman and Turkish cooking. There are at least 100 ways they prepared it, and, even in modern Turkey, it remains a favorite vegetable.

Eggplant originated in India, and didn’t appear as part of Ottoman cuisine until the 18th century. Yet, it made an incredible impact.

Yet another high-impact introduction was rice. Rice was unheard of in central Asia, where the Turks originated. And it was virtually unknown in the Mid-East before the 13th century. Until reading otherwise, I had presumed it came to Turkey via Egypt---which, at the time, was the center of the spice- and food-stuffs trade. Which shows the danger of making assumptions.

Rice was actually introduced to the Mid-East by the Mongols, who’d invaded the region as part of their conquests. When the Ottoman’s came to power in the 15th century, they adopted this new grain. Until then they’d been a wheat-centric society. Rice grew steadily in favor. Then, when they became officially Muslim, they were exposed to Arabic cookery, and the great rice dishes of Persia, which lent an added impetus to its popularity, to the point where it all but supplanted wheat as a cereal grain.

Similarly, okra, which originates in Africa, was introduced---this time via Egypt---and became a favorite.

Starting in the 1600s, we see a distinct change in Ottoman cooking, with the wholehearted acceptance of New World flora and fauna. Tomatoes, peppers, both hot and sweet, white and sweet potatoes, even turkey, not only gained footholds, but became major players in Ottoman cooking. Tomatoes, especially, captured their imagination, until, as Ms Yerasimos notes, “the habit of throwing a tomato into every pan, without consideration for whether it suits or not, is one which persists even today in Turkish cuisine.”

Looking at recipes, that becomes almost self-evident. While things like Lentil Soup were certainly improved with the addition of tomatoes, there are many others in which the tomato is just there, making no real contribution. It also partially explains why tomato paste is often used as a substitute for red pepper paste by modern writers.

The impact of the New World was so strong, in fact, that one could make a case that Ottoman cuisine was changed by it even more that Spanish cuisine. And that’s saying a lot.

Although beef did appear on palace tables from time to time, it was not a major component of Ottoman cooking until the 19th century. When the word “meat” was used, it referred primarily to lamb or mutton. Pork was absent altogether, because it is proscribed by the halel dietary rules, as found in the Quran. For the same reason, once they’d accepted Islam, consumption of camel and horse meat was reduced, and, eventually, disappeared.

For dinner, last night, we prepared two dishes that typify the adaption of new ingredients:

(Pilic Sarmasi)

For the stuffing:     
¼ cup pistachios     
3 tbls clarified butter
2 tbls chopped shallot     
1 cup short-grained rice
1 ½ cups chicken stock     
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded, chopped
2 tbls fresh mint, minced     
2 tbls fresh parsley, minced
3 tbls fresh dill, minced

For the chicken:     
6 boneless, skinless, breasts     
Salt & pepper to taste
2 tbls butter     
2 tbls shallot, chopped fine
2 med tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 tbls dill, chopped fine     
¼ cup dry white wine
1 tbls fresh parsley, chopped fine

Blanch pistachios for 1 minute. Rinse in cold water. Rub to remove skins. Set aside

Preheat oven to 350F.

Make the stuffing: Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and rice, and cook gently, stirring, to coat them evenly with the butter, about a minute. Add the stock, bring to boil, lower heat, and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes until liquid is absorbed.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the tomato, pistachios, mint, parsley and dill. Mix well and set stuffing aside.

Flatten breasts slightly with a mallet. Season with salt and pepper. Place each breast on a square of parchment. Spoon 2 heaping tablespoons of stuffing in center of each breast. Gently roll up the parchment to enclose the chicken breasts, securing both ends with twine. Place breasts side by side in a baking dish. Bake for about 45 minutes, turning halfway through baking.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small skillet. Stir in the shallots and cook 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, dill, salt and pepper. Mash with a fork or potato masher until tomatoes form a puree. Add the wine and cook another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Unwrap the breasts and cut each into thick slices. Spoon the sauce onto warmed plates and place sliced chicken on top. Sprinkle with parsley and serve warm.

