Vegetarian Turkish recipes from Sebze

Turkish culinary expert Özlem Warren takes her cooking full circle with a return to her roots in southern Turkey

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Our cookbook of the week is Sebze by Turkish culinary expert Özlem Warren.

Jump to the recipes: Turkish şakşuka (baked eggplant, zucchini, peppers with tomato sauce), muhammara (walnut and red pepper paste dip) and tahinli fasulye piyazı (Antalya-style bean salad with tahini sauce).

Through her second book, Sebze, cooking teacher and Turkish culinary expert Özlem Warren hoped to bring readers a glimpse of her homeland — “to take them on a culinary journey.” Antakya in southern Turkey has been her family’s home for more than five generations. Two earthquakes rocked the region on Feb. 6, 2023, leaving the city in ruins and killing more than 50,000 people.

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Warren returned to Antakya while working on Sebze, gathering with family at a friend’s farm in Altınözü on the outskirts of the city. Photographer Sam A. Harris joined her for the book’s location shoots.

Meriç Çiftliği (Meriç Farm) is one of the many artisanal producers that found ways to rebuild after the earthquakes. They turned their farm into a “massive vegetable patch” and started an online business selling biber salçası (red pepper paste), olives and marmalades across Turkey.

“Miraculously, the farm was intact, being up in the mountains. It was very important to gather there with family. I hadn’t seen them since the earthquake. We lost many of our dear family members, extended family, but the cousins and whoever could make it came to Meriç Farm with me. We made mezes around the table. We gave each other hope. We gave Meriç Farm hope because they, as well as many local producers in Antakya, are resilient people, and they needed to keep going. They still keep going because food heritage is an incredible part of our lives.”

Warren lived in Turkey for more than 30 years before moving to Scotland in 1995 to earn a master’s degree in marketing at the University of Stirling. Now living in Weybridge, England, she and her husband, Angus, moved temporarily to Austin, Texas, in the early 2000s, where Warren’s culinary career began. (“My very Scottish-named husband was actually born in Texas.”)

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Sebze book cover
Sebze is Özlem Warren’s follow-up to her award-winning debut, Ozlem’s Turkish Table. Photo by Hardie Grant

She had just given birth to their first child and missed home. “I desperately missed that sense of connection, hospitality, warmth — the food.” Calling her mom for recipes was expensive, but she did so often, inspired to showcase “real Turkish food” in her new home. Warren launched Özlem’s Turkish Table in 2005 following the success of her Turkish cooking classes at Austin’s Central Market Cooking School.

The more classes she taught, the more she found herself talking about culture and cuisine. “You can’t just give a line of recipes and ingredients because they all come with an incredible legacy. We’re talking about thousands of years of culinary heritage.” Hungry for more, her students in Austin asked Warren when she would write a cookbook. “Thanks to their interest, I started the blog and developed a reader base.”

Following her Gourmand Award-winning cookbook debut, Özlem’s Turkish Table (2019), with a collection of vegetarian recipes in Sebze was a natural next step. Warren continues to travel internationally, teaching Turkish cuisine in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Jordan. She noticed that in her cooking classes and everyday conversations, people seemed unaware of the variety of Turkish food.

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“It was always in my heart. It was the book I’d always wanted to write because I’ve lived abroad for over 20 years,” she says of Sebze. “I teach Turkish cookery and write about Turkish food, but many folks still think our food is mainly based on meat and kebabs, whereas it’s not. Of course, it’s a meat-loving country, don’t get me wrong, but naturally, we incorporate so many vegetables and grains into day-to-day cooking. We have a whole category called zeytinyağlılar — vegetables cooked in olive oil — that’s gluten-free and naturally plant-based.”

In Sebze’s 85 recipes, she tried to incorporate as many regional specialties as possible. “I’m scratching the surface here,” says Warren, laughing. “But I hoped with all the pickles and the vegetables cooked in oil and the mezes that people would understand the amount of diversity and choices on offer in Turkish cuisine for vegetarians and anyone, really, who wants to incorporate more vegetables in their food.”

