Regional spring dishes

Queen of the seasons, spring is at our door, a symbol of freshness and renewal. And its unique rhythm and products are naturally reflected in Turkey’s regional cuisines.

Some Turkish dishes are prepared only in spring: green almond stew, green almond pilaff, fried truffles, truffle kebab, truffle yoghurt soup, crocus soup, crocus pilaff, garlic kebab, loquat kebab, ‘şiveydiz’, made with fresh garlic and green onions, and savory pastries made by adding fresh garlic and tarragon to unaged Antep cheese.  And if you’d like to serve Antep cheese as a sweet, you can present the pastries either with sugar and yoghurt or with semolina helva.

Spring is a season eagerly awaited by baklava experts, who use butter made from ‘ayran’ (buttermilk) flavored with fresh wild herbs and stored in special pantries. These spring herbs not only add flavor to the baklava, accompanied by onions and a handful of bulghur they also spruce up the dining table. Meanwhile steamed fish prepared with spring herbs, which are a cure for all ills, is the pièce de resistance of the springtime repast. Such herbs as marshmallow, pennyroyal (a variety of mint), coriander and lamb’s ears are used to garnish the main dish but can also be served on the side chopped fine and mixed with onions and salt. And if you must have green almond stew out of season, you can always pickle them.
‘Nevruz’ and ‘Hıdrellez’ (Eğrilce), are days celebrated with great enthusiasm in the Sivas region of central Turkey. ‘Nev-ruz’ (‘new day’) or March 21st, the day of the spring solstice, is celebrated as the New Year in Iran as it once was in Turkey. This seasonal holiday, which is celebrated over a broad region stretching from Central Asia to the Caucasus and from Eastern Europe down to North Africa, is virtually earth day, the first day of spring and a nature holiday all rolled into one.

Known in Sivas as ‘Sultan Nevruz’ (March 9th on the Julian calendar), it is a day for wishing your friends a happy and auspicious new year.* The tradition of wearing white, covering the head with a white scarf and, especially, of making a gift of a white dress to a girl engaged to be married lives on in Turkey today. Breakfast on Nevruz is different from that on other days. Along with such regional specialties as ‘katmer’, ‘çörek’, ‘börek’, and ‘kömbe’, white foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are consumed along with greens (‘sebz’) such as parsley, and the table is laid de rigueur with seven other foods whose names begin with ‘s’, including simits (sesame-covered bread rounds), salata (lettuce), sirke (vinegar), süt (milk), soğan (onions), susam (sesame) and sucuk (spicy Turkish sausage). Following this festive breakfast, games are played, in the house if the weather is cold, in the garden if it’s warm, and a romp through the countryside is made with the neighbors.

Nevruz, or the first day of spring, is known as ‘Eğrilce’ in Turkey and celebrated on 6 May, which follows ‘Hıdrellez’, observed on the night of 5-6 May. The combination of Hıdır and İlyas, Hıdrellez were two friends, known to symbolize mutual succor, plenty, fertility and good fortune, who drank the water of life. With its customs and traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation in the towns and villages of Sivas province, Hıdrellez, after a long, harsh winter, is the harbinger of spring when the countryside bursts with flowers, green grass, newborn animals and warm weather, and a time of spring fever and joie de vivre for the Turkish people who live in close contact with nature.

On Hıdrellez, neighbor women hold fortune-telling rituals, go on joyous outings in the countryside, eat together and generally make merry the entire day. The night  before the fortune-telling ritual that takes place on Hıdrellez morning, each woman drops a personal item such as a ring, earring, button or key into a clay jar. These items are then covered with green leaves and the top of the jar bound with a piece of red crepe, colors that symbolize desire and happiness. That evening the clay jar is left at the foot of a rose tree in the belief that Hıdır will come in the night. On the morning of Hıdrellez the women and their children gather in a previously decided on house with a courtyard and garden. Girls and women with beautiful voices sing a ditty or two, and a girl with a veil over her face removes an item from the clay jar and then foretells the future of its owner from the words of the Turkish ditty just sung. The quatrains of Sivas folk poetry about pearls and coral express the women’s heartfelt yearnings and desires. Following the ritual, everyone enjoys a delightful meal of cakes, pastries and other spring dishes.

