I love Turkish breakfasts. Well, I love all Turkish food, but breakfast most of all. A typical Turkish breakfast consists of breads, olives, cheeses, jams, honeys, tomatoes and cucumbers. When I say jam, I mean rose petal and quince, and when I say honey, there are usually a variety of different floral honeys to choose from. Cheeses range from soft feta to hard Kasar. Turkish breakfasts are healthy and abundant with flavors. I remember being surprised the first time I traveled to Turkey, and saw vegetables (For all intents and purposes I am referring to tomato as a vegetable. Yes, I know it is a fruit!) at the breakfast buffet. I quickly adapted because I realized that eating savory foods was much healthier than the sugar-laden and subsequently sugary "sugar-free" junk food that is marketed to us as breakfast in the US. Also, it was not hard to conform to a new way of eating with such abundant beauty.
I will also never forget when I fell in love with Simit, a hollow, circular bread covered in sesame seeds, which is sold all over the country. I have never been a big bagel fan, which is probably the closest comparison to this type of bread. However, unlike bagels, simit is less chewy and dense, and is more "bread-y". Simits tend to be big, so most people will cut it into quarters and include parts in the bread basket. I ate my first simit with my friend Harika. She taught me to pair it with a soft cheese and drink Ayran (a yogurt drink) along with it. I will never forget that breakfast on the Bagdat Caddesi on the Asian side of Istanbul.
Turkish food is all about combining contrasting textures and flavors. Cheese is oven served with tomatoes and watermelon, as their salty and soft vs slightly sweet and crisp textures contrast in a way that combines beautifully. Another breakfast treat that we feature on the show this week is Tahin Pekmez, which is tahini (tahin in Turkish) with pekmez (a molasses made from grapes or carob). The nutty flavor of the tahin contrasts with the sweetness of the pekmez. This summer I traveled to Turkey again, and enjoyed this combination for the first time. Even though it was my third time in Turkey, I was discovering new things every day. Instead of pekmez, I would drizzle honey over the tahin on top of my bread. Side note: At dinner one night we had fried eggplant with tahin pekmez on top. The flavor combination does not have to be limited to just breakfast!
Another favorite breakfast food was poca, which I learned to make from my friend's housekeeper, Nur. Poca (pronounced poh-ja), are buttery breads filled with feta and herbs. When I caught her in the kitchen one morning throwing all of the ingredients together, using coffee cups and her hand to measure, I went in and estimated everything she was doing. One Turkish coffee cup I estimated to be 1/4 cup. When I returned to New York, poca was one of the first things I made.
My friend Ria and I have discussed breakfast in great detail. She lived in Turkey for some time and loves the food there as well. It is her theory that our obesity problem would be greatly reduced by making savory breakfasts mandatory. I have to agree with her. Imagine if we ate the Turkish way, and had tomatoes and cucumbers for breakfast, with a little bit of salty cheese and some freshly baked bread. How does that compare to yogurts with 18 grams of sugar per container and packaged cereals with ingredients we can't even pronounce? Or fried donuts covered in glaze?
Just some Turkish food for thought.