Terrific Vegetarian Turkish Food at Turquoise
Last month, I had a chance to spend a week in Istanbul, Turkey, where I fell in love with the ingredients and flavors of Turkish cuisine. There were pomegranates, lamb, eggplant, chestnuts, pistachios, honey, and spices galore. I discovered some of the best kebabs I'd ever eaten, vegetable mezes braised simply in olive oil and brightened with lemon, and some exceptional Turkish delight. I even tried a sandwich similar to döner kebab, but made with shaved lamb intestines.
This was food that I hadn't eaten in Chicago before and when I returned, I started searching for the best Turkish food in the city. After trying several different restaurants, I am most impressed with the flavors at Turquoise, which was also recommended to me by a Turkish friend who grew up in Istanbul but has lived in Chicago for many years. My waitress said the restaurant has been around for 12 years now and it's definitely a popular neighborhood spot and children are welcome.
From Monday through Thursday nights, there is even a four course prix-fixe dinner option for just $25. This includes either a soup or salad, followed by an appetizer, main course and dessert. There are plenty of selections on the prix fixe menu, including several vegetarian options. Portions are very generous, and they are happy to box up anything you can't finish. This is one of the best value meals I've enjoyed in Chicago in quite some time.
Dinner begins with warm Turkish leavened bread, baked in-house and served with a carrot yogurt dip. For my first course, I chose an arugula salad with red wine poached pears and pomegranate molasses, and found the sweetness from the fruit was a nice counterpoint to the sharp bitterness of the greens.
Next came söğürme, a smoky eggplant purée with yogurt, toasted walnuts, and pepper that is similar to baba ghanoush, but this was served warm and perfect for spooning onto my bread.
My main course was was interestingly enough named "Turkish delight" on the menu, but it had nothing to do with the chewy cornstarch sweets that go by the same name. Instead, this was a medley of sautéed vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, broccoli, zucchini, baby carrot, bok choy, and garlic served on a large pate of hummus, and then sprinkled with pine nuts and Turkish golden apricot. This was an incredibly satisfying and flavorful dish without a heavy dose of carbs.
Dessert was kazandibi, a milky custard pudding that means "bottom of the pan" in Turkish. The caramelized brown outer layer is literally what sticks to the bottom of the pan when cooking a traditional Turkish pudding made with shredded chicken breast. This version has no chicken breast though, just butter, sugar, and custard, so it's vegetarian but not vegan. The pudding was a little stiffer and more gelatinous than I had in Istanbul, but it was still tasty served à la mode.