Turkish Vegan Cuisine revisited — Part 1

A week after Turkey and I feel like one confused Higgs Particle right now… like having run through a collider and emerged out of quantum excitation so abruptly, that I am not sure what particles to decay into! Huh?!! Well, in other words.. the stint at Turkey for the Symantec Service Corps project went by so fast, provided so many varied and rich experiences, and ended almost too abruptly — that I am still trying to articulate the multi-dimensional experience, while going through withdrawals!

The day after I got back, I put my çaydanlık (Turkish double kettle) on the stove and sipped some Turkish çay (pronounced Chai). Amazing how quickly that feels like a long-term habit!

Çaydanlik (Turkish Double Tea Kettle)

Turkish people drink a LOT of çay and the kettle is on the stove all day. I noticed that in most shops I walked into, the çaydanlık was kept on the heater/chimney base, thus not having to burn fuel separately to make tea. What an eco-friendly way to enjoy çay!

Çaydanlik (Double Tea Kettle) & Turkish tea glass

Turkish Ingredients available in LA!

One way I have been coping, is by recreating the dishes I enjoyed at Turkey and sharing with friends. Not surprisingly, it has been very easy to find almost all Turkish ingredients in Los Angeles, a true mecca of world cultures and cuisines. It has been an interesting week of discovering middle eastern stores that I have never stepped into until now — a whole new world has opened up suddenly, right in my neighborhood.

Although the Turkish diet is heavily meat based, there are plenty of delightful vegan dishes, and of course, the recipes are just a click away. Here’s a run down of the ones I am aware of and tried:

Meze (Appetizers)

The Turkish meal starts with a “Meze” — an appetizer taster round that includes various salads, dolmas, chutney like dips and such. Pictured here is my version of Meze! My meze items are store bought — the olives, white beans and stuffed eggplant (İmambayıldı) were available at a local middle eastern store. I first saw fresh almonds being sold by a street vendor at Izmir, which is a city along the western coast of Turkey. I was thrilled to find them at a local Jordanian store. While I didn’t see sour plums in Turkey, i figured they looked delicious enough to belong in my meze!

My version of Meze — Olives, White Beans, Stuffed Eggplant, Fresh Almonds, Bread, Salt, Sour Plums

Mercemek Çorbasi (Red Lentil Soup)

This lentil soup (Recipe here) was a staple yummy dish that Sumeyra made at our Flying Broom office. So easy to make, so wholesome and tasty!

Mercemek Çorbası…….(Red Lentil Soup)

kısır (Turkish Tabouleh Salad)

kısır (Recipe here) was another dish that Sumeyra made often, much to our delight. It was so tasty and light that I always went back for multiple servings!

kısır (Turkish Tabouleh Salad)

Çiğ köfte Durum (Wrap with Bulgur Wheat, Lettuce)

Çiğ köfte (Recipe here) quickly become a favorite and a staple while at Turkey, as it was available everywhere and turned out to be accidentally vegan due to health regulations preventing the use of raw meat in the dishes sold at fast foods. Back in LA, I was able to find most of the ingredients except Urfa Biber (also known as Isot pepper) which is probably a key ingredient for the original color and flavor. I substituted it with Aleppo pepper in my recipe, while my shipment from an online Turkish store arrives next week!

Çiğ köfte is usually accompanied with turnip juice and Ayran (a yogurt drink). I fount turnip juice in LA!! While I didn’t try the turnip juice while at Turkey (after the faces my team mates Travis and Amitoj made after trying it!), I actually like it! I made a vegan Ayran using coconut yogurt, cucumber slices, salt and pepper.

Çiğ köfte — can be made into balls and eaten along with lettuce leaves and lemon, or as a lavash bread wrap (durum). It is traditionally accompanied by Turnip Juice and Ayran (yogurt drink — pictured is a vegan yogurt lassi )

Gözleme (Stuffed Flat Bread)

This dish (Recipe here) is made by rolling out dough into a thin flat round, topping with spinach and feta cheese or potatoes, folding into a square shape and then cooking on a large iron griddle that looks like an upside down pan. Many restaurants in Turkey have women in traditional clothes making Gözleme and serving hot off the griddle to customers. I had the delightful experience of eating a Gözleme made by the original native Turkish people at Baruçu village near Ephesus, a small village with a population of about 100 people. The women were kind enough to make a vegan one for me with just spinach. My version below is topped with sauteed onions and spinach and vegan ricotta cheese (available at Whole Foods).

My version of Gözleme made oflavash bread topped with sauteed onions and spinach, and vegan ricotta cheese (available at Whole Foods)

Türk lokumu (Turkish Delight)

No Turkish tourist experience is complete without Turkish delight! While I stayed away from lokum not knowing what was in it, I found out in the last week that it was made with wheat, nuts and beet sugar and was vegan! The guy at Tuqba, a chain lokum store was so fed up with my asking him for ingredients that he would chime “no sugar, no sugar” and run around every time i entered the store there after!

Türk lokumu (Turkish Delight)

Putting it all together

It was so much fun creating and sharing this Turkish vegan cuisine experience with friends. My admiration for the Turkish culture and people has deepened after having tried these dishes hands on, and has expanded my shopping cart to a whole new set of ethnic stores.

What Next?!

I will be trying to make Turkish coffee using the cesve (Turkish coffee pot). I am also looking forward to trying Çiğ köfte again when my Urfa biber arrives next week! Until then… Görüşürüz!

Update: Click here to read Part 2!

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