If the weather is pleasant, lunch is followed by an outing in the countryside. Some jot down their wishes on tiny scraps of paper and toss them into the city’s exuberant streams swollen with the melting snows. Imbued with hope for the new year, everyone expresses a wish: “Your sorrow is my sorrow; your happiness my happiness.”

*Mentioned in the earliest Ottoman sources as ‘Nevrûz-ı Sultanî’, the tradition evolved and continues today.



5 cloves of fresh garlic
300 gr lamb stew meat
5 green onions
100 gr chickpeas
100 gr butter
1/2 tsp salt
10 gr dried mint
300 gr ‘süzme’ (thick, strained) yoghurt
2 eggs
1 tbsp flour1/8 tsp saffron
4 cups of water

Melt half the butter in a pot and add the lamb stew meat. Brown for 3-4 minutes, then add the salt and water and let simmer. When the meat is tender, add the previously boiled chickpeas. Chop the onion and garlic coarsely, add to the meat and chickpeas and bring to a boil. In a separate pot whisk together the yoghurt, eggs and flour over low heat and cook, whisking constantly. Pour the meat and chickpea stew into this mixture, bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.

Melt the butter in a skillet and add the mint. Heat and stir, then drizzle over the meat and yoghurt mixture. Serve piping hot.

Herb soup with fresh broad beans
100 gr fresh broad beans, chopped fine
1/2 bunch radicchio, chopped
1/2 bunch turnip greens
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 bunch of nettles
1 fennel bulb, chopped
2 green onions
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 lt. water
100 gr butter
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1/2 tsp fresh coriander

For the ‘Terbiye’ sauce:
2 tsp flour
4 tsp yoghurt
2 egg yolks
juice of half a lemon

Melt the butter in a pot and saute the fennel, garlic and green onions together for 2-3 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and water to the herbs and mix for two minutes. Cook for 15 minutes over medium heat. Mix the ingredients for the sauce well. Take two ladlefuls of the herb soup and mix well with the sauce. Then add the sauce slowly to the soup until it thickens. Bring to a boil and skim off the foam. Melt one teaspoon of butter in a skillet, add the fresh coriander and red pepper, mix well and add to the soup. Serve piping hot.

Steamed fish with herbs and green almonds

100 gr unripe almonds
300 gr sea bass filets
2 green onions
2 cloves of fresh garlic
1/4 bunch fresh coriander
1/4 bunch radicchio, chopped
1/4 bunch flat-leaf parsley
1/4 bunch fresh dill
1 tbsp butter
4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp yougurt
1 tea sp flour
yolk of one egg
juice of half a lemon
2 cups fish bone broth
1/4 tsp saffron

Shell the almonds, parboil and set aside. Divide the sea bass filets into individual portions and brown on both sides in olive oil, turning only occasionally. Remove to a serving platter. In the same skillet, saute the chopped garlic, onion and radicchio and the almonds for a minute or two. Then add the parsley, dill, and coriander leaves. Pour in half the fish broth and let simmer. In another pot mix together the flour, egg, yoghurt, salt and lemon juice over low heat. Add the rest of the fish broth and let simmer. When it boils, pour in the herb and almond mixture. Bring back to a boil, then pour the sauce over the fish. Bake in a 170 C. oven for 15 minutes. Before serving, melt the butter in a skillet, add the saffron and mix well, then drizzle over the fish. Serve piping hot.

N.B. To make the fish broth: Add one bay leaf, a slice of lemon and a stalk of parsley to the fish bones and boil in 2 cups of water for 25-30 minutes.

Cheese helva
300 gr full-fat white cheese
60 gr granulated sugar
20 gr flour
1 tsp flour
1 tsp powdered sugar

Soak the white cheese in water to remove the salt. Place the cheese in a pot, add the sugar and flour and mix for 10-12 minutes over medium heat. Remove from the heat when the mixture starts to pull away from the pan. Grease a baking sheet and pour the mixture into it, smoothing it over. Bake for 15 minutes in a preheated 150 C oven. Sprinkle with the powdered sugar and serve warm with fresh strawberries on the side as desired.

N.B. Even better if made with fresh cheese.