Soups were made from various grains and legumes as well as other ingredients, including barley, wheat, ayran, beans and trip. But out of all these, korkota soup is unique to the region. Korkota is a staple obtained by grinding corn more coarsely than flour, achieved by setting the grindstones more open. This was used to make korkota soup. However, after tea began to be raised in the region, the cultivation of corn was all but abandoned, and korkota is not much made any more.
Just as elsewhere in the country, many different vegetables are raised in Rize, and these are cooked in various ways. The most popular dishes are dolma and dishes based on cabbage, chard and leeks. Dolma with hazelnuts is common in the region; this is made by crushing and roasting the hazelnuts and mixing in pepper, finely chopped onions and water; the mixture is stuffed into cabbage leaves. Kale is also much raised in the region.
A special local dish is lahana ezmesi, in which kale is boiled, then mixed with butter, caul fat or olive oil, red pepper, white beans and cornmeal, and pounded together to a pudding-like consistency. Other local dishes include several made from nettles, such as nettle soup, stewed nettles and nettle dolma.
Meat is sautéed in different ways as well as made into yahni. In the old days meat was rarely eaten due to economic hardships. However dishes made from game animals, fish and especially hamsi, a small sardine-like fish, are very common. Among the dishes unique to the region are various ones made from hamsi, as well as muhlama.
Muhlama is one of the most common of the local dishes; it is a mainstay of the local cuisine. Muhlama at its simplest is corn meal cooked in butter, with water added to bring it to a pudding-like consistency. Although it may be made plain, it is more common to add cheese or minci, a fresh unsalted curd. It is then known as cheese or minci muhlama. Muhalama is made in a frying pan; when it is cooked, a spoon is used to make half-moon shaped depressions into which melted butter is poured. It is common to bring it to the sofra in the pan but it may also be put into its own serving dish, in which case the butter is added then. When muhlama is cooked in a frying pan, a layer sticks to the bottom of the pan. This is called tavanın dibi, or “the pan bottom.” Children are especially fond of it. There is a superstition around this: It is said that those who eat the tavanın dibi will have snow at their wedding.
In the past, corn was grown in Rize, and thus cornbread was the main staple. In the past, almost every village had its own water-powered grist mill in which corn was ground for bread. The corn meal was mixed with water to make a dough, and then baked on a stone slab called a pleki.
In the area of seafood, hamsi dishes were the most common in Rize. Hamsi was prepared in a wide variety of ways including steamed, croquettes, fritters, pilaf, brined, cooke on a slab of clay or on the stone pleki, fried, cooked with vegetables etc. The most common dish is known as hamsikoli, which is made with hamsi, corn meal and vegetables. In the past, hamsikoli was the dish preferred by travelers for sustenance along the way.
Poultry is made into chicken soup and dolma pilaf. Duck is fried or boiled. Animal products include carmi, çumur, kikirdak (cracklings), hurç, caul and tail fat. Dairy products are used in many ways; some of these include yogurt, drained yogurt, minci, dried minci, stewed minci, milk with rusk, white cheese (feta), a round cheese called koloti, brined cheese, salted cheese and portahala. Koloti is made in flat rounds 1-5 cm thick and 15-35 cm wide. Brined cheese is made by breaking the cheese in small pieces and packing it into wooden barrels with brine, thus meeting the family’s needs for a long period. Salted cheese is made in a similar manner. Minci is a white cheese made from soured milk and ayran.
Kavurma yağı is the fat that emerges when making kavurma, or salted meat cooked in its own fat, a common way to preserve meat. İç yağı (lit. “inside fat”) is made from the caul fat between the udders and stomach of a cow, ox or sheep. Tail fat is rendered from the tails of fat-tailed sheep. Drained yogurt is simply yogurt that has been hung in a bag; it thickens as the water drips out. It can then be kept for long periods, and is consumed thinned with water as ayran, either plain or mixed with finely cut bread. Portahala is a food unique to the region, made with colostrums, the first milk produced by a cow that has given birth.
Bread is a basic staple. When corn was grown, people ate corn bread. Today, corn bread is still made in some bakeries and eaten as a bit of nostalgia, but as corn is not grown in the region any more, people eat wheat bread. Still, there are certain types of bread unique to the region, such as pide and peynirli. Both of these are continuations of an old tradition. Pide is a flat round bread made mostly for Ramadan. Peynirli is a thin round bread with the edges fluted and folded. The resulting well is filled with melted butter and eggs or cheese. Kavurmalı is similar to peynirli, but is filled with preserved meat. In addition to these are the molasses bread unique to the region, tandır bread, a pastry made with molasses and kapamalı. Kapamalı is a type of pide unique to the region. It is rolled long and thin, and filled with ground meat, eggs, onions and parsley, then closed and baked. Wheat flour is made into simit, various böreks and poğaça. Poğaça is a small round type of bread which is made with butter.
Another local dish is ekmekaşı, literally “bread soup.” To make it, the crust is removed from stale cornbread, and it is then boiled in water, and butter, cheese, or minci is added. It is served either in its own dish or in the pan, topped with browned butter.
Sweets make up a considerable portion of local cooking. At the top of the list are baklava and sweet böreks made from wheat flour. Also based on wheat flour are sarığı burma and lokma, a type of fritter. Locally, sarığı burma is known as saraylı, and lokma is called çırıhta. Milk is used to make muhallebi, a type of pudding thickened with rice flour, and rice pudding. Some sweets are unique to the region including a dessert made from winter squash and milk, korkota sütlüsü made from milk and coarsely ground corn, flour halvah made from both wheat flour and corn meal, pekmezli helva made from butter, flour and grape molasses.
Many different fruits are grown in the region. The local wild strawberries are small and round; these are known as mountain strawberries. Another wild fruit is blackberries. The local black grape, which is grown on the support of alder trees, is called kokulu üzüm (fragrant grape). Its juice is cooked with cornmeal, corn starch and sugar into a pudding-like dessert called pepeçura. Apiculture is common in the area. The most famous honey is the Anzer honey, produced in the high mountain village of the same name. Honey is used in another local sweet, sütaşı, made from cornmeal, butter, milk and honey.
Grape molasses, or pekmez, is also produced in the region. It is used in a unique local sweet called termini, made from pekmez, coarsely ground corn and white beans. Another is zugal tatlısı, made by pouring milk over zugal grains after they are cooked.
Drinks in the area include ayran, milk, pekmez sherbet, honey sherbet, and syrups made from plums, cornelian cherries, sour cherries, oranges and blackberries.