Write: Nilgün Tatlı Photos: Emel Nalbant
One of the indispensable, centuries-old, deep-rooted wedding traditions in Anatolia is the dishes served.
Long ago in Anatolia, as criers who went neighborhood by neighborhood to invite everyone to weddings, in some regions there would be small gifts given in the place of wedding invitations, called “okuntu” (reading), a tradition that is now forgotten. The invited would come on the indicated days to see the bride’s trousseau, to go to the wedding bath (although not everyone was invited to this; only the very close went to the bath), and for the “henna evening,” after which the bride was taken with a crowd to the place where the wedding was to take place. Then the wedding would start.
Days before the wedding, women who lived in the place where the ceremony was to take place and who were experienced in cooking would start preparing food in the collectively prepared fireplace in giant pots, trays, and pans. Generally, wedding foods were presented on tables set up in front of the house of the betrothed. These tables were open not just to those invited, but to everyone. After dining, visitors would leave their gifts to the betrothed, wish them the best, and go home.
Notable among the foods were keşkek (a dish made of pounded wheat and meat), meat pilaf, blackcurrant pilaf, okra soup, tarhana (a soup of curds and flour), wedding soup, yogurt soup, chickpeas with meat, beans, saffron jelly, flour and farina halvah, homemade baklava, stewed lamb, savory pastries with meat, fruit compote, ayran (a savory drink of yogurt and water), fruit leather paste, fried foods with tomatoes or yogurt, and stuffed grape and lettuce leaves. Dishes exhibited variations by region, too. We wanted to share with you some of the recipes of foods presented at weddings.
5 small, round, round-cut pears; 5–6 apricots; 2–3 pears; 3–4 red plums; 1 small bowl grapes; 1 (heaped) cup granulated sugar (or more, if desired); 15 cups water; 1–2 cloves.
Pour water in a pot. Add the cloves and cut fruit to the water and bring to a boil. When the fruits soften slightly, add sugar. Boil for 10 mins. more and remove from heat. Serve when cool.
A small lamb’s neck, 7–8 cups water, 2 tbsp. fat-free and slightly browned flour (slightly slurried with water), juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper to taste.
For garnish: 1 tbsp. butter, 1 tsp. red pepper flakes.
First, cook the meat in a pot until it softens. Afterward, drain the juice into a separate pot; debone the meat, and put it back in the juice. Separately, combine the lemon juice and flour well and stir into the soup. Boil a bit and remove from heat. Drizzle with a sauce of red pepper briefly sautéed in butter and serve.
3½ cups coarsely ground wheat, 10 cups water, 1 lamb neck cut into pieces, 4 tbsp. butter, salt and pepper to taste.
Before making “keşkek,” you should wash the wheat well and cover it in enough water to cover it. After bringing it to a boil once, remove it from heat and cover it, and let it sit until morning. Later, put the meat in a pressure cooker or other kind of pot with water, and cook until it is soft. After the meat has softened, pick it clean. Pour the meat juice atop the wheat and make sure the wheat softens. Meanwhile, add the meat and mix well. Crush them with a thick wooden spoon. If it needs more salt and pepper, add them. Add melted butter when it is nearly cooked, and crush the mixture some more. Right before serving, drizzle with hot melted butter.the tray. Spread beaten egg and vegetable oil on top. Bake in a 175°C oven for 40–45 minutes. Serve hot or lukewarm as desired.
STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES
500 g fresh grape leaves (or salted grape leaves desalinated by being left in hot water for an hour), juice of 1½ lemons, 1½ cups rice moistened in hot water and drained, 1 tbsp. granulated sugar (less or more, as desired), half a bunch finely chopped parsley, half a bunch finely chopped dill, half a bunch finely chopped mint, 1 kilogram finely chopped yellow onion, 1 cup olive or corn oil, salt and pepper to taste.
If your leaves are fresh, boil them and drain well. Then lay them out on the edges of a wide vessel so they are easy to roll up. In a broad pot, sauté the onions well, and add rice. When the rice is close to browning, cover with hot water. Add granulated sugar and stir. Reduce heat. Cover when the rice has absorbed the water. Later, add the dill, mint, parsley, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and allspice, and mix well.
Later, roll up the dumplings with the outside face of the leaves facing inward. Line them up in a pot and cover with leaves when done. Cover with water. If you prefer a sour taste, add the juice of another half of a lemon. Cover with a porcelain plate, cover, and cook on low heat until rice puffs up. Cool stuffed grape leaves in pot so that you can serve them on a serving plate without having them fall apart.