(Nohutlu Bamya)

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, slivered (cut lengthwise in quarters)
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 tsp red pepper paste (or sub tomato paste)
1 ½ lbs okra pods
Juice of one lemon
2 cups warm water
Salt & pepper to taste
1 cup cooked chickpeas (or one can, washed and drained)

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté five minutes, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes and sauté 7-8 minutes. Stir in the pepper paste, okra, lemon juice and warm water. Season with salt and pepper to taste and bring to boil, lower heat, and simmer, covered, until okra is tender, 20-20 minutes. Stir in chickpeas. Cook, covered, 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 March 2016 at 08:57

When I began this project I fully expected a lot of input by the members; not only because of the subject itself, but because of the influence Ottoman cuisine had on so many others. Anyone with a culinary interest in any part of the Med, or the Mid-East, or even central and eastern Europe, would, I thought, be interested in one of the major roots of those cuisines.

Apparently, I was wrong. Rather than becoming one of the more in-depth and free-ranging discussions at Foods of the World, there has been very little interest shown. Disappointing, to say the least. I’ve concluded that continuing this project, here, is mostly a waste of time.

Certainly I’ll continue my study, because the topic is so fascinating, on so many levels. And, it goes without saying, I’ll continue experimenting with Ottoman and Turkish recipes and flavors. But I see no reason to keep on typing my findings for a disinterested audience. So I’m not continuing the thread.

However, I always acknowledge my sources. So will conclude with a listing of where I found much of the information.

As usual, the internet is a great resource. But not as useful, this time, as you might think. Most of the info available deals with modern Turkish cooking, with some references to this or that recipe having come down from the Ottomans. So I relied more heavily on books. Among them:

500 Years of Ottoman Cuisine, Marianna Yerasimos, Sally Bradbrook, translator, IV (English) edition, Boyut Publishing, Istanbul, 2015

Ottoman Cuisine: A rich Culinary Tradition, M. Omur Akkor, Blue Dome Press, New York, 2014

The Art of Turkish Cooking, Neset Eren, Doubleday & Co., New York, 1969

The Sultan’s Kitchen, Ozcan Ozan, Periplus Editions, Boston, 1998

A Taste of Turkish Cuisine, Nur Ilkin and Sheilah Kaufman, Hippocrene Books, New York, 2007

The Turkish Cookbook: Regional Recipes and Stories, Nur Ilkin and Sheilah Kaufman, Interlink Books, Northampton, MA, 2010

From Tapas To Mezze,” Joanne Weir, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA, 2004

Mezze Modern, Maria Khalife, Interlink Books, Northampton, MA, 2008

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pitrow Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 March 2016 at 11:12
Don't take my lack of responses as disinterest, please! I would very much like to delve into this subject, but alas my life is sort of hectic of late and I hardly have time to even read these in-depth posts, much less try them, or provide input. But I very much want to! Please do continue if you would, your work does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. 
Life in PitRow - My often neglected, somewhat eccentric, occasionally outstanding blog
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 April 2016 at 18:04
Hey, Mike - I'm sure that Brook will have a little more to post on this in the near future - he and I have been discussing it quite a bit via email correspondence, and it truly is a fascinating cuisine - I can't even imagine how far or in how many directions Ottoman cuisine has influenced other cultures, but it wouldn't surprise me to see vestiges of it in Austria, across North Africa, in Iran and India, and even in Russia, via the Black Sea and Crimea. The ways that Turkish influences can be seen across the Old World could easily fill a book, or a scholar's thesis.

Brook shared a recipe with me for Turkish Sea Bass with Garlic-Hazelnut Sauce; it looked incredible, so I decided to give it a try and was not disappointed. Due to cost and availability, I substituted cod fillets for the sea bass, and it worked very well. This dish looked and tasted like something belonging in a fine-dining restaurant, yet was incredibly easy - and healthy.

