Sunday, 20 August 2017

Turkey's Cuisine: The Tastes that Flew Away

Text and photographs by SkyLife   
A glance at old Turkish cookbooks reveals a staggering array of dishes made with poultry and game birds. In particular, Ahmet Şevket Efendi’s book, ‘Aşçı Mektebi’ (School for Cooks), one of the oldest sources on the history of Turkish cuisine, includes over a hundred such recipes. The reason for this high number can only be explained in terms of the international recipes among them. Nevertheless, the variety of poultry and birds mentioned includes many no longer found on our tables or in markets today. It was normal that birds and poultry should be part of the daily diet in pre-industrial periods when urban life was closely integrated with rural life and the market system still functioned vigorously. Brought to city centers from the rural areas, birds and poultry could easily be found in urban markets. Not only that, but people who lived on the edge of the city raised birds such as chickens, geese, ducks, quail and partridges in their gardens both for their eggs and their meat, which were therefore staples of their everyday diet. While poultry continues to be raised today in rural area, this practice has died out completely in the cities.


One of the most important of Turkey’s historical cookbooks, Ev Kadını (The Housewife), has a recipe for ‘bird soup’ made from the flesh of the goldfinch. Preparation of the soup involves first plucking, gutting and singeing some 15-20 birds, dipping them in flour once and then letting them sit covered in flour for half an hour to eliminate the odor. Among other dishes made with birds that strike us as interesting today are pigeon kebab, peacock kebab, pheasant stew, duck stew, goose kebab, turkey stew and grilled goose with cabbage, as well as grilled woodcock, blackbird, starling and lark. All have disappeared today from our popular cuisine, in which chicken is now the only form of poultry cooked with frequency. In Ottoman cuisine, on the other hand, chicken occupied an important place in the preparation of food of all kinds, constituting a key ingredient in everything from broth to desserts. While some of these recipes, such as ‘stewed chicken with tart pomegranate’, ‘memnuniyye’, ‘mahmudiyye’ and ‘kırmak’ chicken kebab may have faded into oblivion today, others such as Circassian chicken, stewed chicken, stuffed wings, stuffed chicken, and chicken breast pudding preserve their popularity. The last in particular is a dessert that has attracted widespread interest among world gastronomes. Those who eat it for the first time never fail to be incredulous when they hear that it is made of chicken. Made from the flesh fresh young chickens, this dessert is nevertheless called by the name ‘Tavukgöğsü’ or ‘Chicken’s Breast’ for some inexplicable reason. Unlike today’s chefs, however, Ottoman sweet makers obtained an even more outstanding result by first greasing the pudding mold with oil of almond.

DUCK WITH POMEGRANATE (in the picture above)

1 whole duck, 1 pomegranate,
1 tbsp pine nuts, browned,
4 quinces, 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses, 1 tsp salt, 2 bay leaves, 1 tbsp black peppercorns, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 onion, chopped fine, 1 carrot, chopped,
4 cloves of garlic, 1 spring of fresh rosemary.

Clean the duck and singe the feathers. Then rinse well in water and let drain. Place the duck on a baking sheet. Mix together the chopped carrot and onion, the bay leaf, the salt and pepper, the black peppercorns, garlic, olive oil and molasses and spread over the duck. Cover with greased aluminum foil and bake for one hour in a 170° C. oven. When the duck is almost done, remove the wax paper and baste with oil. When golden brown, remove from the oven.

Quarter the quinces and remove the seeds. Mix with a little olive oil and molasses. Place on a baking sheet and let stand in the oven for 25 minutes at 170° C. Save four slices and puree the rest. Carve the duck, separating the breast and the drumsticks.

Remove the duck to a serving platter and spread the quince slices and puree around it. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and browned pine nuts, and drizzle with 2 tbsp of the juices. Serve piping hot.


1 whole goose, 8 quail, 500 gr rice,
180 gr butter, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tsp salt,
1/2 tsp ground white pepper, 2 sticks of cinnamon,
1/4 tsp allspice, 3 tbsp pine nuts, 2 tbsp currants, soaked and drained, 4 bay leaves, 1/4 bunch fresh dill, 5 tbsp chopped goose and quail livers.

Clean and gut the quail and the goose, singe the feathers and wash well in water. Place the goose on a baking sheet and rub well with the salt, ground white pepper, bay leaf and olive oil. Cover with greased aluminum foil and roast in a 170° C oven for two and a half hours. When almost done, remove the foil.
On another baking sheet, do the same with the quail.

