Dishes of Rumelia

The Turkish cuisine owes its extraordinary diversity to the Turkish people’s historical and cultural heritage. This is why it is generally acknowledged as one of the world’s three greatest cuisines, along with the Chinese and French. The Turkish cuisine influenced food cultures over an area stretching from Cental Asia to Vienna, including the entire Arab world, the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Regional cuisines, meanwhile, are characterised by the food products grown under different climatic conditions. This is one of the main factors distinguishing the cuisines of the Black Sea. Adana, Gaziantep and other reas of Turkey. Rumelia, or Turkey in Europe as it was known, is the area which corresponds roughly to the Balkans today. Only a small section of this region is still part of modern Turkey, but the Rumelian cuisine survives as an important subcategory of the Turkish cuisine. The Turkish word “Rumeli”, literally means “Land of Rum” or “Land of the Romans”, since this region was originally part of the Roman empire and its heir the Byzantine Empire. This is why in later times the word “Rum” came to refer to the Greeks.

Ramond Sokolor, the British culimary historian and writer, participates in the symposiums on world cuisines held annually in Oxford. He participated in the First Food Symposium organised in Istanbul by Fevzi Halici a few years ago and subsequently wrote an article about the influence of the Turkish cuisine on those of the Balkans. Almost all the dishes characteristic of this region, from “tel kadayif” to “borek”, and regetable to meat dishes are without doubt of Turkish origin according to Sokolov. The name of Hungary’s famous goulash is a corruption of the Turkish “kul asi”, literally “food of soldiers”. In Turkey, this dish developed literally into the more sophisticated form known as “guvec”. One of the principal features of Turkish cuisine is its many ragouts, or dishes made of regetables cooked with chicken or meat to create a synthesis of two flarours.

The French gourmet, Jean-Robert Pitt, in an interwiew with Atilla Dorsay of Cumhuriyet newspaper, expressed his admiration of the Turkish cuisine and explained that the French marron glace and other confectionary were introduced from Ottoman Turkey. The Ottomans advanced westwards through the Balkans from the 14th century onwards, and sent governors to rule the Rumelian provinces. The governors took their own cooks, trained in the palace kitchens in Istanbul, with them in their retinues, and so introduced Turkishcuisine into Europe. Not only the food itself, but Turkish manners and customs too, were adopted by the local people. Of course, this was not entirely a one-way process, and a synthesis between local and Turkish dishes took place.

With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, many Turkish families in the Balkans migrated to Turkey, introducing the delicious Rumelian cuisine. Below are three recipes for specialities from this cuisine:

Green Peppers with eggs and cheese

Take 12 medium sweet green peppers and remove the stalks. Then carefully cut out a cap from around the base of the stalk. Remove the seeds. Break 5 eggs into a bowl add 400 gm of crumbled white cheese and mix well.

Fill this mixture into the peppers with a spoon, and replace the lids. Heat 2 cupts of oil (or sufficient to cover the peppers) in a saucepan and arrange the stuffed peppers upright in the hot oil. When the peppers begin to turn a golden brown, remove and arrange upright on a serving dish. While they cool, prepare the sauce. Grate two large tomatoes into a saucepan, and add 2 tablespoons of vinegar, 3 tablespoons of oil (corn or sunflower seed), 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh garlic, half a teaspoon of granulated sugar, and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, pour over the stuffed peppers and serve.

Baked Leeks

Slice a kilogram of leeks into thin rounds, including the green leafy parts. Wash and place in a saucepan.

Add 5 tablespoons of olive oil or margarine and half-a-cup of water. Cover tightly and cook over a medium heat until the leeks have softened and absorhed the liquid.

Remore from the heat and set aside to cool. Break 4 eggs into the leeks, add 1 cup of grated mild “kasar” (yellow cheese), 3 tablespoons of flour, 1 cup of chopped dill, and salt and black pepper to taste, and stir lightly. Cut 4 to 5 slices of “pastirma” (pastrami with garlic), 3 slices of “sucuk” garlic sausage, and 3 slices of ham into tiny pieces and stir into the leek mixture. Pour into a shallow greased oven dish and spread smoothly. Sprinkle plenty of paprika over the top and bake in a medium oven (350 F- 180 C) until browned. Serve hot.

Elbasan Tavasi

Few people know how to make this popular main dish properly. Made of lamb, it requires careful cooking.

Buy a leg of lamb weighing around two and a half kilograms, and ask your butcher to remove all the fat, and cut it into several large pieces on the bone. Place the pieces into a saucepan, and add 1 medium grated onion and 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil over a high heat, and skim. Lower the heat and simmer until the liquid has evaporated. If the meat is not yet tender add a little more hot water and continue cooking.

Beat 6 eggs in a bowl, and continue to beat while adding 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon of corn starch. When the flour is well mixed, add 3 cups of yoghurt and beat until the mixture is creamy. Spread one third of this mixture in a shallow oven dish, and arrange the pieces of meat over the top in as single layer. Sprinkle 1 teaspoonful of dried mint over the meat and salt and black pepper to taste. Pour the remainder of the yoghurt and egg mixture over the top and bake in a medium oven (350 F-180 C) for 15 minutes until browned. Be careful not to overcook. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a small pan, stir in 3 teaspoons of paprika or hot red pepper and pour over before serving.

21 Oct 96