Focus on: Iran, Syria, Turkey
AYLİN ÖNEY TAN - firstname.lastname@example.org
The recipe of the week comes from Najmieh Batmanglij, with the wonderful chickpea cookies – nan-e nokhodchi
I was right in the Bermuda Triangle. That is what I called our session. What else can you call a panel reserved to discuss matters between Iran, Syria and Turkey? But it was food matters, and politics was surely not on the table.
For the last couple of days a good circle of people passionate about food gathered for a cookbook conference in New York at Roger Smith Hotel. The conference described itself as an eclectic gathering of those who write, edit, agent, research, or simply buy and use cookbooks. The objective was to share the participants’ own experiences in as inclusive a range as possible.
It proved to be an eclectic group indeed – at least in our case – a panel chaired by Linda Civitello, an American of Italian origin steering a trio of panelists: Najmieh Batmanglij, an Iranian in exile in the U.S.; Poopa Dweck, a Sephardic Jew from a family of Syrian origin; and myself, from Turkey. The panel was titled “Cooking Culture: Recipes, Tales and Traditions,” and based on three cookbooks from each country: Iran, Syria and Turkey. These cookbooks were chosen as they gave not only recipes but also told the story of why people cook these dishes through folk tales, poetry, anecdotes and idioms. Najmieh Batmanglij’s book, “Food of Life – Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies,” draws a vivid picture of her native country with love and passion. Beautifully illustrated with gorgeous photographs and miniatures, the book draws a thorough picture of Iranian food and ceremonial dishes. Likewise, Poopa Dweck’s book, “Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of the Syrian Jews,” almost brings to life the wonderful smells of the spices south of Aleppo.
The book representing Turkey was compiled and edited by me and titled “Gaziantep Cookery: A Taste of Sun & Fire.” My story was based not only on stories about dishes, but also the story of the book itself. It was a book commissioned by the Gaziantep Chamber of Commerce that took an unusual path of preparation. A committee of local experts gathered recipes that represented Gaziantep cuisine, particularly those that are in danger of disappearing. Taking the task of writing the book, I had the opportunity to try and test the recipes and also listen to the stories behind them.
Many of the recipes that were taken for granted by local writers made their way into the book just because they had wonderful stories attached to them, like the “Tooth Wheat” dish, boiled wheat berries celebrating the first tooth of a baby.
It was so exciting to see the exact same story and dish shared by Poopa, and the same custom practiced by Aleppo Jews. The exact same recipes appeared throughout both books about Aleppo and Gaziantep, once like two inseparable twin cities. The same experience was true with Najmieh’s book; bursting with pomegranates and pistachios, the same pages could be swapped between the two books without hesitation. We swapped the books instead, realizing that there are no borders between people who have shared the same tastes over the centuries. Now, gazing at the gorgeous pilavs of Iran, I’m amazed how similar they are to that of Gaziantep.
Tastes and flavors are beyond borders indeed. Our Bermuda Triangle of Iran, Syria, and Turkey turned out to be a tripod supporting a wonderful table of feasts to celebrate tradition and forget about filthy politics.
Recipe of the Week: The recipe of the week comes from Najmieh Batmanglij, with the wonderful chickpea cookies – nan-e nokhodchi – she served at the panel. Combine 1 cup of clarified butter with 1.5 cups of confectioners’ sugar mixed with 4 tsp. cardamom, 1 tbsp. rosewater and 1 tsp salt. Mix for 2 minutes until white and creamy. Add 3.5 cups of triple-sifted roasted chickpea flour, mixing until the dough is no longer sticky. More flour can be added if necessary. Knead the dough until soft and pliable, flatten it on a baking sheet and roll it into a 2 cm thick rectangle. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for an hour or overnight. Cut with a clover-shaped, tiny cookie cutter and place a sliver of pistachio on each cookie. Place the cookies on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake for 25-30 minutes until light-golden in a pre-heated oven at 150 degrees Celsius. Lift carefully when cookies are thoroughly cool.
Bite of the weekFork of the Week
One of the best places to get a taste of the past is a visit to the wonderful bookshop Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in New York City on 163 West 10th Street between 7th Avenue and Waverly Place. She stocks a good selection of out-of-print and old cookbooks. I’m afraid I might have cleared out their books on Persia, Turkey and Syria, but the rest are still there!
Cork of the Week
The cookbook conference participants had a chance to taste some Turkish wine. Sevilen winery supported the conference by serving their wine at the gala reception. Join the crowd by having your sip and try their Majestik Red, a delightful combination of Syrah & Kalecik Karası. My pick for the evening was Majestik white, a vivid blend of Sauvignon Blanc & Sultaniye, to cool off the hot discussions of the day.