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Book Review: Istanbul & Beyond

December 2017/January 2018 Issue
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Istanbul & Beyond
Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey
By Robyn Eckhardt (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $35)

I adore Turkish food, and a good chunk of my cookbook library is devoted to that region. Even so, Istanbul & Beyond was a revelation—mainly because of the “beyond” that the title hints at. Author Robyn Eckhardt journeys away from the capital city to explore Turkey’s regional cuisines that are quite different from the familiar-to-Americans Mediterranean fare of eggplant meze and lamb kebabs. From the Black Sea region, for instance, comes a cornmeal-crusted pie filled with leeks, potatoes, and leafy greens, as well as a simple dish of bluefish baked with garlic, fresh herbs, and lemon. In the northeastern province of Kars, where the food is hearty and suited to the long, cold winters, the author includes hand-cut noodles added to a tomato-lentil soup or tossed with butter and blue cheese. The Kurdish-dominated Hakkâri province has Persian-influenced dishes, like a curried bulgur pilaf. Throughout the book, regional ingredients surface that I never really thought of as “Turkish,” such as purple basil. The fresh leaves are infused in a simple syrup for a refreshing cold drink, while dried purple basil is used in soups or for seasoning meats.

The chapter on Istanbul focuses on street food and the city’s melting-pot history, and includes both familiar dishes (imam bayaldi) and surprises. “No other city in the world loves the grilled cheese sandwich as Istanbul does,” says Eckhardt, introducing a version stuffed with red pepper paste, roasted green chiles, and basturma, a Turkish pastrami. What’s no surprise is that I can’t wait to try it.

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