Gluten-Free in Turkey

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The Aegean and Mediterranean diets, I discovered while recently in Turkey and Greece, are made for gluten-free peeps! Veggies, fish, more veggies, and some more veggies. Yum. But out of the two, I have the most fond foodie memories of Turkey. There’s nothing like walking down a path among ancient ruins and picking a fresh fig off of a tree, peeling back the fleshy exterior, and taking a succulent bit of the exotic fruit. You walk by rows upon rows of olive trees.

I’m going to give you just a taste of the Turkish culinary experience here. The main thing I noticed is the Turks are culinary purists; they don’t hide the flavour of the main dishes by having the food swim in rich sauces. No, they use the exact proportion of herbs and spices so as to let the flavours of the foods on the plate shine through.

And shine it does.┬áHere’s a picture of the appetizer plate we always had before our entree at lunch time.

I do have to mention – the Turks had a mild obsession with throwing 5 or so french fries on every plate — even at the nicer restaurants! I think they figure those with non-adventurous taste buds who don’t appreciate the bold flavours of Turkish cuisine will at least have the french fries ;-) You can just ask for the dishes without fries to stave off any accidental gluten cross-contamination.

For our mains we went for chicken and vegetarian most days. The marinated chicken is so mouth-watering good. And for those vegetarians, the turkish vegetable casserole with cheese has a punch of flavour unlike any stew or casserole I’ve ever had!

What a colourful palate, hey?! (Other than those damned french fries!)

Just like my only purchases in Italy last summer were olive oil, olives, balsamic vinegar, plum chutney, sundried tomatoes…. and the list of food stuffs I smuggled back to Canada goes on… I carted home a lovely load of food from Turkey. From the figs to the cumin, saffron, olives, turkish delight, teas, roasted veggie dips…

I picked up most of the food stuffs I brought home from the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul.

The popular spices in Turkish cuisine are cumin, urfa chilies, zahter, sumac, saffron, mint, and parsley, among many, many others. Cumin is both warm and sweet, and a perfect spice for lamb, beef, chickpeas, cabbage, or in my favourite dish whilst there: eggplant and cooked tomatoes. Urfa chilies are those odd looking purple-black chilies pictured above. They are bitter like cocoa, yet sweet like molasses. They give a smokey aroma to dishes. Great on grilled vegetables. Zahter is an herb that is similar to marjoram, oregano, and thyme. Great for meat marinades, or added to olive oil for a simple dip. Sumac has a fruity or lemony aroma, and tastes salty and tangy. It adds a gorgeous purple hue to dishes. It can be sprinkled on grilled fish, chicken, avocado, cucumber, or salads. Like I said, that’s just a few of the star ingredients in Turkish cooking.

Now, although Turkey is an Islamic nation, you can still get Turkish wine throughout the country. The number of grape varieties found in Turkey are estimated to be between 600 to 1200, though only about 60 varieties are commercially cultivated at this time. I really enjoyed the wine (if this montage doesn’t exemplify this fact, I don’t know what would!).

Be not afraid to travel, my gluten-free friends. It’s so refreshing to pick one’s self up and out of the wheat-monopolized North American diet and realize that just a skip across the pond lies bold, flavourful, and nutritious diets that can knock your taste buds out of a coma.

So now, get ready, I had developed a mild obsession with figs, olives, and the various spices described above. Recipes to come very, very soon :-)

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