Turkey is one of those countries that is famous the world over for its delicious Kebabs. It is also one of those countries that loves its meat. But, it is also one of those countries that is insanely vegetarian-friendly and its vegetarian spread is so high that you will be spoilt for choice. Be its main course, appetizers, cold mezes or desserts, Turkish vegetarian food is such an elixir for the taste buds
I figured this out for myself when I trotted through different regions of Turkey cooking with locals, eating with locals, checking out local restaurants, trying out the street food and simply filling my stomach with lip smacking food. I am not talking about packaged or processed food. I am talking about fresh produce and foods that are consumed by local Turkish people in their home on a regular basis and one that is also available at the restaurants all over the country.
Its Mediterranean weather and rich soil ensure that it has some of the best vegetable produce in the region and this richness provides Turkish food with all its necessary ingredients and that includes the spices too. If you head to the Aegean or the Mediterranean coast, you will actually see so many vegetarian options that you will think if you are really in a meat loving country. The fertile Anatolian region also adds to that list of breads, vegetables and fruits. The local bazaars are full of fresh vegetables and fruits. Olives, cheeses, milk, butter and nuts are available in plenty. All you have to do is consume them directly, cook it for yourself (if you know Turkish cooking) or consume it through a Turkish kitchen.
While I was on my vegetarian food trail through Turkey, I tried many of its foods and the below are some of the best options and they have been categorized across Main course, Salads and toppings, Mezes, Snacks, Cheeses, Starters, Soups, Desserts and Drinks.
Turkish Breakfast Fresh cucumber and tomatoes, 2 or 3 varieties of cheese, especially the beyaz peynir and Labneh, homemade jams, freshly baked breads, eggs and fruits with Turkish Tea or Coffee is the perfect way to begin your day. This breakfast is a perfect combination of vitamins, fiber, carbs, fats and proteins
Turkey is one of those countries where bread is inexpensive, delicious to eat and available in plenty and fresh all over the country. Pide, Lavash, Bazlama, , Ebeleme, Fodla, Gilik, Tandir Bread, Somun, Tepsi Ekmegi, and Yufka are some of the names that I remember from the so many varieties that I tasted. You can eat these breads with cheese, vegetables, eggs, cooked preparations, toppings and much more.
Croissants, Doughnuts and Cookies
The croissants might have originated in France, but they are as much a staple dish in Turkey as they are in France. The Simit (sesame croissant) is an iconic croissant that is available all over the country. In fact, it is so popular that people carry it on their way to work from home on ferries (in Istanbul) and share it with the sea gulls who have also taken a liking to it. Pattiseries are present all over the country and they dish out a variety of freshly baked croissants, doughnuts and cookies that are made from different ingredients. A fantastic option for breakfast.
This is one of my favorite breakfast and/or lunch dishes. Menemen is a dish made up of Scrambled eggs with cheese, butter, vegetables and chillies. And it is served with bread.
The Turkish Omelettes have cheese in them. They are fluffier, contain bell peppers, onions and tomatoes and are garnished with local herbs and spices. They make for a great meal all through the day, especially on colder days and nights.
Again, a favorite of mine, it is a rice dish that is mixed with vegetables and spices and stuffed in vine leaves. It is served with olive oil and spicy or tangy sauces.
This is rice cooked in butter. Sometimes, garlic is roasted in butter and mixed with the rice. Or at other times, they mixed it with butter, herbs and spices.
This is an Aegean specialty that I got to try out at Denizli on the recommendation of my Turkish friend whose family hails from Tire in the Izmir region. It is a yellow flowered thistle plant that is cooked with olive oil, vinegar, chick peas, herbs and spices. It is one of those dishes for which I would travel all the way to Aegean Turkey.
Boiled chick peas are cooked together with onion, tomatoes, chillies and herbs to make for a great dish that goes very well with rice.
This is a dish that is similar to Chickpeas curry as it is made in a tomato puree with long white beans and garnished with herbs and spices.
This is a thin white bread that is cooked over an inverted vessel (on fire) and garnished with grated potatoes, peynir, spinach and spices. It is a great choice for a light meal.
These are vegetarian kebabs (especially aubergines) that are marinated with herbs and spices and cooked inside a clay pot. The final dish is served with hot bread.
This is one of the famous rice dishes of Turkey where the rice is cooked with herbs, spices and oil.
Dishes with Spinach, Celery
Turkish food includes two or 3 dishes that are made from Spinach, Celery and other greens. These are usually cooked with local herbs and spices.
