Yashim Cooks Istanbul
“Reading detective stories in bed. I find this delightful at home, and even more delightful when I am away from home, a lost man. The fuss of the day is done with; you are snugly installed in bed, in a little lighted place of your own; and now to make the mind as cosy as the body!”
-J B Priestley, Delight
Regular readers of Saucy Dressings will know that one of my greatest pleasures is to curl up on a squashy armchair in front of a roaring fire with a cup of good coffee (a Black Devil maybe) and a detective book. Those stories whose heroes and heroines share with me another passion – food and drink – are of course the ultimate.
There’s Rex Stout’s mountainous Nero Wolfe who lives in a New York brown stone with his own Michelin-starred swiss chef. There’s Andrea Camilleri’s Commissario Montalbano with his Sicilian network of restaurateurs and brigands’ mothers. There’s Vazquez Montalbán’s Pepe Carvalho, who explains in The Buenos Aires Quintet that “My technical assistant, waiter, cook and secretary is a car thief called Biscuter. My spiritual and gastronomic adviser is a neighbour called Fuster.”
And then there is my favourite of all, Jason Goodwin’s Yashim.
Yashim is a eunuch (convenient for him as it enables him to enter the sultan’s harem) living in nineteenth century Ottoman Istanbul. Of course he gets into all sorts of scrapes and violent incidents abound but the racy stories are punctuated by tender moments of tranquillity and reflection and usually these describe careful and attentive preparation of gorgeously described food. If you go to any of these posts you’ll see exactly what I mean.
- Turkish chicken stew with pomegranates and walnuts
- All about pilaf (the quote is in the recipe at the bottom of the post)
The world of the Ottoman Turks is described with such flair and colour that it inspired the SD chief taster and I to make a trip to Istanbul recently which yielded a fresh crop of posts, for example:
- Mahmudiyye – an Ottoman dish of chicken with apricots
- Turkish Köfte
- A Bit Greek and A Bit Turkish Kebabs
- Turkey’s sour green plums
- Stringy Turkish cheese, aka Dil Peyniri
- Turkish lamb pilaf or What To Do With Leftover Lamb
- All about Aleppo pepper – it’s not pepper (in Turkey they’re known as ‘Turkish pepper flakes’)
So small wonder that I’ve been looking forward to the publication of Jason Goodwin’s cookbook Yashim Cooks Istanbul and it measures up to all my expectations.
The book is arranged around the five Yashim books and each section is packed with quotes; descriptions of the hectic frenzy of the narrow streets and markets in Istanbul and Venice; and an array of beautifully observed character vignettes of vendors and thieves, fishermen and nobles which all prompt, in any Yashim fan, delicious reminiscences.
The recipes have been chosen with care. Many, exotic and flavourful, are also satisfyingly simple – bean salad, the sultan’s Ramadan eggs, the kebab of Pilgrim Osman – anyone might cook these dishes – but the ideas are creative and different.
Other recipes are more elegant, a sure talking point at any celebration; guinea fowl with pepper sauce, for example, or Palace fig pudding.
I can personally testify to the robustness and reliability of the recipes too. Jason assembled a volunteer team of recipe testers from around the world and Saucy Dressings was one of them. I tested and tasted Aubergine Parcels with Chicken for nearly a week to weigh the balance away from brulé to the desired ‘golden’.
Visually the book is gorgeous, but not in an over-glossy unnatural kind of way. As well as being a respected author Jason Goodwin is also an astonishingly good food photographer (it doesn’t seem fair), but the pages of this beautifully presented book are further interspersed with illustrations from various manuscripts and a variety of other sources and there are older images from the author’s own family archives which give the book an authenticity which is both lively and charming.
A perfect foodie present….I have just bought six for half a dozen lucky friends!
For an interview with Jason Goodwin on Saucy Dressings follow this link.
Recipe for Yashim’s aubergine parcels with chicken (tavuklu islim kababi)
“Use a peeler to a very sharp knife to take strips off the skin lengthways all round the aubergine, like a striped humbug, and soak sliced aubergines in cold salty water for half an hour, and squeeze out the water afterwards,” advises Jason Goodwin.
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
- 2 lemons, juice and zest
- ½ tsp allspice, crushed
- 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut in two
- 4 aubergines
- 2 tbsp flaked, toasted almonds
- rapeseed oil for frying
- Mix the garlic, lemon juice and allspice. Pour over the chicken and leave to marinate a couple of hours.
- Stripe the aubergines as described above and slice lengthways finely – you need about eight slices from each one. Soak in cold, salty water. After half an hour squeeze out the water.
- Heat a quarter of an inch of oil in a frying pan. When it starts to smoke fry the aubergine slices in batches until they are golden. Spread them on kitchen paper to drain.
- On a board lay two slices one across the other in the shape of a cross, put a piece of raw chicken in the middle, and wrap it in the aubergine. Tuck each parcel seam-side down onto an oiled baking dish.
- Shake the remaining marinade over the parcels, and sprinkle them with the almonds. Cover with foil and bake in the oven at 190°C for 40 minutes.
I think they are great with a middle-eastern saffron sauce, a green salad, and, if you are hungry, a plain pilaf.