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Grains: Bread to Börek

The foundation of Turkish food is, if anything, the dough made of wheat flour. Besides "ekmek" - the ordinary white bread, "pide" - flat bread, "simit" - sesame seed rings, and "manti" - dumplings, a whole family of food, called "börek," made up of thin sheets of pastry falls into this category.

The bakers of the Ottoman period believed that after his expulsion from the Garden of Eden Adam, the Patron Saint of Bakers, learned how to make bread from the Archangel Gabriel. Obviously, the secret is still held dearly by present-day Turkish bakers; no other bread tastes as good as everyday Turkish bread. One realizes the wonderful luxury of Turkish bread only upon leaving the country. This blessed food is enjoyed in large quantities and is respected by all, rich and poor, simple and sophisticated. Every neighborhood has a bread bakery that produces the golden, crisp loaves twice a day morning and afternoon, filling the streets with their irresistible and wholesome aroma. People pick up a few loaves on their way home from work, and end up eating the crisp ends by the time they get there. After a hard day's work, holding the warm loaf is the best reward, convincing one that all is well.

Ekmek, pide and simit are meant to be eaten the same day they are baked, and they usually are. The leftover ekmek goes into a variety of dishes, becomes chicken feed, or is mixed with milk for the neighborhood cats.

Manti, dumplings of dough filled with a special meat mix, are eaten with generous servings of garlic yogurt and a dash of melted butter with paprika. This is a meal in itself as a Sunday lunch affair for the whole family to be followed by an afternoon nap.

Börek is a special-occasion food which requires great skill and patience, unless you have thin sheets of dough already rolled out from your corner grocery store. Anyone who can accomplish this delicate task using the rolling pin, becomes the most sought-out person in their circle of family and friends. The sheets are then layered or folded into various shapes before being filled with cheese or meat mixes and baked or fried. Every household enjoys at least five different varieties of börek as a regular part of its menu.

Along with bread, "pilav" is another staple in the Turkish kitchen. The most common versions are the cracked-wheat pilaf and the rice pilaf. A good cracked-wheat pilaf made with whole onions, sliced tomatoes, green peppers sautéed in butter, and boiled in beef stock is a meal in itself. Many versions of the rice pilaf accompany vegetable and meat dishes. The distinguishing feature of the Turkish pilaf is its soft buttery morsels of rice which readily roll out from your spoon, rather than sticking together in a mushy clumps.

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