I have the recipe as well as some notes on it - I'll try to get them posted tonight or tomorrow. Also, sometime this week, we will hopefully be trying the chicken breasts stuffed with rice and pistachios (posted above), along with a side dish or two, if we can.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 April 2016 at 07:13
I don't see any problem using cod, Ron. In general, the Ottoman's did not use a lot of fish or seafood. What they did came mostly from the Black Sea. And was eaten primarily in Istanbul and environs.

But, had their conquests continued further westward they'd have been exposed to more fishes, including cod, which was a mainstay of Iberia and western Europe.

Given their penchant for adopting new foods, I have no doubt cod, particularly salt cod, would have become a staple.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 September 2016 at 16:04
This topic is always a favourite one of discussion between Brook and myself. Ottoman cuisine is such a nexus of different, varied cultures because the Empire was so far-flung and long-lived, that two foodies could correspond for a lifetime about it and probably only scratch the surface.

I receive a "Recipe of the Day" each morning from Saveur Magazine in my email inbox. The recipes that Saveur sends - especially the "peasant recipes" - are often "cheffed up" to the point where they would probably be barely recognizable to the people and cultures that made them famous, but there are almost always some great ideas there, and they make for some good brainstorming. Best of all, I am often afforded an opportunity to gain quite a bit of wisdom and lore from Brook, as he relates what he knows and has learned about the subject at hand.

Not long ago, I received one that featured Turkish cuisine; it looked pretty darn good to me, and featured a variety of dishes that fit the profile. As is often my practice, I forwarded it along to Brook.

The star of the newsletter was a recipe for Turkish Lamb Dumplings from Ana Sortun called Manti:

There were other recipes, including Imam Bayildi (Stuffed Eggplant):

Lahmacun (Flatbread with Lamb and Tomatoes):

And 10 other recipes, most of which looked incredible:

The links above should give you a window to some really good (and usually easier than you'd think) recipes.

Back to the Manti, Brook sent a reply that really elaborated on the subject, providing a lot of good information that I'd like to share here:

Originally posted by Brook Brook wrote:

Hey, Ron,

Not a bad Manti recipe. But it’s what you’d expect from Ana Sortun.

If there’s any criticism it would have to do with their size. Turkish Manti are, intentionally, made tiny. The smaller they are, the greater the respect for the guest. Given that Ana is an American restaurateur, and that Americans think of stuffed dumplings in terms of ravioli and won ton, it’s understandable that she makes them that large.

Manti (also called “Mantou”) are universal among Turkic peoples, and can be found, in one form or another, from eastern Russia, Armenia, and Ukraine all the way to the Far East. Generally attributed to the Mongols, who brought them westward along the Silk Road, there is some evidence that they actually followed the opposite path; that is, they originated in the western part of the Mongol empire, and were carried eastward.

Two things mark the differences among various people within that area: Size of the dumplings, and how they are cooked. In Turkey, manti are usually baked or boiled (sometimes both). In most of the rest of the Turkic world they are boiled, or, more usually, steamed. In Russia, for instance, steaming is the only way. And special, stackable metal steamers, are used. Picture bamboo steamers made of metal and you get the idea.

You know I usually have little use for wikipedia; but, this time, they have a fine write-up about manti, almost encyclopedic in nature:

For what is, perhaps, a better view of shaping and cooking manti than the Saveur site, the Panning The Globe blogsite is hard to beat:

Note that in this version the finished dumplings are significantly smaller than Sortun’s version (2-inch squares, vs. 3-inch). If you use area as the criteria, they are less than half the size.

For an even more traditional view, check out Ozlem Warren’s site:

Read carefully, and you’ll find that he starts with squares that are only 1 x 1 inch. This is certainly more in keeping with how they’d be made in Turkey. Ana Sortun’s are more in keeping with Anatolian types, which are much larger.

