June 22, 2010 / 3:37 PM / 9 years ago

Chef Bozdogan shows Turkish cuisine's rich history

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - In her latest cookbook Hande Bozdogan aims to capture the flavors of contemporary Turkish cuisine which has drawn influences from Europe and Asia over the centuries.

Turkish chef Hande Bozdogan is seen in this handout photo December 29, 2004. REUTERS/Hande Bozdogan

In “Istanbul Contemporary Cuisine,” Bozdogan and co-author Lale Apa collected 130 recipes from Istanbul’s top chefs and food writers. They also included dishes from the Istanbul Culinary Institute, which Bozdogan founded in 2007.

The Western-trained chef, born in Ankara, spoke to Reuters about her native cuisine and her cooking school.

Q: What is the state of modern Turkish cuisine?

A: “Until 85 years ago before the start of the republic, the Ottoman Empire stretched from Austria to North Africa, from the Middle East to the Caspian Sea, so the Empire had all these ethnic cultures living in harmony at that time. That’s reflected in the cuisine. In Turkey today, it’s a resume of all these things. It’s a synthesis. We have examples of Armenian dishes, Safarad dishes and Jewish dishes. We don’t call them ethnic anymore. They are all Turkish.”

Q: But there are regional differences?

A: “In the southeastern part, it’s exactly what you see in Syria. In the West on the Aegean coast, it’s totally different because the ingredients are totally different. The climate is very different and the population is very different. There are a lot of migrants from Greece and the island of Crete. They brought their own eating traditions. When you go toward the east, it’s more meat, yogurt and eggplants. In Istanbul, it’s a representation of everything.”

Q: Turkish cuisine has a rich history with a myriad of influences. Is there a rediscovery that past now?

A: “For some time, especially after the 1980s with Turkey becoming more westernized, it was more in to eat sushi and typical Western dishes. Now it’s back to basics. Now it’s time to get back to your roots. It’s not just lost dishes but also the process of preparing things. We are also trying to be healthy and eating lighter.”

Q: What are students learning at your cooking school?

A: “The education is totally Turkish. The basics are based on French cooking techniques, and it’s all about developing your own skills. After that, it’s only about Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine because that’s our area of specialty.”

Q: What is the food scene like in Istanbul?

A: “In Istanbul, you can find all kinds of ethnic restaurants. You can see trends adopted very quickly. Like last year, in our workshops, macaroons were number one. Now it’s cupcakes.”

Chilled wheat berry soup (serves 6)

3/4 cup soft wheat berries

1 liter vegetable stock

1 cup strained yogurt

1 egg

4 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp dried mint

Salt, pepper to taste

1. Soak the wheat berries in water for six hours and drain and then boil in water until tender and strain.

2. Boil the vegetable stock in the pot you’re using for the soup and then reduce the heat to low.

3. Whip the yogurt and egg in a bowl. Stir in a bit of the heated stock to warm the mixture. Slowly add the yogurt to the stock, stirring continuously and then season with salt and black pepper.

4. Add the wheat berries. Simmer for a few more minutes and check the seasoning.

5. Heat olive oil in a small saucepan, add mint and turn off the heat immediately. Pour over the soup and stir once. When the soup has cooled, place in the refrigerator. Serve chilled.

Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Patricia Reaney

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