Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Turkish takeaway.

I am making my way through the cookbook section (among other sections including motoring, biography and fiction) at Coburg library. Who can afford to buy books at the rate we are reading them these days? Early this week I took home Turkish Cookery edited by Sally Mustoe (Saqi 2006).

A prologue by culinary historian and writer Turgut Kut to the book (it also has a preface and an introduction) mentions the ‘first Turkish cookbook’, Resource of Cooks, which was published in 1839 and went into nine editions until 1888. The author of the early cookbook, Mehmed Kamil, had studied old books and selected recipes for the most delectable and rare dishes to ‘bring relief for those who had previously to be content with tripe soup’, a fast-food staple of the nineteenth century markets.

Turkish Cookery does the same almost two centuries later for those, at least here in Melbourne, who equate Turkish cuisine with Sydney Road’s scores of kebab houses. It’s a sampler of favourite Turkish dishes submitted by guest contributors along with short chapters on Turkish wines, cheeses and olive oils; a history of Aegean cuisine and a last chapter on the spread of Turkish cuisine throughout the world. If you can’t imagine cookbooks without pictures, the photography gives you plenty to salivate over. The full page shot of apricots with cream, almond and pistachio will see you off to the deli where you will have to procure some Turkish coffee because this is what the sweet accompanies.

I tried kirmizi kahana (page 49) - red cabbage with onion and vinegar, a surprisingly fragrant and delicious side dish of four ingredients (that does not appear, as far as I know, in any of those Four Ingredients books).

The recipe calls for a medium onion to be chopped and fried until soft in two tablespoons of sunflower oil, to which a chopped ‘medium cabbage’ is added along with four tablespoons of unspecified vinegar in a covered pan. The recipe adds that this is delicious with roasted sweet potatoes.

I used a quarter of cabbage; even that required far more fluid than specified. One person’s medium cabbage might be another’s Brussels sprout. I added some white vinegar and then some red wine vinegar. That was soon absorbed, or evaporated, despite the closed pan. So I added the juice of a lemon and a splash of water and it became more and more fragrant. (I had also added three scored cloves of garlic.) The cabbage cooked on lowest heat for an hour or so, by which time it was soft but still holding its shape in the shaved but discrete sections. It was just superb.

But no roasted sweet potato: instead, a small mountain of mashed potato, a hillock of the braised red cabbage and a thick cut cracked-peppered T-bone steak with fillet, grilled rare on a very high heat for two minutes each side.

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