Almost Turkish Recipes

Green Lentil Salad (Yeşil Mercimek Salatası)


If you are a lentil lover, this could be one the most delicious and nutritious salads. While studying for my qualifying exams at the library all day as a graduate student, green lentil salad was my lunch for at least three days a week. 

There's nothing written in stone: You can use more or less of anything down below. In Turkey this salad is usually dressed with pomegranate molasses, however I don't enjoy the slight sweetness that comes with it, so I prefer crisp tartness of lemons. 

For 4 people
1 cup green lentils
4-5 scallions, finely chopped
2-3 red sweet Italian peppers, finely chopped
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
1/2 cup dill or cucumber pickles, or cornichon pickles finely chopped
1/2 cup or a bit more canned corn 
1/3 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped

juice of 1 lemon
a generous 1/4 cup of olive oil

2-3 tbsp pomegranate molasses (It's widely available at international or middle eastern stores)
1/4 cup pickled jalapenos, finely chopped (I absolutely love having pickled jalapenos in this salad, sour and spicy is a perfect combination)
1/4 cup pickled peppers, finely chopped
1/3 - 1/2 cup crumbled feta

-Put 1 cup green lentils in a pot with 4-5 cups of water and cook for ~15 minutes. Check to see if they're cooked after 1o minutes. Lentils should be cooked but not mushy. Immediately rinse in a colander or sieve; we don't want the lentil to cook more in the hot water. 1 cup will make a lot of lentils, perfect for company or lunch for everyday.
-Chop everythıng finely as if you're trying to match them with lentils. 
-Salt to your taste. 
-Add juice of one lemon. One lemon is usually good for this many lentils but you can use less as well. I usually add a bit more. (If you would like to add pomegranate molasses balance it with lemon juice) 
-Add olive oil and toss.  

Chickpea Rice with Chicken (Tavuklu Nohut Pilav)


In Orhan Pamuk's 2014 novel A Strangeness in My Mind, we read Istanbul and  Mevlut's story, a street vendor who comes to Istanbul at an early age from a village in mid-Anatolian city Konya. Drawing inspiration both from bildungsromans and picaresque novels, The Strangeness in My Mind documents the transformation of Mevlut into a grown happy man alongside the transformation of the city. Mevlut sells yogurt, and mainly boza, but at one point in his life he sells chickpea rice with chicken on the streets of Istanbul. How Mevlut and his beloved wife Rahiya prepares and sells this popular street food is described in such detail in the chapter titled "Rice With Chickpeas: Food Tastes Better When It's Got Some Dirt In It" that everytime I read that chapter I make chickpea rice with chicken. I cannot help it. 

Pilaf/rice has always been an important part of Turkish cuisine and particularly chickpea rice has a long history: you can read the recipe and the story here.  Chickpea rice with chicken has been for decades a favorite street food that used to be sold only in street carts but thanks to its popularity, available in many restaurants now. You can find this simple nutritious dish at any time of the day yet it's become a favorite as a late night, post-bar hour food; after drinking, before heading home for a good sleep. Must-haves of this street food is pickled hot peppers and ground black pepper. Although some vendors have yogurt on the side, pickled pepper is the way to go. Some vendors prepare the chicken, just like Rayiha in the novel, with spices like oregano and paprika, and garlic, but the most common way is just plain chicken: most people refrain from having spiced up chicken thinking spices are used to cover up the smell or appearance of old/leftover chicken from previous day. 

I've had my fair share of chickpea rice with chicken in different locals and from different vendors that I got to perfect my homemade version of this beloved street food and plus this is a kid favorite in my house. 

for 4-6 people

2 cups short grain rice (In Turkey most commonly used and favored one is a type of arborio called baldo)
1/2 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight or 1 can of chickpeas
2 chicken breast, preferably with skin on
1 small onion, peeled and halved
1 bay leaf
1 tsp peppercorns
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil

