Iranian Turkish Folk Cuisine

(Karapapah, Şahseven, Afşar, Giresunlu, Beydilli, Ehl-i Hak)
Yaşar Kalafat
I first became acquainted with Iranian cuisine in November 1996 while in West, Central and Eastern Iran. As I did not have the opportunity to eat as a guest in people’s homes, I ate mostly in restaurants. The food here consisted mainly of red meat, chicken and pilaf1. Some time later, in December 1998, I went to the cities of Şerefhane and Tabriz and southern Azerbaijan. I first tried pickled garlic there. On this trip we also saw dried limes for sale in Tabriz 2. While researching the Karapapah Turks, we tried to devote some space to their cooking 3, and observed significant similarities between their cuisine and that of the Hazara Turks of the Ismaili faith. The Turkish group which we had the greatest opportunity to study was the Qashqai tribe. Although we were in Northern and Southern Azerbaijan, we did not have the opportunity to do a detailed comparative study of these regions’ food cultures. Starting out with monograph collections from the Iranian Turkish tribes among whom I found myself, I will present my findings on the cuisines of Turkish tribes and regions such as the Giresunlus, Şahsevens, Afşars, Beydillis, Karapapahs, Ehl-i Hak and Karabakh in Northern Azerbaijan 4.
The Mugan region where the Şahseven - Elseven Turkmen live includes the cities of Porsabat, Bilasuar and Germi . This is in the northwest portion of Iran’s Azerbaijan region. To the north and east of Mugan is Otay Azerbaycan (North Azerbaijan – North Mugan). Divided in two by the Aras river, Mugan and its surroundings are populated entirely by Turks speaking the Azerbaijan dialect of Turkish. With a strong Turkish folk culture, the Elseven Turkmen have a very rich folk cuisine. Among the foods noted there are:
Hedik: Known as aşure among the Şahseven-Elseven Turks, this is the same aşure as is made in Anatolia. Whatever the reason may be, it is known here as hedik.
Eğirdek: This dish is made from milk and flour. The dough is shaped into a small cup shape and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Although I do not remember the name, I do remember that this dish was also made in Kars in the 1940s.
Şorba (Bozbaş): Although the word is reminiscent, şorba has nothing to do with the çorba (soup) of Anatolia. This dish is made from fatty meat and chick peas. In Kars and Northern Azerbaijan it is known as bozbaş, and is a very popular dish. Bozbaş is made either in a pot, or in a clay casserole where it is cooked for many hours in the tandır, or pit oven. Bozbaş also contains potatoes.
Kelle:  Kelle is a dish made of avuz, or colostrum. (Known by the same name in Anatolia as well, avuz is the milk which a cow gives for the first few days after calving. The avuz is placed in a pot and slowly heated, where it becomes firm. In the Caucasus, this solidified colostrum is known as “gumus.” Just as in Anatolia, in South and North Azerbaijan as well, avuz is eaten sprinkled with sugar. In the local dialect of Kars, kelle means “in large, unbroken.” “Kelle sugar” means rock sugar. “Kelle” also refers to a whole, uncut onion.
Bulama: Bulama is known in Kars and Iğdır by the same name. It is made by boiling down milk.
Haşıl: Haşıl is a local variety of halvah. After preparing a dough of wheat flour, a generous amount of sugar is added. A similar dish is made in Turkey out of fine bulgur, and eaten with milk or butter. This type of haşıl is also made in the Caucasus.
Kuymak: Among the Şahseven Turkmen and the Afşars, Kuymak is mostly made for pregnant women. The Turks of Southern Azerbaijan make Kuymak out of flour, butter and sugar. In the Caucasus and Eastern Anatolia, various foods are made of flour, butter, sugar or honey as a tonic for expectant women. These are known by a variety of names according to region. In the Caucasus, butter is melted and a bit of flour is sprinkled over this. This flour sinks down to the bottom. This prevents the butter from spoiling. This buttery flour is very tasty and is known as çıka or kuymak. Various types of kuymak are made in Anatolia, some out of cornmeal. These are sometimes eaten with cheese. The layer of kuymak which hardens and adheres to the pot is called kazımak (the verb kazımak means “to scrape”)..
