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The Turkish Cookbook by Musa Dağdeviren – Book Review
Some cookbooks you buy because you like the author’s cooking style (e.g. Plenty), others you buy to learn more about a specific topic (Hello, my name is ice cream), others you buy to open doors to a world you didn’t know much about. The Turkish Cookbook (affiliate link), by Musa Dağdeviren is an example of the last category.
The book is full of a wide variety of Turkish food, from various regions of the country. It’s a delight to read through and it definitely teaches you something new about Turkish cuisine that you did not know before.
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The variety of Turkish cuisine
In the Netherlands, there is a considerable Turkish community and thus Turkish stores and bakeries are pretty common. However, most of these serve a few common dishes and do often not reflect the wide variety of Turkish food available (although, if you know where to go, you’d probably be able to find them). It gives a sneak peak into the wide world of Turkish cooking which goes way beyond a doner kebab or baklava.
Turkey is a huge country and as such does not have one cuisine. Every region has its own specialties, based on the main religion in that area, whether the people are nomadic or agricultural, the climate as well as the proximity of water, to name just a few. Even though various common dishes exist, such as dolmas, pide, kebabs and k
öfte, each region might use different ingredients or slightly different preparation techniques.
The author: Musa Dağdeviren
Musa’s ambition is to educate people about Turkish cuisine. It is not a book about himself, or his restaurants. This book is about Turkish food and all the different styles that exist. Even though it is not about himself, it is a personable book, thanks to the little intro’s and some (personal) background stories scattered throughout..
Musa Dağdeviren himself has grown up and lived in Turkey for his whole life. His hometown Nizip lies in the south of Turkey, not too far from Syria. Growing up as the youngest sibling in the family, he used to spend a lot of time with his mother. Through her, he learned about their culture and the foods that go with it.
His family was one of farmers and bakers. He himself, as well as his brothers, were bakers. Baking is an essential part of Turkish culture, fresh breads are a vital part of a lot of dishes. Having to move to Istanbul in the late 70’s, he started work at the restaurant of his uncle’s, opening up his perspective to food and the different dishes even further.
In the 80’s he opened up his first own restaurant,
Çiya. This restaurant grew over time, opening up new concepts in the same street and owning their own farm for their produce. He has not limited himself to one type of Turkish cuisine. Instead, he strongly believes that all the different heritages, Azeri, Georgian, Turkish, Aarabic, Armenian, etc. should all be served together. Food is what should bring people together, not push them apart.
Musa is one of the featured chefs on the Netflix series Chef’s table in season 6. The episode does a great job in portraying his curiosity, willingness to learn and his ambition to help teach the younger generation about Turkish cuisine. A core belief of his is that the Turkish people, no matter from which area, should have a better understanding of their own foods as it is part of their own culture and history. He has traveled the country to try and learn the Turkish cuisine and ensure those traditions do not get lost.
Design & lay-out
The design of the book works really well for the goal of the book: educating people about Turkish food. The introduction (only four pages) sets the scene and covers some of the history of Turkey and its cuisine and introduces the author. He shares some personal memories which really bring the book to life. From there on the book is split into 14 sections each covering a type of food. To name just a few: soups (a core element), stuffed & wrapped dishes, offal (a large part of Turkish food), pilafs, dessert and a section from guest chefs.
Each section starts with a short introduction which helps you understand where this type of food fits into Turkish culture. When is it eaten, how does it vary between regions, etc. These introductions are what makes the book more than just a cookbook it. It’s also about culture and history.
The subsequent recipes (of which there are plenty!) are laid out simply and clearly and most don’t require that many ingredients at all (although some do contain ingredients that are less common outside of turkey). Instructions are short, but clear and again each start with a few lines of introduction stating whether it’s a winter or summer dish, where it’s one for daily life or special occasions. Again, it is what makes this book come to life and it makes you feel like you’re learning about Turkish food and not just getting a recipe.
Personally, I enjoy having a lot of photos in cookbook. In my opinion, every recipe should have one. I use photos a lot to decide what to make. There definitely are a lot of photos in this book, but I would estimate that only 1 in every 3-4 recipes contains a photo. It’s a disadvantage, but, by organizing the the recipes in a way the similar recipes are grouped together and by giving them clear descriptive names, it isn’t as bad. The photos themselves are simple and clean, they just show the food on nice (Turkish) dishes.
With my limited knowledge of Turkish cuisine, it seems as if this book has been able to cover a wide spread of dishes. The recipes are varied and they contain plenty of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Within each category, such as desserts, you can also find a good spread of the types of dishes. Not just 10x baklava, on the opposite, there’s only 1 baklava recipe and a ton of other desserts!
Cooking the book
Right after we bought the book, we decided to put it to the test. We made a fresh herb pilaf, a pear kebab, almond rice pudding, lahmacun and sour okra. All recipes were new to us. We had eaten similar foods before, but never these. Since most dishes didn’t contain a photo that did involve some guess work. However, all in all, the recipes turned out well.
The instructions for the recipes were easy to follow and not too complex. All in all they turned out very well.. Despite not knowing how the food should taste (which makes it harder to adjust at the end) all recipes turned out delicious. The tomato sauce with the okra recipe was especially good.
The one only issue we really had with the recipes were the quantities. I’m assuming the Turkish kitchen is a very very generous one, because most of the recipes we made could have definitely fed more people than the quantities stated in the recipe. This was especially apparent for the almond rice pudding. It made over a liter of pudding and stated that would be enough for 4 people. We could have easily fed twice the number. However, this is easily solved with a quick note next to the recipe, to scale it down a next time. Overall, we tasted some delicious food that we hadn’t had before.
If you want to learn something new, The Turkish Cookbook (affiliate link) can go on your wishlist. You will likely learn something new about Turkish culture, a new preparation technique or a new flavour combination. The book is well written, easy to understand if you don’t have any familiarity with Turkish cuisine and has a good selection of recipes.