A book launch with a difference was held at the Kufa Gallery, West London, last Tuesday to mark the publication of the latest title from Saqi Books, “Sufi Cuisine” by Nevin Halici. The evening included an introduction by Middle Eastern cookery writer Claudia Roden and a book signing by Halici.
The writer and novelist Morris Farhi read poetry by Mevlana Jalal al Din Rumi, some of it accompanied by music from Turkish guitar player and singer Hakan Bilal accompanied by nay and daf.
The event included an exhibition of the miniatures by Ahmet Efe that illustrate the book. To round things off, the guests sampled sweets from the book, including almond halva, served with rose petal jam and prepared by chef Eredem Dirbali of Ishtar restaurant.
Halici, a native of Konya, is well known for her pioneering work on Turkish cookery. Claudia Roden, who described her as the most respected food writer in Turkey, recalled how she first met Nevin more than 20 years ago in Konya.
"In all the years that I have been researching food around the world I have never come across anyone as passionately committed to recovering and upholding the culinary heritage of her country as Nevin Halici," Roden said. She told of how Halici went from village to village knocking on doors, watching women cook and attending their traditional get togethers.
Halici points out that many of the dishes mentioned by Rumi in the 13th century still exist in Konya, and that Mevlevi cuisine is one of the main roots of Turkish cuisine. She has adapted the recipes for modern times. In Rumi’s time, and until much later, butter was the fat most often used in cooking whereas olive and sesame oil were used for lamps. However sunflower oil, because of its neutral taste, can substitute for butter in many of the recipes.
In the past plums or koruk (unripe grapes) were used to give food a sour flavour, but tomato puree can be substituted. The book includes a recipe for Calla, meat with plums, which is still made in Konya.
Another ingredient traditionally used in Konya food is unripe grape juice known as verjuice. Halici writes that the most popular dish in Konya is sour butternut squash, whose ingredients include verjuice (lemon juice can be used instead), meat, chickpeas, mint, sweet basil, and even chopped marigold leaves.
Grape syrup, or pekmez, features in a number of recipes, for example cooked with quince, apples or carrots. Snow halva is simply pekmez drizzled over light fluffy snow. The recipes include various refreshing sherbets - honey, fig, rosewater, pomegranate.
The recipes are healthy with an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs, mint, grains, lamb, honey, pulses and nuts, in intriguing combinations. The handsome 240-page volume is an important contribution to the literature on Turkish and world cookery.
Susannah Tarbush Saudi Gazette September 13 2005