Category Archives: Food!

Pleasing the Guild

Count Palewski, Polish ambassador to the Sublime Porte, burst into the room, waving a paper.

‘Yashim! Yashim! Have you seen this?’

Yashim glanced over his shoulder, knife poised above a bowl of little artichokes. ‘No. But have you seen one of these?’ He held an artichoke by its stem and twirled it in mid-air. ‘George brought them in from Kadikoy this morning. Grown in his garden. The smallest artichokes – you could almost eat them raw.’

‘Stop babbling, Yash.’ Palewski flung the paper onto the sofa, and tapped at it. ‘Le Moniteur Ottoman. You’ve seen it?’

‘Seen it?’ Yashim looked blank.

‘You’re in it, Yashim. Prizes, glory!’ He snatched up the paper and squinted at the front page. ‘Well, glory at least. You might not actually win the prize. It depends on what the Guild decide.’

‘The Guild? What Guild – of Soup Makers?’ Yashim had a momentary vision of old Mustafa, the Albanian Guild Master, lowering his moustaches over a steaming bowl of tripe soup. After what had passed between them during the period of The Janissary Tree, Yashim thought it unlikely that Mustafa would be handing him a prize.

Palewski sat down, and spread Le Moniteur across his knees. ‘Not the Soup Makers, no. But affiliated to them, maybe. Food Writers,’ he read slowly. He looked up. ‘The Guild of Food Writers. They’ve made a list of books they might give a prize to, and you’re on it. For your first cook book.’

Yashim laid down the knife and folded his arms. ‘But I haven’t written a cookbook.’

Palewski waved away his objection. ‘No, no, but someone did, and they based it all on you. Comes to the same thing. Your cooking, Yash. Leeks in oil, and chicken with walnuts, and that excellent thing you do with lamb, you know, from Konya? In the sealed pot. Book’s got your name on it, too. “Yashim Cooks Istanbul.” They say it’s awfully good.’

‘Who says?’

‘Oh, all the chaps. NPR and the New York Times. Delicious. It’s like Le Moniteur, but for cooking. And now the Guild have chosen it for their shortlist.’

‘I – I’m very grateful.’

‘I think,’ Palewski said slowly, turning his head to look at the small bag on the floor at the end of the sofa: ‘I think –‘

‘It calls for celebration?’

‘What an idea, Yashim! But yes, why not? If you insist. I happen to have a very good bottle of champagne, the real thing, left by those Italian boys in the Baklava Club. I’m sorry – I didn’t mean…’

‘No, no.’ Yashim gave him a reassuring smile. ‘The Baklava Club. It’s all over now. Fetch out your champagne. I’ll get the glasses.’

The bottle was cold. The cork flew. Yashim drank, but lightly, listening to Palewski talking happily of the Istanbul cook book, and the pilaf with hazelnut and lemon, and a fish, poached in paper – and a dish of beef, with sorrel sauce, which took the ambassador home again, to the shores of the Vistula, and the rolling foothills of the Tatra mountains.

Yashim Cooks Istanbul: Culinary Adventures in the Ottoman Kitchen has been shortlisted for the 2017 GFW First Book Award, the most prestigious in food writing and broadcasting. Copies are available signed and postage free here: YASHIM COOKS

 

 

BEATING THE JANUARY BLUES – IN A MORTAR

How many mortars do you have? While I was working on Yashim Cooks Istanbul, I added another two to my kitchen collection, one stone, one made of olive wood. 

Various recipes in the book call for spices, nuts or even pulses to be beaten, chopped, crushed or pounded. Most cookbooks suggest giving your ingredients a quick spin in a food processor, but I fight shy. I can’t stand the noise, for one thing, or those rubber feet, or the clutter that a food processor brings into the kitchen. These machines have a horrid arsenal of blades and graters, rendering every drawer a danger to unwary fingers. They make me jump – and who wants to be jumpy in the kitchen?

Pestle and mortar, on the other hand, work just as they did when these dishes were first prepared, centuries ago in the kitchens at Topkapi Palace. They were there, in the shape of two stones, when cookery was invented: after fire, and a pot, perhaps even before decent knives, cooking must have involved crushing. Old stone querns, for grinding grain, belonged to the ancients and have entered myth. Baba Yaga, the Russian witch, flies about in a pestle and mortar. They are an elemental pairing – yin and yang: pestle is, of course, cognate with pizzle, which it basically resembles. That, I think, is cheerfully salacious.

