If you are into vegetarian or vegan food, eating Turkish food is no problem at all. In fact, it is just the opposite than in many other countries. It is quite easy to find delicious turkish food to eat. Often you do not have to think about, what you choose and where to get it, which you may be used to as a declared vegetarian or vegan.
Right now it is very much in the time with plant-based diets, to eat environmentally and preferably without meat several times a week. More and more of our family and friends are sticking to this. Some have even become vegetarians, vegans or flexitari fulltime. I have to admit, that I also think, that there is a lot of delicious food, that does not contain meat. But avoiding meat completely, no … not for me. For several years now, we have had days, that were meat-free. But this is usually because we then have Turkish food. Because here it is really easy to avoid the meat. This summer, we were at the most delicious clean vegetarian restaurant, I have ever come across. It was the most popular restaurant in all of Alacati (where there are really many restaurants and many “hipsters”). But unfortunately, it is a long way from Antalya. But I will not cheat you for a few pictures.
But it is clearly an advantage to know, what some of the turkish dishes are called. Often the menu does not say, whether it is vegan or vegetarian. You have to know it yourself. Or ask. Every Turk is extremely proud of his food and would be happy tell you, what is in it.
Is vegan food equal to a fashion phenomenon ??
Long before it became really modern, Turkish food consisted of an incredible amount of vegetables. And about 500 different ways to prepare each vegetable. Ok – the 500 ways I can’t say exactly. But at least Turkish cuisine offers more (different) ways to cook vegetables, than anyonee else I know.
I have been told, that one of the reasons for the many vegetable dishes in Turkey, is about history. Dating back to Byzantine times, the food was made according to the different ethnicities and their traditions. Turkey is founded from many different kinds of people. And each has rules and norms, that you have to live by. For example, Christians were not allowed to eat meat, dairy products, and eggs during the 6-week fast, that led up to Easter. The Jews also ate kosher food with specific rules on meat, milk, seafood, etc.
All of this helped to develop a natural vegan cooking style. And it was only further developed and refined by the Ottomans and made national and “normal” afterwards. Many dishes are available both with and without meat, so it’s quite easy. For example, you can get Dolma (various vegetables such as tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, squash etc. filled with different things). Both with and without meat. If the dolma is without meat but with rice and spices instead, they are called “yalanca dolmasi” – “the fake dolma”.
Zeytinyagli – vegetables with olive oil:
But one of the reasons for the many Turkish vegan and vegetarian dishes is probably also, that meat is furiously expensive in Turkey. As in really expensive. So it’s far from everyone, who can afford to eat it on a daily basis. Often there may only be a small amount of meat in the dishes – such as etli kuru fasulya, various rice dishes, etc. On the other hand, you use a lot of beans, lentils and cheese to get enough nutrition.
Some Turkish vegetable dishes are called something with “zeytinyagli” – meaning something “with olive oil”. The vast majority of the small meze dishes, are based on olive oil, onions and vegetables. It is the techniques and choice of vegetables, that make the dishes very special. For example, it is used to fry the onions quite slowly, so that they develop flavor (and not necessarily color). It’s often a very important part of cooking, since onions have many flavors and sugars in them.
A good zeytinyagli dish is about balancing the taste. It is the vegetables, that are in the headquarters. And it may not be completely rubbish, if they are the main ingredient of your diet as a vegetarian or vegan. Everything else is just to supplement, compliment and highlight the taste. A little salty, a little sweet, a little sour and a little bitter – real umami.
There are many “golden rules” in Turkish food. You have already heard that onions help sweeten the food, if it is allowed to cook long enough and on a low flame. A bit like fried brown onions at home. Tomatoes help to acidify the food. Tomatoes and onions are often seen together, so you have a natural sour / sweet balance.
Spices are not used as much as many people think. They help mask the real taste, and that’s not what Turkish cooking is about.
Some dishes also containing rice, lentils and bulgur, as they absorb a lot of water and flavors from the vegetables and oil. And often there are added a good amount of fat (often butter, so this isn’t vegan). But also tomatoes, chickpeas, carrots are often found in these dishes. For example, the main ingredient is cig köfte is bulgur (which gives a meat-like existence), mixed with slightly different things like tomato, pepper paste and spices.
Different vegetarian and vegan dishes:
I think, I would just make a few suggestions to, what you could possibly eat, if you are going to have vegetarian or vegan Turkish food. Some of the things there can be cheese and yogurt in, so you have to sort it out yourself.
Dishes like Mercimekli köfte, kisir, and lentil soup are precisely based on bulgur and lentils. Added up with some vegetables, oil and vinegar etc. And it taste quite excellent. However, here you just have to pay attention to, whether the lentil soup is made on broth from animals. Clicking on the name will take you directly to the recipes of the dishes.
Beans are also a big hit and are available in all kinds of shades, colors and variants. From the soft, almost creamy hummus to Fava bean puree, Pilaki beans cooked in different ways. Such as the ultra-tasteful barbunya, various bean salads with chickpeas, white beans and many others.
Vegetarian and vegan desserts:
But the vegetables are everywhere, as in all the many aubergine salads and dishes with stuffed eggplant, peppers, tomatoes etc. Muhammara (a kind of nut paste mixed with different things) is also quite special. And Ezme – the strong tomato salad, carrot salad , saksuka. But also cacik, boiled corn, fried chestnuts, etc.
Often I think, that the “real” salads – you know with green leaves and miscellaneous, can be very stereotyped, even though they have begun to get better and more inventive. But the regular shepherd’s salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions is absolutely a classic and almost inevitable.
Finally, there is also the bread section, which often is very simple. Like Simit, gözleme, some kind of börek, etc.
Dessert can sometimes be a bit difficult as vegan, but the baked quince or pumpkin and especially the helva are realle good. I am particularly obsessed with the helva, that gets fried in the oven – delicious and caramelized, yummi. And of course, there is delicious ripe fruit in all shades.
Maybe you’ll get inspired?
So, as you can probably sense, if you live in or visit Turkey as a vegan or vegetarian, you will not go to bed hungry. Maybe you even end up being inspired and taking good experiences and recipes home. I have only mentioned a small fraction of the large repertoire offered by Turkish cuisine. So it is just to investigate a little more yourself….