Author Özlem Warren
Özlem Warren returned to her hometown of Antakya after the devastating 2023 earthquakes. At Meriç Çiftliği (Meriç Farm) on the city’s outskirts, she and her family gathered and made mezes. Photo by Sam A. Harris

Though Warren isn’t a vegetarian, the recipes represent how her family ate in Antakya. At least three or four days a week, they would have a vegetable-centric meal or create dishes made from leftovers and cupboard ingredients. The way her late parents cooked — whom she dedicates the book to, along with their city — was economical, healthful, and naturally no-waste. Take Turkish-style şakşuka, for instance (different from North African shakshuka). As a child, Warren enjoyed the shallow-fried vegetables in a tomato-based sauce with baked pul biber chips and muhammara as a summery meze, adding the leftovers to eggs the next day.

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Returning to her roots in southern Turkey for Sebze gave Warren a new appreciation for her native food culture — the sense of community, love of local produce and sustainable sensibility. When a vegetable, or sometimes fruit, is in excess, cooks make pickles to eat with almost every meal. They turn peppers into biber salçası and pomegranates into nar eksisi (pomegranate molasses). Warren underscores that plant-forward, zero-waste cooking may be of the moment, but in Turkey, they’ve been practising it for thousands of years.

“There are so many ways of cooking that I grew up enjoying that I’m grateful I’m able to put into words in this book — and the response has been amazing.” The English edition of Sebze was published in April, the Dutch edition is coming out in August, and the German edition will follow next year.

Warren says that while people worldwide have embraced other Mediterranean cuisines, such as Italian and Spanish, Turkish food rarely shares the spotlight. Today, there’s a global appreciation for its defining features — and it’s time more people knew about it.

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Whether the böreks in Balkan cuisine or the baklavas found throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, there’s a “shared culinary language” of the Ottoman era still evident today.

“We all are descendants of this incredible legacy,” says Warren. “That’s how I grew up, how I experienced Turkish cuisine, and how I reflect in my cooking and my recipes. It’s a rich heritage, and I truly hope (Sebze) will bring out more conversations and explore more regional cuisines. Let’s investigate more of this incredible land and its culinary heritage.”

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Turkish şakşuka
You might know shakshuka as the popular North African and Middle Eastern dish of eggs poached in sauce, says Özlem Warren. For Turks, şakşuka is this summery meze of eggplant and peppers with tomato sauce. Photo by Sam A. Harris

Baked Eggplant, Zucchini, Peppers with Tomato Sauce

Serves: 2-3

Prepare ahead: You can prepare şakşuka a day ahead and keep covered in the refrigerator.

Serving suggestion: My mum would always serve this with the nutty muhammara and kekikli, pul biberli fırın patates; they complement şakşuka like a dream.

1 large eggplant, partially peeled in strips and trimmed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-cm (1/2-inch) slices
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and cut into 3-cm (1-inch) chunks
2-3 chilies or Turkish sivri biber, deseeded and sliced in half lengthways
4 tbsp olive oil
Flatbreads, to serve

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For the tomato sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed with salt and finely chopped
400 g (14 oz) tin chopped tomatoes
2 tsp Turkish red pepper paste (biber salçası)
1/2 tsp pul biber or red pepper flakes (optional)
Small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the yogurt sauce:
200 g (7 oz/generous 3/4 cup) thick and creamy plain yogurt (or plant-based alternative)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 200C fan (220C/425F/gas 7).

Step 2

Cut the peeled eggplant in half lengthways, then cut each half into 1-cm (1/2-inch) slices. Place them on a large tray, sprinkle with salt and set aside for 10 minutes. Salt will help the moisture come out of the eggplant. Dry thoroughly with paper towels.

Step 3

On a large baking tray, arrange the eggplant slices with the sliced zucchini, pepper and chilies on the tray in one layer. Coat with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Rub the seasoning and oil into the vegetables with your hands. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven, remove the pepper strips and place on a large serving plate. Turn the eggplant and zucchini slices and bake for a further 10 minutes until charred at edges and cooked through. Place alongside the peppers on the serving plate.

