Tag Archives: turkish cuisine

A Heartwarming Soup for Cool Nights: Yayla Çorbası

yayla corbasiWe know the temperatures in Bodrum still permit for swimming, but sometimes those evening breezes off the sea can be chilly!  Warm up your skin and soul with this traditional Turkish soup.


Yayla Çorbası, also known as Yogurt Soup, is a thick and hearty traditional Turkish soup from the cool and rainy northern Black Sea Region of Turkey. The name, reflective of the soups origins, is derived from “yaylalar”, or the high mountain meadows of that region, which is also famed for the quality of it’s dairy products.  The main ingredients – yogurt, flour, rice, egg yolk, and mint – are all easily-found staples of Black Sea and Anatolian cuisine.  As with most Turkish dishes, recipes have been passed down from mother to daughter and neighbor to neighbor over the centuries, resulting in great variation region to region and kitchen to kitchen.  Turkish families often serve this soup in winter, when the Black Sea drizzle chills residents to the bones, or when someone is fighting a cold.  If you’re shivering when the suns dips down before you have time to fully dry off from a day’s swim, then this is the perfect soup to try at home!


You will need: IMG_2532

  • 1/2 cup white rice
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 2 T flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • White or black pepper to taste
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T dried mint


  1. First, measure out the rice and put it in a covered soup pot with a pinch of salt and 3 cups of water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook until the rice is soft. If you have boiled chicken legs/thighs (see “variations” below) then you can replace the water with the chicken stock.
  2. Measure one cup of yogurt (preferably whole) into a bowl. Whisk until the texture is completely even.
  3. Next, mix in the flour and beat briskly.  IMG_2534
  4. Once the flour and yogurt are amalgamated, beat in the egg yolk.  Keep beating until the mixture has a silky smooth texture.
  5.  Once the rice is cooked, take one ladle of hot water from the pot of rice and gently stir it into the yogurt mixture to raise the temperature.  If you skip this step, your yogurt might separate when you pour it in the hot broth. IMG_2547
  6. Gradually pour the yogurt mixture into the soup pot with the rice, whisking all the while. IMG_2550IMG_2549IMG_2551
  7. Add salt and pepper.
  8. Continue whisking until the mixture simmers. Take it off the heat before it boils.IMG_2553
  9. Meanwhile, heat the butter and dried mint in a saucepan.  Once this boils, stir it into the soup and serve!IMG_2555



  • IMG_2531Add chicken: Before cooking the soup, boil 1-2 chicken thighs and several bay leaves in water until the meat is tender and falls off the bone.  De-skin, de-bone, and add to the soup when finished. For a complete recipe that incorporates chicken, see this recipe on food.com.  While definitely not traditional, you can also add Turkey. Simply Recipes has an adapted recipe with Turkey and chickpeas here.
  • Add chickpeas: cook chickpeas beforehand, or add drained canned chickpeas to the soup and cook together for the last 3 minutes.
  • Substitute rice out for buckwheat.  Buckwheat provides a nutty flavor and is lower in calories and starch but higher in fiber and protein. This recipe substitutes rice for cracked wheat.
  • Top with mint butter, savory sumac, urfa isot (dark roasted pepper), paprika, thyme or cayenne pepper to suit your taste.
  • There are as many variations as households in Turkey! Try a few more recipes here, here and here.

Terrified of trying Turish cooking on your own?  There are plenty of great cooking classes around Istanbul and the Izmir Peninsula.  If you’re vacationing at Çeşme or Izmir, we encourage you to try out Babushka Alaçatı!


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Turkey’s City Street Food

If you’ve been around the beach, you know the basics (or can find them here: Turkey’s Best Beach Food): gözleme, ayran, stuffed mussles, melon ice cream bowls, steamed corn, fresh fish.  But what can you eat when you hit Turkey’s urban streets?  Here are some of the must-try simple street snacks (or full meals) you’ll find in almost every urban center:


Head to the nearest wheeled glass cart labeled “halk ekmek” (“people’s bread”) or the small shop by the bus stop and grab a few simit for a simple start to the day. At first glance a simit may look a bit like a bagel covered in sesame seeds.  Cracked open it can be eaten with soft spread cheese.