Doğa: Another name for this dish is ayran aşı (thinned yogurt stew). It is made and known by this name in the Kars and Iğdır regions. Ayran aşı is a very different dish from yogurt soup. Doğa is made from yarma (hulled wheat) while yogurt soup is made with rice. Another variety of this stew is known as şumun aşı.
Traditionally among many Turkic peoples, a baby is not taken out of the home until it is forty days old. Among the Afşar Turks of Southern Azerbaijan, a midday meal is held for the occasion, and ayran aşı is prepared. The soup is white, symbolizing good luck.
Diş Hediği(“Tooth Hedik”): As in many different parts of the Turkic world, this is made when a child’s first tooth comes in. Diş hediği is made of wheat, chickpeas, beans and lentils. In Turkey and the Caucasus, nuts and/or dried fruit may also be added to this mixture. Hedik is also made in the Caucasus to eat while traveling.
Kavurma: Kavurma (literally “sauté,”) is made by sautéing meat and onions and cooking it down in its own fat. In Anatolia, there are various types of kavurma. In many areas, onion is added in order to tenderize the meat and add flavor. It is mostly made in a sac or shallow griddle and eaten with either thin yufka or tandır bread, accompanied by ayran.
Çilo huruş: Çilo huruş is the name used in Southern Azerbaijan for pilav with vegetables (sebzeli pilav in Anatolia). In Anatolia there are several different variations on this dish. The richest form of this dish is made in Uzbekistan.
Giyme: This is a dish made of cubed meat and chick peas, common among the Şahseven, Afşar and Beydilli Turkmen.
Gorma Sebze: This dish is very common among the Giresunlu, Karapapah, Şahseven, Beydilli and Afşar Turks of South Azerbaijan. It is made by sautéing kavurma with various herbs.
Turşası: “Sour stew,” is a thick soup prepared with the addition of pickles, which lend it a tart flavor.
Umaçaş: Another thick soup made with pieces of dough, onion, lentils, water, pepper, salt and butter.
Sarı Şile: This dish is associated with mourning, prepared on the anniversaries of deaths. It is especially made during the month of Muharrem, on the anniversary of the killing of Imam Hüseyin.
Sütlaş/Sütlaç: Just as in Turkey, this rice pudding is made by combining milk, rice and sugar.
Yarma Aşı: Literally “cracked wheat soup,” yarma aşı is made from chick peas, rice and yarma, cracked wheat berries. It is also known by this name in Kars, Ardahan and Iğdır.
Rişte Aşı (Thick Noodle Soup): Rişte, or homemade noodles, is known in several parts of Anatolia and Northern Azerbaijan as erişte.  The Afşar, Beydilli, Giresunlu and Şahseven Turkmen make rişte out of chick pea flour. Up until the 1950s or 1960s, “erişte days” were made in Northeastern Anatolia in the autumn in preparation for winter. These were shared work parties in which large amounts of noodle dough was prepared, opened into thin sheets, cut into noodles and dried.
Among the Turks of Southern Azerbaijan, an “eğirdek meal” is served on the last Wednesday of the year. Eğirdek is a small oily type of bread. For this day, a special halvah is made by frying flour in butter. Yufka is mixed with doşap (grape molasses) and formed into balls; this dish is called müce. These dishes are passed out to guests.
Among the Hazara Turks of Afghanistan, a number of whom live in Iran as well, the habit of eating from a common dish is believed to bring concord, or “unity of words.”
Among the Afşar Turkmen of Southern Azerbaijan, young people eat a bit of garlic and onion as the New Year comes in (March 21). They also rub garlic and onion on the soles of their shoes, while repeating a verse invoking Suleiman and cursing the winter. They believe that after doing this, they will not be troubled by any sort of pests or vermin throughout the year. They also believe that those who eat garlic will not be subject to a sudden death.
E. Akçiçek has done extensive studies of the folk beliefs relating to garlic’s protective properties against microorganisms5. We found that throughout the Turkic world in general, onions and garlic were believed to protect against unseen forces and black magic, the evil eye, witches, ghosts and vampires. Thus these two foods are considered effective against both microscopic and mental harmful agents6. In Anatolia onions and garlic are frequently planted near the doors of houses in the summer pastures to protect against vermin. In Salkaz, the tradition of bringing onions to the cemetery may also have a protective goal.
