healthy Turkish cuisine
Turkish cuisine is inherently healthy and highly seasonal, with many dishes being built around the multitude of fresh produce available. Fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, dairy, and meat are produced throughout the country, ensuring highly nutritious and fresh-tasting food. The flavors and spices that go into Turkish foods are not only delicious, but they have antioxidant properties, working to lower cholesterol, eliminate toxins, and boost immunity. Fresh herbs like dill, parsley, and rosemary are often used to flavor dishes, while across the Aegean and other sparsely inhabited regions, wild herbs are sought for their perceived health and medicinal qualities. Spices like red pepper flakes, sumac, and ginger are used to flavor dishes or as homeopathic remedies in their own right.
Olive oil is traditionally used to cook and preserve dishes, providing antioxidants and essential trans fats. Fresh fish and other seafood contribute to a diet high in essential fatty acids. Here are some of the health benefits of Turkish cuisine. Enjoy the traditional Turkish food while in Turkey, discover unique tastes, and benefit from their wellness properties.
Turkey is a large country and with most of the population concentrated in cities, there is ample room for growing a variety of produce. Each region, of course, has delicacies and specialties, many of which have grown throughout Turkey for centuries. The staples of the Turkish kitchen are eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers that grow round and juicy under the warmth of the sun. Citrus crops, pomegranates, olives, and nuts thrive in the coastal climes, while in the valleys of Anatolia wheat and grains flourish.
The variety of produce available means seasonal specialties are made to welcome each change of the season and to promote good health throughout the year.
Herbs and Spices
Turkish cooking uses a lot of fresh, leafy herbs that are rich in flavor and have additional health benefits. High in vitamins and minerals, wild Turkish herbs are often touted for their anti-inflammatory properties. Across the Aegean and into Anatolia proper there are a number of regional herb varieties that are highly prized - you might see them at local markets or spice shops (aktars).
Spices and spice markets are an essential part of Turkish cuisine, and therefore, Turkish life. From the Spice Bazaar in İstanbul, to the home kitchen, spices are omnipresent. Used for flavor, many spices are high in vitamins, minerals, vital antioxidants, and have anti-inflammatory properties. A common home remedy for a sore throat is ginger powder, cinnamon, and chili powder mixed with a little honey. This potent remedy is quintessentially Turkish, making use of ingredients readily available in most homes and delivering a sharp kick and a whole host of vitamins and minerals with each bite.
The kitchen is the heart of the home and nowhere is that truer than in Turkey. Turkish cuisine is meant to be shared with friends, family, and guests. This means that dishes are typically made in large quantities, with a busy bustling here and there as the meal is prepared. The reliance on homemade tomato sauce is a secret for many home chefs - nothing store-bought in this house! The love and attention that goes into the most basic ingredients are a testament to the role and importance of food and healthy eating in Turkish culture.
In restaurants around the country that serve ana yemekler (home cooking-style dishes), you’ll be able to find dishes of the traditional Turkish cuisine, full of delicious flavors and deeply nourishing.
It can be hard to keep up with the latest trends when it comes to oils. A small amount of olive oil is good for a healthy heart, healthy skin, and hair. Turkish food is chiefly cooked and preserved in olive oil, even cakes are made with olive oil instead of butter! Olive oil has been shown to assist in lowering cholesterol, risk of diabetes, stroke, and possibly Alzheimer’s. Turkish food, even when substantial, has a lightness to it that might be attributed to olive oil (amongst other things). It’s delicate flavor leaves the produce to work their magic, making them enticing to the last bite.
The high number of antioxidants in olive oil might explain why Turks have such clear skin and long, luscious hair.
Vegetarian and Vegan
Turkish food has a high concentration of vegetarian and vegan dishes that can be eaten on their own, with rice or grains, or as an accompaniment to meat or fish. In times of celebration, a large crowd will gather together and enjoy lamb, beef, or sometimes fish, cooked very simply over coals or grilled. The vegetable and vegan olive oil dishes, grain salads, meze, and other accompaniments are typically made from fresh, seasonal produce and flavored liberally with fresh herbs. As olive oil has typically been easier to make and store (compared to butter), many dishes are naturally based on olive oil and are, therefore, vegan friendly.
Food is an essential part of life, why not share it with loved ones and new acquaintances? Turkey is a truly hospitable, welcoming country. Nothing is more Turkish than coming together to share, joke, and laugh over an elaborately prepared meal. Across Turkey, there are a wide variety of regional specialties, making the best out of the fresh produce, wild and traditional herbs and spices, and locally produced olive oils.
