Believed to be made first by the Turks in Central Asia and renowned for the flavor it adds to dishes regardless of the various names under which it is known all across the world, “yoghurt” is an indispensable part of the Turkish cuisine.
Plain yoghurt is consumed in various countries and it is an indispensable part of many recipes from dishes to desserts and drinks, standing out as a major source of nutrition consumed almost every day in the cuisines of different cultures.
Derived from the Turkish word “yoğurt” in many languages, the word’s etymology dates back to the 17th century. Mentioned in the Divan-ı Lugat’it Türk (“Compendium of the Languages of the Turks”) by Mahmud Kashgari and Kutadgu Bilig (“Wisdom Which Brings Good Fortune”) by Yusuf Khass Hajib of Balasagun, yoghurt was first used as a medication and then as a delicacy after it was sent to the French King François I in the 16th century by the Ottoman Emperor of the time, Suleiman the Magnificent, to help treat an inflammatory disease suffered by the king. Increased interest in the health benefits of yoghurt in the early 20th century helped it gain worldwide recognition.
Highly rich in calcium and protein, yoghurt has a very important place in the Turkish cuisine. In addition to many minerals, yoghurt also contains B complex vitamins, vitamin A and Vitamin E while its prebiotic content protects the immune system and mitigates the risk of cancer. Known to increase body immunity, yoghurt’s protective effect on the digestive system and against cardiovascular diseases has been scientifically proven, and since the Middle Ages, it has been used as a medication to cure diseases thanks to its healing properties.
In the Turkish cuisine, yoghurt is used as a main ingredient in numerous recipes ranging from soups to kebabs, mezes to salads. One of first flavors to come to mind is yoghurt with powdered sugar sprinkled on top –a century-old specialty unique to Kanlıca, which is one of the most glorious neighborhoods on İstanbul’s Bosphorus coastline.
A yoghurt-based Turkish drink prepared by diluting yoghurt with water and adding salt, ayran has a creamy but light and refreshing taste with the foam that forms on its top when it is rapidly and continuously mixed. Cooled and served with fresh mint in summer, ayran is frequently consumed to wash down kebabs as well as meat and vegetable dishes.
Prepared by mixing stirred yoghurt, finely grated cucumbers, chopped garlic and shredded fresh mint, cacık is usually served with ice and a dab of olive oil poured on top. While it is an inseparable part of all dining tables especially in summer, you can see cacık served as a side dish throughout the entire year.
The most popular meze of the taverns, haydari is usually prepared by adding garlic, dill and mint to thick strained yoghurt.
Also known as “Yayla” soup in the Black Sea region in northern Turkey, this soup is made from yoghurt and rice, seasoned with a pinch of mint dust. Particularly a great dish that keeps one warm in winter, yoghurt soup is available in almost all restaurants across Turkey.
Eggplant salad with yoghurt
One of the most popular mezes in taverns, eggplant salad with yoghurt is prepared by first barbecuing the eggplants either on coal fire or in low heat in the oven. The skin of the roasted eggplants is peeled before the eggplant is squashed and mixed with garlic, yoghurt, olive oil and salt.
A very important part of the Ottoman cuisine, çılbır is made by cracking the egg directly into boiling water to cook it rapidly, which is then served with stirred garlic yoghurt and fried butter with red paprika on top. Served both as a part of rich breakfasts and lunches with toasted bread, çılbır is one of the regular yoghurt dishes of the Turkish cuisine.