Turkish cuisine offers flavors that sing

A guide to getting the most out of the menu

It’s human nature to approach any uncharted territory with caution, including food.

Many great dishes and restaurants get passed over every day because of a lack of exposure and understanding. For many, Turkish cuisine falls into this category.

And yet, it’s one of the most healthy, fresh, vegetarian-friendly options that’s out there, drawing colorful Mediterranean flavors from both the land and sea.

“Turkish cuisine is renowned as one of the world’s best,” said J. Emre Bektas, executive chef and owner of Pasha Grill in Beavercreek. “It is considered to be one of the three main cuisines of the world because of the variety of its recipes, its use of natural ingredients, its flavors and tastes, which appeal to all palates and its influence throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.”

But as Bektas points out, “it is not easy to introduce new tastes to people who like to eat what they are used to.”

We asked him to help create a guide to this delicious cuisine.

An intro to Turkish cuisine

For those looking to eat healthier, a Turkish menu offers plenty of flavorful options. In general, most Turkish restaurants tend to stick to traditional cooking techniques and recipes dating back centuries to the Ottoman Empire.

“The cuisine originated in central Asia, the first home of the Turks, and then evolved with the contributions of the inland and Mediterranean cultures with which Turks interacted after their arrival in Anatolia,” Bektas said. “Turkish cuisine is in a sense a bridge between Far Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, with the accent always on enhancing the natural taste and flavor of the ingredients. There is no one dominant element in Turkish cuisine, like sauces in French and pasta in Italian cuisines.”

Here are a few terms related to Turkish cuisine:

Börek

These light, crisp, savory treats are made by rolling thin pastry and wrapping it around fillings such as cheese, minced meat, spinach and/or vegetables. They can be baked, boiled, fried or cooked on a griddle. They can also be rolled into “cigarettes.”

Dolma

This is the generic term for stuffed vegetables. Dolma can come with meat (typically served hot) or as a vegetarian dish filled with rice (typically served cold). Any vegetable that can be stuffed or wrapped can be used. Popular options are eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, squash and green peppers, while grape leaves and cabbage leaves serve as popular wrappers.

Doner

This is a Turkish dish of roasted meat that is cooked and kept warm on a vertical spit. Most frequently you’ll see this done in Ohio restaurants with lamb — a staple of Turkish cuisine. If you’ve ever had an authentic gyro then you’ve had a version of this dish.

Kebab

Kebab in Turkish cuisine is any cut of meat that is cooked over flame. Cuts of meat can range in size and type. Fish, chicken, lamb and vegetables can all be prepared this way. Often at restaurants you can get your kebab with rice, or potatoes or both.

Kofte

Koftes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but the one thing they have in common is that they are made with minced meat, spices, vegetables and other ingredients and then baked, boiled, grilled or fried. They are named after the cooking method, ingredients or shape.

Mezze

This is the way to kick off your meal. We call them hors d’oeuvres or tapas. Examples of some popular dishes to start out your meal with are hummus (a dip made from mashed chickpeas), baba ganoush, (mashed eggplant), falafel (deep-fried chickpeas), stuffed grape leaves, cigars (fried dough filled with cheese) or a fresh salad like a shepherd’s salad (cucumber, tomato, onion, sometimes green pepper, sometimes topped with feta cheese, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon).

A sampling of Turkish restaurants

Istabul Cafe

628 Vine Street, Cincinnati

(513) 421-5100

Pasha Grill

72 Plum St., Beavercreek

www.pashagrill.com

(937) 429-9000

Pera Mediterranean

1026 Delta Ave., Cincinnati

www.peracincinnati.com

(513) 371-5195

Sultans

7305 Tylers Corner Place, West Chester

www.sultanscincinnati.com

(513) 847-1535

Cafe Ephesus

6720 Perimeter Loop Rd., Dublin

www.cafeephesusdublin.com

(614) 798-8091

Cafe Istanbul

3983 Worth Ave., Columbus

www.cafeistanbul.com

(614) 473-9144

RECIPE: SIGARA BÖREK

This recipe was provided by J. Emre Bektas, executive chef and owner of Pasha Grill.

Bektas says this recipe for fillo dough stuffed with feta cheese is a tasty recipe that’s simple to prepare and has proven to be very popular with customers at his restaurant.

Ingredients:

1 8 oz. package of fillo dough, thawed (Look for packages that are pre-cut triangle)

1 lb. feta cheese

1/2 cup fresh dill or fresh parsley

1 egg

Olive oil for frying

Half stick melted butter

Instructions:

In a mixing bowl, mix feta cheese, egg, and parsley or dill together. This is best done with a fork, mashing the feta. Bektas says that adding oregano or cayenne pepper is an option that can add some kick, but he prefers to adhere as closely as possible to the traditional recipe.

Remove the fillo dough from the packaging. Take a sheet of fillo dough, brush the inside slightly with butter and put 1 tablespoon of the prepared feta cheese mixture in the center and roll it taking care to close both ends (Bektas says to “think about it like a tiny burrito”). When done with rolling, seal it with butter. Preheat the olive oil to about 375 and fry each piece until they are golden brown on each side. Once they are done frying, rest them on few paper towels. Serve them while they are warm.

“Afiyet olsun,” said Bektas. Roughly translated, that means “Bon appetite.”

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