Yashim, the protagonist of four novels in the award winning detective series set in 1830s Istanbul, is more than a sleuth – he’s also a great cook. In his apartment in Balat he prepares some of the dishes for which the Turks, with their long Ottoman heritage, are justly famous: not for nothing is Turkish cookery described as one of the three great cuisines of the world, along with French and Chinese.
Yashim loves cooking, which gives him time and space to think, and readers seem to love his recipes just as much. Like a turban glimpsed on the street, a draft of sweet coffee or the slender shadow of a minaret, Yashim’s dishes help to recreate the flavours of Istanbul – its abundance of seasonal vegetables, fresh fish drawn from the waters of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmora, the ubiquitous soups and grilled lamb, the yoghurt and the spices that scent the air of the Egyptian Bazaar.
Each of the novels, beginning with The Janissary Tree, has figured several recipes perfected in the sultan’s kitchens – although the fish stew which appears in An Evil Eye, the latest in the series, is really a Greek fisherman’s feast, and the recipe for that – kakavia – can be found here on my blog.
Over the next few days I’ll be posting some new recipes for readers to try – maybe for some people they’ll suggest a break from turkey leftovers (I mean the bird, not the country)!
The quantities are not precise. As I wrote in 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!’