We’re sure you’ll leave Turkey glowing from the inside out! After all, sharing freshly prepared food, flavored with fresh herbs and spices is surely the biggest health benefit anyone could wish for!
MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE AND DIET
One of the most famous Turkish dietitians suggests following the “Mediterranean way of nutrition.” It is also known as the “planetary health diet.” Let’s learn more about it.
The planetary diet focuses on herbal resources. We know that to produce one kilogram of grain, it takes 1,500 liters of water, while a kilogram of meat needs 15,000 liters of water to produce. In order to protect nature, we need to focus our diet on herbal resources - at least half of our plate should be reserved for vegetables and fruits.
If you think there's no meat, no chicken, and no fish in this diet, you’re wrong. They are allowed to be consumed several times a week - with an average of 200 grams- while red meat consumption is allowed up to one steak per month and up to a maximum of 100 grams per week. You should also eat about 50 grams of nuts a day.
The consumption of beans, chickpeas, lentils, and other legumes from vegetable protein sources should be 75 grams per day.
In addition, you can drink 250 ml of milk as an animal nutrition source. Whole grains such as bread or rice are allowed (200-250 grams per day), while you can also consume 50 grams of starchy vegetables per day. Finally, you can consume 30 grams of sugar and about 4-5 spoons of liquid oil.
As you can see, this diet is not a difficult plan. When we return to our traditions and turn to nature, we can take care of nature, our body, and our future.
7 VEGETARIAN TURKISH DISHES
Turkish cooking is actually very heavily vegetarian. There is a plethora of dishes that showcase the delicious, fresh, seasonal produce so widely available in Turkey. Many dishes highlight produce from a particular area, while others are widely available throughout Turkey. Turkish food is often made in large portions since Turkish cooking is made to share with friends and family. Try these vegetarian dishes while you’re visiting - you won’t be disappointed!
1. Yaprak Sarma - Vine Leaf Rolls
Yaprak sarma is basically vine leaves carefully wrapped around a mixture of rice, currants, and sauteed onions. Yaprak sarmas are hearty appetizers, available year-round. They are best enjoyed with lemon juice drizzled over them, the sour lemon bringing out the currants’ delicate sweetness.
2. Enginar Kalbi - Artichoke Hearts
Artichokes are carefully peeled, leaving only their inner heart. Throughout the winter you’ll often see the peelers in grocery stores working furiously, bags of discarded leaves at their feet, their knives working tirelessly around the artichoke. The artichokes are then cooked to perfection and served with their olive oil and lemon juice preserve.
3. Barbunya - Pinto Beans
Barbunya is another classic Turkish dish. Made with pinto beans, this dish is filling, tasty, and a true comfort food. Pinto beans are cream-colored beans flecked with pink. Cooked to perfection in an onion and tomato sauce, barbunya is a hearty dish that can be enjoyed on its own, with rice or as a meze. This true staple of Turkish cooking can be found in restaurants and homes across the country.
4. Çiğ Köfte - Bulgur Patties
Çiğ köfte can be a snack, an appetizer, or a meal in its own right. It’s made using bulgur that has been soaked in a richly spiced tomato sauce. The bulgur is molded into patties and served with fresh crunchy lettuce leaves, pomegranate molasses, and fresh lemon wedges. The crunchy lettuce and acidic lemon cut through the richly flavored bulgur, lightening each bite.
5. Şakşuka - Shakshouka
Şakşuka is a dish that celebrates the staples of Turkish cuisine. Eggplants, tomatoes, and potatoes are roasted and then covered in a rich tomato-onion sauce. Often served with yogurt, şakşuka is a fresh, hearty meze or side dish for all to enjoy.
6. Mücver - Vegetable Fritters
Mücver can be made out of most vegetables, however the most common are zucchini. The zucchini is grated and mixed with fresh dill and parsley, added to a batter and fried. Mücver are delicious with yogurt or white cheese.
7. Kalem Böreği - Turkish Fried Feta Rolls
Turkish fried feta rolls are perfect to be shared or eaten as a quick snack to satisfy one’s hunger. Inside the crisp outer shell is a mixture of white cheese and fresh herbs. The salt of the cheese mingles with the satisfying crunch, leaving you wanting just one more, every time.
Afiyet Olsun! Bon Appetit!