Turkish cuisine traditional foods of Black Sea region

Turkey has one of the richest Cuisines in the world and but a relatively poor restaurant culture. The Black Sea region follows the pattern: People eat delectable stuff at home-varied, inventive and complex. Restaurant fare is tasty and cheap enough; but it does get tedious after one is served exactly the same one dozen dishes, time in and time out, from  Istanbul to Trabzon and from Hopa to Hakkari. Part of the reason may be that women do the cooking at home while it is invariably men who staff the eateries. Be that as it may, here are some regional specialties that the “Laz” eat at home but you will find in just about no restaurant, unless you ask, plead and insist.

Pontic cousine of Turkey

Fish is the standard Black Sea fare, and hamsi the proverbial “Laz bread”. It is available from October through May. In restaurants it is usually served as simple fritters. What an outsider thereby misses is, for example, hamsili ekmek- a sort of pan-fried  corn   bread made of leavened cornmeal, minced hamsi, parsley and a dab of peppermint. Hamsi boregi is a real masterpiece which involves crusty layers of hamsi-and-corn mixture, filled with a core made of rice, onions, pignolis, black currants and parsley. Hamsi jam is probably mythical.
Ekşili is a sour vegetable and fish stew that yields the best results with fatter fish like kirlangiç and iskorpit, although kefal (grey mullet) will do in a pinch. The Kale Restaurant in Trabzon serves a good ekşili. Located within the medieval city walls, it also qualifies as the region’s only semi”fancy” eatery.
Trout (alabalik) is abundant in the region’s fresh waters. But for some mysterious reason restaurants always seem to serve the farm-hatched variety which differs from its cascade-jumping wild cousin like flab from throbbing muscle. Ask about provenance, and don’t settle for less than the real thing.
 Meat is not a Black Sea forte. The closest one finds to an original idea may be the roadside “self-serve” meat restaurants which proudly display full carcasses of cattle hanging on meathooks. Patrons indicate the cut and receive a brazier to grill it as they desire.
 Characteristics of climate and geography top the list of important factors that have shaped cuisines throughout the world. Different nutritional systems emerged in different parts of the world in ages when people lived with no knowledge of each other. Today these cuisines, developed over thousands of years, are in a constant relationship of mutual influence, and the world is newly making the transition to a composite or ‘fusion’ cuisine. The cooking of the Black Sea is one of the rare cuisines that still preserve their unique character. For, influenced by practically no other way of cooking, it has developed a nutritional style unique unto itself in which the traditional desserts are never absent from the table.

  CUISINE AND GEOGRAPHY

The cuisine of the Black Sea coast differs from that of the mountainous interior. The Mediterranean coast is bordered by the Taurus Mountains, yet fertile agricultural lands lie between. And life is lived under rather harsh conditions as a result. First of all, the climate is not bountiful as it is in the Mediterranean. Molded by these severe conditions, the people of the Black Sea have over time created a cuisine not to be compared with those of other coastal areas.
  THE SEA WITH THE TASTIEST FISH
The Black Sea boasts the world’s tastiest fish. Thanks to the many rivers that empty into it, the Black Sea is rich in the plankton on which fish feed. To put it another way, the Black Sea is a virtual oasis for fish. Since fishing is the main means of livelihood along the coastal strip, fish also have a significant place in the local diet.
Turkish cuisine traditional foods of Black Sea region
  KALE AND OTHER VEGETABLES
Kale is another icon of Black Sea cuisine. One of the 450 species of the cabbage family, kale is a sine qua non of Black Sea cooking from soup to dolma. Another feature that distinguishes Black Sea cuisine from that of other regions is the sheer number of dishes made with vegetables. An especially popular one is pickled green beans, which are first soaked in water to remove the salt and then braised. Pickling is a common way of preserving vegetables in the region.
Turkish cuisine traditional foods of Black Sea region
  CORN: THE STAPLE OF BLACK SEA CUISINE
Always open to innovation over the centuries, the people of the Black Sea quickly adapted every new product introduced in the region to their own traditional lifestyle. Corn especially has become synonymous with the Black Sea. Brought here in the 17th century, this plant of South American origin soon captured pride of place in the regional cuisine. Corn is used for almost unlimited purposes in Black Sea cooking. The local people, who live at elevations not conducive to agriculture, grow corn easily in their kitchen gardens and either consume it fresh, dry it, boil it, or grind it into flour. The Black Sea people also produce butter, many varieties of cheeses, and ‘kavurma’, or meat braised in its own fat. ‘Muhlama’ and ‘kuymak’ in particular, both dishes made of melted cheese, display all the creativity of the local people. ‘Muhlama’ is a dish that could arouse at least as much interest as fondue.
  BLACK SEA FLAVORS IN RAMAZAN
During the month of Ramazan in particular, dishes made of dough grace the table both at breakfast and at the evening meal. The famous Black Sea ‘pide’ or flat bread is ubiquitous in Turkey throughout the month. Pide is made all over Turkey, but the best is that made with Black Sea butter, cheese and ‘kavurma’. What is interesting here is that in a region where wheat is not widely grown, bread-baking is nevertheless a highly developed art. Even if the anchovy’s indisputable domination of the cuisine casts a bit of a shadow over its other specialties, Black Sea pide, like Italian pizza, is certainly going to find a place in world cuisines in the years ahead.
Cows are put to better use elsewhere. The uplands produce a variety of dairy products, including some excellent cheeses. Ogma peyniri is made with herbs and spices, and adds zest to any breakfast. The best thing that comes from a cow, though, is a type of very dry cheese which is used to make muhlama (kuymak, havits), or cheese fondue. This is a Hemşin specialty involving equal amounts of cheese, butter and corn meal.
Another Hemşin original is the Hemşin helvasi, a tasty cake made with walnuts and pistachios. The vaunted laz boregi seems to be a variation on the Parisian cooks learned from the Russians at the turn of the century.
The top vegetable specialty of the region is dark cabbage which is used in a variety of homey dishes, including kara dollmasi, a succulent variation on the stan¬dard Turkish dolma. And while you are out for exotica, see if you’d like some püresi, or mashed poison ivy.   From its muhlama and cornbread to its kale soup and Laz pastries, Black Sea cuisine offers something for every palate. It deserves to be discovered by the whole world, and one day soon it will be.