Not that I am driven by myth and Luddism. Or not entirely. Yashim Cooks Istanbul isn’t an exercise in historical re-enactment, like making mediaeval rice of flesh in an iron bowl, or chucking up lark’s tongues in the vomitorium. The recipes in the book are simple, inspired by their Ottoman originals but not slavish. They are dishes I’d cook at home, any day of the week, as Yashim does in his Balat flat.

No – the advantages of the pestle and mortar are as practical as elemental, even if they aren’t all visible. What you do see, for starters, is the beauty of the tools, in the grain of the wood or the clean, clear lines of the stoneware. It’s that simple, a tool for the hand and another for the bench. In my kitchen, the mother of them all is the 12 gallon mortar in which, incredibly, you can crush the tiniest pinch of cumin with the merest roll of your weighty pestle.

You probably know that a proper pesto is always made in a mortar – just as basil is always torn, not chopped, for adding to a dish. Whirr a pesto in a food processor and you have a glaucous minced mess, whose oily perfume has been already dissipated by the whizzing blades. Beating the leaves, garlic and pine nuts in a mortar takes a little longer (though washing out processor jugs and bowls is another chore), but the whole thing breaks down the oils, and keeps the pesto cool as it should be.

The same thing applies to spices – or to chickpeas. The reviewer at Country Life Magazine called Yashim’s hummus ‘the best ever’, perhaps because I suggest using a pestle and mortar to reduce the chickpeas and garlic to a thick, uneven, consistency rather than the whirred-up paste you get from a plastic pot. There’s no way to grind spices better than a mortar, either; or to crush herbs. It’s about avoiding stress, not inducing it – nor inflicting it on your ingredients.

Pound away. It’s good exercise, and a therapy. Wonderful aromas rise like soothing balm, the action is physical but not exhausting, the sound is regular and human. It is the sound of somebody chopping wood down in the valley. It is as satisfactory as ringing a gong; and it makes you happy.

The pestle and mortar’s closest relations are the wooden chopping board and the sharp steel knife. A family resemblance also exists between a pestle and a rolling pin, as between the mortar and a pot. These are what cooking is about. These are the implements it requires. And not much else.

When, in An Evil Eye, Yashim observes that cooking is really about a sharp knife, he’s pleased to be given one forged of Damascus steel. With the blade he can flatten, crush, chop and slice anything. But when he wants to make muhammara or hummus, or grind spices or nuts for baklava – or roasted coffee beans – he turns to the pestle and mortar. His is a marble mortar, and the pestle has a handle of cherrywood or ash, attached to a marble bulb, whose significant weight does half his work.

It is primitive. But then living in Istanbul in the first half of the nineteenth century, Yashim knows nothing of the magimix.

selling out

When a book sells out, and it’s your book, which means they liked it, you may well want to punch the air, or kiss a policeman, or whatever. I think you are allowed. Just don’t kiss the air and punch a policeman, that’s all.

But then, when an ENTIRE COUNTRY sells out of your book, you may realise that while it’s great in its way, in another way it’s problematical.

America has sold out of Yashim Cooks Istanbul. Only last week we had a huge load, palletfuls of Yashim Cooks Istanbul, boxed and sitting cosily in the distributor’s warehouse in Chambersburg, PA. Then everyone ran out at once and went to buy a copy. Almost every American – well, they mostly didn’t run anywhere further than their mouse pad, where they feverishly clicked on the link – http://amzn.to/2gbTAz3, if you don’t believe me – and swept all available copies out of the online warehouse. Who instantly reordered, thus sweeping all available copies out of the Chambersburg warehouse and into the mailboxes of a few quick-thinking Yashim afficionados and leaving a note saying that the book was temporarily out of stock. Continue reading

Thanksgiving turkey Ottoman style

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-15-13-51Just in time for Thanksgiving, here’s a gentle Ottoman twist on the festive dinner – Yashim’s spiced stuffing, made with rice. Funnily enough, Ottomans seldom emigrated to the United States (an exception was a Syrian, Hadji Ali, aka Hi Jolly, who set up a camel corps for the Confederates during the Civil War), otherwise this stuffing would have delighted them. 

The recipe is below. You will of course find lots more recipes in YASHIM COOKS ISTANBUL, out now.

