Millions of us head on holiday there every year, so it's no wonder Turkish cuisine is proving a huge hit. Diana Pilkington talks Turkey with chef Allegra McEvedy
Think Turkish food and what comes to mind? A greasy kebab and chips, hastily scoffed on the street on a Friday night, perhaps?
But there's so much more to the cuisine from this richly historic country, where fresh fish and abundant vegetables are as much a part of the diet as meat.
Chef Allegra McEvedy, the brains behind the Leon restaurants chain, jumped at the chance to explore Turkey and its food for her new TV show, Turkish Delight.
"Turkish food is quite poorly represented in Britain, and it really does feel like the next cuisine to be discovered," she says.
"We're a bit over the Med. We're now trending more and more towards the Middle East and we love a bit of spice. And Turkish has just the right balance of ingredients and dishes on offer."
Part of its appeal is the huge variety of cultures that have poured into the country over the years, all leaving an impact on the food.
"Turkey occupies this unique place of being a hand in Europe and a foot in Asia," McEvedy says.
"The Bosphorus is the only crossing between the two continents, and everyone from Alexander the Great to the Roman emperors to all the nomads and the Greeks went through it, and they all left a bit of their food there."
On her travels, the chef tasted such treats as the freshest of hazelnuts from the Black Sea region, and an enormous carp, roasted and stuffed with its own roe, mint, onions and garlic, in the country's central lake region. She even met the family of the inventor of the doner kebab.
"Our idea of a doner kebab in Britain is very different from theirs. In Turkey it's always all the good cuts of hand-sliced lamb, layered and marinated in olive oil and garlic and left to marinate on the skewer.
"Rather than cooking it all the way through, you're just cooking the outer couple of centimetres at a time."
And McEvedy's not the only one getting in on the act. A report by Glorious! foods found Turkish to be one of the biggest food trends for late 2012, prompting the company to go on a fact-finding expedition to Istanbul to source ideas for new flavours of soups and dips.
Kevin Gould, who studied patterns of migration and leisure travel to write the report, said as many as 3 million Brits will go to Turkey this year alone: "More people have travelled to Turkey on holiday for the past three years now than to almost anywhere else. Spain is still number one, but Turkey could be number two this year.
"It's outside the euro so it's very affordable, the people are lovely and the food is delicious. So it's a fair bet to say holidaymakers will bring back very positive food memories."
Even if you can't travel to Turkey this year, get into the spirit by trying these delicious recipes at home...
ALLEGRA MCEVEDY'S FIRINDA KOFTE
For the meatballs:
320g lamb mince
30g dried breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, grated and squeezed
1 tsp Turkish chilli flakes
Small handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
Small handful mint, chopped
Olive oil for frying
3 small, ripe tomatoes, sliced
For the potato dish:
2 large potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled and sliced 2cm thick
Half an onion, thinly sliced
3 long green Turkish peppers, cut into 5cm pieces
Sprinkling of chilli flakes
Sprinkling of dried oregano
For the cooking liquor:
1 tin chopped plum tomatoes (400g)
400ml chicken stock
Handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 190C. Mix together all the ingredients for the meatballs except the olive oil and sliced tomatoes. This is best done by hand.
Roll into 10 golf ball sized balls, then slightly flatten them.
In a frying pan lightly fry the meatballs in a little of the olive oil until just golden.
Take them out and drain on kitchen paper.
Fry the potato slices briefly on each side so they aren't cooked through but reach a golden colour, seasoning them with salt and pepper as you cook them.
Transfer the potato slices to kitchen paper, wipe the pan out.
Pour the tin of tomatoes and chicken stock into a pan and bring to a simmer.
Layer the bottom of a baking dish with the spuds, arrange the meatballs on top. Scatter around the sliced onions and pepper pieces, and sprinkle everything lightly with chilli flakes and dried oregano.
Pour the cooking liquor carefully into the dish so that it comes roughly half way up meat. Finish by putting a slice of tomato on top of each meatball.
Bake for 45 minutes then add chopped parsley and serve with yogurt.
ALLEGRA MCEVEDY'S TURKISH BOREK
200g baby spinach, roughly chopped
1 standard block of feta
2 green chillies, chopped (seeds in or out)
2 spring onions, sliced
Big handful of dill, chopped
250g fresh filo sheets
4 tbsp whole milk
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Put the feta in a mixing bowl and mash it. Add the chopped baby spinach, chillies, spring onions, dill and quite a lot of salt and pepper.
Brush the base of a large frying pan with extra virgin olive oil then mix the rest of the oil with the milk. Lay one of the large sheets of filo over it so that it drapes over the sides.
Spoon in half the filling, then rip another piece of filo in half. Take one half and tear it into large pieces, dip them into the milky olive oil mix before laying them roughly on top.
Then spoon on the rest of the filling, before repeating the other half in the same way.
Fold the filo that is hanging over the edges back over the top, and brush again with the milky oil.
Now put the pan on a medium heat and cook for five to six minutes each side, before cutting into wedges and serving with yogurt if you fancy.
A salad from the Kurdish heartlands around Bingol, Murc (meaning 'chisel') features little chipped shards of walnut.
(Serves 4-6 as a side salad or in a mezze selection)
1 large mug coarse bulgur wheat
1 large mug of hot vegetable or meat stock
50g walnut pieces, lightly toasted then broken into little pieces (tip - let the walnuts cool before breaking into pieces)
1 large tomato, finely chopped, sprinkled with 1 tsp sumac
A small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
4 tbsp pomegranate molasses
Rinse the bulgur under a running tap until the water runs clear.
Place the rinsed bulgur in a bowl, pour over the hot stock and cover. After 15 minutes, it will have absorbed all the liquid.
Fork the bulgur through with the sumac-sprinkled tomato and the parsley.
Check for seasoning, then fork through with pomegranate molasses. Place in a serving bowl.
Sprinkle with the walnuts and serve at room temperature.
:By Simon Gamble for www.gloriousfoods.co.uk
Kekik is Turkish wild thyme. It tastes sweeter and is less pungent than the thymes we are used to buying.
(Serves 4-6 as a side salad or in a mezze selection)
For the salad:
25g fresh thyme spikes, soaked in a little salty water for 1 hour, then drained
4 medium, ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped very small
A medium bunch of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
150g best quality green olives, stones removed
For the dressing:
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of salt dissolved in 1 tbsp lemon juice
Prepare the olives by chopping roughly. Place in a bowl. De-salt by pouring boiling water over. Leave for five minutes, rinse and repeat.
Add the de-salted olives to the rest of the salad ingredients.
Whisk the dressing ingredients together, and stir through the salad. Serve immediately.
By Simon Gamble for www.gloriousfoods.co.uk
Turkish Delight with Allegra McEvedy starts on Good Food (Sky 247/Virgin 260) on Sunday, September 16