-Soak chickpeas overnight. The next day cook them for 15-20 minutes until cooked but not mushy soft. 1/2 cup makes ~1 1/2 cups of cooked chickpeas. OR use a can of chickpeas
-Place rice in a bowl and cover with enough water to go 1 inch or more above the rice. We're going to soak the rice and loosen the starch while chicken is cooking.
-Place chicken breasts in a pot with onion halves, bay leaf and peppercorns. Cover with enough water, add 1 tbsp salt and cook ~35-40 minutes, until thoroughly cooked, first on high then simmer. While simmering the chicken will form some foamy stuff on top. Discard them.  
-Once it's cooked, take the chicken with a slotted spoon and let cool. We need that broth. Set a strainer or a skimmer over a large bowl and strain broth by pouring it to the strainer. Discard the onion, bay leaf and peppercorns. Save the broth. 
-25-30 minutes into chicken boiling, drain the rice and rinse under cold water. 
-Heat a wide bottom pot, because we never want to crowd the rice. Add butter and olive oil, it might seem like a lot of butter and oil for 2 cups of rice, but it ain't street food if it's not greasy. 
-Add rice into the pot, with gentle movements, we don't want to break the rice, stir the rice for 4-5 minutes until almost translucent. 
-Add chickpeas. Stir, again gently, for another 2 minutes.
-Add 3 cups of chicken stock that we sere saving-if you gave less than 3 cups, top it with water. Add 1 tsp salt (since we had already salted the broth, don't go heavy on the salt here) 
-First bring to a boil and then cook on low covered for 15-20 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Don't stir the rice while cooking, we don't want to break it. When the water is absorbed, check the bottom of the pot with a spoon to see if the water is all gone, cover the top of the pot with a clean kitchen towel or a paper towel and place the lid tightly on top. We want to get all the moisture from the rice so it won't be sticky or mushy, a big NO for rice in Turkey. It should be "tane tane," each grain separate. Let sit for 10 minutes, we call this process "brewing." 
-While the rice is "brewing," make the pulled chicken, small thin pieces are better than bigger ones. 
-If your chicken gets cold, move the rice to one side of the pot and put the chicken to the other, close the lid. They'll warm each other up. 

Serving: Chickpea with rice is usually served with the upside down bowl trick. Place a scoop of rice in a smallish bowl, fill to the brim and press down. Turn the bowl upside down on a plate as if you're making sand castles. You have a rice dome now. Place pulled chicken pieces on top generously. Sprinkle ground black pepper and add spicy or not spicy pickles to the plate and you have the perfect street food. 
Bon Appétit! 


Antalya Bean Salad (Antalya Usulü Piyaz)

Piyaz is what we call bean salads in Turkey, but the term is actually Persian and means "onion." Piyaz is usually prepared with cannellini beans and kneaded onion; dressed with olive oil and vinegar; spiced up with pepper flakes; and decorated with tomatoes, parsley, and hard-boiled eggs. Depending on the region, piyaz might have green onions or sumac. However, in Antalya, a beautiful city with magnificent beaches and  rich history on the Mediterranean coast, piyaz is made differently than the rest of Turkey. The difference is tahini and garlic, which had put me off at my first try because it was so different and incredibly rich than the piyazs I was used to. In Tekirdag, my hometown, and in Antalya piyaz is usually served with grilled meatballs. 

I've had different versions of Antalya bean salad in years. Sometimes the difference is how it's served; with or without onions, sometimes it's the beans; sometimes the beans are served warm and sometimes at room temperature; and sometimes it's the sauce; some add smashed or pureed beans to the sauce, some add a little bit of sugar to level the tahini, and some add cumin, which I liked a lot. This is how I make my Antalya bean salad at home to go with grilled meatballs.  

2 cups of cooked cannellini beans (save the cooking water)
1 small onion, cut finely in julienne or half-moons (in Antalya, they serve the onion diced, but I prefer julienne)
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 or two hard boiled eggs, sliced or grated (I don't like eating cold eggs, so I skip this one)
1 tomato, peeled if you feel like it and diced

the sauce
1/2 cup tahini
4 tbsp vinegar, red wine or apple
Juice of half a lemon 
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 - 1/3 cup olive oil
1tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin, if you want to try it with cumin 

