Recipes and Memories of the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey

Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey

A cookbook review by: Adrianne Morrison & Linda Kissam

At the end of  this review, be sure to check out the flavorful recipe for Spicy Okra & Lamb Sauté 

Author Robyn Eckhardt
Photographs by David Hagerman

Anyone with roots that trace to Turkey will appreciate ISTANBUL & BEYOND, Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey, and those who long to visit will find themselves even more inspired to plan their trip. As the scenery changes across Turkey, so do the people, their food selections, and its preparation. Not surprising considering its geography and cultural influences over the past 4000+ years. Turkey is only slightly larger than Texas, yet its borders touch Greece and Bulgaria to the West, four different Seas, and Syria, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia.

Robyn Eckhardt

Food and travel journalist Robyn Eckhardt with Photographer David Hagerman goes deep into Turkey to introduce us to its food and people. She shares her stories of acquiring authentic recipes, many collected while visiting with local chefs and home cooks, then adds her touch to help home cooks with sourcing or substituting so we can replicate the taste and spirit of Turkish kitchens in our own home.

While reading these stories of the regional people and their food, I found myself thinking of the constant availability of such similar and frankly boring and often tasteless packaged food many people consume daily across America without thought to where it comes from, who touched it, how it’s made, or what’s in it.

Imagine living where your family’s food is dependent on your own hands. You want noodles? In rural Turkey, preparation involves family and friends who make the dough, crank out 6-foot linguine style noodles, dry on a clothesline, wrap in cloths, take to the local baker to be toasted, then pack to be stored for use throughout the winter. Hard work, yet I bet the taste and quality of their noodles far exceed the store-bought, mass-produced products.

Meatballs w/ pumpkin & spice butter

You’ll find recipes as simple as Brown Butter Scrambled Eggs where flour is browned in butter before adding the eggs, to the steps involved in making an herbed cheese, a Turmeric-Scented Lamb & Chickpea Stew, or Minty Green Bean Pickles. Mint is often seen in the recipes as is the heat from chili and a few surprise herbs and spices. Simply reading the chapter titles will catch your interest: Fish, Corn & Greens, Urfa Peppers & Silk Road Spices, Olives, Pomegranates & Chiles… Right?

I’m certain you will enjoy every page starting with the food tour of Istanbul through the Workers’ Canteens, Street Fare & A Multiethnic Past collection of city-food selections.

I recently heard Robyn refer to her book as “a little bit of a love letter to Turkey.” Almost 20 years of vacations and traveling many car miles across this country come together in this special book that celebrates the Turkish people and their many cuisines.

I like the new wave of cookbooks that are a cookbook…but beyond a cook at the same time.

Istanbul & Beyond is a caring work of culinary importance. Part story – part cookbook, it is filled with wonderful recipes from across the local terrains and cultures of Turkey, vivid photos of the food, the people and the country while providing insight into all that is Turkey.

The reader can feel the love author Robyn Eckhardt and husband/photographer David Hagerman have for Turkey. Their many years spent there traveling hundreds of miles researching this book bring an authenticity often lacking in other region specific cookbooks.  Begin your own journey with them first in  Istanbul, then on to the corners and shores of Turkey.  With each step they record their discoveries, tastes, and adventures.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to taste authentic Turkish food, you’ll find it a wash of flavors and ingredients you actually recognize. Turkish kitchens have much the same ingredients of American fusion cuisine, but, like most distinctive cuisines, what a difference a culture can make in the toss up of  familiar ingredients. Think of Turkish cuisine as a whole new way to bring basic ingredients into global yum.

Spicy Okra & Lamb Sauté

Expect thundering flavors in this “try me” recipe from page 225. Just ten ingredients – most already in your pantry and a 45 minute prep time – gets you to taste nirvana. 

Spicy Okra & Lamb Sauté excerpted from ISTANBUL & BEYOND
© 2017 by Robyn Eckhardt
Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.


In this dish from Diyarbakır, okra’s grassiness counters lamb’s mild gaminess. If your okra are too large to cook whole, leaving their caps on and steaming them, then slicing them right before adding them to the sauté, will keep their sliminess at bay. I enjoyed this dish at a casual lokanta (canteen) inside Diyarbakır’s city wall. Southeasterners really love their chiles—if you do too, substitute more hot red pepper paste for some or all of the tomato paste. This dish contains just enough lamb for flavor; you can leave the meat out altogether for a vegetarian version. Serve with Simple Bulgur Pilaf and Garlicky Yogurt.



1    pound okra, stems trimmed but left on

2    tablespoons olive oil

4    garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

3      long green chiles, such as cayenne or Holland, stemmed, seeded if you like, and thinly sliced

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

4    ounces ground lamb

2    tablespoons tomato paste

1      heaping tablespoon hot Turkish red pepper paste

1¾ cups  water

Urfa pepper and/or Turkish or other crushed red pepper flakes, for serving

  1. If the okra are longer than 2 inches, steam them whole until not quite tender (a knife inserted should encounter some resistance), about 5 minutes. Drain and lay in a single layer on a kitchen towel to dry.
  2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, chiles, and salt and sauté until the chiles begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes; do not let them brown. Add the ground lamb and cook, breaking up the meat with a fork, until no longer pink, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add the tomato and pepper pastes and stir to coat the meat. Add the water and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a brisk simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. If you are using small (uncooked) okra, add to the meat mixture, stir, and bring the liquid to a brisk simmer, then cook, partially covered, until the okra is just tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Or, if you are using large (steamed) okra, simply continue to simmer the meat mixture until the liquid in the pan is thick and rich-tasting, about 10 more minutes. Just before the end of the cooking time, slice the steamed okra into 1½- to 2-inch pieces and add them to the pan. Stir to coat with the sauce and cook to warm through, about 2 minutes.
  5. Serve immediately.

Hear Robyn’s story on Facebook and watch her make Cabbage Rolls and Fingerprint Bread.

This beautiful hardcover book is available for around $25 where books are sold. See a free sample of the $16.99 E-book on Google Play; also available for Kindle.

Note:  As is usual in the cookbook review industry, Adrianne and Linda were each given a book by the author to review.

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