3077558355_04f058d2be_mTired of simit?  Ask for a poğaça instead.  At 2/1 lira they’re still quite cheap, and come with a variety of savory stuffings  like olive (zeytin), cheese (peynir), or spicy sausage (sucuk).

salepFinish off your breakfast with a glass of strong Turkish tea or salepa traditional drink made with powdered orchid root and flavoured with cinnamon.

Lunch/Quick Dinner/Midnight Snacks

Turkey’s most popular savory street food is the doner kebab (here known as durum) with long strips of lamp of chicken rolled in flatbread with tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and the occasional french fry (curious about what defines a kebab? read our post here). But if you only know the doner… you’ve barely dabbled in Turkish street tastes!

7793420340_cf56c7e319_zOnly got 10 minutes for lunch? One of Turkey’s most popular “fast foods” is lahmacun, a flatbread topped and backed with minced meat and a garlic-tomato paste, almost always paired with a cool glass of ayran (salty yogurt).  Almost any neighborhood will have a lunch joint with 2 lahmacun + ayran lunch specials for about 5 lira.  Don’t forget a squeeze of lemon!


If you’re seriously on the run, grab a tantuni or “Turkish burrito”.  Tantuni are wraps composed of ground meat cooked on a wide metal plate with spices and oil then rolled up with slices of onion, tomato, cilantro and lettuce.  Take it with a hot green pepper if you can handle extra-spicy.

Hit by 3 am hunger pains? Head for a kokoreç stand.  While chopped sheep intestines might not sound appealing during the day, this savory, spicy and complex flavoured sandwich is sure to satisfy your midnight cravings.

19271026726_4d83c7aa55_zLooking for something a little more sophisticated?  Pideoften nicknamed “the Turkish pizza” is a boat-shaped oven-baked bread topped with everything from spinach and feta to chicken and tomatoes to ground beef and cheese. Expect fresh bread hot out of the oven, with the juices from the toppings just starting to sink into the dough. Ask for a side of tomatoes and sliced cucumbers with a sprinkling of lemon.


Vegetarian? No worries. bulgar-based Çiğ köfte is savory, sometimes spicey, and always delicious, whether eaten alone or in a wrap. Each region has it’s own recipe for Çiğ köfte though, as a rule, the ingredients include and bulgur, chopped cilantro, onion, tomato paste, spices, crushed garlic and salt.  Again, everything is better with a slice of lemon!


2037583738_eb5fcd9dfb_zIn winter warm your hands and your soul with a cup full of hot roasted chestnuts (kestane) and served in a paper cone for 2-5 lira per portion.

Don’t forget that Turkey has great regional varieties in cuisine – while in Kayseri you’ll have to try the kayseri mantisi; in Bursa, iskender kebab, and in testi kebab in Cappadocia.

Hungry for more? We know you are… Check out these pages extensively covering Istanbul’s street food scene, and share with us you favorite street foods from around the country.

World’s Best Street Food: Istanbul Edition

Beyond the Doner: Real Turkish Food


Culinary Back Streets: Istanbul’s Best Street Foods

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Cool Summer Sweets: Sütlaç

IMG_1307Sütlaç’s closest kin is rice pudding, but you’ll notice that the inside texture is silky, and the top is coated with a thick and creamy skin.  It’s perhaps accurate to call fırın sütlaç (or, oven-milk pudding) a cross between Crème brûlée, custard and iced arroz con leche.  While originally made with rose water, today’s sütlaç  is more commonly flavored with vanilla. Served cold in thick clay dishes, it’s the perfect dessert to cool off on a summer eve – or cool your tastebuds after a spicy dinner.

History: Fırın sütlaç originated in Ottoman kitchens. The original name “sütlü aş” identifies it as hailing from the Rumelia (now Balkan) region, which is why you can find similiar rice pudding dishes across the Balkan states.  Today sütlaç is popular across Turkey, though rice grains, ingredient ratios and topping or flavoring will vary from region to region.

This photo of FELAMURDA KAFE/RESTAURANT is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Recipe: Unlike crème brûlée, sütlaç’s main ingredient is simply milk.  Most cooks swear by using fresh and unpasturized whole milk when making the dessert. While not exactly a health food, sütlaç won’t kill your gut or fill you with regret.

If you want to make sütlaç you will need: 4 cups milk (preferably fresh), 1/2 cup rice, 2 T cornstarch or rice flour, 1 cup sugar (or pekmez), 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1 beaten egg yolk.


