Of the many cookbooks that have crossed my desk over the years, I think the ones that capture my interest most are those with an exotic flavour. Pomme Larmoyer's Istanbul Cult Recipes, being one of the latest.
The author is a food writer, editor and traveller, who believes you can learn everything you need to know about a country from its kitchens. "One thing to remember when exploring [a] city's food culture is that almost every dish has its own neighbourhood, and a best address at which to enjoy it," she writes in the preface.
Part travel guide, part cookbook, Istanbul Cult Recipes celebrates the ancient and captivating city, with its unique situation between Europe and Asia; and its ever-popular cuisine. Readers will discover how Istanbul's long-standing love affair with food is reflected in the delicacies on offer at all hours of the day and night. The author leads us through her favourite streets of the city, each pulsing with restaurants, cafes and street vendors selling their version of dishes beloved throughout Turkey. From addictive street food to elegant and contemporary restaurant cuisine, and fresh, healthy dishes cooked in homes across the country.
The recipes in the book mirror this diversity. There are lively Turkish breakfasts; delectable plates of meze and fish; an abundance of soups, meats and rice; breads and kebabs sold from the city's food carts; and heavenly sweets such as baklava, helva and Turkish delight.
Standout recipes include scrambled eggs with vegetables known as menemen (a dish that is reminiscent of the Hungarian fried bell peppers and tomatoes with eggs). Another is a chopped salad with walnuts (gavurdagi salatasi) "made from ingredients typical of Turkish cuisine: tomatoes, long capsicums, walnuts, spring onions, lemon, and olive oil". Braised celery (zeytinyagli kereviz) is another simple dish that can be served with meat and rice, but is also good as a stand alone vegetarian meal.
Cold ayran, the traditional salted yoghurt drink, is also featured; along with sahlep, the hot, thick milk beverage made with wild orchid powder. Both are personal favourites. I have also flagged the shortbreads (kurabiye) and the rice pudding (sutlac).
Chicken pilav (pictured above) was the first to catch my eye as I thumbed through the book, and I have already made this dish, twice. The recipe appears below, with the kind permission of Murdoch Books.
According to the author, ‘içli’ in this dish’s name refers to the inside – traditionally the chicken is stuffed with the rice.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: about 2 hours
30 g (1 oz) butter
1 free-range whole chicken, about 1.5 kg (3 lb 5 oz)
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 onions, finely diced
360 g (123/4 oz/12/3 cups) medium-grain rice
1 generous tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 generous tablespoon ground allspice
100 g (31/2 oz/2/3 cup) pine nuts
100 g (31/2 oz/2/3 cup) currants
1 large handful dill, finely chopped
Melt the butter in a large flameproof casserole (large enough to hold the chicken easily) over medium heat. Add the chicken, and brown on all sides for about 10 minutes until the skin has taken on a good colour. Pour in 200 ml (7 fl oz) water, cover the casserole and cook the chicken for about 11/2 hours (more or less, depending on its size). Set the chicken aside to keep warm, and reserve the liquid for cooking the rice. Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying pan over medium–high heat. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, or until soft. Add the rice, cinnamon, allspice, pine nuts and currants, and season with salt. Cook, stirring, for a further 5 minutes over medium heat. Add enough water to the reserved chicken broth to make 750 ml (26 fl oz/3 cups). Pour over the rice, cover and continue cooking for about 15 minutes until the rice has absorbed nearly all the liquid. Remove the saucepan from the heat, keep covered and leave the rice to finish swelling, undisturbed, for a further 10 minutes. Sprinkle the dill over the pilav just before serving with the warm chicken.
Istanbul: Cult Recipes by Pomme Larmoyer, $49.99, Murdoch Books. The recipe and images in this review appear courtesy of the publisher, Murdoch Books. Thank you kindly to the publicity team at Murdoch for giving me the opportunity to review this title.
Tell me dear readers, do you enjoy Turkish cuisine? Have you travelled to Istanbul? What's your favourite dish?
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.