Black Sea Cuisine

Black Sea cooking continues to be one of the rare cuisines that still preserve their unique character.

Characteristics of climate and geography top the list of important factors that have shaped cuisines throughout the world. Different nutritional systems emerged in different parts of the world in ages when people lived with no knowledge of each other. Today these cuisines, developed over thousands of years, are in a constant relationship of mutual influence, and the world is newly making the transition to a composite or 'fusion' cuisine. The cooking of the Black Sea is one of the rare cuisines that still preserve their unique character. For, influenced by practically no other way of cooking, it has developed a nutritional style unique unto itself in which the traditional desserts are never absent from the table.

The cuisine of the Black Sea coast differs from that of the mountainous interior. The Mediterranean coast is bordered by the Taurus Mountains, yet fertile agricultural lands lie between. And life is lived under rather harsh conditions as a result. First of all, the climate is not bountiful as it is in the Mediterranean. Molded by these severe conditions, the people of the Black Sea have over time created a cuisine not to be compared with those of other coastal areas.

The Black Sea boasts the world's tastiest fish. Thanks to the many rivers that empty into it, the Black Sea is rich in the plankton on which fish feed. To put it another way, the Black Sea is a virtual oasis for fish. Since fishing is the main means of livelihood along the coastal strip, fish also have a significant place in the local diet.

Kale is another icon of Black Sea cuisine. One of the 450 species of the cabbage family, kale is a sine qua non of Black Sea cooking from soup to dolma. Another feature that distinguishes Black Sea cuisine from that of other regions is the sheer number of dishes made with vegetables. An especially popular one is pickled green beans, which are first soaked in water to remove the salt and then braised. Pickling is a common way of preserving vegetables in the region.

Always open to innovation over the centuries, the people of the Black Sea quickly adapted every new product introduced in the region to their own traditional lifestyle. Corn especially has become synonymous with the Black Sea. Brought here in the 17th century, this plant of South American origin soon captured pride of place in the regional cuisine. Corn is used for almost unlimited purposes in Black Sea cooking. The local people, who live at elevations not conducive to agriculture, grow corn easily in their kitchen gardens and either consume it fresh, dry it, boil it, or grind it into flour. The Black Sea people also produce butter, many varieties of cheeses, and 'kavurma', or meat braised in its own fat. 'Muhlama' and 'kuymak' in particular, both dishes made of melted cheese, display all the creativity of the local people. 'Muhlama' is a dish that could arouse at least as much interest as fondue.

During the month of Ramazan in particular, dishes made of dough grace the table both at breakfast and at the evening meal. The famous Black Sea 'pide' or flat bread is ubiquitous in Turkey throughout the month. Pide is made all over Turkey, but the best is that made with Black Sea butter, cheese and 'kavurma'. What is interesting here is that in a region where wheat is not widely grown, bread-baking is nevertheless a highly developed art. Even if the anchovy's indisputable domination of the cuisine casts a bit of a shadow over its other specialties, Black Sea pide, like Italian pizza, is certainly going to find a place in world cuisines in the years ahead.

From its muhlama and cornbread to its kale soup and Laz pastries, Black Sea cuisine offers something for every palate. It deserves to be discovered by the whole world, and one day soon it will be.

1 1/2 cup grated Kashar cheese
1 1/2 cup string cheese
1 tsp cheese in a skin (Turkish 'tulum peyniri')
2 tbsp corn flour
2 tbsp butter
1 cup water

Brown the corn flour first in a skillet in half the butter. Add the string cheese and the Kashar. Add a cup of water to the mixture and continue stirring. Then add the rest of the cheese and butter. When the cheese mixture has reached the consistency of a paste, pour it over the melted butter in the skillet. Serve piping hot.

Braised Chard
5 bunches of chard
6 onions
1/3 cup boiled pinto beans (Turkish 'Barbunya' beans)

Chop the chard fine and boil. When cool, squeeze to remove the water. Saute the onions in butter. Add the chard to the onions and continue to braise. When well browned, add the pinto beans. Continue cooking for another minute or so, then serve piping hot.

Anchovy Bread
1 bunch of chard
2 bunch of green onions
1 bunch of fresh mint
1 kg anchovies
8 cups corn flour
salt to taste

De-bone the anchovies. Then chop the chard, green onions and mint finely. Empty the chopped ingredients into the corn flour. Adding very hot water, mix the anchovies with the other ingredients and knead well. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and bake in a medium oven for 60 minutes.

Savory Laz Pastry
10 filo leaves
4 eggs
8 cups milk
2 packets of vanilla flavoring
3 cups ground hazelnuts
5 cups granulated sugar
2 packets wheat starch
1 1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup water
For the syrup:
10 cups water
10 cups granulated sugar
juice of half a lemon

Add the sugar to the eight cups of milk and boil. In another pot, mix the wheat starch, eggs and vanilla with a little water. Pour the mixture slowly into the boiling milk and continue stirring until it reaches the consistency of pudding. Butter the bottom of a baking sheet. Butter the tops of the filo leaves and place on the baking sheet in five layers. Pour the pudding over the top. Sprinkle the ground hazelnuts over the pudding and arrange five more sheets of buttered filo leaves on top. Mix the ingredients for the syrup, cook, and let cool. Cut the pastry in slices and bake in the oven. When cool, pour the sweet, cooled syrup over it.

Laz Helva
3 kg of milk
1 kg of sugar
3 packets of vanilla flavoring
3 egg yolks
300 gr white flour
200 gr semolina

Place all the ingredients in a pot and cook over low heat until the mixture reaches the consistency of pudding. Boil a tad longer and pour into a shallow pan. Serve cool, topped with ice cream according to taste.