  • First, boil the rice with 2 cups water (though some recipes recommend cooking the rice with milk to give it fuller flavor).
  • After cooking the rice (about 25 min), stir in all but 1/4c of the milk, sugar and vanilla extract.  Bring it to a boil, and then reduce the heat, letting it boil gently for about ten minutes.
  • Meanwhile, dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining milk.
  • After ten minutes, add the cornstarch mixture to the rice and milk, gently stirring it in. Lower the heat and simmer for another 15 minutes.
  • After the pudding thickens stir for another 2-5 minutes before removing the mixture from the stove and pouring 1/2c-1c servings into individual bowls or foil tins. Swirl a small part of the egg yolk into each serving.
  • Let sit until the pudding has cooled to room temperature, and then sprinkle with sugar and broil in the oven until the top has browned.

Serves 8

You can find other full sütlaç recipe (there are dozens of varieties) and instructions here and here (rosewater with pistacho crumble)

Our Favorite Variations:  If you want to truly try sütlaç, make sure you are tasting the real deal.  The pudding should be ice cold, have a thick skin half golden-brown, and be served in a red clay cup.  Traditional sütlaç is flavored with rose water (not vanilla) and topped with crumbled pistachios, and can be found at Ottoman restaurants; for more modern variations, try a dessert cafe like MADO.


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Exploring Turkish Cuisine: What Exactly is a Kebab?


Two types of Kebab: Adana (back) and Beyti (front)

In the US we tend to think of a “kebab” as a grilled food on a stick: sizzling sliced of red meat and onions over the charcoals, vegetable kebabs, Hawaiian kebabs with speared pineapples and fish.  In most of Western Europe it’s sliced meat in a pita. But in Turkey you will encounter plenty of things called a kebab that look nothing like what I described above.  The meat may not be skewered; there may not even be a grill; there’s often not a pita.  In fact, some Turkish kebabs, like Tesli Kebabi, come in a baked clay bowl and look more like a stew.  Others, like the simit kebab, are sliced and wrapped in lavash under a dressing of sour yogurt.


Traditional Çöp Şiş

So what exactly is a Turkish kebab?

When you think of a kebab, the image that comes to mind is probably that of  Shish kebabs (Çöp Şiş or şiş kebap in Turkish) or shashlik (mixed meat and vegetables skewered and grilled).  But those are only two variations of kebabs. Kebab itself actually refers to a type of meat preparation – usually.

“Kebab” style meat – sliced meat layered on an upright spittle, then slowly rotated until cooked through, and carved off in thin slices – was invented by a Busa native named Iskender in the late 19th century. Kebabs can also refer to chunks of meat skewered and grilled, or a meat stew. Kebabs are traditionally made from lamb, but you can also find chicken kebabs, beef kebabs, and mixed meat and vegetable kebabs.  That is to say – there’s no one all-encompassing definition of a kebab. Each region has a few famous varieties; we recommend you try them all to determine for yourself what a kebab actually and truly is.

Some of our favorites from around Turkey:

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A Sampling of the Turkish Table

Turkish cuisine is one of the country’s great markers of pride.  At first it may be hard to see why – compared to complicated French dishes, fragile Chinese delicacies, and American extravagance, the Turkish table seems simple.  What passes as ‘Turkish food’ in the US and Western Europe often appears as street food a festivals – doner, kebabs and sticky baklava. But this is as much Turkish cuisine as Domino’s Pizza is Italian.

Turkish people take their food seriously.  Cooking is an art, passed down from generation to generation.  And while western franchises are becoming more popular, even shopping mall food courts offer great Turkish classics.

The great secret to Turkish cuisine is in the fullness of taste and complimentary parings.  Turkish food – real Turkish food – is never bland.  Nor is it ever smothered in spice.  Ingredients added always compliment and draw out the food’s full flavor.  There is doner, and there is döner. Somehow even bread with fish tastes magical when paired with the right spices – mild savory fish, flaky white flesh paired with sour sharp lemon, the soft crunch of fresh shreddedlettuce, a bite of sliced onion, just enough red pepper to pique the roof of your mouth, juice seeping into a warm loaf of crusty golden-baked bread. The following is a small sampling of simple foods common across Turkey.

