Cheap Eats:
Çerkez Tavugu
  Chicken in Walnut Sauce

Turkey is one of those places where there seems to be almost too much history. This is where the Trojan War and the Battle of Gallipoli took place, where the Byzantine Empire rose and fell, where the apostle Paul was born, where Hittites, Bythinians, Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Turkomans, and Ottomans built cities and empires. It was once called Asia Minor, and it has long been a crossroads for the world.

I went to Turkey last September, traveling on my own. A friend had recommended a great little hotel in the Sultanahmet section of town. The Hotel Tashkonak, if you want to see it—click/tap on Rooms and Facilities) was lovely and incredibly well located—a five-minute walk from the Blue Mosque, 8 minutes from Haggia Sophia, and 15 minutes from the Topkapi Palace. It is a refurbished, 250-year-old Ottoman mansion, with Byzantine ruins in the garden and a view from the roof of the Sea of Marmara. And the reasonable room rate ($45 for a single) included breakfast (Turkish breakfast—yogurt, cheese, bread, olives, tomatoes, coffee—yum).

Though I managed to slip on wet marble at the Blue Mosque my first day in town (tore my quadriceps tendon—ouch—but it swelled up so badly it actually kind of immobilized itself), I still managed to see an incredible amount in the two weeks I had in Turkey. I spent the most time in Istanbul, a magnificent, cosmopolitan city that sits on two continents, with the beautiful Bosphorus separating European Istanbul from Asian Istanbul. Old palaces and modern mansions line the waterway, and red tile-roofed houses climb the surrounding green hills. It’s the kind of place you’d expect to see in Architectural Digest—very elegant, very sophisticated, very up scale, at least along the water. In Sultanahmet, where I stayed, the town is a delightful rabbit warren of narrow, winding streets lined with shops, old houses, and small restaurants.

As I hobbled about town, though I loved the big stuff tourists are supposed to see, I came to delight even more in the “little” moments, chatting with locals at a coffee shop, buying bread rings from street vendors, talking with students who wanted me to show them where in the states I lived. But the “big” stuff was pretty amazing, and is not to be missed. The almost obscene wealth of the Ottomans can still be witnessed in the treasury of Topkapi Palace or the completely over-the-top Dolma Bahçe Palace. Haggia Sophia was wonderful and amazing. When it was constructed, it was the largest building that had ever been built anywhere. Even now, at 1,500 years old, it’s mighty impressive. I was almost giddy in the Spice Bazaar, where the abundance and variety of spices is exceeded only by the number of other things for sale, from Turkish delight to Caspian Sea caviar. I also loved the Grand Bazaar, a glorious, vault-roofed, 4,000-shop “mall” that predates Columbus. The archeological museum, tile museum (Turkey is famous for its tiles, and in fact, it was on tiles that the world first saw the famous “Turkish blue”—or in French, “turquoise”), and history museums were also intoxicating for someone with a passion for antiquity.

I spent a few days on the Mediterranean coast, visiting Ephesus, Priene, Miletus, and Didima. A combination of church history, world history, Turkish culture, and abundant Greek and Roman ruins made this area a delight. (It is said that Turkey has more Greek ruins than Greece and more Roman ruins than Rome.) Cappadocia, which is well inland, was my next stop. Here, Turkey seems far more Middle Eastern than European, with small farms, old Caravanseries (“motels” for camel trains traveling the Silk Road), donkey carts, and more conservative dress. The people in Istanbul are friendly, but the people here practically want to adopt you. In fact, the region is widely known for its hospitality. However, the main reason people go to Cappadocia is the combination of geological phenomenon (the area has been described as being like the Grand Canyon on acid) and early church history (people lived in the myriad caves and literally dug cities underground to escape persecution).

As much as Turkey is a crossroads of history, it is also a crossroads for culinary influences. Turkey was the main route for the spice trade before the area fell to the Ottoman Turks, and spices are used generously. The Turks came from next door to Mongolia, introducing something of that “let’s eat meat” focus of Central Asia, and Turkey’s national drink, ayran, is a yogurt-based drink that isn’t so far from airag (Mongolia’s fermented mare’s milk) in either taste or name to make the connection hard to see. Between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, getting good fish and seafood is no problem. You’ll also find pretty much everything from the Middle East through to Greece—Turkish versions of everything from hummus to baklava. Shared borders with Georgia and Armenia add another spin to the food mix. And Turkey is the only Muslim country to produce wine.

I learned in Turkey that “kebap” means anything that is grilled. Among my favorite dishes were adana kebap (grilled minced beef), döner kebap (Turkish gyros), the white bean salad and green beans with tomatoes and onion that appeared at most meals, hunkar begendi (roasted eggplant purée topped with lamb stew), cheese pidé (often called Turkish pizza), and çaçik (pronounced “jajik,” a popular yogurt, cucumber and dill salad). Virtually every meal except breakfast is accompanied by a long, thin, green, grilled pepper, which may be mild or hot, but you won’t know until you taste it. There were many other wonderful dishes that I tried and loved. Turkey has great food. And as a bonus, it’s usually a bargain.

The dish below is also called Circassian Chicken. For anyone with wheat sensitivity, this recipe can be made with non-wheat bread. I think the slightly nutty taste of millet bread goes nicely with the walnuts, but rice or other grain breads could be used, if necessary. Enjoy.

Çerkez Tavugu
(Chicken in Walnut Sauce)

4 to 4½ pounds stewing chicken, cut into pieces

1 medium onion, cut into 8 wedges

1 large carrot, quartered

2 sprigs parsley

1 tsp. salt

⅛ tsp. ground black pepper

1½ cups chopped walnuts

2 Tbsp. finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional)

3 slices firm white bread

1 tsp. paprika, plus additional paprika

Put chicken, onion wedges, carrot, parsley sprigs, salt, and pepper in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add three cups water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes.

Take chicken out of broth and set aside. Strain broth and return to pot. (Note, the cooked veggies are not used in the recipe, other than to flavor the chicken. They make a nice treat for the chef.) Boil broth uncovered until reduce to about 1½ to 1¾ cups. Cool slightly.

Tear the bread into approximately 1-inch pieces. Place bread, walnuts, chopped onion, garlic, paprika, and broth in a blender of food processor. Process until smooth, about 15 seconds.

Bone the chicken. Discard the skin and bones. Tear the chicken into small pieces (about 1 inch by ⅛ inch, but no need to be exact). Place chicken in a bowl, and toss gently with the walnut sauce. Mound chicken on a serving platter. Sprinkle with paprika.

Serves 4‑6.


If you’re using French or Italian bread, you probably want to take the crusts off first. If the bread is dried out, moisten it before adding it to the mixture in the blender. The time for blending the sauce will be longer if things are not chopped fairly fine. Go by texture rather than time. You can add a little liquid if the sauce is too thick—it should be thick and smooth, but something you can stir the chicken into fairly easily, not a heavy paste.

Back to Cheap Eats Introduction
Conversion Tables

Home Join Contact Members