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Bread is a sine qua non for Turks. Their relationship with bread has persisted in one way or another throughout every period in their history, right up to today. And there is no doubt that it is going to continue to be part of their material and spiritual culture for a long time to come.
Our ancestors, who with time added grains to their sources of nutrition, over the years also learned how to store and preserve their foodstuffs. This process would lead mankind directly to the invention of bread, which would become the most important source of nutrition in world history.
The way wheat flour when combined with yeast and liquid doubles in volume like magic was regarded as nothing short of a miracle by ancient peoples. For they had discovered a source of nutrition that would not only nourish and fill them but also multiply of its own accord. Regarded as sacred by both the polytheistic and the monotheistic religions of the time, bread continued to preserve its sacredness in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions.
The use of grains among the Turks
The preservation and portability of grains under conditions of life necessitating a readiness to migrate at any moment when the political situation called for it ensured that these crops reached a very large market on the steppes of Asia. In addition to grains, the long-term preservation and portability of dried fruits and vegetables ensured that trade in these edibles too began quite early on.
It was previously thought that grains were not often encountered on the steppes and therefore did not play an important role in the normal life of Turks. But as relations with China developed in the Christian Era, the use of grains also spread among the Turks, especially in the period of the Göktürks and in the 6th century when the Turks established hegemony over the Silk Road.
Mahmut of Kashgar writes that a form of grain browned in oil and called ‘kavut’ was given to women who had just given birth. Among the words for bread, in addition to the word ‘etmek’ or ‘ekmek’, which is used all the way from Turkey to the Turkic-speaking areas of China, there are also ‘gözleme’, ‘kömeç’, a variety of bread cooked over ashes, the round bread known as ‘tokaç’, and two varieties of flat, thin bread: ‘yufka’ and ‘poskal’.
A special technique for rolling yufka
Like other nomadic peoples, the Turks focused on flat, thin breads because they are easily dried and stored. Some of these types of bread, which are made quickly without the prior preparation of a leavening agent or yeast, are ‘akıtma’, ‘bazlama’, ‘gözleme’ and ‘yufka’. These are cooked in a very short time on a hot iron sheet and then dried. When needed, they are moistened before being eaten. The technique of rolling thin dough therefore emerged as a necessity of the nomadic lifestyle.
This technique, which the Turks brought with them to the Balkans, remains one of the most difficult aspects of cooking and baking even today. Producing unleavened bread, the Central Asian Turks gave it the ‘body’ of leavened bread by stacking up 5 -10 layers of yufka interspersed with almonds, walnuts, clotted cream, cheese, herbs, and dried fruits and vegetables, which they they consumed like a ‘loaf’. Breads such as these are also regarded as the forerunners of the 15th and 16th century Ottoman ‘baklava’ and ‘su böregi’, a savory pastry prepared like baklava from layers of thin yufka arranged on a large baking sheet.
From pita to pide
The Turks added a new dimension to the art of stuffed bread by developing the technique of pita or ‘pide’, which is influenced by Indian cuisine and came to Anatolia from India via Iran. Pide, which uses a small amount of yeast in its dough, underwent a number of changes as it moved westwards together with the Turks.
One can speak of several varieties of bread brought to the west from Central Asia by the Turks. At the same time, the Seljuks, who settled in Anatolia towards the end of the Eastern Roman Empire, and later the Ottomans in time added their own experiments to the traditional bread-baking techniques of the settled culture they found here. In doing so, they perhaps attained the pinnacle in bread-baking knowhow.
The reason the bread of the ancient Turks was flat is that nomads do not have the kind of ovens used for baking loaves of leavened bread but instead cook their bread either on a hot iron sheet or on the edge of the hearth. Tracing geometric designs on the bread before baking it is an ancient Turkish custom, and such decorations are used as ‘trademarks’ by professional bakers even today.
Artun Ünsal’s ‘Nimet Geldi Ekine’ (subtitled ‘The Story of Turkey’s Breads’) and Güngör Karauğut’s ‘Bread in Anatolia in the Hittite Period’ offer a wide range of carefully researched information on the subject of bread. Charles Perry’s article is taken from his book, ‘Speakers of Turkish’.
Cherry bread pudding
1/2 half kg sour cherries (vişne) or one pkg frozen cherries
3 cups sugar
3 cups water
1 loaf of stale bread, sliced
1/2 carton whipping cream
1/2 cup milk
For garnish: Pistachio nuts
Pit the cherries and place in a pot. Add the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Arrange one layer of bread slices in a flat dish. Cover with the whole cherries and pour half the hot cherry syrup over the top. Add another layer of bread slices, drizzle with the rest of the cherry syrup and wait until it is absorbed. Beat the whipped cream with the milk until thick and use to decorate the bread pudding. Place a thin slice of banana on top of each bread slice and sprinkle with ground pistachios if desired.
Soaked meatballs (Adapazarı)
500 gr brisket of lamb
3 slices of stale bread
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin
2 tomatoes, sliced
12 long, hot green peppers
1/4 bunch parsley
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground red pepper (Cayenne)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup meat broth made from the bones
Salt to taste
Grind the meat twice in a meat grinder with the other ingredients. Knead by hand in a clean bowl. Divide into 20 meatballs and grill over a charcoal fire. Place one cup of the meat broth in a pot. Add the salt, vegetable oil and red pepper to make a sauce. Slice the day old bread, dip in the sauce and place on the grill with the whole peppers and the tomato slices. When serving, start with a layer of bread, topped by the meatballs, then another layer of bread, and top with the grilled tomatoes and peppers.
1 loaf of stale bread (broken up into chunks)
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic
100 gr butter
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground red pepper (Cayenne)
2 cups of meat broth
4 tbsp olive oil
Melt the butter in a skillet together with the olive oil. Add the finely chopped onions and garlic and saute until they begin to color. Add the salt and ground red pepper and the meat broth and bring to a boil. Boil for 3-4 minutes. Then beat the two eggs in a bowl. Add a bit of the hot broth to the eggs, mix well, then pour the egg mixture into the hot broth and return to the boil. Place the chunks of bread in a tureen and drizzle with the hot broth. Serve piping hot.
500 gr flour
300 gr water
1 tsp salt
olive oil for sauteing
200 gr feta cheese
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
25 gr yeast (dissolved in lukewarm water)
1 tbsp granulated sugar
Place the flour in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the yeast which has been dissolved in lukewarm water. Add the salt, sugar and water and wait for the yeast to form bubbles. Then knead into a dough. Cover with a cloth and wait 30 minutes. Divide into small portions. Grate the unsalted feta and add the chopped parsley and the egg to make the filling. Fill the dough portions with the cheese mixture and roll into balls. Heat the olive oil red hot and fry until the fritters are golden brown. Serve piping hot.