Istanbul by Rebecca Seal is possibly the neatest cookbook I will read this year. It looks beautifully understated, illustrated with unpretentious photographs by Seal’s partner Steven Joyce and with turquoise foil blocking on a cool white cover. It’s also refreshingly cleanly compiled. Simple: a collection of traditional Turkish recipes collected by Seal, a journalist, on her travels in and around Istanbul.
Since Istanbul plopped on the doormat a month ago I have tried a good number of Seal’s recipes. A much larger quantity in fact, than I would normally get round to making so soon.
You might imagine that a book so specialised on a specific cuisine would rely on difficult to get hold of ingredients or unfamiliar techniques. Not so with Istanbul. I have found it an inspiring and economical book from which to feed my family. The ingredients are relatively cheap and the processes aren’t too much of a challenge to complete mid-week. Although spiced, the dishes I have tried aren’t heavy or overly hot and many are served with a dollop of cooling garlic yoghurt, which my daughter especially enjoys.
The biggest hit with my little one so far has been Ezo Gelin Corbasi or Ezo-the-Bride’s Red Lentil Soup. I made the soup with the stock from a poached Lebanese chicken (from The Moro Cookbook) and S and I both loved it, although I admit we ate it for lunch and not for breakfast, as it should be. The dish reminds me of the lentil and tomato soup my mum used to have me make – a brilliant emergency store-cupboard dish from Rose Elliot’s The Bean Book – although Seal’s version is more refined, with the lifting additions of mint and sweet paprika.
Another hit was Lahmacun or Turkish pizza, topped with minced lamb. Keane was really impressed with these as we have previously struggled to make a decent pizza base in our conventional oven. The dough was straightforward to make and ramping up the oven to 250c worked wonders, resulting in a pizza base not as crisp and charred as a wood-fired oven would make it but still thin and light. The meaty topping as well was delicious with a good balance of spice.
Other dishes I have tried include Lavas (flatbreads), Palican Kizartmasi (crispy aubergines), Karniyarik (aubergines stuffed with lamb), Pirincli Ispanak (rice and spinach) and Cilbir (poached eggs in garlic yoghurt). All the recipes have been tasty and I’m still eager to try more, particularly Firinda Hamsi (tray baked anchovies), Borek (flaky stuffed savoury pastries) and Ayran, a salty yoghurt drink recommended to me by my friend Tanya.
Istanbul is written by a tourist and is clearly a product of the current vogue for Middle Eastern and Sephardic cuisine. Still, who cares? Sometimes a tourist has more conscientious appreciation of a city and its tastes than a local who has been blinded by familiarity. At art school I spent a hefty portion of my loan on lunch in Tadim, a Turkish café in Camberwell, and these recipes remind me of good times. I share Seal’s love for this cuisine that is hearty, healthy and yet oily enough to seem like a treat. I trust her brevity, and her focus on what should matter most: the food. For this I think Istanbul is a cookbook worthy of investment.
Istanbul by Rebecca Seal is published by Hardie Grant Books, July 2013
Disclosure: I was given a review copy of Istanbul free from the publisher.
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About Chloe King
I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.
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