The timeless tastes of Anatolia

Food preservation methods have often given rise to new forms of nutrition.

The wide variety of flavors in the world today is the result of the magnificent struggle for survival waged by humans over the millennia. Had we been as advanced then as we are now when the world first began, there’s a good chance we would never have discovered the myriad flavors that titillate our palates today.

Existing first on plants such as fruits and vegetables, early man began consuming meat following his discovery of fire. He continued to survive by taking advantage of the variety of edible plants growing naturally in the climate in which he lived. In short, environmental conditions determined the nature of human nutrition. The people of Anatolia, who were unable to take their wheat to be ground at a mill under harsh weather conditions invented a dish called ‘keşkek’, the preparation of which is quite difficult and time-consuming. They invented things like yoghurt, cheese, butter and cream to use up surplus milk, and then invented dishes that call for them such as keş, kurut, tarhana and ayran, all made from yoghurt. Food preservation methods such as pickling, salting, smoking, drying and canning were invented ages ago. These methods are still used today, made even easier by the use of additives that extend the shelf life of the foodstuffs despite compromising quality and taste.

The preservation of food by drying, and reconstituting when necessary, was one of our ancestors’ most significant discoveries. The technique of drying fruits and vegetables is the simplest and oldest method of food preservation in the world. It developed in geographies where nature is bounteous and sunshine plentiful, and Anatolia is one of those fortunate regions. The drying of food has shaped the life of the Anatolian people for thousands of years. Houses are even positioned and constructed in such a way as to facilitate the drying process. Every house is not only a lived-in space but at the same time a small factory for producing dried foodstuffs. Indeed, some people even dry fruits and vegetables beyond what they need for themselves in order to sell them to others.

Until recently the drying of fruits and vegetables was part and parcel of traditional Turkish cuisine. Today however, thanks to developing agricultural technologies, fresh produce of almost every kind is available in the markets and open-air bazaars all year round. In other words, the constraints of the seasons are a thing of the past. And this has had a direct impact on nutritional habits. But the limiting of consumption to specific varieties has in turn resulted in a monotonous diet. For, as we consume our favorite fruits and vegetables, we have tended to forget some of the other, less common ones. And dishes perfected over thousands of years have begun to be forgotten. Indeed, the younger generation is not even aware that fruits and vegetables used to be seasonal! It’s only natural that producers, out of commercial considerations, should grow and market those products that sell the best. And when fresh produce is available, people naturally shun the dried variety. Nevertheless, there is a big difference between a dish made with dried aubergines, okra, tomatoes, peppers and the many members of Cucurbita pepo family of squash, gourds and zucchini, and that made with the fresh version of the same vegetable. Such differences are the cornerstone of gastronomy, and should therefore be encouraged. If we can adapt our customary nutritional habits to today’s conditions, the result will be not only healthier but also tastier eating.


Okra Soup
100 g young okra
100 g chicken breast
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp tomato paste
2 tomatoes, diced
1 medium onion
Juice of one lemon
1/2 tsp red pepper
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp salt
5 cups chicken stock

Boil the okra in the water with the lemon juice, and the chicken breast in a separate pot. Saute the onion in the butter until it begins to color. Add the diced tomatoes and mix for a minute or two. Add the tomato paste and the chicken stock and mix well. Chop the drained chicken into small pieces and add to the sauce. When it begins to boil, add the okra, salt and black pepper. Let the okra boil for 20 minutes over a medium fire. Just before serving, mix the red pepper with the melted butter and drizzle over the soup.

Veal Stew with Prunes
400 g lamb (in large pieces)
100 g prunes
20 shallots
3 tsp butter
2 tomatoes, diced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper,
1 cup water
2 bay leaves

Let the prunes stand in hot water until soft, then remove the pits. Melt the butter in a pot and add the lamb. Cook until the juices have been absorbed. Add the shallots, prunes, tomatoes, bay leaves, salt and pepper and leave on a low fire for 20 minutes. When the meat is tender, serve.

Stuffed Dried Vegetables
1 string dried aubergines (15 pieces)
1 string dried courgettes (15 pieces)
2 onions, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 courgette, finely chopped
100 g rice
2 tbsp red pepper paste
1 cup virgin olive oil
1/4 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 bunch fresh dill, chopped
juice of one lemon
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp pomegranate syrup

Mix the finely chopped onions with all the other ingredients in a bowl. Rinse the rice and add to the other stuffing ingredients. Boil the dried aubergines and dried courgettes for 3-4 minutes and drain. Fill the dried vegetables with the stuffing and arrange in a pot. Add the olive oil, salt, lemon juice and water. Cook over a low fire for about 30 minutes. Serve when cool.

Figs Stuffed with Walnuts
12 dried figs
meats of 12 walnuts
1 kg granulated sugar
1 kg water
1/2 lemon

To prepare the syrup:
Bring the 1 kg sugar, water and lemon juice to a boil in a pot and remove from the fire immediately.

Split the figs open down the middle but not all the way through and let them stand in tepid water for 2-3 minutes.  Drain off the water and fill them with the walnut meats. Arrange on a baking sheet and cover with the syrup. Let sit in a slow 150 C. oven for 45-50 minutes until they begin to color. Serve when cool.

Browned Apricots
500 g dried apricots
100 g butter
1 kg granulated sugar
1 kg water
juice of half a lemon
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp ground walnuts
‘kaymak’ (Turkish clotted cream) optional

To prepare the syrup:
Place the 1 kg sugar, water, lemon juice, cinnamon stick and cloves in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from the fire immediately.

Let the dried apricots stand in tepid water for two hours until soft, then drain. Melt the butter in a skillet. Brown the apricots on both sides and add to the syrup. Boil for 2-3 minutes. Serve when cool. If you like you may garnish them with Turkish clotted cream (‘kaymak’).