Did you know that Turkey is a vegetarian's paradise? Appetizers, soups, salads and main dishes made from seasonal fresh vegetables, herbs, leaves, beans and legumes are very important in Turkish cuisine.
You can experience great Turkish regional cooking by following the seasons around the country to enjoy locally prepared dishes made with vegetables harvested from nearby fields.
Turkish people cherish their fresh vegetables dishes that are simply cooked or braised in their own juices, then... doused with olive oil and served cold. In Turkish, this entire group of dishes is called 'zeytinyağlılar' (zay-TIN' yah-LUH'-lar), which means "those with olive oil".
Serving one or more of these recipes is standard with almost every meal. There's always a 'zeytinyağlı' selection ready in the refrigerator.
All 'zeytinyağlı' vegetables are cooked in a similar fashion. The vegetables are washed and cut into the desired shapes, then braised in a pressure cooker or covered saucepan with onions, seasonings and sometimes rice.
The key is to use as little extra water as possible while cooking. This will ensure the vegetables cook in their own juices and won't end up too soft or bland.
Once the vegetables are very tender and the liquid has reduced and thickened, they are left to cool down to room temperature. Before serving or storing them, the vegetables are drizzled with generous amounts of extra virgin olive oil.
This not only complements their flavor, it also helps to keep them fresh in the refrigerator for several days.
Home cooks will often prepare the week's vegetable dishes on Sunday, and the family will eat them all through the week.
The best line-up of Turkish 'zeytinyağlı' dishes is below. Many are hearty enough to stand alone as a vegetarian meal.
What about leeks and carrots or roasted eggplant salad? Choose any recipe from the list below, or try them all to get a taste of authentic Turkish vegetarian cuisine.
01 of 08
Turkish-style artichoke bottoms, or 'zeytinyağlı enginar' (zay-TEEN' YAH'-luh EN'-geen-ahr) are cooked with olive oil and mixed vegetables to make a beautiful side dish, starter or salad. Artichokes are very common in Turkey, but this dish is still considered to be a delicacy and served at special meals.
02 of 08
Braised leeks and carrots, or 'zeytinyağlı pırasa' (zay-TEEN'-yah-luh Pur-AH'-sah) are a favorite in Turkey, especially during the winter months when leeks are plentiful. Try this simple Turkish recipe if you want to do more with leeks than just make soup.
03 of 08
Turkish-style pinto beans, called 'zeytinyağlı barbunya' (zay-TEEN'-yah-luh Bar-BOON'-yah), are cooked with fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic and carrots and is served cold. It makes a wonderful alternative to classic bean recipes. Try this light and nutritious dish in place of baked beans.
04 of 08
This recipe for samphire with olive oil and garlic, better known as 'zeytinyağlı deniz börülcesi' (zay-TEEN'-yah-luh Den-EEZ' Bor-UL'-jay-see), is a classic Turkish 'meze,' or appetizer. It's most common in the Aegean and Mediterranean regions of Turkey.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
06 of 08
Celeriac is a favorite fall and winter vegetable in Turkey. In this recipe for 'zeytinyağlı kereviz' (zay-TEEN'-yah-luh KEYR-eh-VEEZ'), celeriac is cooked simply in its own juices flavored with lemon and orange juice and drizzled with olive oil. It makes a wonderful, fragrant side dish or cold lunch.
07 of 08
Turkish eggplant salad is a traditional appetizer, or 'meze.' If you love eggplants, try this recipe with only three ingredients for a true eggplant experience. Essentially, it's roasted eggplant whipped together with olive oil and salt. Yogurt or mayonnaise is optional.
08 of 08
Fava beans, also known as broad beans, are valued in Turkish cuisine for their unique taste and high nutritional value. In this recipe for fava bean puree, the fava beans are cooked until they fall apart, then pressed through a strainer with olive oil. After the mixture sets, cubes of fava bean puree are cut served as a 'meze,' or appetizer.