Yogurt, or yoğurt as it is called in Turkish, is one of the most popular ingredients in Turkish cuisine, eaten at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and even consumed as a drink. The word “yogurt” itself comes from Turkish. Studies have shown that an average four-person family in Turkey can consume nearly 5 kg of yogurt per week. Yogurt is often used as a topping, or a side dish, and is also used as the base for many meze and main course meals. It thickens soups and Turkish desserts.
Even babies in Turkey start eating yogurt early, usually mixed with something sweet like honey or fruit preserves. In the summer, Turkish people drink ayran, an ice-cold salty yogurt drink, to cool off, or alongside grilled meat. Traditionally, ayran is served from a wooden barrel tap called a yayık, which mixes the ingredients together to make the ayran frothy.
Many families make their own yogurt, and traditionally it’s contained in red clay pots. Mass-produced yogurt is easy to find in any supermarket, sometimes with a thick layer of cream (called “kaymak”) on top. Turkish yogurt is particularly rich and creamy.
BEST TURKISH YOGURT DISHES
Yogurt is an integral part of Turkish cuisine. Visitors are often astounded at just how prevalent it is, from breakfast, lunch and dinner, hot or cold, the love is strong. Here is a list of the tastiest yogurt-based dishes for you to try.
Ayran is everywhere in Turkey! You’ll scarcely be able to go anywhere without seeing this frothy beverage enjoyed by all. Loved in part for its health benefits - it’s an excellent probiotic, high in protein and calcium - ayran is said to cure just about everything: sunburn, indigestion, hangovers, sunstroke, you name it. But what is it?
Ayran is a yogurt-based drink made by diluting yogurt with water and adding salt. When mixed just so, it develops a light froth and is a creamy yet light and refreshing beverage. In the summertime, it’s not unusual to see ayran with fresh mint. This variation brings out the sweet-salty flavor combination loved across the globe and creates a delicious, refreshing drink. Try it with rice, meat, kebab, çiğ köfte, tantuni, pide, börek - the list is endless!
Cacık in Turkey is more often served as a chilled soup. Cacık is available year-round, but is especially refreshing and delightful in the summertime, when it is often served over ice. Made with diluted yogurt, finely diced or grated cucumbers, minced garlic and bunches of chopped fresh mint, the consistency may be thinner, like a chilled soup, or thicker, like a creamy drink, according to the chefs wishes. Cacık can be a snack, thirst-quencher or soup-like appetizer - the choice is up to you!
Moving on from drinks and chilled soups, let’s turn our attention to mezes. For those that don’t know, mezes are small plates that are often yogurt- or olive oil-based. Meyhanes are Turkish taverns where food and drink are enjoyed with friends over many hours. There are a variety of cold meze dishes, shared in the middle of the table, before the main courses arrive.
Haydari is a dish you’ll see in most meyhanes (taverns) in Turkey. It’s a favorite of most who enjoy delicious mezes. Haydari is a thick yogurt dish seasoned with garlic, mint, and dill. Best served with crunchy bread, you’ll find it throughout every season. Haydari is a delicious start to a meyhane night, as an accompaniment to meat and kebab dishes or on its own. Afiyet olsun! Bon Appetit!
Atom is, as the name suggests, a taste sensation of atomic proportions! Rich creamy yogurt is the base of this dish, but the star is the fiery red chili peppers seared in butter. Like all chili dishes, the heat level depends on the type of chilis used and how much you can tolerate. To be on the safe side we recommend dipping some bread into the dish and scooping up some of the delicious red butter with a healthy heaping of yogurt and proceed from there. Atom is one of those mezes that is so simple, yet so delicious and will certainly have you coming back for more.
Yoğurtlu Semizotu Salatası - Purslane with Strained Yogurt and Garlic
Purslane (semizotu) is common in many Middle Eastern and Turkish dishes, though it’s not well known in other parts of the world. Often considered a weed, purslane is high in vitamin C and Omega-3 fatty acids. It has an earthy flavor and a delicious crunch. This dish combines the leafy green with thick, garlicky yogurt. Semizotu is a common meze dish, served in most meyhanes and found year-round.
Tarator - Carrot Salad with Garlic Yogurt
This dish has it all: crunchy carrots, flavorful garlic, and creamy, salty yogurt. The sweetness of the carrots is balanced by the salt and cream of the yogurt, while the garlic adds an extra kick.
Patlıcanlı Yoğurtlama - Eggplant and Yogurt Salad
Eggplant and yogurt salad is one of Turkey's meze staples. You will rarely find a local who’ll pass on this delicious meze dish, and you will rarely find a tavern or grill that doesn’t serve it. No matter what you call this meaty vegetable (be it eggplant or aubergine), lovers of eggplant will enjoy Turkey's treatment of it. For something that is typically eaten hastily, this dish actually takes some time and love to prepare. Eggplants are either smoked over coals (the traditional way) or cooked in the oven at a low heat, before the skin is taken off and they are mashed with garlic, oil, salt, and then covered in thick creamy yogurt. The garlicky eggplant and yogurt salad is then often drizzled with a blended tomato sauce, for an extra kick of that famously fresh Turkish produce. Highly recommended as a side dish, a meze, or to enjoy on its own. Which will you choose?
Çılbır combines two of Turkey’s great loves: eggs and yogurt. This dish dates back to Ottoman times and is still incredibly popular because of its delicious taste, creamy consistency, and the widespread availability of its core ingredients. Çılbır makes an excellent brunch or lunch dish, and you'll also notice many Turks whip this up at home for an easy, nutritious meal.
The best çılbır will feature perfectly poached eggs sitting pretty on a base of whisked garlic yogurt and drizzled with a delicious red pepper butter sauce. It is served with crusty bread and traditional Turkish seasonings of mint, mild red pepper, oregano and, of course, salt and pepper. Çilbir will leave you feeling content, full, and ready for more exploring.
Yayla Çorbası - Yogurt Soup
Hailing from the northern Black Sea region, yogurt soup is also known as yayla (plateau) soup, named after the mountain meadows of the region. For those of you used to having your yogurt cold in some form or another, yogurt soup can be a bit of an odd concept to get your head around, yet this soup is comforting, light in taste, and recommended for those in need of nourishment. Made with yogurt, rice, and flavored with a light dusting of mint, this soup is creamy, delicious, and easily found across Turkey in restaurants and cafés.