If somebody was going to try these for the first time, my advice would be to go with the larger ones. Not only are they easier to stuff and form, but commercial won ton wrappers could substitute. I’d also recommend, this time of year in particular, that they go with a Uzbeki style, which combines the lamb with pumpkin as well as onions.


As you can see, a veritable treasure trove of information, just right there; however, the German/Russian inside me immediately latched onto the last paragraph, with the description of the Uzbeki style. They reminded me of Blachinda (also known as Plachinda), which are a savory, pumpkin-filled pastry (think of it almost as a turnover) that is ubiquitous to Germans-from-Russian cuisine:

This cuisine borrows heavily from the Ottoman Empire, not only from regions around Turkey, but also from lands in Eastern Europe that felt the yoke of Turkish conquest; indeed, many Germans who settled in the Russian empire later brought cultural and ethnic traits to America - including foodways - that were so Turkish in nature that their immigrant cousins from Wurzburg, Hannover and Berlin looked at them askance, referring to them as, "those other Germans."

I mentioned this similarity to Brook, and it wasn't long before he sent back a very good comparison, along with a side-trip to the development of an incredible-looking seasoning blend, as well:

Originally posted by Brook Brook wrote:

That was my immediate thought, as well.

A couple of differences, though. The Placinda are, comparatively, gigantic. They’d be on the large size for Manti---even the Anatolian version. And the Plachinda are boiled, or sometimes fried. The Russian version of Manti is always steamed.

The big difference, however, is that Manti always contain meat. Usually lamb, but often beef. A meat stuffing practically defines them, though. The Pumpkin Plachinda are completely vegetarian.

One could do an incredible culinary journey exploring the variations on the Manti theme. Most of the time (Russian is different), the name is an obvious ethnic variation on Mantou. So, anytime you see that when exploring an ethic or regional cuisine, you know exactly what it is.

You remember my post on Squid with Moorish Flavors?

I’ve been doing that with chicken, and it works out terrific. Because I first envisioned it as snacks, I cut chicken breasts into fingers; about the size and shape of tenders, or a bit larger. This get dusted in seasoned flour, then in eggs beaten with a few glugs of Franks, then breaded with the Moorish mix.

Originally I was shallow frying them. But deep frying seems to work better. Do them in batches, at 350-375F for eight minutes, and they come out perfect.

No reason this wouldn’t work with whole breasts.

Here’s the recipe I’ve developed:

Moorish Blend

1.5 cups ground almonds
1 cup garbanzo flour (or mixed garbanzo and fava bean)
1 tbls smoked paprika
2 tsp salt
2 tbls coriander seed*
2 tsp peppercorns*
2 tsp allspice berries*
Zest of one lime

*toasted and ground

Combine all ingredients until well blended. Use as a breading on chicken and seafood.

It's always incredible, the journeys that you can take when discussing food!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 October 2016 at 06:25
Sort of wish you hadn't included the Moorish Blend comments, Ron. They aren't really related. Maybe move them to a more appropriate spot?

A note on Saveur's "Stuffed Eggplant" recipe. Imam Bayildi is almost always translated as some variation of "The Imam Swooned." I've seen it as "The Imam Fainted," and "Swooning Imam" as well.

The point is, the name of the dish reflects both the Ottoman chefs' penchant for culinary whimsy, and is a critique of the dish itself. Supposedly, it was so good that in made the Imam swoon with pleasure when he tasted it.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 October 2016 at 08:17
Originally posted by HistoricFoodie HistoricFoodie wrote:

Sort of wish you hadn't included the Moorish Blend comments, Ron. They aren't really related. Maybe move them to a more appropriate spot?

Already done, in North Africa!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 October 2016 at 13:07
If there's any question about the cross-fertilization of cusines, check out this recipe from Panning The Globe:

Now compare it to my posted recipe for Ottoman stuffed onions above. While there are expected differences in the filling, the technique remains the same.

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