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A Love Letter to ISTANBUL AND BEYOND in a Cookbook

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Whole fish! (photo courtesy of David Hagerman)

Award-winning, widely-published and highly respected food writer, Robyn Eckhardt, with photographer-husband David Hagerman’s location photography, brings “her personal vision of regional Turkish cuisine” in the new cookbook-travelogue, ISTANBUL AND BEYOND.

Robyn’s s far-ranging exploration takes readers on the the couple’s journeys through Turkey, she likens to “having as many geographic natures at the United States, only smooshed into a smaller area.”  The book itself is a “smooshed”  modern-day Time-Life series book, filled to the brim with history, ingredient information and recipes – many published in English for the first time. (www.https://istanbulandbeyondcookbook.com)

Robyn wrote her very unique, original book in a scholarly manner, befitting a scholar of her stature.  At the same time it provides an intimate glimpse into the people and the places the couple happened upon or were directed to by way of their ever-widening network of  Turkish friends and families, who helped them collect stories and recipes unavailable anywhere else.

David Hagerman’s mouth-watering shot of Coiled Tahini buns eaten for breakfast or as a tea snack

The “beyond” refers to the rugged, lesser known agricultural landscape of eastern Turkey, influenced much more by geography than politics.  Turkey’s sophisticated, international cultural capital, Istanbul, where refined dishes reflect the city as a crossroads between east and west, seems distant, especially in the savory and sweet pastry dishes.

 

(Photo courtesy of David Hagerman)

Stories, photographs and over 125 recipes reflect decades of car trips plus sixteen months of intensive research into Turkey’s distinct cuisines. ISTANBUL AND BEYOND draws the reader into an unchanged area of culinary history.

David attentiveness to Robyn at a demonstration shows how wonderfully they work together after so many years

Robyn’s self-described “love letter to the country,” started early.  She was already so passionate about the country she studied Turkish at Berkeley – what foresight!  She beamed as she quoted the instructor telling her and another student who remained through to the end of the first semester that they “struck the lottery” because now it was like a private class.

(Photo courtesy of David Hagerman)

Travels took the couple from the Mediterranean province of Hatay to the Black Sea, and from north-central Anatolia to provinces bordering Georgia, Armenia, Iran and Iraq.  Robyn got almost as excited describing it, as the fisherman on the Black Sea during the anchovy season, the highlight of their year for what the Turks call, “the prince of fishes.”

(Photo courtesy of David Hagerman)

A full academic account, as common in the book, fills in the history of why   “the precious few months of the year, when frigid waters plump the anchovies with an extra layer of fat, Black Sea residents may eat them two, even three times a day in everything from corn bread to rice-filled Swiss Chard…”

(Photo courtesy of David Hagerman)

Istanbul and Beyond is arranged by category rather than region:  Breakfast and Brunch, Appetizers, soups, salads, Pasta & Grains, Fish, Chicken and Lamb.  Key are the now-familiar ingredients that make a dish  so exceptional.   For example, Pomegranate Molasses underpins the The Green Olive Salad – which I found to be a novel addition to morning scrambled eggs.  Robyn describes the harvest in the book.

Green Olive Salad with Pomegranate Molasses

The refreshing, substantial combination of eggplant and dill in the Corn Salad with Eggplant & Dill makes it distinctive. Robyn explained, however, that the corn in Turkey is “starchy” and not sweet.

Sumac is key in the Cabbage Rolls in Tomato & Sumac Sauce.  This oil adds flavorful “heat” minus the  spiky characteristic of most peppers.  It is what makes the Corn Soup so spectacular at Upper West restaurant. http://localfoodeater.com/mid-east-falafal-stars-in-all-american-corn-soup-at-upper-west/,

Cabbage Rolls in Tomato & Sumac Sauce

Technique also differentiates the dishes.  Step-by-step instructions with photos unlock these secrets.  The Fingerprint Flatbread or “pide,” for example, is thick and chewy because it is sort of quilted by hand.

Meatballs, as in the must-make Meatballs with Pumpkin & Spice Butter dish, are light and tender because of the hand-chopping, which Robyn demonstrates here – and admitted is “something I am unwilling to undertake on a regular basis.”

This combination has to be the most intriguing, appealing use of pumpkin, overshadowing the flooded commercial market of pumpkin-flavored everything during winter holidays and and proving why historic classics reign.

 

 


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Author
Gerry Furth-Sides

Gerry Furth-Sides

Content Editor/Columnist

Photo-journalist Gerry Furth-Sides has been covering the ethnic and American culinary scene in California since it first came into prominence 25 years ago.