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Gözleme: Gözleme a often (erroneously) translated as “pancake”, but it’s more of a flatbread. The dough is rolled around a rolling pin until it is very thin, then folded over cheese, spinach, potatoes or less-traditional ingredients like bananas and honey before being baked in a flat tandoor oven. It is often served with fresh cut cucumbers and tomatoes, and a side of cold ayran (salty kefir-like drink), and tastes best at 3pm after a long ocean swim.



Turkish breakfasts in the home are usually a bit simpler, but always involve breads accompanied by jams, honey or tahini; black and green olives, a cucumber-tomato salad, usually two types of cheese (mild yellow and soft white, or crem), and some kind of eggs. Oddly enough, breakfasts and egg dishes often come with friend potato wedges.


Eggs with Sausage (Sucuklu Yumurta): The Turkish sausage know as “sucuk” (pronounced “soo-jook”) is made with garlic and sometimes hot red pepper.  Sucuk-making is an art and while grocery stores will sell it packaged and processed, the best sucuk is stuffed by hand and can sell for upwards of 40 Lira.


Menemen is an egg dish made by sautéing red and green peppers (and often onions) in a pan, then covering the peppers with scrambled eggs and covering for a minute or two until the eggs are almost done. It’s often served as part of Turkish breakfast, or with either fried potato wedges or lavash, a Turkish flatbread puffed up in the oven.


Köfte. Often referred to as “Turkish meatballs”, köfte more resemble small hamburger patties. They can be served with pilaf, in a sandwich, covered in yogurt sauce, or on bread and topped in tomato sauce and peppers, or in one of a hundred other ways.


Sosli köfte/Kofte with sauce. This dish was actually from a red-boothed restaurant in a mall. You know a nation takes their cuisine seriously when the mall food is this good (and still under $5)



Kayserı Mantası/Mantis from the city of Kayseri. Manta are sometimes (erroneously) translated as “ravioli”, which is a shame. Manti are basically thin squares of dough stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables and then either boiled (somewhat like ravioli), steamed (kind of like dumplings) or baked. Kayseri Manta are tiny manti stuffed with meat, boiled, then covered in a sauce of yogurt, smoked red pepper, and mint, best accompanied by some aubergine. These we (again) had in a mall.


Midye/Stuffed Mussels. Usually sold from street carts in seaside towns and snacked on by beachgoers or downed with Efes beer, midye are mussel shells filled with rice pilaf packed around the actual mussel. To eat you slide off half the shell, use it as a scoop to pick up the packed pilaf, and give a liberal squirt of lemon. In Bodrum the “Brothers Sarı” (“Sarı kardeşler”) dominate the midye business, with the seven brothers all operating around different peninsula ports.


Cakes and sweets. Though not every cup of tea is accompanied by a plate of cookies and cake, it’s quite common to serve something sweet to visiting guests. Sweets are usually more aromatic and nut-heavy than in the US or UK. My favorite are cookies made with almond or hazelnut flour, sugar and egg whites – somewhat similar to a meringue.


Nut sweets. See above – nuts don’t often make their way into main courses, but they do feature heavily in Turkish cuisine, especially in desserts and dry snacks.


Baklava: It’s not just Greek and Italian! In fact, Turkish friends were really skeptical that I’d ever had Baklava before coming to Turkey. Here, there are basically two kinds: that made with honey and walnuts, and that made with pistachios. There are also the related pistachio, honey and phyllo dough rolls. Compared to baklava in the US, Turkish baklava tend to be less sweet and more intense in nutty flavor.


Kebabs: Here, you see two kinds: The traditional ‘Adana Kebab’ on the far side of the table, and the stuffed and rolled ‘Beyti Kebab’ in the forefront.  While we often think of kebabs as just grilled meat on a stick, in Turkey kebab refers to a certain kind of meat, and kebabs can be prepared in dozens (if not hundreds) of ways, including in dishes like stews.

IMG_0405.JPGSütlaç: Sutlac is a traditional Turkish dessert much like a rice pudding.  Underneath the burnished skin the pudding is thick and creamy, and may be spiced with nutmeg or cardamon

There’s much, much more to the Turkish table, and I’ve left out some of the most common dishes (like pilaf and pide), so check back for “A Sampling of the Turkish Table: Part 2” and “A Short History of Turkish Cuisine”

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