Signed first editions of Yashim’s new book are available at http://bit.ly/2c7fkIU postage free. Also on sale on Amazon or a good bookstore!

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-15-19-39

Yashim Cooks Istanbul Storms US Charts!

You may imagine how thrilled I was to wake up to a fabulous piece about Yashim’s cook book on America’s number one radio show, Morning Edition. They gave it the great title: “Popular Detective Series Gets Its Own Cookbook” which is succinct, accurate and somehow funny. Very professional.

We did the interview about a month back, with Mary Louise Kelly of NPR, in my sister’s kitchen in London. Garlic, pumpkin AND fuzzy microphone.

jasoncooks

The interview isn’t without its own drama, either – do listen to the 4 minute broadcast (and check out a few recipes) via this link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/11/15/501588281/assassins-steak-tartare-popular-detective-series-gets-its-own-cookbook

Anyway, it’s a really generous launch present and immediately sent the book skimming up the Amazon rankings into the top 300: heady stuff for a 19th century Ottoman sleuth. Best of all, though, is the feedback from people who have started cooking from the book.

Signed copies are still available via this link: http://bit.ly/2c7fkIU and we’ll be using an express route to ship to the States, too.

Publication Day

I remember the day I found myself crouched over a saucepan by the back window, camera in hand, prodding a rocket leaf with a chopstick. Behind me, a chorus of angry children demanded their lunch while it was still hot. I fiddled with exposures. I zoomed back and forth with the focus. I turned the pan. In the end, I climbed on a chair, balanced the leg of the tripod on the sideboard, and took the classic Instagram shot of the food, from above. It looked like a tidal wave of chicken pieces coming through a porthole. And then, to everyone’s relief, we ate. It wasn’t absolutely hot, but it was perfectly delicious.

Chicken pieces coming through a porthole

Chicken pieces coming through a porthole

The recipe was coriander chicken with lemon and sumac: it’s already something of a favourite, and you can find it on page 48 of Yashim Cooks istanbul, the culmination of all that zooming and recipe-collecting, all that tasting and testing, which really began when Ambassador Palewski came sniffing up the stairs to Yashim’s apartment, in an adventure called The Janissary Tree.

Today, in the UK and Commonwealth at least, is Publication Day. In the US and Canada, it’ll be November 15th – after elections, and before Thanksgiving.

And so, to my weepy Oscar speech.

Tuba's magnificent photos

Tuba’s magnificent photos

Many of the photos in the book were taken by me, or are taken from old maps, panoramas, and costume illustrations. Others, such as the splendid picture above, are by Tuba Satana. Her generosity and knowledge are boundless. She is an Istanbullite, a foodie, a photographer, a blogger and a guide. She is also a dear friend and you can see more of her work at http://istanbulfood.com/ and on Instagram at http://instagram.com/istanbulfood.

If you think the design of the page above is crisp, clear and stylish, you will love the book. Hats off to Clive Crook, who produced the master design, and to Isaac Goodwin, who implemented it. He is at http://www.isaacgoodwin.com. He is also responsible for the scattering of ‘little men’, or Ottoman figures, through the book.

We love the Little Men (and Women)

We love the Little Men (and Women)

When you use the book, whether to rustle up the coriander chicken, ruby pilaf or palace fig pudding, from dozens of recipes, the wonderful Sheilah Kaufman will have picked out the errors and the contradictions. She is a cook book editor, a lecturer and foodie based on the East Coast, with special expertise in Turkish cooking. Her patience and good spirits have helped make Yashim Cooks Istanbul. Further examples of her work can be seen at http://www.cookbookconstructioncrew.com/.

Thinking about Widow Matalya's chicken soup?

Thinking about Widow Matalya’s chicken soup?

