Amusing Ma Bouche

. . . a tasty little food blog

Theresa Rice

Theresa Rice
North Georgia Mountains, Georgia, United States
August 24
I cook. I eat. I write. I grow things. I teach. I paint. Louisiana-born and southern bred, I love people intelligent enough to be optimistic and generous enough to bring their gifts to the table.


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FEBRUARY 6, 2011 10:45PM

Yogurt from the Seraglio

Rate: 16 Flag

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Other countries may claim similar honors, but yogurt, that mainstay of twenty-first century dieters and dairy lovers everywhere, is regarded by Turkey as one of its most famous and ancient culinary contributions to the world.

Whether it800px-Mosaic_museum_Istanbul_2007_006 resize was in the area of Turkey or elsewhere, food historians say the first yogurt was probably discovered accidentally by Central Asian peoples some  4,500 years ago.  The serendipity we know as yogurt may have occurred in the sheep-stomach bag of a fierce nomadic tribesman or woman, used to hold rich mare's or goat's milk. Time, temperature and rennet from the sheep's stomach may have each happily contributed to the formation of a delightfully creamy clotted milk. 


The tasty curd's ascendancy in Turkish food culture was well in place long before the birth of the Ottoman Empire in 1299. By 1520, when the illustrious reign of  Suleiman the Magnificent began, the palace boasted multiple kitchens with hundreds of chefs who dedicated themselves to codifying classic Turkish foods. Thousands were fed from these opulent kitchens, and yogurt was an important ingredient in soups, stews, marinades, dips, vegetable dishes, baked delicacies, desserts and beverages. Huge quantities were provide by professional yogurt makers, members of one among many guilds dedicated to their craft under the patronage of saints and holy men. Suleiman's vast table was resplendant with yogurt in its many guises.

Khourrem Roxelana

Not long after mighty Suleiman's rise a young girl of Ukranian descent was captured by Crimean Tatars and taken from her native Kingdom of Poland, now part of the Ukraine. She was carried overland all the way to Constantinople, destined to become a slave. Such were the unfelitious beginnings of Roxelana, later Hürrem Sultan, arguably one of the most powerful and influential women in the world.

The captive soon found herself part of the Imperial harem. She may have been a slave but she was beautiful, intelligent and lively, willing to do whatever it took to better her position.The lowly foreign-born girl quickly enthralled the Sultan. The exquisite Roxelana became known as "Hürrem" or "The Laughing One" after her induction into the seraglio. She was high spirited and a gifted needlewoman who aroused jealously in the other women of the harem.

SAnton_Hickel_001 roxelana & suleiman resizehe was also gifted at keeping Suleiman intrigued and indulgent. She became the Sultan's confidant, then his advisor, involved in local and international affairs of state. She bore him five children and was eventually freed from slavery and became the Sultan's legal wife, an almost unbelievable accomplishment that was the talk the Ottoman world and beyond.

Roxelana was a textbook case of a powerful woman using her wiles to further her own causes. Her ambitions and intrigues ultimately led to the murders of Suleiman's rightful heir, the child of another woman, so her own son could succeed to the throne, and of the Grand Vizier, who sought to curtail her power.  

Hürrem's contribution to life in the Ottoman Empire extended beyond conspiracy and deception. It was probably due to her influence that relations with Poland were largely peaceful throughout her life. She was noted for her gifts of public buildings, including a mosque, a bathhouse and a women's hospital.

Her slave-girl-to-Sultana story has facinated Westerns for centuries and she has been the subject on numerous plays, novels, artworks and musical compositions. She died in 1558, preceding Suliman by eight years. Suleiman's legacy is as the Magnificent, the Lawgiver. Roxalana remains "The Laughing One." Their son, Selim II, then succeeded his father to the throne of the Ottoman Empire, exactly as his mother wished.

416px-Bokhara_suzani edit416px-Bokhara_suzani edit416px-Bokhara_suzani edit416px-Bokhara_suzani edit416px-Bokhara_suzani edit416px-Bokhara_suzani edit416px-Bokhara_suzani edit416px-Bokhara_suzani edit416px-Bokhara_suzani edit416px-Bokhara_suzani edit416px-Bokhara_suzani edit




444px-Fresh_ayran editTurks have long refreshed themselves with this unexpectedly salty drink. Roxelana might have offered ayran to the Sultan on his arrival in her chambers.

