Over the next few weeks, I will be writing short posts about some of the culinary features of each of the seven regions of Turkey. This is post 1 of 7 on the Mediterranean region.
The Mediterranean region (Akdeniz bölgesi) stretches along Turkey’s southern coast that borders the Mediterranean Sea. The largest cities of the region include Adana, Mersin, and Antalya. The Taurus Mountains run horizontally to separate the Mediterranean region from the Central Anatolian region which lies north of it.
The food in the western part of the region is influenced by it’s proximity to Greece, while the eastern part is influenced more by Syria. In fact, the foods in the eastern cities of Adana and Mersin actually fit more with the types of foods found in the Southeast Anatolia region, including dishes like a spicy minced-lamb kebab (Adana kebabı) and stir-fried beef or lamb wrapped in thin bread (tantuni). More traditional Mediterranean dishes consist of ingredients like seafood, fresh produce, and olive oil.
The sunny and warm Mediterranean climate makes this region particularly well-suited for agriculture. In fact, some areas of the region are able to grow tropical fruits like bananas, avocados, and pineapples, because they do not experience a frost at any point in the year. Many of the crops grown in this region are made into jams, with varieties such as orange, sour cherry, rose, apricot, eggplant, pumpkin, and more. Jams, like other Turkish preserved foods (i.e. dried yogurt, fruits, and meats), serve the nomadic Turkish tradition of moving inward from the coast to the high plateau regions (yayla) during hot summer months to let livestock graze. While few nomads still exist today, the presence of preserved foods is still a large part of Turkish food culture.
The Mediterranean region is also home to the city Isparta, also known as the “City of Roses”. Roses are another important product of the region, grown for use in food products (i.e. rose water, rose jam), religious ceremonies, and cosmetics.
My favorite recipe from this region is white bean salad from the city Antalya (Antalya piyazı), which is packed with nutritious ingredients and bold flavors. White beans, fresh vegetables, and herbs are tossed in a tangy dressing of healthy fats- extra virgin olive oil and tahini paste- with lemon juice and red wine vinegar to create this salad. While you can find versions of this dish served around the entire country of Turkey, especially alongside grilled Turkish meatballs (köfte), what makes this recipe special to the region is the addition of tahini paste to the dressing. Just as chickpeas and tahini combine together to give hummus its traditional flavor, tahini pairs extremely well with cannellini beans in Antalya piyaz. And while most piyaz is served as a side dish, I think that this recipe can stand alone as a main dish. This recipe contains hard-boiled eggs, but if you would like to make it vegan you may decorate your salad with some olives instead.