-Soak the beans overnight. Bring them to a boil and then on medium heat cook them until soft but never mushy, they should be holding themselves fine. Save the cooking water. OR, ofcourse, use canned beans.
-In a bowl mix first tahini and vinegar to a smooth consistency. It will get clumpy; it's fine, it will loosen up. Just keep stirring. 
-Add minced garlic, salt, and garlic. If the sauce is thick, this is where we will add the cooking water from beans, a couple of tablespoons at a time, slowly. Use a whisk to get rid of clumps. Add water until you have a smooth tahini sauce, but not very runny. The tahini sauce shouldn't be too runny or thick. Since different tahini brands have different density, I cannot tell you exactly how many tablespoons of water you need. Finally add lemon juice and half of the olive oil and whisk again. 
-First place the beans on a plate (I like the warm bean version so I keep the beans in the pot until I serve them to keep them warm). In Turkey piyaz is usually served on oval, slightly deep serving platters so you have enough sauce to dip your crusty bread in.
-Slice the onion thinly julienne style and knead with 1 tsp salt in a bowl. Rinse and squeeze the excess water and place on the bean. 
-Add diced tomatoes on top.
-This is where that boiled egg will come. You can add the egg chopped or grated on top. 
-Pour the tahini dressing over everything on the plate evenly.
-Sprinkle finely chopped parsley on top of everything.
-Finally, dress with the rest of the olive oil and serve with a lemon slice or half a lemon on the side, because there's no such thing as piyaz being "too sour."  Piyaz is usually tossed at the table and you have to, have to soak that juice with bread! 

Vegetarian and Minty Cannellini Beans (Zeytinyağlı Naneli Kuru Fasulye)

Cannellini beans, referred to as dry beans or simply as 'the dry,' along with rice is THE traditional Turkish dish. If there's pickled vegetables on the side, especially cabbage, voila, jackpot!  There are variations of this recipe based on what kind of meat you want to use, or although rare, a vegetarian version. You can cook dry cannellinis  with stew beef or lamb, with ground meat-my least favorite, pastrami (pastirma)-yumm, and/or soujuk (sucuk, Middle Eastern/Turkish sausage). 

Although traditionally the dish has meat in it, growing up in my house we loved the 'olive oil! i.e. the vegetarian version the best, especially during summers. Mom's vegetarian summer version has no meat but sweet green chilies, fresh mint leaves, and sun dried tomatoes. Delicious! 

For 4 people
2 cups soaked cannellini beans (1 cup soaked overnight makes ~2 cups) or 2 cans of cannellini beans [Although the taste will be different, you can use northern or navy beans as well]
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
2-3 sweet green chilies or any peppers you like or can fine, chopped 
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped or 1-1 1/2 tbsp dry mint leaves
1/3 cup or more sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tomato, grated or canned petite diced tomato
3-4 tbsp olive oil

-Put olive oil in a cast iron pot and heat [You can use any kind of pot, but beans are cooked best in cast irons or clay pots]
-Add onion and cook ~5 minutes until soft but not brown.
-Add green peppers and cook 2-3 minutes.
-Add garlic and tomato paste. Cook for 2 minutes. 
-Add beans, sun dried tomatoes, fresh or dry mint leaves, and grated tomato. Cook for 2 minutes.
-Add water to go almost an inch over the beans. Salt to your taste.
-Bring to a boil and then simmer covered on low to medium for 30-40 minutes. If you're using canned beans 30 minutes will be enough. If you soaked the beans overnight, check the beans after 40 minutes; they may need a good hour or bit more. 
-Enjoy with rice or any kind of grain on the side or crusty bread to soak that delicious tomato juice. Yogurt and pickled veggies on the side are most beloved sides for dry beans. 

Oven-Baked Vegetarian Stuffed Red Bell Peppers (Fırında Zeytinyağlı Kırmızı Biber Dolması)

Dolmas, stuffed bell peppers, in Turkey are almost exclusively green; however, the green bell peppers there are tiny and beautifully thin, that's perfect for stuffing. I never even attempt to stuff green bell peppers in US. Now and again I come across at farmers' markets and at grocery stores smaller bell peppers, usually red or purple, and I immediately jump over them with joy. I especially like the red ones, because the sweetness from the red bell pepper comes out beeautıfully when baked. These peppers are approximately as big as my fist.  

This recipe is for 8 bell peppers

8 bell peppers
1 big onion, ~1 1/2 cups finely chopped (you can use a food processor)
1 1/2 cups white rice
1 big or two medium tomatoes, grated
1 tomato (this one is for covering the tops of bell peppers after stuffing)
1/4 - 1/3 cup pine nuts (I love them so I go for 1/3) 
1/4 cup currants (most people who are not fond of sweet in their food skip this ingredient) 
1 tbsp allspice
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp mint flakes or ¼ cup fresh mint, chopped finely
1 tsp white sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cups boiling water

