Food Knows No Boundaries!

I have a confession to make… and it is not a pretty one… I feel a tad bit embarrassed about it now, but when I first came here, I used to get mad (like stamping my feet on the ground like a two-year-old mad!) when I heard people referring to our stuffed grape leaves as Greek dolmades… or our baklava as Persian or Greek… or our lavash bread as Armenian… or our kababs as any of the above (or Lebanese, Jordanian…). And there are many more foods that do not come to my mind right now! Then, I would explain patiently (in some cases, not so much) to the innocent person who was startled by my mad, red face that “All of those dishes are TURKISH!!! They come from our cuisine!!! We make those dishes too!!!”

How immature of me! I know… I know… But when you have just parted with your home country and started living in a completely different world, and then you see all the familiar dishes that your mom and your grandma have always made, on some other countries’ menus, you get all patriotic and something short-circuits in your brain… or at least that is what happened to me. I felt like I had to protect my roots.

Then something else happened several years back that showed me how stupid all this claiming and clinging is. An international spat between Turks and Greek Cypriots broke out in the media, circa 2006. The Greek side had petitioned the EU for cultural rights to baklava, which would formally recognize baklava as their national creation! Boy, that stirred the pot in Turkey! Not only in Turkey but throughout the Middle East! I was talking with some friends about it and one jokingly made this comment: “I was told that this can be a reason for war, you know!”…

I know it was a joke and I know nobody is going to fight over a dessert, right? Or will they? Just putting war and baklava together sounded sooo wrong on many different levels… It is very much opposed to the well known Turkish saying “Let’s eat sweet, talk sweet”… People were getting really angry and threatening each other in the international arena for the sake of the sweetest of all sweets! I mean it is nice to know our origins and cuisine, and great to introduce it to the world, but really? How have we come to this point?

So that got me thinking… Can anybody claim any food as “theirs”? Can anybody put the claim on a dish that is cooked all around the world, in the kitchen of millions? I do not think you can, at least around the Middle East area… if you are lucky, you can trace the origins back to a certain location and then this location might boast with “being the originator”. But as soon as another person makes it in their kitchen, stirs with their own spoon, it becomes “their” version! I think I  can say “this is the Turkish version of baklava”…and “this is the Greek version of stuffed grape leaves, but we do it in a different way as well”… When you move from one place to another, you take your background with you and you chop, mix, stir, combine and bake everything together along with your new surroundings, you make your own cuisine in the new place. That is your contribution to the world.

When we think about the history , all the way back to the big empires, sultans, and kings… think about the warriors, slaves and conquered lands… think about the trade routes that went from China to Europe, passing all these places mentioned above and more… Who can really tell who brought which dish to what country and who perfected it, who copied it?

And what if everyone gets recognized for keeping that dish alive for so many years?

If the borders of the countries were drawn a little bit different as each gained their independence, how can you say one’s dish would not be recognized as another’s?

It is a small world we live in! And we have big problems… like pollution, hunger, wars, killings, suffering…

Food should be one thing that unites us!

So, here it is, the “Turkish version of stuffed collard greens”… you can make these with grape leaves as well and then it will be “Turkish version of dolma (that is what we call “dolmades”)”… I would like to thank Sumru Gokcen for sharing her recipe with me. She has started an effort that is spreading among my group of friends to introduce the Turkish style dolmas to all the people around us.

Turkish Style Stuffed Collard Greens & Veggies (Adapted from Sumru Gokcen’s recipe)

  • A big bunch of collard greens
  • 3-4 big, ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, or other veggies (as a back up plan, in case you have some ground beef mixture still left after you use all the collard greens)
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • ¼ cup white rice
  • ½ cup grated onion (food processor comes handy)
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste (you can use tomato sauce as well)
  • ¼ cup chopped dill (I normally buy a bunch of dill and use it all. If you like, you can mix with finely chopped italian parsley or just use parsley)
  • 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper

1. Mix the ground beef and subsequent ingredients in a deep bowl.

2. Cut the tops off and hollow out the bell peppers or tomatoes. (You can do this after you finish rolling all the leaves.That way, you can hollow out just enough peppers and/or tomatoes)

3. Wash the collard greens and boil or steam them for five minutes. The time is crucial,if you leave it longer,the leaves get very soft to make the rolls without tearing the leaves.

4. Cut the main stem out. Separate big collard green leaves into four pieces.Small ones into two.

5. Put a heaping tablespoon of filling (approximately walnut size) on the bottom, about an half an inch off the edge and wrap the sides to secure the filling. Roll the meat in the leaf,starting from the bottom.

6. Use the rest of the filling to stuff the other veggies; place the tops back on them if you like.

7. Put the stuffed vegetables in a pot and add about ½ cup of water. Add more hot water as needed, to keep the water level about an inch deep in the pot. Cover and simmer for an hour or until rice is cooked and vegetables are no longer firm.

8. Serve with thick, delicious Greek yogurt (there, I said it! :) ).


  1. by Emily
    6:49 am
    Feb 21, 2011

    I totally understand your frustration and definitely not immaturity coz I’d have done the same too! :P I love that this recipe is so doable, and your end result has certainly convinced to try this out myself. :P

  2. by Ilke
    10:54 am
    Feb 21, 2011

    Thanks Emily, you made me feel better :)

  3. by Dinners & Dreams
    7:50 pm
    Feb 21, 2011

    These are like dolmades. It’s interesting that they’re made with collard greens instead. Great idea!


  4. by Sumru Gokcen
    8:18 pm
    Feb 22, 2011

    Ilke, I love the way you have presented stuffed collard greens! My grand daughter loves them too.

  5. by Monet
    8:42 pm
    Feb 23, 2011

    What a fitting recollection on food, traditions, and patriotism. I love how you ended your reflection with the sentiment that food should unite and not divide. Thank you for sharing your words and this tempting Turkish recipe. And thank you for your kind words on my blog. They brightened my day.

  6. by Roxan
    11:59 am
    Feb 24, 2011

    Totally know what you mean. This claiming of food also happens a lot in asian culture. I find it to be a little annoying too! Why does anyone have to claim anything? Let’s just eat!
    I love that you used collard greens for this dish. I’ve been wanting to make stuffed grape leaves for a while now but I have no idea where to get the grape leaves.

  7. by redmenace
    10:11 pm
    Feb 24, 2011

    I wholeheartedly agree.
    And, if there is one food that is unifying, I might pick this one. Delicious!

  8. by Peggy
    10:16 am
    Feb 26, 2011

    I can absolutely agree with you in all aspects of this post! Food should unite us, not separate us! And these dolmas look absolutely delicious and beautiful!

  9. by Kristi Rimkus
    5:40 pm
    Feb 26, 2011

    Very good blog post! I totally agree with you that food should united us. I’m sorry for your frustration, but I can totally understand why you felt the way you did. What a colorful, fresh and healthy dish!


  10. by All That I'm Eating
    4:24 pm
    Mar 3, 2011

    I’ve always wondered how you roll them up and your pictures are incredibly helpful in solving that mystery! They look lovely, I’ve always wanted to try and make them myself.

  11. by Brooke
    10:37 am
    Mar 11, 2011

    These look absolutely delicious. I may just get brave enough to try and fix them :)

  12. by locke
    2:00 am
    May 25, 2011

    Many, many things in Turkish cuisine may be of Greek origin, but yogurt most certainly isn’t. It was one of the nomad Turks’ few foods, and was “discovered” way before they even got anywhere near Anatolia.


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