Yashim Cooks Istanbul
Jason Goodwin (Argonaut Books, £25)
When not sleuthing around 19th-century Istanbul, Jason Goodwin’s Yashim likes to work in the kitchen, pondering his investigations at the chopping board. Mainly he cooks for his friend the Polish Ambassador, who visits every Thursday evening to sample some of the culinary delights of the Ottoman empire.
Mr Goodwin has written five novels featuring the Ottoman detective and, when his readers requested the recipes so that they, too, could have a taste of Yashim’s world, he wrote a cookbook.
Surely, these days, I wondered, nobody buys a cookbook to actually use? It’s to be read in bed, not over a hot stove. Besides, hasn’t everything there is to say about pomegranate molasses already been said by Yotam Ottolenghi? These were my initial thoughts, but soon I had to set them aside. I was first seduced by the look of the book, with its maps of 19th-century Istanbul, its photos of succulent veg and prints of turbaned Turks going about their Oriental business.
Then there’s the author’s charm. Investigator Yashim has an alarming physical disability and Mr Goodwin supplies a dish called Ram’s Fries, noting that, although they’re hard to source, it would be a shame not to offer a recipe for testicles. he quotes his own story about the French empress eugénie’s delight in the Sultan’s aubergine with lamb, adding: ‘It is less well known that Sultan Abdulmecid II courteously presented eugénie with the Ottoman Order of Chastity, third class.’
having been half won over, I then found that lots of the recipes were easy and delicious, even if you live far from the kind of shop that sells pul biber. The baked lamb steaks will henceforth be a staple in my kitchen, along with the coriander chicken with lemon and sumac, and the hummus is the best ever. I’m going to try Palace Fig Pudding next, stuffing walnuts into dried figs with a cinnamon syrup, and I’m drooling already. Helena Drysdale
Selecting spices from the Istanbul bazaar