Turkish Salads: From the Tables of Sultans to your Home
This article introduces you to Turkish Salads, which are one of the building blocks of Turkish cuisine. To explain the significance of salads in this rich and diverse cuisine, we first touch on the details and flow of meals in Turkey.
Let’s start with breakfast. Turkish breakfasts generally don’t have a flow of food or a particular order.
All of the food is presented on the table and remains throughout the meal, including a salad plate. This salad plate – söğüş – is usually served with olive oil drizzled on coarsely sliced vegetables sprinkled with salt. In summer, fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers, and in winter, carrots, and radishes take their place on breakfast tables.
Hot soup is often a starter for classic lunch or dinner, and salad and bread are always on the table. Until the soup is served, everyone will have at least tasted the salad. At the same time, those with more of an appetite “dip bread in the juices”. There are also timeless salads. They are not usually served with main meals but accompany afternoon tea, or are serve when hosting guests.
This may seem odd, but even if guests haven’t been invited, Turkish people will always have some sort of dish to offer.
Even at a dinner party, at least one type of salad, pastry, and dessert is served “with the tea” after the meal is over.
Salads being available in fast-food joints or street-food vendors may also be an odd concept to you; there is even a very common, delicious, and fulfilling food salad in Turkey! Since we go into the details in the article, let’s leave the rest as a surprise.
Salad is a colorful dish that sometimes amazes by its appearance alone, making you impatient to get eating and giving a pleasant feeling of happiness at the dinner table. One of the things that makes the Turkish people so lucky is the plethora of variety of this fantastic food. Many of these salads can also be found in the Turkish meze.
Mezes are appetizers that can be found on almost every dinner table but are mainly eaten gradually throughout the meal and are usually accompanied by alcoholic beverages.
You might assume that alcoholic beverages are not very common in the Middle East, but, believe me, dinner tables accompanied by drinks are a culture in Turkey.
Raki, for example, is an alcoholic beverage that is not consumed on its own. It has its own culture and cuisine: the raki table. This table has two must-haves, friends and mezes.
Turkey is a country where every opportunity is used to come together, celebrate, and eat. Huge meals are eaten at celebratory events such as weddings, circumcisions, a baby’s first tooth, a baby’s 40th day in the world, and for religious holidays.
Along with rice pilaf and meat, salad is always served at these events. Most of these dishes have symbolic meanings, representing fertility or abundance. In addition to being extraordinarily rich in terms of vegetables, greens, and fresh herbs, Anatolia also has fertile soils for the cultivation of vegetables that are not indigenous to Anatolia. This means we are able to cultivate hundreds of different vegetables, legumes, and grains.
Let’s start off with fruit salads.
In Turkey, fruit salad is not a mixture of fruit chopped up and served in their own juice. But no one can argue that a huge plate of mixed sliced fruit is not a fruit salad. It’s the most customary way of consuming fruit in Turkey, and it is usually served as the last meal of the day. Especially when you have guests, a peeled and sliced fruit salad is served to conclude the evening.
Anatolia is home to so many different cultures and cuisines between its east and west, north and south that it sometimes changes from village to village. Of course, this difference is reflected in the salads as well. The only common thing is that a salad is made with whatever ingredients are available.
We know that the ancient civilizations in Anatolian lands made salads from greens and fresh herbs that they chopped by hand. But the first salads we will talk about in this article were recorded after the 18th century in the Ottoman period. Of course, this does not mean that salads combined with olive oil, lemon, and vinegar were the first examples in this land. However, we learn which salads were worthy of Sultans in the Ottoman palace at that time.
These delicious salads became more diverse in the middle of the 19th century and are not much different from as they are served today.
Green salad, tomato salad, cauliflower salad, and cacik were familiar on sultans’ tables. Why not cheer your tables now?
That should give you a little idea of the place and importance of salad in Anatolian cuisine. Now we go into a little more detail about Turkish salads, where every ingredient is blended beautifully and combined in perfect harmony.
Greens and raw vegetable salads: For those who like the classics!
There are places in Turkey that come to mind when we think about dining by the sea. One of them is the magnificent Bosphorus. The other is the Islands overlooking Istanbul from the Sea of Marmara. Another is the Aegean coast, where the smell of the sea and the fresh air mesmerize you.
The main food eaten here is, of course, fish! If there’s one dish that adds to the deliciousness of salads, it’s fish. It may go well with other dishes, but it is unacceptable for a table with fish to be without a salad. Salads made from fresh Aegean herbs sometimes even precede the fish.
Lettuce, arugula, parsley, dill, fresh mint, tomato, cucumber, green onion, white onion, red onion, radish, peppers, red cabbage, carrots… There are countless more ingredients that go into our salads. Combining these in different combinations and chopped with varying techniques makes a different salad.
Dressings for this type of salad are usually freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt, and olive oil.
While you may be used to a whisked up vinaigrette, the more common approach here is to add them one by one and then mix the salad.
Salad dressing is not limited to these three ingredients; grape molasses, apple cider vinegar, and grape vinegar are also common.
Turkish salads have a very unique sour balance created by the exceptional natural resources available. Sumac spice and sumac sour-syrup bring out the flavor of salads, especially onions, and pomegranate and pomegranate molasses can also be added, along with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.