The testers have been you, Yashim’s readers, who so generously responded to my appeal on this blog. You saved recipes, and improved them. In particular, I owe a great debt to Amina Beres, Ann Barnes, Ann Bloxwich, Ann Chandonnet, Ann Elizabeth Robinson, Anthea Simmons, Beth Bandy, Beverly Firme, Bill Bosies, Britta de Graaff, Burcak Gurun Muraben, Carey Combe, Carmen Mahood, Carol Titley, Catherine Johnson, Chloe Potts, Claire Byrne, Clare Hogg (of the blog Saucy Dressings), Connie Hay, Daemon A. ‘Bunny’ Condie, David Lee Tripp, Diana Moores, Dianne Hennessy King, Donna Cummings, Dr Werner and Sonja Keck of Heidelberg, Eva Krygier, Evren Işınak Bruce, Francine Berkowitz, Rev. Fr. Gary Simpson, Genia Ruland, Geoff Perriman, Giles Milton, Giuseppe Mancini, Greg Burrows, Hira Najam in Pakistan, Indrek Koff, Irena Rywacka, Ivette Buere Cantu, Ivor Gethin, Jan Suermondt, Jean Stearns, Jeanette Kearney, Jill Patience, Jillian Wilkinson, Judith O’Hagan, Juliet Emerson, Kate Hubbard, Leary Hasson, Lennart Allen, Linda Gunderson, Lynda Dagdeviren, Maria Figueroa Küpçü, Mark Culme-Seymour, Marsha Frazier, Marta Bialon, Matthew Adams, Meg Officer, Melanie Ulrich, Olivia Temple, Pat Ruttum, Penny Harvey, Piret Frey, Rick Page, Robin Morris, The Rev. Roger Russell, Ron Garrison, Rosemary Petersen, Russell Needham, Ruth Peers, Sally Catton, Sid Cumberland, Simon Allen, Sophie Ransom, Stella Ruland, Stuart MacBride, Sue Aysan, Susan Dolinko, Suzi Clarkson, Tomas Eriksson of Malmo, and Veronica and Alfio Brivio.

And that, I think, breaks the five minute rule on Oscar speeches.

If you’d like a copy of Yashim Cooks Istanbul, signed and postage free, you can order one at http://bit.ly/2c7fkIU. In the UK, it’s on sale at a good bookshop near you, or of course on Amazon at http://amzn.to/2enxMhq. Do leave a good review there, if you can!

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 14.12.15

 

 

Autumn falls – and Ottomans cook!

Walking today in the woods, the first fallen leaves rustling underfoot, made me long for a fire – and a taste of this slightly smoky dip taken, of course, from Yashim’s new cook bookimg_4631Aubergine (or eggplant) puree

patlican salatası

A classic Ottoman meze, absolutely worth doing whenever you fire up a charcoal grill. Unlike the real thing, ‘poor man’s meat’ is very forgiving on the grill, so you can start the aubergines off as soon as the coals get hot. The flame gives the finished puree an irresistible smoky taste. Don’t forget the humble home fire, either. If you are burning wood in your fireplace, or maybe a woodburner, use it: an aubergine takes only a few minutes to cook.

img_4256

Ingredients:

aubergines (eggplant) 2

garlic 2 cloves, crushed and chopped

olive oil 2 tbsps

juice of 1 lemon

plain yoghurt 225g/8oz

salt 

pepper

lemon wedges

Method:

If you can rotate the aubergines over charcoal, so much the better: char the skins and pop the aubergines into a plastic bag when the flesh is pulpy. Otherwise, burn the skins on the gas or prick the aubergines with a fork, wrap them in foil and cook for at least half an hour in the hottest oven. 

Hold the aubergine by the stalk and peel away the skin. Scrape the flesh away with a spoon. Drop the flesh into a colander, and squeeze it gently to get rid of some of the water.

Put the aubergines on a board and chop them to a pulp, while they continue to drain. Sweep them into a bowl, and mix in the garlic, the oil and the lemon juice. When they are well mixed, add the yoghurt, a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper and beat again. Check for seasoning.

Serve the puree with a drizzle of olive oil and wedges of lemon, to eat on crusty bread.

Some simple pide

Some simple pide

Everything connects, of course, and given centuries of war and exchange between Russia and the Ottoman Empire it should come as no surprise that the Russians, substituting sauteed onion and tomato for the yoghurt, wisely adopted this as their ‘poor man’s caviar’. Versions of both are very popular across the Caucasus.

This is just one of dozens of the recipes from Yashim Cooks Istanbul, out in the UK on Thursday October 27th and in the USA on November 15th. Signed copies are available, postage free anywhere in the world. Just click on this link: http://bit.ly/2c7fkIU

Gliding down the Bosphorus

I’m often asked to name my favourite place in Istanbul.

A bollard on the quay

A bollard on the quay

 

It isn’t a place, at all: it’s a passage, or a vantage point, or an adventure, with deep dark waters under the keel, and spray at the prow, and a briny bench – and a glass of tea.

It’s a trip on the Bosphorus.

