Forgotten Ottoman Dishes

The traditional Turkish dishes that have been forgotten today number in the hundreds. When I see the list of them, as a chef I’m devastated that so many centuries of experience have vanished in thin air.

Let alone the cooking of our grandmothers, we have trouble remembering even our mother’s cooking, because thousands of new foods are appearing every year. Foods that are designed in laboratories to be attractive, that can be stored for a long time without spoilage, and whose caloric and nutritional values are noted on the package. These products are very popular because they offer such enormous convenience.

Turkey is no different from the rest of the world in this regard. Nevertheless, it is hard to understand why we don’t take more advantage of our own extraordinary traditional cuisine, especially when the possibilities afforded by the geography in which we live and the experience of one of the world’s greatest empires are added into the equation. We learn from the sources that the Ottomans preserved and developed a significant portion of the centuries of cooking experience they encountered in these lands. But economic and political change in the world meant that that experience was often forgotten. Then, in the 1990’s, a resurgence of interest in gastronomy in Turkey revealed for the first time the necessity of examining the history of cooking. In the 1950’s, the late Prof. Dr. Süheyl Ünver   carried out painstaking research on the history of our cuisine and produced books on the subject.

In fact, there was a lot more to tell than the mere preparation of food. Things such as the relationship between the individual and the natural world, and how rising family values triggered development and socialization would all emerge from his research on the preparation and consumption of food. Consequently, there is a need today to examine the forgotten dishes and to adapt them to our own time and hand them down to future generations, all the while preserving the existence of a distinguished cuisine in the process.
Because we have not plumbed the depths of our traditional cuisine for so many years, we use many terms incorrectly today. ‘Mucver’ (rissoles), for example, is not the name of a dish but of a cooking technique. Some twenty different kinds of ‘mucver’ dishes are mentioned in the sources. Today however we are familiar with only the one made from zucchini.
Another completely forgotten dish, and one of the most pleasing to the palate, is that of bluefish cooked in the steam of simmering rice, which sends a powerful message back to history.

500 gr green beans, 1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, 1/2 bunch fresh dill weed, 3 green onions, 3 tbsp white cheese, 1 tsp salt,
1/4 tsp black pepper, 2 eggs, 4 heaping tbsp flour, 2 cups of olive oil (for frying).

Chop the green beans fine, and plunge into boiling water for 3-4 minutes, then cool. Drain well and mix with the finely chopped parsley, dill and green onions. Add the flour, eggs, cheese, salt and black pepper until it forms a runny batter. Drop by spoonfuls into the hot oil and fry. Serve hot. May be served with yoghurt.

250 gr flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 egg, 1 tsp vinegar,
15 gr margarine, 100 gr water,
250 gr margarine (for rolling out the dough)

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the salt, vinegar, margarine and egg. Add the water gradually, mixing well each time. Knead until soft. Divide the dough into two equal parts. Score each with an ‘x’  and cut down the middle with a knife. Divide the margarine equally among the four pieces of dough, placing a little in the center of each. Fold up from the corners and roll into a square with a rolling pin, then fold over and let sit for 15 minutes. Roll out again. Arrange the meat mixture in the center of the dough and fold up the corners to form a hexagon. Place on a baking sheet and brush with egg yolk. Score a pattern on the top with a knife. Bake at 170° C. for 30 minutes.

500 gr flour, 15 gr salt, 1 tsp vinegar,
250 gr butter (for rolling out the dough),
200 gr water, 250 gr ground meat, 2 onions, 50 gr currants, 50 gr pine nuts, 15 gr salt, 15 gr black pepper, 70 gr butter, 1/4 bunch finely chopped flat leaf parsley.

Preparation of the Meat Filling:
Chop the onions fine and saute in a skillet with the pine nuts until the onions begin to color. Add the ground meat and mix well. Continue browning until the meat juices have been absorbed. Add the currants (previous soaked in water), salt and black pepper and remove from the heat. When cool, sprinkle with finely chopped fresh parsley and serve.

Preparation of the Pastry:
Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the salt, vinegar and water and knead well. Divide into two equal parts and work the margarine into each with your hand. Let stand for 30 minutes, then roll out to the thinness of ‘yufka’ (filo leaves) on the counter top. Arrange a row of ground meat filling on top of the pastry, roll up, and shape as you wish on an oiled baking sheet. Bake in a 175° C. oven for 45 minutes. Serve hot.