-Wash all the bell peppers. Take out the top part and the seeds. With a tip of a sharp knife pierce them at the bottom once or twice. (Save the tops if you want to cover your dolmas as the one in the picture. If you prefer to have tomato covers as in the first picture, discard the tops. Tomato covers keep the dolmas more juicy and the pepper tops look very cute) 
-Mix all the ingredients except for peppers, one tomato that we will use as a cover, and water. 
-Stuff the peppers with the stuffing rice. Don’t go all the way up to the top, leave almost 3/4 inch to an inch, because the rice will cook and rise. 
-Cut big enough rounds from the tomato the cover the tops. Press the tomato slice down a bit to ensure that it'll stay there. (If you opt to use the tops, do the same)
-Place the dolmas in a stove and oven safe dish or pot as high as them. 
-Pour 2 cups of boiling hot water. 
-First bring to a boil on the stove and cook for 5 minutes and then bake in the oven uncovered at 390-400 F for 35-40 minutes, until rice is cooked. (If you're not sure, check the rice with a fork). I really like my oven-baked dolmas to be charred on top just a bit so I make sure they do. They're delicious that way. 
-Take them out and let them cool down to room temperature. Oven-baked vegetarian dolmas, just like all other Turkish olive oil dishes, are best when eaten at room temperature and the day after they're made. 
Enjoy with yogurt on the side!    

Bowl Kebap (Tas Kebabı)

Bowl kebap is one of my mom's specialties, the kind that you request every time you go back home. It is family favorite in our house as well; even the picky ones love this dish. 

Bowl kebap is a very simple recipe. Preparation time is approximately 15 minutes, but you need to cook the meat between 1-2 hours for tenderness and deliciousness. 

Some people find how this dish is cooked confusing and because of that shy away from trying it. I assure you, it is very easy. All you need to do before getting your ingredients ready is (1) to find a bowl with a flat rim that can hold ~2 lb of meat; (2) and a wide pot that the bowl can fit in when it's upside down. Voila! You're ready.

 serves 4-6 people

~2 lb stew beef or lamb
1-1 1/2 cup diced onions
1 tsp or more black ground pepper
1-1 1/2 tsp salt
2-3 tbsp tomato or red pepper paste
2 tbsp olive oil 
1 tbsp butter
2 cups of boiling water
(optional: 2-3 potatoes, peeled and diced. Traditionally bowl kebap is made simply with meat, no vegetable is used. However, sometimes I do like the addition of potatoes in this dish. Potatoes simmered in meat juice makes a wonderful baby food when mashed.) 

-For this dish find a bowl with flat, even rim that is resistant to heat and would hold all the ingredients. Next find a pot that the bowl would fit upside down, as in the picture.
-If you're using potatoes, place them at the bottom of the bowl.
-In a different bowl mix meat, onion, salt, pepper, olive oil, and tomato or red pepper paste with your hands. Get in there and make sure meat gets coated with all.
-Add this meat mix to the bowl, on top of the potatoes. If you're not using potatoes, just place the meat in the bowl. Depending on the size of the bowl, meat may or may not go all the way up, either way is fine. 
-Scatter small pieces of butter on top.
-Put the pot on top of the bowl. Securing both the pot and the bowl with your hands, turn the pot upside down so that the bowl will be sitting in it upside down as in the picture above.
-Since this is how we will be cooking the bowl kebap and we don't want the bowl to move, place a heavy container on top to seal or stabilize the bowl in the pot: a full pitcher, teapot, or a kettle filled with water like I did.
-Pour 2 cups of boiling water in the pot to fill between the bowl and the pot.
-Start cooking on high. Once you see bubbles on the sides of the bowl, turn it down to low or low medium and cook between 1 1/2 to 2 hours. With really good meat, 1 1/2 hours would suffice, however, if you're using a less expensive cut I would recommend cooking for 2 hours. Regardless, anything will come out scrumptious cooked for two hours in this method. 
-When you turn it off, you need to move the pitcher, teapot or whatever you placed on top, and slowly remove the bowl leaving the ingredients in the pot to mix with the water which has turned in to delicious juice now. If you do not remove the bowl when it's still hot, it might get sucked in and sealed to the pot. If this happens, don't panic, just reheat the bowl kebap. When it warms up, it will allow you to take the bowl back. 
-Serve bowl kebap with any kind of rice or grain, but I have to say it's best with buttery white rice and a hearty red wine. 

If you try this recipe, I guarantee it will become a favorite for you as well.