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Turkish Vegetarian Cooking


People would not, in general, think of Turkish cuisine as being deliciously vegetarian. One often visualises the roast lamb over blazing fires or the sis kebab-small pieces of lamb on iron skewers. Tourist return to their country with a dozen such skewers from the bazaars of Istanbul.

But Turks are also great vegetarians. The cuisine's delicate flavouring of many dishes with herbs is well-known. One can say with some assurance that Turkish cooking is at its best when a bouguet of herbs is used with great care as to choice and guality.

Meat is used sparingly with a variety of vegetables to make to most flavourful and tasty dish generally called 'dolma', meaning stuffed. Not only vegetables that can be hollowed such as tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, potatoes, artichokes and celery are stuffed; but the mixture of ground meat, uncooked rice, chopped onions and two or three kinds or herbs can be rolled in grape leaves, cabbage leaves and other leaves large enough that have been slightly boiled tender. Pazi or chard is one such large green leaf.

However, Turkish cuisine ought to be well-known for its cold vegetable dishes known also as 'dolma' when the same vegetables are stuffed without meat. The filling is made up of rice, again with a good amount of chopped onions (fresh or dried), two or three kinds of chopped herbs and additionally flavoured with black pepper and cinnamon. Pinnola nuts and currants are a must. Olive oil is added to this filling and often it is stuffed or rolled with the vegetable and simmered over a low fire until the rice well cooked and the added water is all gone. These types of stuffed vegetables or vegetable rolls are always served at room temperature, never hot and never too cold.

Then, there are the pastry, 'Borek' type main dishes which are the pride and joy of any good cook. Some of them call for ground meat but the majority of such pastry dishes are vegetarian dishes reguiring as filling a variety of chopped leaves mixed with raw eggs and soft white cheese. Strict vegetarians can omit the cheese and eggs, using lots of chopped onions to stir fry the chopped green leaves such as chard, beet leaves and spinach. Sometimes fillings are made up of pureed grains such as lentils, chich peas and/or potatoes.

Anther group of Turkish dishes that are the mainstay of many housewifes are vegetable dishes that are cooked in olive oil and served at room temperature. Both dried and fresh vegetables are cooked with lots of chopped onions, chopped tomatoes and are garnished with fresh chopped parsley an/or dill.

Baklava, the queen of Turkish deserts deserves praise for its nutricious nut varieties, So that one can choose to delight one's palate with baklava that is richly filled with ground walnuts, pistachio nuts or hazel nuts. Turkish custards are topped with again a variety of finely ground nuts such as almonds or pistachios.

  • The book, "VEJETERYAN TURK MUTFAGI" written by Günseli TAMKOÇ, translated by Tülin ÖZEN and Mehmet ÖZEN, made ready for print by Prof. Dr. Nermin Abadan UNAT and published in both Turkish-English is taken as reference for the preparation of this section.