Istanbul is the only city to stride two continents – Asia and Europe – and as such, this metropolis is home to a cultural and culinary make-up like no other. The whole country, for that matter, draws on ingredients and cooking techniques from abroad. Turkish cuisine is a wonderful mix of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian and North African flavours. The food is layered with spices – see our pantry essentials, below – many of which came from East India via the ancient spice route. Tomatoes and peppers (capsicums) are anther bedrock of Turkish cuisine, introduced in the 18th century from explorers to South America. Just because Turkish food is spice laden, doesn’t mean it’s ‘hot’. Chilli most commonly features in the form of biber salçasi, a mild to fiery paste made from chilli peppers.
Like most cuisines, Turkish food varies from one region to the next. In coastal areas, such as Istanbul, seafood reigns supreme. Octopus is chargrilled, mussels are stuffed and grilled fish comes street-style in sandwich form. Lamb is Turkey’s meat of choice, served in various forms – from smoky kebabs, to yoghurt-coated shoulder and even a spiced flat bread ‘pizza’. Vegetables, particularly eggplants, tomatoes and capsicums, are enjoyed in most households, along with the staple lentil. When it comes to dessert, Turkish delight and syrup-soaked baklava are the best-known exports, but there are plenty of others to enjoy, including honey-sweetened yoghurt and these apple-walnut biscuits.
Starting with the spice rack, go for oregano and thyme; cinnamon, allspice and cumin; sumac and nigella seeds. Add some heat with Aleppo pepper, biber dövme and home-made biber salçasi. Nar ekşili or pomegranate molasses is a sweet, sticky sauce used for marinades and dressings, while rosewater is best for desserts. Garlic and onion are important, too.
Meaty perfection: For A+ kebabs, ‘beat’ the minced meat by hand until it forms a smooth paste. This makes shaping easier, and will ensure your ingredients stays together.
Right utensils: Use copper pots and pans for cooking – the Turkish believe they give dishes a superior taste.
Stick it: With a sharp point on one end, metal skewers are essential for making Turkish kebabs at home. If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 10 minutes beforehand, so they don’t burn.
Caffeine hit: Turkey’s thick and rich beverage is made by boiling fine coffee powder in a pot known as a cevze.
View our Turkish recipe collection here.
“While exploring the fantastic Kadikoy markets in Istanbul, I was keen to try the slow-roasted lamb’s heads, cooked in the back of a butcher’s shop. The fresh clean flavours of fattoush makes it the perfect side salad for the rich lamb meat and everything I needed was right there in the market including the bread, tomato, radish, cucumber, mint and sumac. You could also serve this salad on its own or with fish or poultry.” Ainsley Harriott, Ainsley Harriott's Street Food
This filled Turkish pastry has become a staple at markets across Sydney and Australia. Made with soft dough rolled out until thin, it is then filled with any number of things, including the ever-popular spinach and feta. Here, we’ve used lamb, silverbeet and feta for a spin on the classic.
"Always popular and so easy to make, vegetable kebabs are perfect for entertaining. You can whip them up in any combination and make them as colourful as you like. Try a few fruit pieces (pineapple, peach and pear work wonders) amongst the vegetables if you're in the mood. Add this tangy peanut sauce to really give them a wow factor. They're guaranteed to be a hit at your next summer barbecue." Rebecca Weller, Vegan Sparkles
This would have to be where Campbell’s stole the idea for packet soup! Tarhana is a type of dried Turkish pasta made from cracked wheat and fermented milk or yoghurt that gives the soup a lovely tang. It’s a great dish with heaps of flavor and the original recipe didn't need much tweaking, but the smoked rainbow trout really helped lift what was already a cracking little entrée.
This dessert is made in the same way as künefe, but with ground nuts inside rather than cheese. I like to scatter freshly ground pistachios over the top as I love the contrast between the roasty flavours of the nuts in the middle, and the bright green nuts on top. Tel kadayıf is lovely as a dessert with thick cream, ice-cream or yoghurt, or on its own as an afternoon treat.