  • 3 c plain yogurt
  • 3 c water or to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons finely minced fresh mint

 Stir the yogurt with a whisk until very creamy. Add the water in very small amounts, whisking to blend completely after each addition. To make a frothy version whisk vigorously or  use a submersion blender. Add salt and mint and pour over crushed ice.

Turkish Zucchini Fritters

(Kabak Mücveri)

These succulent morsels have a hint of dill, long a favorite partner of yogurt, base of the accompanying dip.


  • 1/2 pound zucchini
  • 1/3 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, grated
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped or 2 tablespoons dried
  • 3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • fresh ground pepper
  • oil for frying

IMG_1819 resizeDirections:

Grate the zucchini and place in a colander lined with a clean dish towel. Sprinkle with salt and let drain for 30 minutes. Gather up the cloth and squeeze out moisture.

Place the zucchini in a bowl. Add the green and yellow onions, dill, parsley, flour and salt and pepper to taste; mix well. Add yogurt, cheese and eggs and blend thoroughly.

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, pour in oil to a depth of ¼ inch. When the oil is hot, drop the batter by heaping tablespoonfuls into the pan aIMG_1867 resizend pat with the back of spoon to form small patties. Allow space in between fritters and fry for 2 minutes on the first side, then turn to brown on the second side for about 3 minutes. Use a slotted spatula to transfer to paper towels to drain; repeat with remaining batter. Serve with Mint and Coriander Yogurt Dip.  (Recipe follows)




To be traditional, use the mortar and pestle. Or blend all ingredients except the yogurt in a blender or food processor. DO NOT blend the yogurt or it will thin out too much.

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  • 1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves, washed and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cut fresh mint leaves, washed and roughly chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • 1 small green chili pepper or to taste, seeded, ribbed and chopped fine, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoons of  sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt and more to taste
  • 4 ounces thick (Greek or Turkish) yogurt


Place all ingredients except yogurt into food processor bowl and pulse until you have a thick paste. Remove to a bowl and gradually blend in yogurt with a spoon, stirring to blend in completely. Adjust seasonings to your taste.

Traditional preparation: In a mortar, combine all the ingredients except the yogurt. Pound till leaves darken and ingredients form a wet paste. Stir with a spoon or pound further to ensure no large lumps of chili remain. Then add the yogurt and combine well. Adjust seasonings to your taste.


tavuk ÅŸiÅŸ kabab 


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 The seasonings for the chicken create a za'atar, traditional seasoning blend through out Central Asia. The basic ingredients are toasted sesame seeds, thyme and sumac. Additions vary from country to country. A common Turkish mixture adds dill, mint and allspice.The sumac turns food a lovely hue, so don't IMG_1822 resizebe alarmed when your chicken starts looking pink. 


  • 8 chicken tenderloins
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup thick yogurt (Greek or Turkish) 
  • Spice mixture: 1/2 teaspoon each toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme, dried dill, dried mint, dried sumac
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (in addition to those used in spice mixture
  • 8 skewers (if using wood skewers soak in water for at least 20 minutes to prevent burning

  IMG_1828 resizeDirections:

Lay tenderloins in a shallow dish wide enough to hold them with space to spare. Squeeze the lemon over the chicken. Spread the yogurt to cover all the pieces evenly. Turn and sprinkle evenly with spice mixture. Allow to marinate 20 minutes. Grill over medium-high heat until done, turning once. Or broil for 2-3 minutes per side or until done. 4 servings.




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Next comes the cake. While you're waiting for it to bake, take a beauty tip from Roxalana and whip up a batch of yogurt face mask to suit your complexion. Then lay around the seraglio planning intrigues for 10 to 30 minutes ida rubensteinbefore rinsing, depending on your skin type and your taste for scheming.

Semolina, more usually known for its use to make pasta,  provides a heavier cake than most Westerners are used to. Lemon syrup gives the cake a delicate tang and its dense texture. It is beautiful cut into small squares, diamonds or triangles and topped with a dusting of very finely chopped pistachios. Serve with Turkish coffee or tea.




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The syrup needs to cool before it is poured onto the still-warm cake so plan your timing accordingly. If you can make it ahead and refrigerate it, so much the better. You will need a whole lemon for the cake and syrup. Cut a 3-inch long strip of lemon peel, about 1/2 inch wide, with a vegetable parer to use in the syrup before zesting the rest of the peel for the cake. Half the lemon is juiced into the finished syrup. 

