What is kabak tatlısı?
Kabak tatlısı is a popular Turkish dessert made from pumpkin that’s candied in a simple sugar syrup, and then garnished with lemon juice and walnuts.
What is the origin of kabak tatlısı?
Kabak tatlısı is a prevalent sweet across many regions in Turkey – the most popular being Istanbul, in the Marmara Region. It’s found on the menus of the majority of restaurants in Istanbul as well as being favored fare to have at home as part of a traditional Turkish family meal.
Its widespread popularity dates back to the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires. Byzantium – known now as Istanbul – was a bridge between cultures, and responsible for introducing new flavors and foods into Turkish cooking. Ingredients and recipes that are still used in today’s cuisine.
Pumpkins in Turkish cuisine
Locals in the Sakarya region describe Turkish pumpkin desserts as being “Food of Heaven”, and they claim that the flat and fertile land produces the best pumpkins in Turkey. Some of their heaviest have been around the 200 lb (400 kg) mark.
Pumpkins and winter squashes are two of the most important crops grown in Turkey. The diversity of the ecological conditions allow different variations of these cucurbits to thrive substantially.
Grown both commercially in farms, and domestically in gardens and allotments, pumpkins can be found in both sweet and savory recipes across Turkey. For example, the famous Ottoman stuffed pumpkin, which originated from the Sultan’s palace, and was stuffed with minced meat, onion and pistachios. Or, pumpkin pudding, a deliciously sweet dessert made with milk, vanilla and cornstarch.
How to prepare and clean a pumpkin
Some stores and markets allow you to buy as much or as little pumpkin as you need, in which case you will just need to peel it. However, if you have a whole pumpkin, follow these tips:
- Mature pumpkins are best to use for kabak tatlısı.
- If the skin is tough, use a knife to peel the pumpkin. Vegetable peelers are better for younger, thinner-skinned pumpkins and squashes.
- Cut the pumpkin in half, and scrape out the seeds and pulp with a large metal spoon. Lay the pumpkin halves flat side down, and cut in half again, repeat until you have the required amount of segments.
- Use gloves when preparing your pumpkin because the acidity of the flesh can sometimes cause irritation to the skin.
- Save the seeds. Remove the seeds from the pulp, and rinse. Once they have been patted dry, place on a baking tray in a medium-hot oven, and bake for 10 minutes. The seeds can be used for muesli and other cereals, yogurts and salads, etc.
How to make kabak tatlısı
Kabak tatlısı is a very simple recipe, made with minimal effort, yet gives maximum satisfaction. To begin with, sprinkle the pumpkin pieces with sugar, and set aside overnight to macerate.
After the pumpkin has macerated, it’s candied by simmering in a lemon and clove simple syrup. Once cooked, kabak tatlısı is traditionally served with a drizzle of lemon juice, and topped with roasted nuts.
Some Turkish cooks prefer to finish their kabak in the oven before serving because it gives a more robust finish, due to the excess water evaporating. To do this, simply remove the pumpkin from the pan, and place in a an ovenproof dish. Drizzle the syrup over the top, and bake in the center of the oven at 375 F (180˚C) for 15 minutes.
Tips for making kabak tatlısı
Mature pumpkins work best when making kabak tatlısı. It has been said that the best type of pumpkin for this can be found in Kastamonu within the Black Sea Region in the north of Turkey.
It is important that a big enough pan is used. A large Dutch oven or casserole should be sufficient. All pieces of the pumpkin need to be touching the bottom of the pan in a single layer. This is so the syrup can be evenly distributed.
When baking the pumpkin, add the nuts just before serving. If adding the nuts whilst the pumpkin is baking, they could burn, discolor, and become bitter.
Variants of the dessert
The most popular variation of kabak tatlısı is ayva tatlısı – meaning quince dessert. The quinces are halved, lightly cooked in syrup, and then baked in the oven before being cooked in a thicker syrup. Traditionally, ayva tatlısı is served with kaymak and chopped pistachios.
Tahini is a favorite accompaniment for kabak tatlısı, as is kaymak – a dairy product similar to clotted cream. Its rich, creamy flavor complements the light, sweet pumpkin perfectly.
Cinnamon and mixed spice are sometimes added. They give a warm, festive hint to an already tantalizing treat.
When to eat kabak tatlısı
With harvest being in the fall, it’s not surprising that this dish is more commonly enjoyed throughout the cooler months. It’s also one of the main reasons why different seasonal spices are added.
One of the most poignant traditional Turkish holidays is Şeker Bayramı (sugar holiday.) This marks the end of Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish). Kabak tatlısı and other popular sweet dishes are consumed during this celebration, which is more commonly known as Eid al-Fitr in other Muslim countries.
Turkish people also believe eating kabak tatlısı will bring them blessings in abundance for the coming year. Which is why it can always be found on the table at New Year’s Eve, ready to be eaten as the New Year is embraced by the whole household.
Kabak tatlısı is also often eaten in the afternoon, between meals or with a Turkish tea or coffee. The simplicity of the method of cooking means this dessert can equally be enjoyed as the last part of a main meal or as a light snack.
- 4 lb pumpkin (weighed once peeled and cut)
- 2½ cups caster sugar
- ⅓ cup water
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 cloves
- 8 oz. walnut kernels
- Tahini (optional)
- Peel, wash and cut the pumpkin into rectangular pieces of about 1x2 inches (3x5 cm).
- Place the pumpkin pieces and cloves in a large non-stick Dutch oven. The Dutch oven must be large because the maximum number of pumpkin pieces must touch the bottom.
- Cover all the pumpkin pieces with the caster sugar.
- Cover and let stand and macerate for 8 hours at room temperature.
- Drizzle the pumpkin pieces with water, cover the pot and cook, without stirring, over low heat for 45 minutes.
- Tilt the Dutch oven in several directions to distribute the sugar and water, if necessary.
- While the pumpkin cooks, roast the walnut kernels and crush them.
- 15 minutes before the end of cooking, add the lemon juice and tilt the Dutch oven to distribute it.
- At the end of cooking, let cool and serve sprinkled with crushed nuts.
- Optionally accompany with a little tahini.