Along with grains, vegetables are also consumed in large quantities in the Turkish diet. The simplest and most basic type of vegetable dish is prepared by slicing a main vegetable such as zucchini or eggplant, combining it with tomatoes, green peppers and onions, and cooking it slowly in butter and its own juices. Since the vegetables that are cultivated in Turkey are truly delicious, a simple dish like this, eaten with a sizeable chunk of fresh bread, is a satisfying meal for many people. A whole class of vegetables is cooked in olive oil. These dishes would be third in a five-course meal, following the soup and a main course such as rice or borek and vegetable/meat, and before dessert and fruit. Practically all vegetables, such as fresh string-beans, artichokes, root celery, eggplants, pinto beans, or zucchini can be cooked in olive oil, and are typically eaten at room-temperature. So they are a staple part of the menu with variations depending on the season. Then there are the fried vegetables, such as eggplant, peppers or zucchinis, that are eaten with a tomato or a yogurt sauce.
"Dolma" is the generic term for stuffed vegetables, being a derivative of the verb "doldurmak" or to fill; it actually means "stuffed" in Turkish. There are two cat egories of dolmas: those filled with a meat mix or with a rice mix. The latter are cooked in olive oil and eaten at room-temperature. The meat dolma is a maincourse dish eaten with a yogurt sauce, and very frequent one in the average household. Any vegetable which can be filled with or wrapped around these mixes can be used in a dolma, including zucchini, eggplants, tomatoes, cabbage, and grapevine leaves. However, the green pepper dolma with the rice stuffing, has to be the queen of all dolmas. A royal feast to the eye and the palate...
In addition to these general categories, there are numerous meat and vegetable dishes which feature unique recipes. When talking vegetables, it is important to know that the eggplant (or aubergine) has a special place in the Turkish Cuisine. This handsome vegetable with its brown-green cap, velvety purple, firm and slim body, has a richer flavour than that of its relatives found elsewhere. At a party, a frustrating question to ask a Turk would be "How do you usually cook your eggplant? A proper answer to this question would require hours! Here, too, it will have to suffice to mention two eggplant dishes that are a must to taste. In one, the eggplant is split lengthwise and filled with a meat mix. This is a common summer dish, eaten with white rice pilaf. The other one is "Her Majesty's Favourite," a delicate formal dish that is not easy to make but well worth trying. The name refers to Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, who fell in love with it on her visit to Sultan Abdulaziz.
To taste these dishes, look for a "Lokanta". Borrowed from the Italian "Locanda", this type of establishment traditional cooking prepared most usually for those who work nearby. The tables are covered with white linen, and the menu comprises soups, traditional main dishes and desserts, including fresh fruit. Businessmen and politicians frequent visit these places for lunch.