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Step 4

While the vegetables are baking, make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil in a wide pan over a medium heat, add the garlic and sauté for a minute, then add the chopped tomatoes and the pepper paste and mix well. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the sauce thickens. Stir in the pul biber (if using) and the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste and remove from the heat.

Step 5

For the yogurt sauce, beat the yogurt with the garlic and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the tomato sauce over the top of the cooked vegetables. Serve with the yogurt sauce on the side, accompanied by flatbreads to mop up the tasty sauce.


Özlem Warren’s late mother, Gülçin, taught her this version of muhammara (cevizli biber). “Whenever I make it abroad, I feel I am back home.” Photo by Sam A. Harris

Walnut and Red Pepper Paste Dip

Serves: 6-8

Prepare ahead: Fantastic to prepare ahead, it will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days if stored in an airtight container.

Serving suggestions: Serve as part of a meze spread. We love it as a side to Turkish şakşuka (see recipe) with balon ekmek. It makes a fantastic spread in sandwiches, too.

70 g (2 1/2 oz) white or wholegrain stale bread (use gluten-free bread if you wish)
185 g (6 1/2 oz) shelled walnuts
1/4 small onion, finely chopped
3 tbsp Turkish red pepper paste (biber salçası)
1 tbsp double concentrated tomato paste
2 tsp ground cumin
Sea salt, to taste
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
2 tbsp water
Pinch of pul biber or red pepper flakes
Flatbreads or crackers, to serve

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Step 1

Soak the bread in water in a small bowl.

Step 2

Blitz the walnuts, onion, red pepper and tomato pastes, cumin and a pinch of salt in a food processor. Squeeze the excess water out of the bread and crumble it into the food processor, add the extra-virgin olive oil and water, and blitz to a smooth spread. If it appears to be too thick, add a little more olive oil. Check the seasoning, adding more salt to taste.

Step 3

Transfer the spread to a small serving plate or bowl. Drizzle with a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil all over and sprinkle with pul biber. Serve with flatbreads or crackers.


Tahinli fasulye piyazi (Antalya-style bean salad with tahini sauce)
“It makes a substantial, nutritious, great-value lunch with flatbreads to mop up the delicious sauce,” writes Özlem Warren of tahinli fasulye piyazı (Antalya-style bean salad with tahini sauce). Photo by Sam A. Harris

Antalya-Style Bean Salad with Tahini Sauce

Serves: 4

Serving suggestions: Enjoy with balon ekmek or as a side to grills. It is also lovely served with fırında sebzeli karnabahar mücveri.

2 x 400 g (14 oz) tins precooked cannellini beans
1/2 small onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 medium ripe tomato, diced
Handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
45 g (1 3/4 oz/1/3 cup) Turkish or other good-quality black olives, pitted and halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

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For the tahini sauce:
2 fat garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp ground cumin
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp grape or cider vinegar
60 mL (2 fl oz/1/4 cup) lukewarm water

To serve:
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered (optional)
Drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil

Step 1

Drain and rinse the beans, then place in a large bowl. Stir in the onions and gently combine.

Step 2

To make the tahini sauce, combine the garlic, lemon juice, ground cumin and a good pinch of salt with the tahini in a small bowl. Stir and combine well; you will notice the sauce will thicken. Pour in the vinegar and lukewarm water, and combine well for 30 seconds. You will achieve a runny sauce at the end. Pour this sauce over the beans and gently combine well.

Step 3

Stir the tomatoes, parsley and olives into the salad and combine well, then check the seasoning and adjust to your taste.

Step 4

Transfer the salad to a serving plate, decorate with the quartered, hardboiled eggs (if using), drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.

Recipes and images excerpted with permission from Sebze by Özlem Warren. Published by ‎Hardie Grant Publishing, May 2024, RRP $40 Hardcover.

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