Top 10 Ingredients in Turkish Cuisine

Items Every Turkish Cook Should Have In Stock

I'm not talking about hit songs or movies. I'm talking about the top 10 ingredients no Turkish cook can do without. You'll be amazed that so many dishes feature simple, inexpensive items that are easy to find. Here are the stars of the Turkish pantry.

  • 01 of 10

    Olive Oil

    Olive oil
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    Olive oil has been a staple in Turkish kitchens for hundreds of years. It's used in classic vegetable dishes, salads, and for frying.

    The best olive oils are cold-pressed and come in a wide range of virgin and extra-virgin varieties. Flavored olive oils are the latest craze, sold in fancy bottles and infused with hot pepper, oregano, sage and other spices -- perfect for dipping with chunks of crusty bread!

  • 02 of 10


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    Turkish 'pilav,' or rice pilaf, is a common side dish, so having rice in stock is a must. Baldo Rice with large grains is ideal for pilaf, while Calrose or other small grain rice is better for fillings. You can also use cracked rice for thickening desserts and soups.

    No quick-cooking rice allowed! Rice is cooked the long way, but always worth the wait.

  • 03 of 10


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    Yellow onions are the flavor base of many Turkish dishes, so have plenty on hand. For garnishing, also make sure you have a few red onions and you'll be ready for anything.

    Store your onions outdoors if possible. This way, both they and your kitchen will stay fresher.

  • 04 of 10

    Tomato Paste

    tomato paste
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    Tomato paste is used to add color and flavor to many recipes, hot and cold. Store your paste in a glass jar in the fridge.

    Coat the surface with a drizzle olive oil each time you use some. This will keep it fresher longer.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10


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    Turkey is famous for its endless variety of hot and cold eggplant dishes like Musakka, roasted eggplant salad, and even eggplant jam. Japanese or Italian eggplants work best for general cooking, grilling and stuffing. Globe eggplants yield lots of pulp for mashes and salads.

    Dried eggplants, available in Middle-Eastern markets, are presoaked before being stuffed and steamed to perfection.

  • 06 of 10

    Red Lentils

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    Creamy red lentil soup is served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and to break the daily fast during the month of Ramadan. Red lentils are also used in many starters and salads.

    Red lentils are bright orange to golden yellow in color and they cook much quicker than green lentils. You can find them in the Latin or organic section of your supermarket, and in most Middle Eastern grocery stores.

  • 07 of 10

    White Flour

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    Good ol' white flour is the main ingredient in Turkish pastries, savories, and desserts. It's also used as a thickener for soups and puddings, and as a coating for frying.

    Large, thin sheets of fresh dough called 'Yufka' (yoof-KAH') are rolled-out by hand to use for layering in meat and cheese pastries called 'Börek' (bur-REK') and in desserts like Baklava.

  • 08 of 10

    White Cheese

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    White cheese, less salty than Feta, is a standard at breakfast and eaten all day as a pastry and sandwich filling, salad topper or on its own. White cheese is made from cow, sheep or goat milk.

    For cooks outside Turkey, buy blocks of Feta and store them submerged in water in the fridge. This will remove the salt and keep the cheese soft and fresh. Slice or crumble it as needed.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Ground Beef

    ground beef
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    You can be very creative with ground beef in a Turkish kitchen. Keep a pound or so frozen for good measure.

    Beef with a high fat content (20-30% fat) is better for grilling. Try your hand at making fast and easy Turkish meatballs, called 'Köfte' (kuff-TAY'). They're a national favorite.

    For stewed vegetable dishes and meat-filled pastries, you can use beef with a 10% fat content or less.

  • 10 of 10


    Photo © John-E.-Kelly - Getty Images

    Bulgur is prized for its earthy flavor and high nutritional value. It's made from cracked durum wheat that is parboiled then dried.

    In Turkey, there are two types of bulgur - coarse and fine. Coarse bulgur is best for pilaf while fine bulgur is used in soups, meze, meat and vegetable dishes and even desserts.

    Bulgur is inexpensive and easy to find near the dry goods or in the organic section of your supermarket. You can also find bulgur at Greek and Middle Eastern grocery stores.