Turkish cooking is ultimately about hospitality and sharing, and the recipes in “Tree Of Life: Turkish Home Cooking” (based on the travel memoir Anatolian Days and Nights) blend Eastern ingredients and techniques with uncomplicated adaptations of authentic Turkish dishes. The gorgeously illustrated “Tree Of Life” by Joy E. Stocke and Angie Brenner explodes with color beginning with the foil-embossed cover, and Turkish design is featured prominently throughout, featuring patterns based on traditional Turkish tiles and artwork. The colorful, healthful dishes inspired by the authors’ visits to Anatolia will transport you to Turkey’s turquoise coastline, bustling bazaars, and traditional coffeeshops and restaurants. Vibrant photography by Jason Varney incorporates traditional table settings and textiles along with everyday food scenes in Turkey: chefs manning smoky kebab grills, Istanbul’s fruit and vegetable stalls, fresh seafood by the docks, home cooks preparing traditional recipes, and piles of syrupy sweets on offer at Istanbul’s sweets shops and cafes.
Meze, the small plates of marinated veggies, cheeses, dips and nibbles frequently served with raki, usually consist of a variety of quick pickles, olives, hummus, and beautiful jewel-toned dips. “Tree of Life” includes grilled halloumi with lemon caper sauce, carrot hummus with toasted fennel seeds, stuffed grape leaves, and feta cheese warmed in olive oil with raki. Kofte, grilled skewers of meat, include lamb, turkey, eggplant and red pepper, chicken shish kebabs, and lamb shish kebabs with pomegranate and soy sauce. A variety of stuffed and grilled flatbreads, yufka, and borek are the perfect accompaniment to the meze, mains and soups (lentil soup with bulgur, mint, and Aleppo pepper, velvety red lentil soup with lemon, dilled yogurt soup with chickpeas and rice).
Vegetarians will rejoice in the wealth of salads like the gorgeous tomato and walnut salad with pomegranate molasses, melon with feta, mint and pomegranate, white bean salad with lemon, and butter lettuce salad with yogurt dressing and pomegranate. Other vegetable dishes include carrots with whipped feta and preserved lemon, Aegean oven-fried potatoes, asparagus with walnuts and orange butter, and string beans with toasted hazelnuts. Grains also offer additional vegetarian mains, from Armenian rice and vermicelli pilaf, saffron rice pilaf with chickpeas and mint, the delightfully exotic Mesopotamian mac and cheese enhanced with ground hazelnuts and feta, bulgur pilaf with fresh herbs, and tender green lentils with orzo and caramelized onions.
Seafood preparations are uncomplicated, from grilled trout mountain-style and marinated shrimp with orange zest and nigella seeds to sea bass baked in parchment and dill-stuffed whole fish baked in salt. Meats include lamb chops with pomegranate sauce, minted lamb burgers, cumin-scented roast chicken with preserved lemons and thyme, and yogurt-marinated grilled chicken.
Desserts range from the ultimate in simplicity (halved apricots filled with Greek yogurt and topped with a drizzle of honey and chopped nuts) to puddings (rose milk, Lale pudding shop baked rice pudding, caramel milk pudding roulade), Turkish delight, sesame thumbprint cookies with fig jam, and orange yogurt Kahve cake.
The appeal of “Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking” is the unfussy nature of the included recipes (which are conveniently listed in both metric and Imperial). The majority of ingredients should be readily available in your local supermarket with the exception of a few specialty items like pomegranate molasses and pekmez (grape molasses). The recipes are perfect for weeknight meals as well as weekend entertaining; my favorite way to eat is to prepare several meze and serve buffet-style with flatbread.
For my review, I tested and photographed several recipes as I try to do for all books I feature on BundtLust. I made the carrots with whipped feta, tomato, walnut and pomegranate salad, melon salad with pomegranate, grilled halloumi with lemon caper sauce, stuffed apricots, and orange yogurt coffee cake. All were definite repeats, with the asparagus with walnuts and orange butter my new favorite way to serve this versatile vegetable. I also loved the contrast of sweet and tart and textures in salads and dishes that incorporated pomegranate seeds.
“Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking” is highly recommended; the veggie-centric recipes are simple yet delicious, resulting in maximum flavor with minimal effort. I find myself returning frequently to its pages and many of the dishes within have become staples in my household. It is the perfect introduction to Turkey’s rich, varied cuisine that any level of home cook can use!