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Text: ÖNDER DURMAZ Photos: VEDAT BAŞARAN
Parsley, dill and mint
As the sine qua non herbs of Turkish cuisine, parsley, dill and mint are still used widely in Anatolia today. In the west, however, they unfortunately serve as little more than garnishes.
Whether used fresh or in their dried form, herbs and condiments like salt, pepper and sugar determine the taste of the food we eat. Without them most of the dishes we prepare would have little flavor. Indeed a lack or even a surfeit of them can render a dish inedible. There are literally hundreds of varieties of natural flavor additives in the world, be they fresh or dried, powdered or liquid in form. And some of these natural ingredients are widely used all over the world today.
FROM STAPLE HERB TO MERE GARNISH
Until the 18th century herbs and dried spices were used in food not only for their appealing aromas but also for their antibacterial properties. Then, with the development of conditions of hygiene in later centuries, the West abandoned the use of certain spices from the East whose tastes had remained alien. But the East went right on cooking its food in the traditional ways. In the last century the western world gave its backing to the production and consumption of industrial foodstuffs. In recent years however, particularly in the advanced countries, methods of natural nutrition have attracted growing interest, and movements such as organic farming and 'slow food' have begun to sweep the whole world. Although Anatolia continues to consume the wild herbs and vegetables that grow naturally in the environment, unfortunately the conditions of urban life prevent people from even becoming aware of these rural blessings, let alone making use of them in cooking. Recently, thanks especially to the efforts of the mass media, a trend towards organic farming has arisen in Turkey. Perhaps this movement will at the same time ensure that people living in the big cities will take a greater interest in the age-old natural and traditional nutritional systems with which they live cheek by jowl. In spite of everything, parsley, dill and mint are the staple fresh herbs of Turkey's everyday cuisine, be it in the rural areas or in the cities. While all three are used extensively all over the country, dill is particularly popular in the western parts.
Indeed, so much a part of Turkish cuisine is parsley that it has even inspired an idiom, “Don't be parsley to everything!”, which is tantamount to saying, 'You don't have to stick your nose into every little thing!'. 'Maydanoz' in Turkish, the word derives from the Ottoman 'mide-nuvaz' or 'mide-nevaz' meaning 'stomach-pleasing', 'mide' being an Arabic word and 'nevaz' Persian. Stomach-pleasing parsley is consumed raw in Anatolia, often in sizable bunches. It finds its way into bean salads, vegetable salads, soups, meatballs, pickles and other dishes.
In urban restaurants, however, the use of parsley is either confined to salads or, unfortunately, to mere garnishes, albeit attractive ones, at the side of the plate. Like parsley, mint too is one of the indispensable herbs of Turkish cooking.
In its dried form not only is it browned in butter and added as a flavoring to soups in particular, added to yoghurt it deeply enhances the flavor of dishes simmered long in the pot. Fresh mint meanwhile is added to the finely chopped vegetable salads dressed with sour pomegranate syrup that are so popular in Southeast Anatolia. An accompaniment particularly of eggplant kebab, mint also adds flavor to tomato kebab. In short, parsley and mint can contribute something special to even the simplest dish.
USED AS COMMONLY AS SALT AND PEPPER
In Ottoman cuisine, the addition of mint to a dish is regarded as a sign of elegance, and recipes in old Ottoman cookbooks often state, “even more elegant if mint is added.” Today as well, whole mint leaves continue to grace desserts and cold drinks. Dillweed meanwhile is an indispensable ingredient in salads, cold yoghurt dishes, pickles, soups and steamed fish dishes as well as in artichoke and courgette dishes, and dishes made with either fresh or dried broad beansThe parsley-dill-mint trio is again the magical hidden flavor in the stuffed vine leaves and vegetable 'dolma's cooked in olive oil that are so popular in Ottoman and Turkish cuisine. Despite the fact that these herbs, which originate from Asia and the Mediterranean, have been used for centuries in Turkey, for some reason Turkish cuisine is never cited in international reference books as being among the cuisines that use them. Nevertheless, these herbs, which serve little function other than decorating plates in western cuisines, are never absent in the cooking of the average Turkish home where they are almost as common as salt and pepper.
Skin the tomatoes. Chop finely with the green onion, parsley and mint leaves; add the tomato paste, lemon juice, salt and red pepper flakes and mix well. Add 1/4 cup of water and serve.
6 green onions
1/2 bunch parsley
1 tsp tomato paste
juice of one lemon
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
8 fresh mint leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
Vegetable and white cheese salad (Erzincan)
100 gr white cheese (feta)
100 gr curd cheese (Turkish çökelek)
2 green peppers
1/2 bunch fresh dill
1/2 bunch of parsley
3 fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp hot red pepper (Cayenne)
1/4 cup olive oil
6 fresh mint leaves
Finely chop the cucumber, green pepper and tomato. Then finely chop the dill, mint, parsley and basil and mix with the other chopped vegetables. Add a very small amount of water to the curd cheese, and break the feta up into small pieces. Add both to the salad. Sprinkle with salt and red pepper and drizzle with olive oil, and the salad is ready to serve.
Chard with yoghurt (Malatya)
500 gr fresh chard
4 cups yoghurt
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 bunch fresh dill
1/2 tsp hot red pepper (Cayenne)
1/2 tsp salt
Pick apart the chard and wash well. Place in a pot, cover tightly and let boil 5 minutes in its own juice. Let cool. Pound the garlic cloves in a mortar and pestle and mix with the yoghurt. Add the salt. When the chard is cool, chop it together with the dill and mix with the yoghurt. Sprinkle with red pepper and more chopped dill and serve cold.
'Avrat' salad (Gaziantep)
4 cloves of garlic
5 green onions
1 bunch of parsley
1/2 bunch fresh mint
juice of two lemons
1/2 tsp red pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sour
Finely chop the green onions, green peppers, garlic, parsley and fresh mint to the size of large grains of rice. Place in a mixing bowl and let stand until the flavors have blended. Add the juice of the lemons and pomegranates to the vegetable mixture.
Mix in the salt, red pepper flakes and sour pomegranate syrup and remove to a serving platter.
800 gr lamb stew meat
20 pearl onions
4 cloves of garlic
4 tbsp butter
1 tbsp salt
1 stick of cinnamon
1 bunch of fresh
2 tomatoes, skinned
1 tsp black pepper
2 cups of water
1 bay leaf
Cut the meat into cubes. Melt the butter in a skillet and brown the meat cubes until the juices have been absorbed. Add the pearl onions, garlic, bay leaf and stick cinnamon. Brown 3-4 minutes and add the skinned tomatoes. Mix for 2-3 minutes, add the water and let cook approximately 30 minutes over low heat. When the meat is cooked through, add the salt, pepper and parsley leaves. Serve piping hot.