Mediterranean Food

The Jews of Turkey and Greece ate foods inspired by Ottoman cuisine.

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Jewish desserts were strongly influenced by the extraordinary capacity for sweets so dear to the Turkish palate. Syrups are lavishly used to enrich the pastries and provide a melting texture to cakes. Strong seasonings are hardly ever used in the Sephardic cuisine except for an occasional sprinkling of hot chili flakes. Chicken, beef, and lamb are the meats of choice, but in recent years less beef and lamb are used since red meat is now considered unhealthy. Cholesterol has entered the thinking of the Sephardic kitchen, and has even influenced the choice of cooking oil—sunflower has become the most popular. Duck is never eaten. I never saw a duck in Turkey (nor did I see a turkey!).

The Sephardic kitchen relies on appealing combinations of meats, vegetables, or fish served up in casseroles, pies, stuffed vegetables or pastries, and Yufka (wrapped appetizers and snacks). The tendency is to bake foods or simmer them on top of the stove. The large meat roasts of European cooking are unknown. Bread is the staff of life, and rice, in the form of seasoned and garnished dishes, is not far behind.

Greece

There was an overlapping, rather than a sharp differentiation, between Jewish life in Greece and Turkey. Both countries were of the Ottoman Empire and there was a homogenization of both culinary and cultural Judaic activities. Without doubt, the Ottoman was the single strongest influence on the cooking—with emphasis on the sweets. But the native recipes were supplemented by those brought from Spain by the Jews, and those recipes continued to carry Ladino titles.

As in Turkey, the cooking consists largely of casseroles in the ovens, stews on top of the stove, and preparations wrapped in fillo (culminating in the great classic Spanakopeta). Vegetables are important ingredients in this cooking, stewed or enrobed in fillo. Strong seasonings are even less important to the Greek palate than to the Turkish. The flavors result from the natural combinations of poultry, lamb, or fish and a variety of herbs and greens. The reign of the eggplant in Greece and Turkey is permanent. There are those who say that Greek cooking is no more than a satellite of the Turkish, but I am not of this opinion.

No cuisine is established in isolation nor is Sephardic cooking in Greece a carbon copy of that found in Turkey, although both clearly show the Ottoman influence.

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Copeland Marks has written numerous cookbooks, including The Great Book of Couscous and The Exotic Kitchens of Peru.