Monthly Archives: January 2015

Yashim’s fantastic chefs!

A few days ago I sent out a call for people who might enjoy testing the recipes for Yashim’s Istanbul Cook Book. Are the instructions clear? Is the result scrumptious? Are you transported by a touch of heat and cumin seed to the shores of the Bosphorus?

A page from Yashim's Istanbul Cook Book
A page from Yashim’s Istanbul Cook Book

The response has been fabulous – I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who got in touch at People are road-testing these Ottoman dishes all over the world, from Pakistan to Wisconsin, Estonia to Washington DC (hello to the Culinary Historians of Washington: CHoW!), which makes it a lovely peaceful international effort. To all those who have been in touch, a big thank you for taking part.

I’ve asked Jillian’s permission to include this great photo of a soup – she was the first to send it in. Great saucepan (and I like the book getting a light grilling, too)!

Widow Matalya's Chicken Soup - with a pleasantly battered copy of Yashim's fourth adventure!
Widow Matalya’s Chicken Soup – with a pleasantly battered copy of Yashim’s fourth adventure!

As far as I know, there are no representatives of the southern hemisphere involved yet – but I have a number of recipes yet to check over, so if there are any Aussies out there, give us a shout! And do pass the email around to your friends if they fancy getting a recipe to try: I’m not planning to close the hatch until Wednesday evening, February 4th.

Peasant bread - made with a traditional chickpea starter

Peasant bread – made with a traditional chickpea starter

You might like to know this, taken from the introduction to Yashim’s Istanbul Cook Book:

Most of the ingredients need no further introduction but there are a few spices which may be worth tracking down online or at a likely grocery shop.

I use two kinds of chilli pepper. Pul biber is hot chilli, in flakes or powder – like paprika or cayenne, the more you add the hotter the dish. Isot, or Urfa, biber, is a more subtle creature, darker in colour, made from Urfa red peppers that darken as they grow to deep purple. They are dried in the sun by day and wrapped up at night, the better to concentrate their flavour, which is slightly smoky, slightly sweet, and deliciously warm.

In the Spice Market and elsewhere you want to buy pepper in dry rustling flakes – vendors sometimes add salt and oil to make the mix richer and heavier. Nothing to worry about, just good to know. And powder will contain the seeds, while flakes are all flesh.

Sumac is now thoroughly available, made from a berry with a curiously good lemony and slightly sour taste.

A word on measures and quantities. Most of these recipes specify precise quantities, but we would do well to bear in mind the advice offered to a French chef sent into the kitchens by the Empress Eugenie, the consort of Napoleon III, when the imperial couple made a state visit to Istanbul in 1873. The quote is from my  Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire.

 ‘The French emperor Napoleon III and his empress, Eugenie, spent a week in Istanbul as the Sultan’s guests in 1862. The Empress was so taken with a concoction of aubergine puree and lamb that she asked for permission to send her own chef to the kitchens to study the recipe. The request was graciously granted by their host, and the chef duly set off with his scales and notebook. The Sultan’s cook slung him out, roaring, ‘An imperial chef cooks with his feelings, his eyes, and his nose!’

Afiyet olsun!




YASHIM’S ISTANBUL COOK BOOK – a call for volunteers!

As you probably already know, Yashim the Investigator – the hero of my series of five mystery novels – is something of a cook. In an idle hour in his apartment in Balat, Istanbul, he will chop and simmer and stir and sprinkle, and rustle up some delicious meze, perhaps, or a grand main dish, all the while thinking about the case he’s on. It’s how he relaxes. It’s how he thinks. Sometimes it gives him a clue…


The books are full of recipes, and I hope they evoke the atmosphere of 19th century Istanbul – the way it looked, how it smelled, and what it all tasted like. For ages, people have been suggesting that I, the humble author, gather all Yashim’s recipes, and some more, together in one place – and I am pleased to say I’ve done it. Including baklava, of course.

Yashim’s Istanbul Cook Book is on its way.

cookbook page1

It has dozens of authentic recipes for sauces and fish, for grills and breads, for vegetables and kebabs (and pickles, like those being sold by the guys above): Istanbul the year round! And we’ve dropped in passages from the novels, too, to go with them, and lots of fabulous illustrations.

fountin ahmed III

The book has been designed by Clive Crook, the Art Director of Cornucopia Magazine, so it’s gorgeous as well as delicious.It’s being published in July.

Right now I’m looking for volunteers to road-test a recipe.Send me your email address (to the email address below), and I’ll send you a recipe from the book.

I’ve cooked them all, again and again, but I badly want to know what your experience of following the recipe was like. Did it work? Were the quantities right for you? Were the instructions clear, or did they leave you furiously backpedalling while you ground the forgotten spices and the onions burned?!

A quick ‘It worked’ is all I need (though please don’t stint if you’d rather say more), and a pointer to what, if anything, seemed wrong. I’m hoping there’ll be no complaints but I’d rather discover that now than go to press with anything that isn’t 100% perfect.

By all means tell a friend, if you think they’d like to join in. Ask them to drop me a line here, and I’ll send them a recipe to try. Who knows – you could end up having an Ottoman feast!

Get in touch at

Nuovo anno, nuovo Yashim

The Yashim stories have fabulous fans in Italy, where they are published by Einaudi: I think it’s down to striking covers and the excellent translations by Cristiana Mennella, while my dear Italian friend Anna insists that it because the word giannizzeri, as in L’Albero dei Giannizzeri, sounds mysteriously sexy!

For centuries, of course, the states of Italy and the Ottoman Empire were very closely involved with one another, through trade and war. In The Baklava Club – published as I Cospiratori del Baklava this month – the relationship takes on an unusual twist, with the fate of three young Italian revolutionaries in exile in Istanbul…

Here’s the delicious new cover:

bc copy 2

It shows a detail from John Frederick Lewis’s Life in the Harem, Cairo, painted in 1854. I’ve written about him on the blog before, here.

So a happy New Year to all my Italian readers, and buon appetito!

The Yashim series

The Yashim series