Turkish chefs love onions (soğan, soh-AHN—don’t pronounce the ‘soft-ğ’ at all).
One of my standing jokes about Turkish recipes is that they all start “Chop very finely six large onions….”
Turkish chefs add onion—chopped, grated, sliced or whole—to lots of the savory stews and grilled, stewed or roasted meat dishes to add a foundation of flavor.
For example, köfte (lamb meatballs) are traditionally made by combining ground lamb, raw egg, and chopped onion, then grilling or stewing.
Even one of my favorite Turkish stews, etli nohut (chick peas and lamb chunks in a tomato sauce) starts with the proverbial six large onions, finely chopped. You would never guess there were onions in it by looking at it. Only the rich flavor foundation betrays their presence.
So onion is an inescapable part of some Turkish foods. To ask if a dish includes onions, ask İçinde soğan var mı? (ee-cheen-DEH soh-AHN VAHR muh, “Does it include onion?”)
You can also say Soğana alerjim var (soh-AHN-AH ah-lehr-ZHEEM vahr, “I’m allergic to onion.”)
To ask for a dish to be prepared without onion (a salad, for example), ask for it soğansız (soh-AHN-SUHZ, “Without onion.”) Be aware that in some cases the cook may merely pick out the bits of onion, perhaps not getting them all, or leaving some onion residue on other ingredients.
All that having been said, there are plenty of delicious Turkish dishes that are made without onion, or that can be made without onion on request.
Instead of köfte, order kuzu pirzola, delicious baby lamb chops; or bonfile, a small tenderloin beefsteak; or grilled seafood. In stews, look for the ones that have chunks of whole lamb, rather than köfte, or no meat at all.
But of course always ask if a stew includes onion.
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