By Charlotte Mcpherson
July 05, 2015
For Muslims, the days of abstinence are long. However, the nights are festive-like with people visiting, socializing and drinking lots of tea and coffee. One of my favourite quotes about dining is by Geoffrey Neighbour, and it goes like this: “Good food ends with good talk.”
If you are invited to an Iftar (fast-breaking meal), be sure to accept. It is a great cultural experience. For some, it may even be a spiritual experience.
In Turkey, where there is a fusion of continents and food, you'll fall in love with both. I think of Turkish cuisine as a fusion of food as many of the dishes came from the Mediterranean, Middle East, East Asia and Eastern Europe. Turkey's rich cultural heritage and superb food and hospitality will make your trip complete.
Whenever I take my foreign visitors to a restaurant, they are always impressed with the abundance of starters (meze), which can serve as a meal in itself. The same is true when you attend an Iftar dinner. At a restaurant, a tray of up to eight or more cold dishes will be shown to you. Typical selections include stuffed vine leaves or peppers (dolma), cheese, vegetables such as eggplant or okra in olive oil, spicy tomato paste, eggplant and yogurt paste, hummus, potato salad and cracked wheat in tomato and chili sauce (kısır). Then you have a selection of hot starters (ara sıcak): You can choose from such delights as deep-fried cheese pastry roll (sigara böreği), deep fried rice, mince and nuts (içli köfte), calamari, fried mussels and more. A danger is to fill up on your starters and also the delicious fresh bread that waiters will keep happily bringing before the main meal is served.
Along with some starter dishes, salad and soup will also be served at the Iftar. You can find a wonderful selection of fresh vegetables available in Turkey. Practically all vegetables, such as fresh string beans, artichokes, celery root, eggplants, pinto beans and zucchini can be cooked in olive oil and are typically eaten at room temperature. The two most common types of salad are a shepherd's salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and onions (çoban salatası) and a seasonal salad of lettuce, grated carrots or red cabbage, tomato and cucumber slices, sweet corn and green peppers. The most popular soups (çorba) are lentil (mercimek), yogurt and rice (yayla), tomato (domates), chicken (tavuk) and mushroom (mantar) soups. I must warn Westerners about one soup in particular… Be brave and try this special soup once! It's called tripe soup (işkembe) and has a strong smell and is an acquired taste. Of course, there are many others that are also delicious. My favourite is red lentil. Let me tell you an easy recipe:
Red Lentil Soup (Shorbat Adas)
(Yield: 4 First Course Servings)
1 Cup Of Dried Red Lentils
1 Medium Onion, Diced
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 Chicken (Or Vegetable) Bouillon Cubes
2 Bay Leaves
1 ½ Teaspoons Cumin
¼ Teaspoon Black Pepper
3 Cups Hot Water
Fresh Lemon And Parsley (Optional, For Garnish)
In a saucepan, heat the oil on medium heat and add the onion; sauté for five minutes or until the onion is slightly softened. Add the lentils, bouillon cubes, bay leaves, cumin, black pepper and hot water; cover the pot and bring the soup to a rolling boil, then turn down the heat and let it boil gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve garnished with fresh lemon and a sprig of fresh parsley if desired.
Anyone who has had an Iftar meal or been a guest in a Turkish home (or for that matter, just eaten Turkish food in a restaurant), regardless of the success of the particular cook, is sure to notice that the cuisine is unique.
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” George Bernard Shaw