This is a deep fried breadcrumbed roll that has either potato or cheese as it main ingredients.
A very delicious preparation, the eggplants are roasted over a fire and stuffed with a herb and spice paste and then cooked slowly
When zucchini, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes and/or okra are stir fried in olive oil and served with strained yoghurt and thick tomato sauce, the dish is called Kizartma. It is great as a healthy lunch or dinner option.
There are a lot of cheeses available in Turkey, but during my 30 days in this country, I got the chance to try out beyaz peynir (plain white cheese), Canakkale Izina Cheese (a Canakkale special cheese), Kashar Cheese (fresh light yellow colored cheese made from cow’s milk), Eski Kashar (aged cheese), Tulum (goat cheese), Smoked Cheese, Dil Peyniri (stringy fresh milk cheese), Labneh (cream cheese), Lor (low fat, low salt cheese curd) and Halloumi cheese. Out of these, I absolutely loved the beyaz peynir, Tulum, Labneh and Canakkale Izina cheese. These cheeses go with most of the Turkish breads when they are served fresh and hot. Labneh goes well even when the bread is cold.
Mezes, Salads and Toppings
The mezes and salads are something that you will enjoy all round the country with each meal of yours. Served cold, they go well with fresh warm bread and with Raki, as part of a Raki Sofrasi session.
This is strained yoghurt with garlic, herbs and spices.
This is a chick peas paste with olive oil, herbs and spices.
This is green chillies in a tomato paste with herbs and spices.
One of the freshest salads, this is tomato, onion and tomatoes served with parsley, herbs and olive oil.
Moutabel and Baba Ghanoush
They are mashed eggplant served with herbs and olive oil.
This is a strained yoghurt dish with cucumber, herbs and garlic.
This is a cold eggplant salad.
Then there are others like Fattoush, Artichoke Salad, Olives and Strained Yoghurt.
These are deep fried bread rolls that are stuffed with peynir and spinach.
Falafel is deep fried chickpeas batter with some herbs.
These are Turkish Zucchini Fritters that are cooked with eggs, zucchini, wheat flour and herbs.
While Turkish food has a lot of soups, only a couple of them Sorbas are vegetarian. They are lentil or tomato based, are extremely delicious and go well with both rice and bread.
Turkey is blessed with great desserts. You will be always spoilt for choice here, especially if you have a sweet tooth. I have tried many of the Turkish desserts and seem to have a fondness for most of them.
This is the king of all Turkish desserts. Originating from the South-Eastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, this dessert is made from phyllo dough, pistachio nuts, vanilla, butter and cinnamon.
Not as heavy as the Baklava as it is made from the quince fruit, it is my favorite dessert from Turkey.
This is a cold dessert that is made from condensed milk, rice, vanilla and cinnamon.
Pistachio Khadiyif, Peynirli Khadiyif
The Khadayif is in the same league as the baklava. Made either from Pistachios or Peynir cheese, it tastes best when served hot. It is extremely filling and is best had as an in-between meal snack.
Made from apricots, lemon juice and whipped cream, this is also a light weight dessert.
Dondurmas are the local ice cream of Turkey. The one that is made from fresh pistachios is one of my favorites.
Strained Yoghurt and Honey
This is a classic dessert of Turkey and is one of the healthiest options too.
This is a crispy cheese-filled dessert made with kadayif.
These are Turkish candies that are flavored with rose water, lemon juice, sugar and fruits and nuts.
As a vegetarian who needs a lot of proteins, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, you can snack on the fresh Mediterranean produce of Figs, Walnuts, Pistachios, Cashewnuts, Peanuts, Almonds, Chestnuts, Sunflower seeds and Watermelon seeds from this fertile country.
One never says ‘NO’ to a cup of tea in Turkey. Called cay (pronounced as chai), it is like the national drink of this country and is consumed with every meal and many times between meals too. Turkish Coffee or Kahve comes a close second and follows an usage pattern similar to that of cay.
During winter time, Sahlep, a drink made from the roots of an orchid, milk, sugar and cinnamon is extremely popular and can be found all over Istanbul, Cappadocia and other colder parts of the country. Raki, an anise drink is the national alcoholic beverage of Turkey.
Pomegranate Juice is one of the most commonly consumed juices in the country and Orange juice comes a close second. Ayran, a salty and thin yoghurt drink is also extremely popular with locals and is my favorite too, especially on a hot day. Efes beer and local wines, especially cherry wines are other popular alcoholic beverages.