Salads were served first and eaten with main dishes during Ottoman feasts. Today, this tradition is kept alive at Turkish tables.
The Ottomans’ interest in horticulture is mentioned in the records of many foreign travelers. Ottoman gardens were shaped by nature without any paths or flower beds. Turks have a love of flowers that astonishes foreign visitors. However, these gardens are home to more than just flowers. French traveler Antoine Galland writes that the outer gardens of Topkapı Palace had vegetables patches and fruit trees instead of flower beds and that Turks consumed lots of cucumbers and raw green vegetables. In the 17th century, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier was surprised to see that Turkish children were given raw and unpeeled cucumbers as a snack. Mehmed the Conqueror also loved cucumbers, and they would grow out-of-season cucumbers in the royal gardens for him. Ottomans ate cucumbers raw or in cacık, as pickles, or stuffed. Surprised by the fact that Ottomans ate many raw herbs and vegetables, Western travelers thought this was an unhealthy habit. However, since Ottoman cuisine used plenty of vinegar, this habit of eating raw herbs and vegetables did not cause any health problems. It’s known that in the mid-16th century janissaries ate a salad of beet, onion, garlic, radish, and cucumber flavored with salt and vinegar. In his travelogue, Evliya Çelebi talks about how Ottomans used oil, vinegar, and garlic in salads. Of course, people in the past who cared a lot about gardens also loved spring. We picked two spring recipes from the Ottoman cuisine.