The Afşar Turks of South Azerbaijan also have a tradition of dyeing eggs and having a contest with them on special days, Nowruz in particular. The money given as gifts to children on holidays must be “raw money,” that is, freshly minted and as-yet uncirculated. This money is placed in a Koran and kept there. The Afşars also have the “Sizde” custom of an outing on the thirteenth day of the New Year.
Before the Feast of the Sacrifice, the Afşar Turkmen bring all their pots and pans, plates etc. to a spring and wash them spotless. The belief is that on the day before the feast, these vessels go on a hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca) and return. On the same evening, jewelry and other gold items are placed in these vessels and they are not touched. They are said to be inviolable then. The next morning they are opened along with prayers and then may be used again. The most important item for the Feast among the Afşar Turkmens is the sheep. A red shawl is tied around the neck of the sacrificial sheep, and henna is put on its forehead. It is then taken to the groom’s house.
In Anatolia there is a tradition of sending a ram to the home of the bride, and decorating it with mirrors, apples and henna. However the tradition of blessing the cooking vessels and dishes was new to me. I believe that there is a belief that even objects known to be inanimate are blessed and aware of God. Just as a person has responsibility to God for his or her own body, things have responsibilities to the people who created them. In love stories, a lover speaks with mountains, or stones, while searching for his or her beloved, and sometimes make pledges to them. “O great mountains, if you love your God, pray tell me if my love passed through here?”
The Turkish food of Karabakh is somewhat like a bridge between the cuisines of North and South Azerbaijan. The two regions share a common culinary tradition with a similar richness in variety, however with some different variants. We can witness this richness in its soups, meat dishes, vegetable dishes, fried foods, sweets, salads, various wild greens, dried fruits and nuts, drinks and pickles.
Soups of Karabakh
Dovğa: This is a type of yogurt soup, containing mint, spinach, green onions, rice, eggs, chickpeas and sometimes tiny meatballs.
Evelik Çorbası: Made with meat broth, small dumplings, sautéed onion, black pepper, salt, pepper paste and chopped evelik (fresh mung beans).
Umaç: Made with flour, water, eggs, salt and turmeric, this soup is prepared in the same way as evelik çorbası but without the mung beans.
Erişte Çorbası (Homemade Noodle Soup): Made with meat broth, this soup is prepared by boiling pinto beans and adding homemade noodles and sautéed onion.
Borş (Borscht): Borş is made with beef, either with or without the bone. First the meat is boiled till very tender. While it is boiling, an onion is sautéed in oil, and grated carrot, beet and tomato paste is added and sautéed. The meat broth is added to this mixture, after which firm young cabbage is chopped and added. Lastly, four large cut up potatoes are added and boiled till tender.
Tavuk Çorbası: Chicken soup; this is no different than the chicken soup made in Turkey with chicken broth, meat and thin vermicelli.
Hoş: This is the same as the lamb foot soup (paça) made in Turkey, both in terms of its ingredients and method of preparation.
Bozbaş Çorbası: To make bozbaş soup: soak chickpeas overnight. Boil fatty meat with the bone in or a neck to make a broth. Add the chickpeas to the meat. Chop two large onions and add. Remove the foam frequently. Add an equal number of egg-sized potatoes and pieces of meat. Add salt, black pepper and turmeric, then sour dried plums. The plums should be the same in number as the pieces of meat. Serve with dry mint and sumac. The proper name for this dish is Karabakh bozbaş or Turkish bozbaş, and there is a special type of casserole for making it. The entire mixture is placed into this casserole and the lid is sealed with dough. It is cooked for four to five hours, until the meat is extremely tender. A few pieces of sheep tail (not tail fat) are added to the dish.
