Basic Turkish Ingredients

Basic Turkish Ingredients

What you should have on hand to cook köfte

Turkish food is an amalgamation of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian cuisines. Start with these herbs, spices, and other essentials to cook our köfte recipe, and get familiar with the unique flavors of Turkey.

Cumin: A warm spice with slightly sweet and musky flavors, cumin is the dried fruit of the herb Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family. The cumin plant is grown mostly in East India and the eastern Mediterranean, and pairs especially well with beef and lamb.

Dried oregano: Oregano is used widely in Turkish cooking for its peppery, tealike, floral, and sharp flavors. Look for Mediterranean or Turkish oregano—not Mexican, which has a very different flavor and scent.

Lamb: The most-consumed meat in Turkey, lamb is a celebrated and prestigious dish. In Turkey, the animals are typically pasture-grazed and slaughtered younger than in other countries.

Mint: Dried or fresh, mint adds a bright, earthy flavor to dishes. It’s used in stuffed grape leaves, as well as in many lamb and vegetables dishes. Turks also combine mint with parsley and dill in many vegetable and bean salads.

Onion: In köfte, grated onion provides moisture and a sweet flavor. Onion is also served as a garnish, raw and sliced, sometimes sprinkled with sumac.

Paprika: Paprika is made by drying and then pulverizing paprika chiles, which resemble small red bell peppers. It ranges from mild to spicy, sweet (like many Hungarian paprikas) to wood-fired smoky (like some Spanish paprikas). Its heat level depends on how much capsaicin—what makes a pepper spicy—was in the chiles’ connecting tissues, stems, and seeds. Paprika gives dishes a bit of color and lends a hint of sweet, smoke, or spice.

Parsley: The clean, green, and citrusy flavors in parsley are used in a variety of Turkish dishes like salads, stews, and savory pastries.

Pita: Also known as pocket bread because it can be split horizontally to form a pouch, pita is made from white or whole-wheat flour and is used as sandwich bread or as an edible vehicle for dips and spreads.

Sumac: Made from the coarsely ground dried berries of the sumac shrub, this mahogany-colored spice has a distinctive bright and sour flavor. It is often used in place of lemon, and is sprinkled on a variety of Turkish dishes including fish, meats, and salads.

Yogurt: In Turkey, thick, creamy, slightly sour yogurts are used lavishly in everything from meze (hot and cold appetizers) to desserts. Yogurt can be made from many types of milk, but those made from buffalo milk are the most prized in Turkey. (Greek yogurt like the one pictured is a good substitute for Turkish yogurt, which is hard to find in the States.)