To prepare the rice pilaff stuffing, first rinse the rice in water and let drain. Melt half the butter in a skillet and brown the pine nuts for 2-3 minutes. Add the finely chopped onion, and continue sauteing until it begins to color. Then add the chopped goose and quail livers and saute for 2 more minutes. Add the salt, ground white pepper, cinnamon stick, allspice, currants, pine nuts and water and let simmer over low heat.

Melt the remaining butter, in another skillet and add the drained rice. Saute about 10-12 minutes over low heat, then at the browned liver mixture. MIx well, cover tightly and let steep over low heat. When the water has been absorbed, add the chopped fresh dill and mix well.

Stuff the quail loosely with the pilaff. Then stuff the goose with a little of the pilaff and quail mixture. Return the stuffed goose to a 180° C oven for five minutes until golden brown.


300 gr chicken breast, shredded, 300 gr oyster mushrooms, 4 tbsp walnut meats, 4 tbsp butter, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground white pepper, 4 sheets of ‘yufka’ (Turkish filo), 4 tbsp cream, 1 onion, chopped, 1 carrot, chopped,

Clean and wash the chicken breasts and remove to a pot. Add the chopped carrot and onion and the salt and enough water to cover. Let simmer over low heat.

Chop the mushrooms fine and saute for 3-4 minutes, then add the salt, pepper and cream. When the mixture begins to boil, add the shredded chicken breast and bring back to the boil. Remove from the fire, sprinkle with the walnut meats and let cool. Spread the yufka sheet in a pan and place the chicken mixture in the center. Join the edges of the yufka and bind together to form a bundle. Melt the remaining butter in a skillet and pour over the top. Place in a 170° C oven for 12 minutes until brown.

Remove from the oven. Drizzle a serving dish with 1 spoonful of the tomato sauce, and pour the rest over the browned chicken. Drizzle the pomegranate syrup around the sides and serve piping hot.


1 liter of milk, 200 gr granulated sugar, 50 gr boiled chicken breast, 100 gr rice flour, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon.

Fully boil the chicken and then ground with a fork. Boil the milk with the sugar and then add the rice flour and pieces of cooked chicken, cooking over medium to heavy heat for 15 minutes. Pour into a flat tray or bowls and cool. Serve with cinnamon or ice-cream.

This text and photographs are courtesy of SkyLife, a monthly magazine published by Turkish Airlines.

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Readers' Comments:

Interesting that thy should choose Gaziantep, one of the least purely "Turkish" cities of modern Turkey. I only hope the museum actually attributes each food to it's rightful people and not call it mountain Turkish or Southeastern Turkish or some such nonsense. A prime example is the so-called lahmacun or Turkish Pizza, which though widely popular in Turkish is not of Turkish origin, the name in fact being Arabic for meat-dough, and originating in Syria and Lebanon, the same with kunafa and surely there are dishes of Persian, Kurdish, Armenian, Greek and Balkan origins that were brought there during Ottoman times and before. (At least Cherkez/Circassian chicken retains a hint of it's origins-though many moderns Turks would have no idea what Circassian refers to-so efficiently and thouroughly did the Young Turks abolish the living memory of the diverse Ottoman Empire.) I only hope, though it seems as yet futile, that modern Turks are secure enough in their own identities to acknowledge their indebtedness to many cultures-only then will the museum truly be worth the money, time and effort to build, maintain and visit. Otherwise, it may end up another xenophobic, ethnocentric nation's attempt to cover an unfortunate inability to grow and mature by recognizing truths.

jeraldine neel

Re: The previous comment. When will we be able to read any articles about Turkey without such comments coming through the woodwork? How about Kurdish, Armenian, Greek history finally accepting what the Ottoman culture did for them, too? Greeks completely ransacked their Ottoman heritage from Athens. Not a brick is left standing. Armenia does not hold any notion that there is even anything "Turkish" at all, or else it calls for an immediate boycott. Instead of changing anything Turkish to suit their nationalistic needs, when are we going to get these cultures to reassess their histories? Or is it one rule for Turks, and another for you? People should recognise that the Ottoman Empire acted as a catalyst to bring these ingredients together to give a very unique cuisine to the world. Imagine what would have been, or how these tastes would have merged and been sent westward otherwise?

Kanny Ferah



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