Story by Manos Angelakis
I’ll admit it!
I’m a foodie… I love good food. I’m what my Greek family would call a “kalofagas” i.e. a great food eater.
Growing up I was a miserable eater, surviving on grilled lamb chops and French fries – though my mother was considered one of the best home cooks in Athens.
It was after I moved to Paris in 1959 that I developed a liking for great cuisine. Since then, I’ve traveled around the world in search of exceptional dishes. One of the ways I try to cook the best food is by duplicating in my kitchen recipes that I find in cookbooks. I have many volumes, both hard-bound and soft covered ones, with recipes from countries and regional cuisines whose dishes I have tasted in my travels and liked.
When I receive copies of cookbooks, I’m very eager to explore them.
My most current cookbook discovery is Özlem Warren’s “Turkish Table” with recipes from Southern Turkey and more specifically Southern Anatolia.
My mother, before marrying my father and settling in Athens, was born and raised in a Greek family in Istanbul. During the early 20th century, girls of affluent parents were taught numerous languages – my mother spoke fluently Turkish, Greek, French and English. She was also taught the finer points of Turkish (Ottoman) and Greek cuisine, plus she was an excellent piano player and a gold award winning tennis competitor. And even though I personally was a miserable eater, in retrospect, her Turkish or as they are known in Greece “Oriental Dishes” were as good as any top chef’s creations. So I think I have a good basis to evaluate a Turkish cookbook.
Let’s talk about Özlem’s Turkish cookbook, from the ethnic cuisine with which I’m very familiar.
It is just short of 300 pages, has interesting food photographs and starts with a number of recipes on soups and dips, including soups I make at home like Mercimek Çorbasi – red lentils with carrots and potatoes – as well as Muhamara, a walnut and red pepper paste dip. There are also hot and cold meze dishes, including a very good recipe for Arnavut Ciğer – spectacular, chunky sautéed calf’s liver cubes covered by a red onion, parsley and sumac salad, as well as Sebzeli Köfte i.e. small meatballs made from a 50/50 blend of ground beef and ground lamb in a tomato and red pepper paste sauce.
In addition there are salad recipes; the Turkish kitchen uses only fresh, local, seasonal produce. There are a number of outstanding salad recipes including Kisir (a recipe made with bulgur wheat and pomegranate molasses), and a smoked eggplant salad with tomatoes, onions and bell pepper “Patlican Ekşileme.” Plus another salad made with roasted eggplant and cacık i.e. garlic yoghurt and mint sauce “Patlican Yoğurtlama.”
A very traditional Ottoman food pair is meatballs (Köfte) and Cannellini Beans smothered with fresh, skinless tomatoes and shredded red onion sprinkled with sea-salt and sumac; the salad is known as Fasülye Piyaz and it is featured in this cookbook.
There are numerous breakfast dish recipes that include a favorite: Menemen. The ingredient list and execution are slightly different than the way I make Menemen, but it is worth trying both ways.
There is a section that includes savory pastries i.e. börek and boat shaped, open faced, oven baked, cheese stuffed bread called Peynirli; the word means “with cheese” and depending on what the bread is stuffed with in addition to the cheese, you could have Peynirli Pasturmali (with thinly sliced pasturma or bastirma) or Peynirli Kiymaly, when stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, ground lamb and ground onion, smothered in tomato sauce.
There are numerous vegetable dishes stewed in olive oil that include another of my favorite dishes, Mücver, which is golden, shredded zucchini fritters sometimes mixing soft white cheese or feta in the batter.
Unfortunately some of the best olive stewed vegetable dishes made by Turkish cooks are missing from this cookbook. Most important, missing are Imam Bayildi and Artichokes a la Polita; but these are mainly Northern dishes and if you wish recipes for them look at our Olive Oil Dishes page in the Gastronomy section.
There are numerous meat, chicken and fish main courses. Some good ones are Fisticli Kebap i.e. grilled, ground meat and ground pistachios skewers and Patlicanli Kebap, chunked chicken thighs cooked on a skewer with eggplant, yoghurt and spices.
In the book, there is also a number of traditional meatless mains, such as Fasülye Pilaki (giant or cannellini beans in a tomato and shredded onion sauce, sprinkled with sumac).
The fish and seafood section includes Karides Güveç, usually a hot meze dish of baked large shrimp or prawns in tomato, onion, pepper and mushrooms and Mydye Dolma, i.e, rice, herbs, pine nut and raisins stuffed mussels. Also Balic Sis, fish kebaps with roasted vegetables – I usually have swordfish chunks cooked this way.
Because Turkey has a sweet tooth, there are numerous dessert recipes including the famous Revani, a sponge cake soaked in lemon or orange syrup, and Semolina Halva with pine nuts.
Overall it is an interesting book with some very good recipes but with many of the classic Ottoman dishes missing. I do not consider it a complete Southern Turkish cookbook, since the missing oil-poached recipes and a number of other classic Ottoman recipes are nowadays cooked throughout the country.
To get your own copy of this cookbook:
In the UK: https://www.gbpublishing.co.uk/product-page/ozlem-s-turkish-table-hardback
and in the US: https://store.177milkstreet.com/products/ozlem-s-turkish-table-cookbook-by-ozlem-warren
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