The Turkish Cookbook, Regional Recipes and Stories
- By Nur İlkin & Sheilah Kaufman. 2012

The book market has rarely been more awash with recipe books of every type, region and specialty. So a book that takes a slightly different slant to a listing based on type, such as main meals, side dishes, desserts etc. is a refreshing change. This is one of those books that goes deeper than the mere glossy picture and recipe format. In a way Turkey deserves this treatment, it is one of the richest cuisines in the world, yet often abused by kebab shops or even higher establishments and sometimes is ‘high-jacked’ by neighbouring countries as their own.

Research is the key in such an undertaking and here the authors Nur İlkin and Sheilah Kaufman need to be congratulated for taking both the Turkish view and Anglo organization that clearly went into this.

Turkey is a much bigger country than maps alone would suggest, including as wide a mix of climates as there are in virtually all of Europe, and a historical cultural legacy born out of being at the cross-roads of the Balkans, Caucuses, Iran, and Arabia. All these neighbouring areas brought in their populations and culinary ingredients and recipes, sometimes from pre-history. This legacy is alive and well, with each region having its own dishes, sometimes completely unknown outside a narrow area. Clearly there was a lot of travel and tasting involved by these ladies and no doubt the selection process was a challenge. What makes this book particularly charming is the introduction to the 7 regions of Turkey, and a bit of historical background, the commonly used ingredients there as a cultural back-drop to the recipes that will follow in that chapter. Another nice touch is the rear sections of the book, ‘glossary of terms and ingredients’, ‘suggested reading’, ‘index by recipe’ and ‘ingredients index’.

The recipes covered in the book are in the hundreds, mostly handsomely illustrated on the opposing page of the recipe and all indicating the region and its original Turkish name. The recipes are a wide sweep of Turkish cuisine from meats, fish, vegetarian and deserts and include well-known recipes such as white bean salad with tahini (fasulye piyazı), bulgur pilaf with vermicelli (sehriyeli bulgur pilavı) to chickpea stew (nohutlu yahni) and also some less well-known recipes in danger of gradual extinction such as spinach roots with beetroot (pancarlı ıspanak kökü), black-eyed bean soup with lamb and pasta (börülce çorbası) both from the Izmir region.

Overall this book is a major addition to anybody who wants to go deeper into Turkish cookery, and one suspects this could be the start of a trend of investigating and recording micro-regional recipes, sometime down to the village or single family, from the wider region, as globaliztion and the inexorable move to convenience cooking gradually erodes the gastronomic legacy globally. What would have been nice would have been a dedicated web site or blog to go with this book, allowing for this culinary quest to be expanded and shared.