The Turkish Cookbook
by Nevin Halici
The Turkish Cookbook by Nevin Halici is one of the greats, both in terms of the recipes she developed and the research that went into the published cookbook. In the introduction, Halici delves into the historical importance of food in successional Turkish empires to provide a detailed background of the recipes she included in the book. With the main subject matter of the book, Halici then relates all of the recipes back to its heritage, conveying the historical ties in the individual descriptions, both in terms of ingredients and methods of cooking.
Historically, the Seljuk and Ottoman empires were prolific civilizations who kept detailed records of all the cultural, social and political occurrences, the majority of which are now kept in the Topkapi Palace under the rule of Sultan Mehmet II. The special collections hold imperial decrees that describe protocols around table etiquette, food preparation and services among other details. Halici went through these codices, reading about the aristocratic and royal food habits of modern-day Turkey and Anatolia that have informed the recipes in the book. The imperial decree, for example, inspired a number of techniques because there were particular ways to prepare food for the sultan and his ministries in the Ottoman Empire.
Because of this thorough research, The Turkish Cookbook is not only a collection of recipes but also an effort of preservation and authenticity. With each dish, Halici demonstrates her interest in correctly replicating the food of the past by observing the ingredients and methods that were described in Sejluk and Ottoman writings. Further, she interviewed local Anatolians to explore the persistence of traditional foods and explore the lineage of these recipes. For this reason, the publication holds a special status in historical cookbooks as the first and most thorough attempt to recover true Turkish cuisine, and it was a delight to flip through Halici’s pages. Her research has educated me on Turkish cuisine because of the amount of time, work and passion that she imbues in her words.