Wednesday, February 28, 2007

My Favorite Turkish Meal

Two of the foods I think Turks excel at come together beautifully to form my absolute favorite Turkish meal: fish and greens. I've never eaten fish as good as in Turkey. Maybe it's the quality of the fish -- salt water fish freshly caught -- or maybe it's the way the Turks prepare them. Either way, Turkey is blessed with four seas (Black, Marmara, Aegean, and Mediterranean) and a wide variety of excellent seafood.

Then, they've learned over centuries the best way to prepare the fish and the best foods to serve the fish with to enhance their flavor. And the most popular seafood accompaniment is a simple green salad, or preferably several varieties of salad. Turks will make a salad out of any vegetable. And unlike the loaded salad bar with heavy dressing that most Americans are used to, most Turkish salads are made out of one or two very fresh vegetables, thinly sliced or shredded, and topped lightly with salt and an olive oil/lemon juice dressing.

Some of my favorite fish I ate in Turkey:

  • lufer -- from the Black Sea and Maramara. Even though lufer is translated as blue fish, I believe there must be something different from the Turkish variety and those available in the US, because the one time I ate blue fish in the US, I didn't like it at all. I first ate lufer in Turkey on an evening picnic with a childhood friend of my husband, grilled over an outside bar-b-que and served with lots of green onions and a salad of shredded romaine lettuce. I decided I could eat this simple meal every day for the rest of my life and be very happy. Lufer is one of the most popular fishes in Turkey. You'll find it featured in many fine restaurants. It can be prepared both grilled and lightly fried.

  • mezgit -- Even though mezgit (blue whiting) is from the Aegean and Mediterranean, the first time I had it was in an outside restaurant on the shores of the Black Sea. It was served lightly battered and fried with a parsley, red onion and sumach salad. I decided I had to have two favorite Turkish fish dishes as the mezgit was just as delicious as the lufer.

  • hamsi -- anchovy. If all you've ever had of anchovy come from little tin cans or on top of a pizza, then you're in for a true delight if you ever get to try fresh Turkish anchovy. The best hamsi from the Black Sea. I first ate a plate-full of this little fish in the home of my mother and father in-law. I initially turned up my nose at eating the whole of the small fish, head and all, but after I tried it, I couldn't stop myself from eating more. It was like scarfing down chips or popcorn. They're just so delicious, you can't stop.

Some of the most elegant Turkish meals I had were based simply on fish and salad. I remember the dinner following our niece's wedding at my sister-in-law's home. She'd prepared a huge platter of istavrit (horse mackerel), battered and lightly fried. This was accompanied by 4-5 different greens or salads: a plate of whole green onions, a large bowl of whatever greens she could find mixed together, a salad of chopped parsley, and a platter of salted whole romaine leaves.

When a fish is battered, it's usually coated in corn meal, salt, and pepper, and it's almost always fried in olive oil. My husband says that the most important thing to accompany fish, besides the greens, are onions, either green or dry, because the taste of onion brings out the full flavors of the fish.

Besides being nutritious, this simple, elegant meal is also incredibly nutritious. For more information on the variety of fish served in Turkey, check out this website: Seafish in Turkey.

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