  Recipes

Muhlama
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup grated Kashar cheese
1 1/2 cup string cheese
1 tsp cheese in a skin (Turkish ‘tulum peyniri’)
2 tbsp corn flour
2 tbsp butter
1 cup water
  Preparation:
Brown the corn flour first in a skillet in half the butter. Add the string cheese and the Kashar. Add a cup of water to the mixture and continue stirring. Then add the rest of the cheese and butter. When the cheese mixture has reached the consistency of a paste, pour it over the melted butter in the skillet. Serve piping hot.
  Braised Chard
Ingredients:
5 bunches of chard
6 onions
1/3 cup boiled pinto beans (Turkish ‘Barbunya’ beans)
salt
  Preparation:
Chop the chard fine and boil. When cool, squeeze to remove the water. Saute the onions in butter. Add the chard to the onions and continue to braise. When well browned, add the pinto beans. Continue cooking for another minute or so, then serve piping hot.
 Anchovy Bread
Ingredients:
1 bunch of chard
2 bunch of green onions
1 bunch of fresh mint
1 kg anchovies
8 cups corn flour
salt to taste
  Preparation:
De-bone the anchovies. Then chop the chard, green onions and mint finely. Empty the chopped ingredients into the corn flour. Adding very hot water, mix the anchovies with the other ingredients and knead well. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and bake in a medium oven for 60 minutes.
 Savory Laz Pastry
Ingredients:
10 filo leaves
4 eggs
8 cups milk
2 packets of vanilla flavoring
3 cups ground hazelnuts
5 cups granulated sugar
2 packets wheat starch
1 1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup water
For the syrup:
10 cups water
10 cups granulated sugar
juice of half a lemon
  Preparation:
Add the sugar to the eight cups of milk and boil. In another pot, mix the wheat starch, eggs and vanilla with a little water. Pour the mixture slowly into the boiling milk and continue stirring until it reaches the consistency of pudding. Butter the bottom of a baking sheet. Butter the tops of the filo leaves and place on the baking sheet in five layers. Pour the pudding over the top. Sprinkle the ground hazelnuts over the pudding and arrange five more sheets of buttered filo leaves on top. Mix the ingredients for the syrup, cook, and let cool. Cut the pastry in slices and bake in the oven. When cool, pour the sweet, cooled syrup over it.
  Laz Helva
Ingredients:
3 kg of milk
1 kg of sugar
3 packets of vanilla flavoring
3 egg yolks
300 gr white flour
200 gr semolina
  Preparation:
Place all the ingredients in a pot and cook over low heat until the mixture reaches the consistency of pudding. Boil a tad longer and pour into a shallow pan. Serve cool, topped with ice cream according to taste.
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