Turkey's unique geographical location, straddled between two great culinary continents Asia and Europe, makes it a haven for exotic ingredients, embedded with ancient history from antiquity and spice routes. For Istanbul-born Fatih Tutak, it's a part of his everyday life in the TURK kitchen, where he celebrates the diversity of the region's land and produce. But the chef attributes much of his inspiration to his mother's delicious cooking when he was growing up, and it's reflected in the exquisite dishes he creates. Before opening TURK in 2019, Chef Tutak cut his professional teeth at restaurants all over the globe, from Tokyo's three-Michelin-starred Nihonryori Ryugin under Seiji Yamamoto to joining the renowned René Redzepi at noma in Copenhagen. Here, we chat with Chef Tutak on his top five most versatile Turkish ingredients, and how they've mastered applying them in dishes at TURK.
1) Vine Leaf
Vine leaves have many different uses in Turkish cuisine. The leaves are picked in spring after the grape harvest; we preserve them in salt, keeping them in brine for a whole year. We use them for grilling, wrapping seafood, making dolma and even making broths. At TURK, we use them in our take of ‘Midye dolma’, the famous street food of stuffed mussels – we create an entirely edible shell so you can have it in one bite.
2) Fermented Pepper Paste
In Turkey, we use peppers in a unique way. We have many varieties and prepare them in many ways, from fresh and pickled, to dried and fermented. We pick mild peppers called ‘kapya biber’ in summer, sundry them and mix them with salt, creating an umami-rich paste. Some versions add chilli to make a spicier version, especially in the East. As a general rule, they like hot food in the east and mild food in the west in Turkey. We often use it for home cooking and clay pot cooking dishes to add richness and umami; Ezogelin red lentil soup is a classic example.
There’s nothing quite like pistachio; it’s a unique and versatile ingredient that we use for many dishes. It’s an ingredient that represents Turkish cuisine. We use it in sweet preparations such as baklava, ice cream, and desserts like our ‘Demir tatlısı’. We also use it in savoury dishes by putting it in kebabs and making oils and pastes. One of our lamb dishes is served with a sauce made from pistachios, kaymak, chicken stock and a bit of cognac. The best pistachios come from Gaziantep in the westernmost part of Turkey's Southeastern Anatolia Region.
Yoghurt has been a critical element of our cuisine for thousands of years. It’s an ancient practice to serve it on the table plain with your meal. We make a popular drink, called ayran, from yoghurt water and salt. In general, we use it as the French use cream in their cuisine. Turkish yoghurt is sour and thick. We have a dish called ‘From my Mom’ at TURK, a signature dish dedicated to my mother. We serve beef manti dumplings on a bed of yoghurt, which has been mixed with beef garum, beef jus, a bit of garlic and then it's smoked. We then top them with brown butter, chilli, dried mint and an intense homemade tomato paste.
Tarhana is a traditional dried fermented preparation typically made from grains and yoghurt that is then rehydrated to make an instant soup (perhaps the world’s first!). At TURK, we use Tarhanas as an umami flavour agent for seasoning and sauces rather than a soup.. Last year we had the best heritage onions, but we couldn’t serve them fresh because of the pandemic, so we decided to preserve them in a Tarhana. We do this by chargrilling the onions, mixing them with bread flour, salt and koji and fermenting them for six days until the mixture is bubbling. Then we sun-dry the paste until it takes on a powdered form. The sauce for the onion dish is made from the onion tarhana and onion jus. Once dried, Tarhana will last forever. We make over 30 types of Tarhana at TURK, so it is incredibly versatile. Tarhana should be eaten in space!
All images courtesy of TURK.
TURK TAFIH TUTAK, Now Bomonti, on Cumhuriyet Mahallesi, Silahşör caddesi, Yeniyol 1 Sokak No:2 Bomonti-Şişli, Istanbul, Turkey | +90 21270 95679 | firstname.lastname@example.org