The history of food in Turkey stretches back to advanced agricultural civilizations such as the hittites. The way these easy turkish recipes are prepared varies depending upon local preferences and additional ingredients available.
The turkish word for appetizers is meze, which means "a pleasant taste". An assortment of meze may be served before the main meal as a way to jump-start the taste buds, preparing them for the delicious food to come. Many adults in Turkey have a glass of wine or raki, an anise-flavored liquor, with meze such as smoked eggplant with yogurt, bulgur patties, stuffed grape leaves, or zucchini fritters. In turkish homes, families might start a meal with a meze.
This section also includes recipes for foods that vendors commonly sell on the streets of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and other turkish cities and towns. The aroma of roasted corn-on-the-cob, toasted sesame bread rings called simit, kebabs, etli ekmek (meat pizza), and gozleme tempt passersby and prevent turks and visitors alike from going hungry between meals.
In Turkey, soups and side dishes provide nourishment any time of the day, including at breakfast. During Ramazan, for example, turkish muslims will often eat soup during the predawn meal to give them energy for the long hours of fasting ahead. Soup is so popular in Turkey that soup houses, which tend to specialize in a particular kind of soup, sell heaping bowls of soup all day and late into the night. The two soups included in this section are flavorful and easy to make. Serve small amounts of soup before a main course to trigger the appetite. You can also serve side dishes or large bowlfuls of soup with bread on the side to create a complete lunch or dinner.
The main course at a traditional turkish feast almost always consists of meat. Most often the meat course is sis kebab, lamb that has been cut into cubes, skewered, and grilled. Flavors and preparation techniques vary from region to region. The most common kebab consists of alternating putting cubes of meat and chunks of fresh vegetables on a skewer. But all-meat kebabs are another option, and some cooks use different kinds of ground meats, mixed with a variety of spices, and shaped by hand. And if you don't eat meat, make a kebab using fresh vegetables such as wedges of green or red bell peppers, onions, zucchini, eggplant, whole mushrooms, or cherry tomatoes.
Dessert in Turkey usually consists of a platter filled with seasonal fresh fruits set in the center of the table. In the summertime, red, ripe strawberries are popular. In August and September, fresh watermelon is a sweet, refreshing way to complete a meal. But on special occasions, turkish cooks may buy baklava or other pastries from the local bakery or stop by the nearest sweet shop to select a favorite flavor of turkish delight. Or, if they have the time, they may make a pudding such as burnt rice pudding or almond cream. Diners usually linger over dessert, talking and drinking cup after cup of sweet, black tea.
In a country of people who love to eat, holidays and other celebrations revolve around good food that is painstakingly prepared. Many of the recipes included in this section are only made on special occasions. Gullac is usually served only during Ramazan. Borek dishes typically appear on the table during holidays or other festive celebrations. Tepsi boregi, the borek recipe included in this section, might be served during Ramazan, Kurban Bayrami, or at a wedding feast.
One holiday, Asure Bayrami, is all about the food for which it is named. Asure is a pudding of cereal grains, sugar, and raisins. During the month that follows the feast of sacrifice (Kurban Bayrami), women in almost every household prepare this dessert in large amounts, offering it to guests and sending it to relatives and neighbors. And, because everyone makes it, families and friends usually just end up exchanging bowls of the sweet dish.
Tradition has it that asure was invented after a great flood that, according to a biblical story, covered the world. Noah built an ark (ship) in anticipation of the flood. When the flood subsided, the ark carrying Noah's group of survivors came to rest on Mount Ararat in northeastern Turkey. Noah called for a celebration. Although the passengers' supplies were nearly exhausted, they used what food remained to make a splendid feast of asure. The asure recipe we've included in this section, Noah's Dessert, is a great rainy-day activity.