Talk Turkey (+recipes)

By Paul Jobin

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Wedged between the Far East and the Mediterranean, Turkey offers a wealth of culinary delights that are too often under-rated.

Paul Jobin. Photo / Supplied
Paul Jobin. Photo / Supplied

Food Television has given me a recipe to fire up on a Sunbeam barbecue called a Gozleme; an intriguing word I'm still trying to pronounce.

With my rather shaggy salt'n' pepper hair due for an overhaul, I visited Arti, my Turkish barber famous for his signature method of singeing the hair on your ears with a cigarette lighter.

He squints at me, puzzled, as I run the gozleme dish by him. When he finally understands the dish I'm trying to explain, his eyes glaze over. His mother, he insists, made the best version.

Gozleme is a traditional hand-made Turkish rolled pastry filled with potatoes, spinach and white cheese before being sealed and fried golden on a griddle.

Arti believes Turkish cuisine is one of the greatest (and most under-rated) in the world.

Turkey is wedged between the Far East and Mediterranean Sea on the east of Europe, giving the country access to major trade routes and a Mediterranean climate suitable for farming.

The start of the Ottoman Empire in mid-1400s established Turkish cuisine with strong regional associations. This massive empire spanned Austria to North Africa using land and waterways to bring in exotic ingredients and by the 1500s, the Ottoman court housed more than 1400 live-in cooks.

Today, Turkish food regions include the Black Sea in Northern Turkey, with its recipes based on corn and anchovies; Urfa, Gaziantep and Adana in the southeast, known for kebabs and baklava; Aegean and Marmara have a definite Mediterranean influence with fish, herbs and vegetables; and the central Anatolia is famous for pasta and manti, made from shredded meat, quail or chicken.

A typical Turkish breakfast is kick-started with sucuk, a spicy, dry fermented sausage; famous Kayseri pastirma cured beef; simit bread with lashings of jam and yoghurt; and borek, a favourite snack of flaky pastry filled with cheese, meat, vegetables and herbs.

The Turks insist sauces are kept simple and light so as to not overpower the food's natural flavours.

The most common vegetable is eggplant, made famous by a recipe from the folk tale "imam bayildi" which means priest fainting. The tale is that of a priest marrying an olive oil merchant. With her dowry stacked with the finest olive oil, each evening the bride-to-be would prepare eggplant, onion, garlic and tomatoes simmered in olive oil but on the 13th day, there was no eggplant dish, and when informed there was no more olive oil, the priest fainted.

Oh, and if you want to get out of cooking dinner in Turkey then visit one of the many street-side carts or bufe selling aromatic mince kofte, or baked potato carts (firin) with toppings of lentils, butter, cheese, pickles and mayonnaise.

- NZ Herald

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