Spices have always been the lead actor on our tables with their unique flavor and countless health benefits.
Used as peels, leaves, roots, seeds or dried, spices add flavor to our dishes; however, in the past, they used to have a bigger role in our cuisine. Black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin, coriander and allspice were some of the prominent spices in traditional Ottoman cuisine, which prioritized that the spices did not overwhelm the flavor of the dish but highlighted the taste of its main ingredients. Other spices frequently used in Ottoman cuisine were bi ba (a type of long black pepper originating in India), ginger, turmeric, gum, musk and amber.
Selim I's conquest of Egypt opened the supply roads for spices, increasing the variety of spices used in Ottoman cuisine.
Evliya Çelebi mentioned in his travelogue that there were over a thousand herbalists (serving in shops or as vendors), and "200 shops and 500 employees" who made health-giving pastes with spices.
The essential role of spices in Ottoman cuisine as tasty additions could also be seen in the rations of the sultan and senior-ranking officers in the 17th century, who were given some spices in addition to meat, salt and sugar.
The decreasing use of spices, which is a reflection of the changing culinary culture, increased the need for salt. It is recommended that we use more spices in cooking to decrease the consumption of salt and for their many health benefits.
500 g lamb cubes / 2 onions / ½ kg chard / 5 g cumin / 5 g bi ba / 1 g mastic gum / 5 g cinnamon / 5 g coriander / 5 g salt
Place the cubed lamb in a deep pot, fill with water just above the meat and boil for 1 hour. Chop the onions, place in another pan and boil them with a cup of water. Shred the chard with your hands and add it to the onions. When the meat and vegetables absorb the liquid, divide the spices between the two pots and cook for another few minutes. Place the meat and vegetables on a plate in layers and serve.
Mahmudiye with Honey
500 g chicken leg / 500 g chicken breast / 1 onion / 5 stems of parsley or dill / 2 tbsp. honey / 100 g dried apricots / 100 g almonds / 50 g raisins / 2 tbsp. butter / 1 lemon / 5 g cinnamon / 5 g black pepper / 5 g salt
Boil the chicken for 10 minutes. Cube the half-cooked chicken and sauté in butter. Chop the onions, add them to the chicken and continue cooking. Add the dried fruit and nuts. Add the juice of one lemon, salt, black pepper and cinnamon. Sprinkle with honey, cook for 1-2 minutes and remove from heat. Serve with finely chopped parsley or dill on top.