There are some ingredients found in Turkish culinary culture that are flagships. Spices, fruits and vegetables along with flour products that give away a food's origins. Turkish cuisine is multi-layered and multi-colored. There are many ingredients that are keys to recipes across the land. Whilst these ingredients may vary across the country and be regionally specific, many are ubiquitous. Here is some of the ingredients that make Turkish cuisine - Turkish.
Large (kalın) and small (ince) grain bulgur have been staples in Anatolian cuisine for centuries. Partially cooked and dried before grinding, this wheat behaves in a similar way to rice or couscous when cooked. The larger grains are used for pilafs while the smaller grains for mixing with minced meat to make the outside casing of içli köfte, a specialty that takes that same shape as an American football. Both varieties of bulgur can be found in supermarkets, smaller shops and markets.
Cumin is an ingredient that many people associate with curries and sauces from the Indian subcontinent, yet cumin is one of the key ingredients on many köfte recipes across Turkey. The use of cumin becomes more diverse as you move towards south and eastern Turkey where it will be added to vegetable dishes and salads as well as meat and fish dishes. Seeds and ground cumin are readily available in markets.
With its distinctive flavor and aroma, dill is used in a range of dishes from salads to fillings for dolma and börek (savory pastry). Also a popular garnish, chopped dill is usually found sprinkled on fava (broad) bean paste (fava) or artichokes cooked in olive oil. It is one of the most traditional herbs used in Turkish cuisine and was known in the Ottoman kitchen in the 15th century.
Most “cinnamon” available in Turkish markets is in fact cassia. Cassia “bastard” or “Indonesian cinnamon” has a harder, tougher bark than cinnamon and is made from the whole bark of the tree. Real or Ceylon cinnamon comes from the immature shoots that sprout from the roots of the tree after it is coppiced. Cinnamon rolls into a single scroll upon drying and can be easily ground with a mortar and pestle whereas cassia generally rolls into a double quill and is very difficult to grind. Cassia has a stronger flavor than cinnamon and is ideal for baking and meat stews. “Cinnamon” was one of the main condiments in Ottoman cuisine. Added to in a variety of dishes from rice to milk puddings, “cinnamon” is one of the most versatile spices in Turkish cuisine.
Clotted cream (kaymak)
Kaymak is a rich, thick cream that can be rolled and sliced. It comes from water buffalo or cow’s milk. Many references cite “clotted cream” as a suitable alternative. Homemade “kaymak”-style cream can be made by bringing equal parts of full-fat milk and thickened cream to the boil then very gently simmering for two hours or until a skin forms. Leave to cool and refrigerate over night (for at least 12 hours) them skim off the skin and thick cream. You should be able to slice the cream and mould it between two spoons. Kaymak is about 60 percent fat. It is a key ingredient in desserts such as “ekmek kadayıfı” (dried, bread-style cake soaked in sugar syrup which has clotted cream spread between two layers) or “kaymaklı kadayıf” (dried shredded wheat pastry soaked in syrup with clotted cream).
This edible legume is known as garbanzo bean, ceci bean, Bengal gram, hummus or chana in other cuisines. High in both protein and carbohydrate, many Westerners outside of Turkey will more than likely associate this small yellow pulse as a vegetarians’ meat alternative. In Turkey in addition to their use in soups, stews and rice dishes, they take the place of roasted nuts as a favorite snack. Leblebi, as they are called, come in a variety of forms. Partially cooking and roasting them turn chickpeas into a crunchy snack that has a slight smoky flavor. Left to dry after partially cooking, white-colored leblebi are more “nutty” in flavor. Alongside these two common leblebi are sugar and soy coated varieties.
Cheese and Turkish cuisine is really a topic all by itself. First-time visitors to Turkey will become well accustomed to the feta and cheddar-style cheese (beyaz and taze kaşar, respectively) served at hotel breakfasts each morning. These are two of the major classes of cheese produced in Turkey along with ricotta-style (lor) and cheese traditionally matured in animal hides (tulum), although often in special PVC bags. Styles of cheese vary across the country, and in real terms there are literally dozens of different types of cheese made. Cow’s milk cheese is the most common; however both sheep’s and goat’s milk are used.
Allspice, known by several other names, including Jamaica pepper, Myrtle pepper and pimento, is called new spice, “yeni bahar” in Turkish. In its whole state, it is sometimes confused with black peppercorns, although brown in color. In its ground form it is confused with a mixed blend of spices, as the aroma is a mixture of clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and a touch of ginger. In fact, allspice can be used in cooking in place of any of these or “made” by mixing one part nutmeg to two parts cinnamon and cloves. In Turkish cuisine allspice is added to fillings for dolma, be they leaf, fruit or vegetable, and suggests hints of the exotic in older Ottoman-style pilafs.