Meatless Madison: Oliva Restaurant

A healthy twist on Turkish dishes

With more than 30 years of restaurant and cooking experience, owner and chef Mehmet Dayi started Oliva Italian and Mediterranean Cuisine restaurant on Madison’s west side more than 10 years ago.

Dayi, who moved to Madison from Turkey in the 1990s, creates traditional Turkish dishes with a healthy twist.

“I’m always trying to add something [to the dish],” says Dayi. “It is called Turkish, but I change it to make it healthier.”

One of the most popular vegetarian dishes is the imam fainted, which is eggplant stuffed with onions, tomatoes, garlic, green peppers, pine nuts and served over rice. The dish is traditionally deep fried, but at Oliva it is oven roasted.

All of Oliva’s offerings are made with fresh ingredients and from scratch. Dayi says he can accommodate any requests, such as no salt or less oil.

Another popular vegetarian dish is the appetizers combo. It is made with four side dishes — humus, kisir made with bulgur, cucumbers and tomatoes — plus a tapenade made with diced black and green olives and acuka (chaman), which is a blend of tomato and Turkish pepper paste, walnut and garlic.

Each side dish can be eaten alone or alongside the house-made Turkish baguette. Dayi bakes 90 loaves nearly every day.

In addition to the appetizer platter and stuffed eggplant, there are numerous other vegetarian options, including thin crust, made-from-scratch pizza, calzones, stuffed grape leaves and baklava.