The dolma (stuffed vegetables/fruits) culture of the Karabakh Turks is also very rich:
Biber Dolması, Domates Dolması: Stuffed peppers and tomatoes. Run lamb through a meat grinder, as well as onion, and sauté together with the meat. To this mixture, add the scooped-out inside of the tomatoes, then salt, pepper and turmeric, as well as chopped parsley and cilantro. Fill the vegetables. Arrange in a pot, place a plate over the top, add water just to cover, and simmer till done, around 25 minutes. In Karabakh, the filling for stuffed tomatoes and peppers does not contain rice.
Patlıcan Dolması: Stuffed eggplant. The filling for stuffed eggplant is exactly the same as above, minus the tomato. Slit the eggplants longwise, and salt the interior, then wait 20 minutes for the dark liquid to drain out. Then boil the eggplants. (They are not fried as they are in Turkey.) When they have softened, squeeze out the extra water and stuff with the filling as above. This dish is accompanied by a light sauce made with egg and garlic. Stuffed vine leaves and cabbage are made exactly as they are in Turkey.
Elma Dolması: Stuffed apples. Carefully clean and hollow out firm tart apples. Prepare the filling exactly as for stuffed eggplant and fill the apples with the mixture. Just as for other stuffed vegetables, weigh the apples down with a plate or something similar to keep them in place while cooking. Add half a cup of water, and let cook on a low flame. These are generally served together with other stuffed vegetables, with one stuffed apple to each plate.
Ayva dolması: Stuffed quinces. These are prepared in exactly the same way as stuffed apples.
The Turkish cuisine of Karabakh also features a rich variety of vegetable dishes.
Kükü: This dish is made from spinach and cilantro, with the addition of a bit of dill for aroma. It also contains some scallions but the main ingredients are the spinach and cilantro. Saute these in oil with the scallions till half-cooked. In a separate bowl, beat two eggs with a bit of flour, and pour half of this over the herb mixture. Flip, and sprinkle the rest of the batter over the top. Flip once again to cook, and cut into diamond shapes with the edge of a wooden spoon. It is important to use a wooden spoon in order not to destroy the vitamins. In Anatolia and greater Turkistan, wooden spoons are still identified with abundance, and several dishes are never touched with metal implements; cutting with metal knives for example, is avoided.
İşkembe Gutap/Karın Gutabı: This is a type of börek, made with sheep tripe. There is also a variety made with meat (et gutabı).
Bozartma: Cut lamb meat with the bone, or a lamb neck, into large pieces. It can also be made with ribs. First the meat is rubbed with a mixture of spices and onion, as well as thyme in order to reduce the smell of the meat. This mixture is mixed with a wooden spoon in a deep copper kettle and left to brown; then just enough water to cover is added. The pot is covered tightly and the meat is allowed to form a broth.
Evlik: Dock. This is added to soup, and used in the treatment of stomach and intestinal ailments. In summer, it is dug together with its root and dried. Believed to be good for healing damage to the internal organs during winter; it is steeped and sipped as a tea in the morning and evening.
Isırgan (Gıcıkkan): Stinging nettle. This is used as a filling for a type of bun, as well as eaten as a potherb. When it is to be eaten raw, it is first kneaded with salt. It is believed to be effective against Rheumatism, arthritis etc.
Yeşil Fasulye Kavurması: Green beans sautéed with onion, made just as in Turkey. If made with butter and eggs, it is topped with garlic-infused  yogurt as well.
Ispanak Kavurması: Spinach cooked with onions, with the addition of pepper or tomato paste, just as in Turkey.
Merövce: This is a wild plant which grows on mountain slopes, and is not cultivated. It is quite rare and expensive. The stems are prepared and sautéed just as with spinach.
Şomu: A wild herb with a reddish hue that resembles spinach and grows on mountain slopes. Its tops are sautéed.
Çiriş: This is the spring sprouts of Eremurus (foxtail lily), which are sautéed as they are in Turkey.
Dağ Kişnişi (“Mountain coriander”): This herb is not cooked alone but rather added to other dishes for its aroma.
Kuşebbeği: This is Capsella bursa-pastoris, or Shepherd’s purse. The Turkish name means “bird bread.” It is sautéed as well as used for a filling for a pastry known as göy ketesi. These buns may also be made with nettles, or cilantro and spinach. The shepherd’s purse is chopped finely. Dough is rolled out very thin and folded over the herb. The edges are sealed and it is cooked on both sides on a lightly convex griddle called a sac. As the dough rises, it is lightly pricked with a knife. They are then spread with butter and stacked on a metal tray. Shepherd’s purse, nettle and dock, and other herbs such as sorrel and others are also eaten raw.
