Discovering Morel Mushrooms

When it comes to wild mushrooms, Turkey surpasses Europe hands down in terms of variety and yield.

Several species of mushroom that are rare and under protection in Europe are plentiful in Turkey. Unfortunately, however, our cuisine, which normally doesn’t let anything offered by nature go unused, has produced very few recipes calling for mushrooms. The fact is that sizable quantities of prized mushrooms in Turkey today are collected for export abroad.

One of the most important of them is the mushroom known to world cuisine as the ‘morel’ and, to my mind anyway, the tastiest of them all. Introduced to the world by the French, this mushroom, which combines flavors of walnut, meat and sweet spices, is known in Western Anatolia as ‘kuzugöbeği’ or lamb’s belly for its appearance. In some regions it is called simply ‘göbek’ (belly), ‘kara göbek’ (black belly) or ‘köme’. Known to be the first mushroom the Turks incorporated into their cuisine, it is encountered in 16th century Azerbaijan in recipes calling for ‘köbelek’. Not by coincidence the morel is known today in Turkey’s Çorum-Kastamonu-Safranbolu region by the very similar name of ‘söbelek’ or ‘sömelek’.

High-priced, the morel mushroom is a respected dish on the menus of expensive restaurants serving international cuisine. It is sold dried and is available only from suppliers of gourmet specialty foods to restaurants. Appearing in mid-spring, the morel is collected fresh. Unfortunately, however, fresh morels are extremely hard to come by. If you’re lucky, you might come across them in a few workingmen’s eateries in the Aegean region. Apart from that, they are only cooked fresh at home in Anatolia. Found in Anatolian cuisine if not particularly widespread, the morel has not yet found its niche in Istanbul gastronomy. Indeed, the morel is not encountered at all in cookbooks printed during the Ottoman period or in the Ottoman palace kitchen records uncovered up to now. Consequently, there are no recipes for dishes prepared with morels in traditional Istanbul cooking. Istanbul made the acquaintance of the morel mushroom thanks to the western chefs of the global hotel chains that opened in the city starting in the 1990’s.

Mushroom Recipes From Anatolia
In Anatolia, any natural plant that springs up autochthonously like the mushroom is a cause for celebration. In Anatolia, on the other hand, any natural plant like the mushroom that springs up autochthonously is a cause for celebration. Growing in abundance in the highlands of Fethiye-Kalkan-Kaş, the morel mushroom is greeted every year by the Morel Mushroom Festival in the town of Yeşil Üzümlü in Fethiye province. It takes its part in Fethiye’s egg-and-lemon soup. Meanwhile the women of Çorum and İslip make a mushroom dolma using semi-lean ground mutton. And in Azeri cuisine, a dolma similar to that made in Çorum is eaten together with grilled veal called ‘basturma’ that resembles its Kayseri namesake in taste alone.  Interestingly, this dish is called ‘köbelekli mal’ (‘mal’ is what the Azeris call veal and beef). 

Stuffed Morel Mushrooms (Köme)

500 g morel mushrooms, 100 g medium-fat white cheese, 2 tbsp chopped dill, 2 tbsp chopped parsley, 1 tbsp breadcrumbs, 1 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp cream, 5 shallots, thinly sliced.

Clean and wash the mushrooms. In a deep bowl, knead the white cheese together with the parsley, dill and breadcrumbs. Then fill the mushrooms with the mixture. Melt the butter in a skillet, fry the stuffed mushrooms and remove from the pan. In the same skillet saute the shallots until they begin to color. Add the cream. When it starts to boil, return the stuffed, fried mushrooms to the pan and boil for another minute or two.

Morel Mushrooms With Yoghurt

500 g morel mushrooms, 200 g chickpeas, 1 bunch of fresh garlic, 1 bunch green onions, 200 g ‘süzme’ (condensed) yoghurt, 30 g flour, 1 lemon, 1 egg yolk, 10 g salt.

Soak the chickpeas overnight in lukewarm water. Wash and drain the mushrooms.
Chop the fresh garlic and green onions in 5-6 cm strips. Place in a pot with the chickpeas and mushrooms. Add water or meat stock to cover and boil over medium heat. In a deep bowl mix the süzme yoghurt, flour and 1/4 cup of lemon juice well and add to the boiling mixture in the pot. Then add salt and leave the whole thing on the burner for another minute or two. (A word of caution: If the mixture boils again after this, the sauce will separate.)

Mushrooms of Turkey
Mushrooms require extreme caution. Every year a few people lose their lives from eating poisonous varieties. Mushrooms should only be purchased from reliable people with expertise. You can find out everything you want to know about mushrooms in the book, ‘Mushrooms of Turkey’, by the distinguished Turkish mushroom expert, Jilber Barutçuyan.