The biggest misconception about Turkish food is that it’s a monotone, meat-based cuisine that’s generally spicy. This limited perception is encouraged by kebab restaurants both in Turkey and around the world. In fact, kebab is only a small slice of Turkish cuisine from southeastern Turkey. It’s a formula that works for many tourists but if you’re vegetarian or lactose-intolerance you’ll be happy to learn that most common dishes in Turkey are based on beans, vegetables, and flavored with olive oil.
The perception about vegan food is that it’s a bland culinary crime fanatic activists eat before they waste away into nothing. But if you’ve ever enjoyed some of these 7 vegetarian Turkish foods for travelers you probably already enjoyed vegan foods in Turkey without knowing it. Many Turkish vegetarian options overlap with vegan ones (I’ve noted them below) yet none of these dishes are local deviations but rather right down the mainstream of Turkish cuisine.
It’s often translated into “pancake” in Turkey which is dumb since gozleme is neither sweet nor contains any pancake ingredients. Gozleme is hand-rolled dough that can be stuffed with spinach or potato (make sure it’s not mixed with cheese to stay vegan) cooked over a griddle. There’s a chance that butter is used to keep the dough from sticking to the pan but often in larger establishments it’s olive or sunflower oil; keep in mind to double-check.
2. Çiğ Köfte
Literally translated into “raw meatball” the kind sold in specialty shops and small street stalls is made from bulgur wheat rice – not meat. Cig kofte is often spicy, optionally more spicy, flavored with pomegranate sauce, and completely vegan.
3. Zeytinyağlı Enginar
Vegans should learn the word “zeytinyağlı” well – it means with olive oil. These dishes are typically eaten cold like this artichoke appetizer (“meze”) and more often than not, vegan. Enginar is the bottom of the artichoke filled with peas, potato, and carrots.
4. Other Zeytinyağlı Vegan Dishes
Dolma – the stuffed grape leaf, pepper, eggplant, or zucchini varieties are all vegan. As is zeytinyağlı fasülye (green beans), pırasa (leeks), barbunya (kidney beans), kereviz (celery root dish), ıspanak (spinach), and bamya (okra), to name a handful.
This fava bean puree is a common appetizer you can find at many meyhane (in Istanbul check out Yakup 2) around Turkey. Bakla is also easily prepared at home following this recipe from Turkey’s For Life.
Traditionalist bakers like those you’ll find at Karaköy Güllüoğlu in Istanbul won’t ever use anything but olive oil to prepare baklava. (Check the diabetic version especially.) Elsewhere you’ll have to double check but know that going vegan with baklava means you’re getting a higher quality product.
Probably the most widespread Turkish street food this sesame seed covered bread ring isn’t made with dairy or eggs.
9. Acılı Ezme
This spicy side dish is a stable appetizer on Turkish dinner tables you can enjoy with bread. Acili ezme is mostly diced tomato, red bell pepper, garlic and parsley.
10. Patlıcan Ezmesi
Eggplant puree with olive oil, vinegar plus garlic is the most basic variety but there are more elaborate varieties like this recipe with tomato and parsley for example, that are all vegan as well.
Simple enough, you’ll find the boiled and baked corn at street stalls across Turkey. The only other ingredient is salt.
- While we’re talking street food, let me add kestane, roasted chestnuts to the list.
This side dish is made from fine bulgur rice, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, plus a few other ingredients. Kisir goes well as a complimentary dish to so many other Turkish foods it’s a often found next to the salads at many a la carte restaurants.
Just The Vegan Beginning
I didn’t realize until I began writing this post how many Turkish dishes are actually vegan, so many so that the majority couldn’t fit in this one post. Most salads, like the previously mentioned shepherd’s variety also fall into the vegan category since they’re olive oil based with no other animal products.
Many warm bean (like chickpeas “nohut”) and vegetable dishes too are made vegan, though you’ll have to check whether or not some butter was used for flavoring. Yogurt too in Turkey is a way of life so be sure to ask for warm dishes like this spinach recipe without sauce.