My favourite vantage point

My favourite vantage point

About  fourteen miles long, and sometimes no more than half a mile wide, this twisting strait divides Asia from Europe, and links the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. The name means the same as Oxford: where the cattle cross, from the legend of Io, transformed into a cow until she crossed the strait and regained her human form.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

feeding the birds at Eminonu

There are all sorts of Bosphorus trips on offer, but I think it best explored on the ferries which morning and evening crowd around the ferry station at Eminonu. The slow vapur have high prows for punching through the seas which run in from the Sea of Marmara, and low thwarts for easy embarkation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ferry at a stage

Their bright green hawsers are casually coiled on the planking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

on board at night

One day they’ll no doubt be replaced by fibreglass catamarans and a sensory world will disappear, composed of wet planks, splintered pilings, the bubble of thick paint on rust, and the old ferryboat smell which is the same the world over, a tincture of diesel oil, damp wood and the sour reek of air trapped in the cabins.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rumeli Hisar

Meanwhile, buy a glass of tea at the counter and settle down on one of the outside benches that run along the bows; put your feet up on the rail, and watch the shores of the Bosphorus unscroll, like some Victorian panorama, their vistas of villas, palaces, restaurants and domes.

The galley of a Bosphorus ferry: I love the chopping boards!

The galley of a Bosphorus ferry: I love the chopping boards!

The last photo, above, shows where they make tea: a place I like so much I put it in Yashim’s new cookbook,  Yashim Cooks Istanbul. !

From Yashim Cooks Istanbul

From Yashim Cooks Istanbul

Yashim Steps Out

I’m told that tickets for my first Yashim Cooks Istanbul gig have sold out, which has to be good news. Although I remember being told the same thing by the nice people at Faber at the launch party for The Janissary Tree, and wondering if publishers lived on the same planet as the rest of us.

Picture the scene: I assemble a hundred or so of my closest friends and relations, along with the great and the good of Fleet Street, Grub Street and the BBC, hire splendid Georgian rooms in Fitzroy Square, lay on everlasting fizz, engage professional belly dancers, no less – and half an hour into the jamboree the publishers come up smiling and rubbing their hands to tell me ‘We’ve sold out of books! Congratulations!’

Sold out! Jolly well done!

Sold out! Jolly well done!

Anyway, no more tickets for November 12th at the Bridport Literary Festival: but we have other things planned for later, elsewhere.

If anyone wants to pre-order Yashim Cooks Istanbul, you can get signed copies here, free of postage. Also you can pre-order them on Amazon in the UK for £19.99, although they won’t be signed. I expect Amazon.com in the US will offer something similar very soon. Yashim Cooks Istanbul makes a really good present, with a whiff of Ottoman spice.

Many of you have asked when Yashim will emerge from his retirement and engage in a new adventure. Well, he has one rather short adventure chronicled in a collection of stories entitled SUNSHINE NOIR, all mystery stories by crime writers who eschew the frigid wastes of Scandinavia in favour of southerly heat and sweat (not but that it usually snows in Istanbul, but we will let that pass). My story is called Chronos and Kairos, about an occasion when Yashim borrowed a watch. Some of you may remember young Compston, of the British Embassy in Istanbul, bleating about his father’s Hunter in An Evil Eye: it’s that watch. Different occasion.

510z06ugbil

Print editions are on their way, apparently, but if you use Kindle then it’s available there already.

Istanbul: behind the headlines

Sometimes you can step behind the barrage of news, like stepping into that calm secret place behind a waterfall. Take stroll around Istanbul, as I’ve been doing these last few days. Have a glass of pickle juice at the pickle shop – very good for the stomach.

IMG_4049IMG_4055

Take a wander through the fish market, where we bought lufer, Yashim’s favourite fish, and red mullet the size of your thumb, which I dusted with flour and pepper and fried.

IMG_4065

Pick up a salad…

IMG_4062

to go with some good bread…

IMG_4071IMG_4072

pausing only to admire the portrait of the baker’s impressive grandfather…

IMG_4083

and remembering to collect my own, patient father…

IMG_4089

before taking a look at some of the 19th century architecture along the old Grande Rue de Pera, now Istiklal, Istanbul’s answer to Oxford St (and getting as tacky).

IMG_4097 IMG_4098 IMG_4099

Out again, to find more delights for Yashim’s next venture:

book on side