The most popular are shepherd’s salad, randomly chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onion, pepper, and parsley, served with olive oil, lemon, and salt. The recipe is here.
Whether it is because it is effortless to make or because it is tasty, it is undoubtedly the most popular salad in Turkey.
Seasonal salad is usually prepared by grating or thinly slicing vegetables such as carrots, radishes, red cabbage, and lettuce and is accompanied by the classic trio of lemon, olive oil, and salt.
Spoon salad is a smaller chopped version of the ingredients in shepherd’s salad. The dressing also differs thanks to pomegranate syrup and dried mint.
Add sumac and walnuts to these ingredients and you have gavurdagi salad.
Bostana salad contains the same ingredients but with more tomato, and it is more liquid and quite spicier than others.
There is another salad prepared with these main ingredients: hot ezme. Although the name ezme means to crush, it refers to the fact that it is chopped into small pieces. But let’s get to the recipe.
Salads made with greens are not only limited to lettuce, arugula, curly cress, and sorrel. Making salads with fresh purslane collected from the garden, especially in summer, is as common as salads made with other greens. Two salads in particular are found on the summer table.
A purslane salad with tomato, onion, and pomegranate syrup enchants with its balanced sourness. In contrast, another purslane salad made with garlic and yogurt cools you down.
Purslane salad is, in my opinion, one of the most delicious flavors in the world. Here is the recipe.
Root vegetable salads: A feeling of freshness from under the ground!
Of course, it is impossible to imagine Turkey’s most popular root vegetables not being consumed as salads. Carrots, celery, potatoes all have different roles in salads, as do cooking and chopping techniques. Still, all of them are highly valued in Turkish cuisine.
Potato salad appears in almost every food culture. But the Turkish potato salad is something special, here is the recipe.
And now we come to the salads we said at the beginning would surprise you!
Our main ingredient is again potatoes. Giant kumpir potatoes, or baking potatoes, grown in Turkey are used for making this salad.
After these huge potatoes are cooked whole in special ovens, one side is cut open and turned into a potato bowl. It is then filled with cheese, sweet corn, olives, mushrooms, and peas – all or some of them.
This is one of Turkey’s most satisfying and favorite street foods. There is even a Kumpir Makers’ Street, Kumpirciler Sokağı, in Ortaköy, one of the must-visit areas of Istanbul. If you happen to be in Istanbul, you must try this delicacy and create your own potato bowl with the ingredients you want!
Roasted vegetables: Those that mesmerize you with their smell!
Everyone in Turkey would agree that roasted vegetable salads are more delicious with vegetables cooked over an open fire. Roasted vegetable salads are the favorite of large picnics and weekend summer barbecues. Roasted pepper and eggplant salads are the most famous and can be found in every region of Turkey, but don’t be fooled into thinking it always has the same name. This salad sometimes has a different name, even within the same city.
Here is an eggplant salad recipe that will complement any meal, no matter what you are serving. Don’t be afraid to be creative. Feel free to change the quantities and measurements of the ingredients to your liking. And if you change the basics, you may unwittingly be recreating a recipe made in another town.
Legumes and Grains: Hearty Companions!
Legume salads, such as white beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, broad beans, and black-eyed peas, are a must-have if you want to familiarize yourself with Turkish Salads. When seasoned with olive oil and vinegar, combined with thinly sliced red onion and finely chopped parsley, you’ll get all the pleasure you could ever get from a salad. Increase the amount of protein with slices a boiled egg, and it turns into a satisfying main meal.
Here is a recipe for piyaz (white bean salad) with tahini, which outshines all the others. This salad knows very well how to win the admiration of the Turkish people.
Made quickly and with limited ingredients, it is easy to put together when guests arrive. And that’s exactly where its name comes from. Kisir means limited.
Here is an excellent Kisir recipe, but do not worry about which vegetables and greens to use; remember the philosophy and name of this dish. Feel free to use whatever you have.
Yogurt Salads: Delicious Creamy Delights
Yogurt has overwhelmingly taken over Turkish culinary culture and found a place in almost every salad. We love yogurt, and we’re proud of it. It occupies such space in Turkish cuisine to deserve a separate section.
We give many different names to salads made with yogurt.
Spinach or eggplant borani (nothing to do with the Middle Eastern stew) is a spinach or eggplant salad with yogurt.
Tarator, a word that also changed meaning as it entered Turkish vocabulary, is also a yogurt salad, for example, zucchini tarator or carrot tarator.
Remember I said names vary from region to region?
Tarator is widely used in Istanbul, the capital of the Empire, and borani is common in Anatolia. The names are historical and have stuck until the present day.
It would be a shame not to mention cacik when talking about salads with yogurt. Cacik is a kind of tarator, but it is never called cucumber tarator or cacik salad.
Cacik is just cacik; a magnificent salad that describes itself in one word. You may have heard it called tzatziki in Greece, but there are differences. In Greece, tzatziki is a thick, creamy dip, you can find the recipe here.
Turkish cacik is thinner and looks like cold soup. Literally, a salad that can be drunk with a spoon.