I’ve been anxious to get my hands on this book for some time now and the minute I slipped ‘Turkey – Recipes and Tales from the Road’ out of its padded envelope I knew it had been worth the wait. Fair dues to Murdoch Books; considering the author, Leanne Kitchen (a trained chef turned food writer, originally from New Zealand and now living in Sydney), is not a major media squeeze, the quality of production and finish is remarkable, from the sensuous padded cover, to the simple-but-stylish motif that adorns the edge of the recipe pages, not forgetting the photography. I’m not only talking about the ‘food porn’ although Amanda McLauchlan’s photos, shot mostly with available light, will have you salivating for sure. Leanne herself is no slouch with a camera and her own shots, taken on her travels, bring insight into this magical and, for many, mysterious country. Her felicitious name, by the way, is no nom de plume – “I married a guy called Mr.Kitchen”, she insists. Savvy typography gives the book a classical feel and allows easy access to the recipes.
‘Turkey…’ combines a cookbook and a travelogue. The recipes, in the main are simple, with most of the dishes well within the capability of the average home cook. There’s nothing super-cheffy or twiddly here. What you get is the real Turkey, light years away from the sad kebab shop offerings we’re fobbed off with in Ireland. As Leanne points out, Turkey divides into seven extremely diverse regions, each with its own culinary tradition. In Istanbul, she says, mezze are elevated to the status of art. Within the pages of this book is a rich and varied cuisine with which the majority of home cooks will be unfamiliar and one that will reward exploration.
Leanne takes you well off the ‘Turkey for Tourists’ route and writes beautifully about places many will never visit. “My new friend takes me on a ferry ride to Akdsamar to see the thousand year old Cathedral of the Holy Cross an architecturally-important pink sandstone church erected by the Armenian Catholics… From the island we look back over the sparkling lake to the vast open expanse of land on the other side where farmers are fashioning dried grass into huge round bales of hay. Behind this farmland lies a string of snow-capped mountain peaks. It’s a place of dramatic and breathtaking beauty and it’s fitting that we finish our day trip off by gorging on the local delicacy, inci kefali or pearl mullet. “
Food, always back to food, great. I’ve already got the recipe for Yoghurt and walnut stuffed eggplant with tomato and pomegranate sauce on the go for tonight’s dinner. My quinces, now barely thimble-sized will be under scrutiny until autumn, earmarked for incorporation into a sweet cheese pie. The slow-roasted lamb with apples poached in pomegranate will get a run out soon – how delightful is the instruction “To serve, pull the lamb apart into chunks.” I’m going to get massive use out of this book, I can see.
To sum up, ‘Turkey – Recipes and Tales from the Road’ has got to be an early contender for Cookbook of 2011 and currently, for me at least, it’s the one the others have to beat and one I can’t recommend or praise highly enough, as both a cookbook and a damn good read.
‘Turkey – Recipes and Tales from the Road’ is published by Murdoch Books at GB£25
Footnote: Leanne Kitchen, by her own admission, is by inclination a lone traveler and uncomfortable in groups. This is untrue. At Tasting Australia 2010 I was in her company for two days, both of us part of an unusually harmonious mob of food writers and chefs. Leanne, with whom I share an enthusiasm for hats, contributed a good deal to the travelling experience, not least with her on-bus rendition of Rogers & Hammerstein’s ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ which I hope to hear her reprise in 2012.