Long ago carrots were wild; they had a bitter taste and were not particularly well-liked. Then one day a slightly sweet, orange-colored carrot turned up. Turkish cuisine embraced this new vegetable, turning it into salads, soups and desserts and liking everything about it.

In all cuisines there are vegetables that are used with frequency, and carrots, a member of the parsley family, are one of them. Whetting our appetites with their orange hue, they take their place on the table as a root vegetable consumed with pleasure for its crisp, juicy texture. Most tubers have a slightly earthy taste, but carrots not only don’t taste earthy, they have a fruity flavor, which makes them perfect for a snack any time of day. Widely used in cooking, carrots had to undergo some evolution before becoming their present attractive selves. Which leads us to the question: If the Dutch had not reinvented the carrot, how popular would it have been today?

Research has shown that the wild carrot first appeared in Asia. Deep purple in color, this wild plant was bitter to the taste and not particularly popular since it did not appeal to the palate. Some foods are mentioned frequently in the holy books of the different religions, and are consequently considered important; the wild carrot does not occur even once in such books! Compelled to find sources of food not only for themselves but for their animals, human beings, especially in the Dark and Middle Ages, used the wild carrot, which did not appeal to their taste, for feeding their domesticated beasts. Until, that is, the animals discovered the taste of the new carrot! They too refused now to eat wild carrots, preferring the new ‘sweet’ variety instead. And so carrots became one of the fun foods consumed with equal pleasure by man and animals.

Intensive efforts were expended up to the 15th century to make the carrot what it is today. But the Dutch botanists finally succeeded, and their great success was hailed throughout Europe in the period. Dutch footballers usually wear orange uniforms, for which the media dubs them the ‘oranges'. If you ask me, that color stems more from the carrot than from the orange. For Holland is not a country that grows oranges but the country that gave the world the carrot.

Carrots were quick to win a place as a staple in cuisines around the world, and soon became a sought-after taste. Because they don’t cost much, they are used widely in everything from soups and savories to sweets. In 16th century Europe especially, when sugar was hard to come by, carrots, which contain sugar, were cooked as ‘pudding', thereby supplying the human need for something sweet. And now that people are trying to reduce their intake of refined sugar, carrots have an even wider range of use than before in the world of desserts.

Among the carrot desserts made in Turkey ‘cezerye’ heads the list, ‘cezer’ being the Arabic word for carrot. Cezerye is known as a sweet of Mersin on Turkey’s southern coast and of the Mediterranean region in general. The name originated with the farmers who migrated into the region from the Near East during the Ottoman period. Cezerye is not actually a traditional Middle Eastern dessert. Spreading gradually around Turkey, it is produced in many varieties today and could almost be said to be as popular as Turkish delight. It is sold today at special shops in Istanbul’s Egyptian Bazaar, where it is sliced like gyros ('döner kebab'),

‘Şalgam’ (carrot juice mixed with ground bulghur), which is made with the purple carrot, or Daucus Carota L., has made a significant contribution to international gastronomy. The cuisines of the world make use of carrots mainly in cooking, in meat stocks and sauces, for example, or to add color to a dish. In Turkish cuisine in contrast carrots are often consumed in and of themselves, either hot or cold. Carrots cooked in olive oil and served cold, fried carrots, grated carrot salad and stuffed carrots to name just a few. Indeed, if you visit the famous Thursday market in Ayvalık on the Aegean coast, you’ll even find carrot leaves sold in ‘bouquet garni', a potpourri of savory herbs used in making stews and other dishes. They are worth a try; you will have tasted the leaves of the original vegetable, and either loved the carrot in all its forms, or have made a fresh start.

Purre of Carrot with Yoghurt
250 gr carrots
3 tbsp butter
2 cloves of garlic
300 gr ‘süzme’ yoghurt
1 tsp salt
1/2 bunch fresh dill finely chopped

Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the grated carrot and the garlic and saute for 8-10 minutes. Add the salt and let cool. Pour the yoghurt into a mixing bowl, and add the sauteed carrots and the dill. Mix well and remove to a serving platter.

Carrot Soup
500 gr grated carrots
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp butter
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
2 tbsp flour
3 tbsp cream
3 cups meat stock
juice of half a lemon
fresh dill for garnish (optional)

Melt the butter in a pot and add the chopped onion. Saute for 4-5 minutes, then add the grated carrots and saute together for 5-6 minutes. Sprinkle with the flour and mix slightly. Add the salt, pepper and lemon juice, then the meat stock. Finally, add the cream and let boil over high heat for 10 minutes, stirring well. Garnish with chopped fresh dill and serve piping hot.

Carrot Morsels
1 kg grated carrot
2 cups granulated sugar
2 packages of Eti Burçak biscuits
100 gr butter

Melt the butter in a skillet, add the grated carrot and saute for 4-5 minutes turning continually. Add the sugar and stir over high heat until the liquids are absorbed. Then add the crumbled biscuits to the carrot mixture and remove from the fire. When well mixed, leave to cool. Cover with stretch foil and let sit in the refrigerator for half an hour. Cut into the desired shapes and serve.