  • 2 cups of granulated sugar
  • 2-1/2 cups of water
  • 3-inch x 1/2 inch long strip of lemon peel
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

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Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Bring it to the boil over medium heat. Boil for ten minutes. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice. Set aside to cool completely. Refrigerate once it reaches room temperature.



Dry Ingredients:

  • 1-/2 cups of semolina flour
  • 2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp of baking powder

Wet ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 cup of thick plain yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla
  • zest of 1 lemon

Garnish, optional

  • 2-3 tablespoons very finely chopped pistachio nuts

IMG_1802 resizeDirections:

Preheat the oven 350 F. Sift dry ingredients together into a bowl. Beat eggs and sugar on medium-high until light lemon colored. Gradually add yogurt, vegetable oil and lemon zest, beating all the while. Turn off mixer to add one-third of the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl. Mix on medium until well blended. Add remainder of dry ingredients

Prepare a 9-inch by 13-inch pyrex baking dish with baking spray. Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake until it is golden brown, approximately 50 minutes.

Take the cake from oven. Let it cool for 5 minutes and pierce several holes in the top with a toothpick or a skewer. Remove the lemon peel from the cold syrup and spoon the liquid over the cake. Allow to cool before cutting into squares, diamonds or triangles. Garnish each piece with a sprinkle of chopped pistachio nuts. Serve with Turkish coffee or tea if desired.



Life is half delicious yogurt, half crap, and your job is to keep the plastic spoon in the yogurt. ~ Scott Adams


Let's dip our ever-ready plastic spoons into the deliciousness of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio finale, from the movie Amadeus. What fun to see the 1980s Hollywood version of the 18th century Viennese version of 18th century Turkish costume and music. Gotta love that pink wig, Wolfie!






 Abduction from the Seraglio video courtesy of YouTube

All historical images in the public domain

Aryan image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

All other text and images © 2011 Theresa Rice




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You've got this Turk sold ! Excellent research and you picked some fine recipes. This is so "home" and "soul" food to me. I was going to post the recipe for Yogurt Cake, but since it resembled Revani, I passed it. So glad you included here. Thank you !
*Linda bangs head on table and just loves Theresa's recipes every week*
Wonderful and YUM.
rated with hugs
Okay, ladies... Theresa (and Fusun, too) you've got me sold. I'm getting a Turkish cookbook. Any suggestions?

Theresa -- another outstanding post. Does it take you all week to "whip" one of these into shape? Really amazing work!

Guessing next week -- we're on to Valentine's Day hearts and flowers, what do you think?
@ Vivian: I recommend
"Classical Turkish Cooking" by Ayla Esen Algar.
What a great story about The Laughing One. I've had this yogurt drink, in bottled form, at Middle Eastern delis. I have to say your version looks much better.
Great Turkish Yogurt Recipes!
Thanks to everyone for stopping in. I love visitors.

You, Fusun, are a dear delight and I loved your post. I knew we'd be on a wavelength with this one and I'm glad you were happy to see the Yogurt Cake.

I'm thrilled you love my work, Linda, but put a pillow on the table first, sweetie.

Hey Vivian, Thanks for your lovely comments. I don't usually start thinking about the skc until Thursday or Friday, then work as I can over the weekend. This one was a special treat, since I've been enamored of Suleiman since I read a fabulous biography when I was in my 20s. The Laughing One was captivating so I loved using her for this post. And yes, I think Valentine's Day is a safe guess. We'll see what twists they come up with for us.

Hi Grace, thank you for stopping in. I'm always happy to hear from you, sweet lady.

I remember your flaming cheese post, GHWittler. I was sure you'd appreciate a Turkish approach.
Theresa, you make everything look so damn good. -R-
I just tried the fritters with the mint and coriander yogurt dip, and they are wonderful! Good job!
Spectacular post, Theresa! I love the Roxelana story and your illustrations. Who knew that bacterial fermentation could be so sexy?!
What a feast! And as weird as the word "yogurt" is -- it's infinitely better than "sheep-stomach bag cheese."
What a feast, Theresa! The fritters and cake look especially wonderful.
Wow, spectacular presentation. R
Wow, this feast looks scrumptious! Who knew that a mixture of yogurt and water could look that amazing? I was not familiar with the story of Roxelana; what a fascinating character. Thanks for this!
Love it! I can't get enough of food history and this was spot on. I'll be trying out the zucchini fritters and dip this weekend when I have friends over.