Delve into Istanbul's diverse culinary landscape and discover a "riot of tastes" – from soul-affirming lentil soup, to visually spectacular sweet pistachio pastries.
Yasmin Newman

10 Aug 2014 - 6:02 PM  UPDATED 14 Aug 2014 - 1:30 PM

Why buy it?

English food writer Rebecca Seal and her husband, Steven Joyce, are regular visitors to Istanbul, the vibrant capital of Turkey. Here, 17 million residents and a melting pot of cultures coalesce to shape the world-renowned city.

On the food front, the offering is equally tantalising, with flavours stemming from neighbouring Persia, Greece and Asia, as well as the country’s Christian, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim communities. Seal describes the city’s fare as a “riot of tastes”, made with fresh seasonal ingredients sourced from the surrounding sea and countryside.

In Istanbul: Recipes From the Heart of Turkey, Seal shares recipes reflective of the city: simple, bounding with flavour, and a mix of modern and traditional fare. Joyce’s food photography, with pared-back styling and close-ups, similarly captures the colourful simplicity of Istanbul’s cuisine. 

The duo followed in the footsteps of the city’s local food authorities and chefs, who also shared recipes, lending much authenticity to the book. Seal’s recipe introductions, with observational anecdotes and vivid descriptions of flavours, also set a fairly detailed scene. Istanbul is a tour through the city’s food and one you want to cook from each page of the way.



Seal outlines upfront the six key ingredients needed for authentic Turkish flavour, which are all available from Middle Eastern food stores or online. She also offers substitutes, making the home-style recipes very accessible.


Must-cook recipe

The recipe selection begins with a bang, especially if you’re a breakfast enthusiast. The first dish off the rank, menemen, is tempting spiced scrambled eggs tinged with Turkish tomato paste and red pepper paste. Or try cilbur, poached egg in garlic yoghurt. For a more hearty meal, you can’t go past hunkar begendi, slow-cooked lamb stew on a bed of eggplant and cheese, harking back to the days of the Ottoman Empire.


Most surprising dish

Seal describes a range of cherished dishes known as zeytinyyagli; essentially vegetables slow-cooked in olive oil. “They can come as a surprise to those of us who like vegetables just-cooked and crisp, but cooking vegetables this way turns them into comforting silky dishes,” she says. She provides recipes for slow-cooked leeks (zeytunyagli pirasa), as well as green beans (taze fasulye), but any root vegetable, brassica or leafy green is also prepared this way and served chilled.


Kitchen wisdom

In Istanbul, onions dusted with sumac are a popular accompaniment to almost every meal. When sprinkled with salt, they become soft and sweet, which mellows their flavour and makes them a perfect partner to the citrus flavours of the sumac.


Ideal for

Middle Eastern food lovers, Turkish fans, armchair travellers, produce-driven cooks, spice enthusiasts.


Cook the book

1. Aubergine puree topped with lamb stew (hünkar beğendi)

2. Sweet pistachio pastries (tel kadayıf)

3. Spiced burghul wrapped in vine leaves (yaprak sarma)

4. Ezo-the-bride’s red lentil soup (Ezo gelin çorbası)


Istanbul: Recipes From the Heart of Turkey, Rebecca Seal (Hardie Grant, $45, hbk)