Just as the Turkish cuisines of Anatolia and the Iran, Karabakh cuisine includes a rich variety of sweet dishes. Sütlaç (rice pudding) is made just as it is in Turkey, by boiling rice in milk till it begins to disintigrage and adding sugar. Fırni is a rather firm type of pudding made of rice flour and sprinkled with cinnamon.
Kuymak: Flour is first browned in butter. Then a light sugar syrup is added, then honey. This is served for nine days to women who have newly given birth.
Baklava: This is made with 21 layers of hand-rolled yufka and a walnut filling is added between each layer. It is cooked in the same way as in Turkey.
Helva (Halvah): This is made in the same way as Turkey.
Şörgoğol: The dough for this dish is rolled thin in small circles as for burma. The filling is prepared of spices and coriander seed, and it is topped with egg and sesame.
Kebabs hold a important place in traditional cooking in Karabakh, including shish kebab as in Turkey. Other types of kebab include:
Bastırma Kebap: This is also known as terbiyeli kebap (marinated kebab). The meat for this dish is first allowed to stand in apple or grape vinegar. It is then cooked with chopped onion and thyme.
Lüle Kebabı or Dövme Kebabı: This is the same as the “Adana Kebabı” of Turkey, made with finely chopped meat, either with or without hot pepper. It is eaten with yufka, lavash or Türki çörek.
Tike Kebabı: This is the same as Turkey’s shish kebab made with cubes of meat.
Balık Kebabı: Fish kebab, also known as asetrin kebabı, it is made with a local fish known as asetrin. It is a special occasion dish.
Bağırsak Kebabı: Intestine kebab, made from the small intestine of sheep and lambs. Its preparation is quite different from that of its nearest Turkish counterpart, kokoreç. The intestine is wound onto the spit. Another dish made with trip cooked on a spit or over hot coals is known as kalin karta. In Turkey, it is commonly made by Karapapah Turks.
In addition, there are potato, tomato and pepper kebabs. To make these, they are hollowed out, then stuffed with sheep tail and cooked as kebab.
Tea in Karabakh traditional cuisine is quite a production. Among the pastries served with tea are kurabiye (various cookies), kete, rulet (rolled-up cookies), feseli (an oily bread) and others. Various nuts and dried fruits are also served7.
1 Dr. Yaşar Kalafat, “Vatan-İran-Turan Hattı ve Cafer Türklerinde Halk İnançları” Türk Dünyası Araştırmaları, Haziran 1997, nr. 108, s. 41-68.
2 Dr. Yaşar Kalafat “Birinci Uluslararası Azerbaycan Sempozyumu ve İkinci İrarı Seyahati Notları”, Kardeş Edebıyatlar, nr. 44, s. 14-18.
3 Yaşar Kalafat, Bakü-Ceyhan Kültür Hattı, Ankara, 2000, s. 97-100; ve “Kaşkayi Türklerinde Sosyal Yaşam” Yörük ve Türkmenlerde Günlük Hayat Sempozyumu Bildirileri, (17-18 Mayıs 2002) Ankara, 2002, s. 109-137
4 Yaşar Kalafat-T. M. Dilmegani “Karşılaştırmalı Güney Azerbaycan Türk Halk İnançları”, İki bin yirmi üç,Haziran 2002, nr. 14, s. 64-69
5 Eren Akçiçek, “Sarmısakla İlgili İnançlar”, Eren’ce (Halk Bilimi Yazıları), İzmir, 1997,s.46-66
6 Y. Kalafat, “Türk Halk İnançlarında Sarımsak ve Soğanla İlgili Hususlar”, Türk Mutfak Kültürü Araştırmaları, Ankara, 2001, s. 85-91
7 Yazımızın “Karadağ Türk Halk Mutfağı” ilgili kısmına Doç. Dr. Aygün Aktar kaynaklık yapmıştır.
* Dr. Asam is President of the Caucasus Department.

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