Turkish food is something unfamiliar to me. Add modern and Cypriot to it, and it brings things to an even more remote level. It helps though that Oklava, Selin Kiazim’s first ever cookbook, includes her introduction and eventual immersion into these cuisines. To know the extent of its influence on the author somehow makes the obscurity bearable.
The cookbook is a very personal account. The title alone suggests it. Oklava translates as “rolling pin,” something that recounts memories of the author’s grandmother and the delicious dishes that were born with the use of it. It is also the name of her two-year-old restaurant in Shoreditch, London.
Turkish food uses a lot of spices, dried fruits, and nuts, making its fare quite rich and colorful, while Cypriot flavours are simpler, with the ingredients lists shorter. Oklava beautifully presents these in print. The recipes fall under one of nine categories: salads and snacks; savoury bakes; meat; seafood; vegetables and grains; drinks; dressings, dips and bits; and sweet things. The variety is broad and extensive, including special sections on traditional brunch and family kebabs—two of her favourite things.
Browsing through the pages, I find that Turkish-Cypriot food isn’t so new and foreign to me after all. Ricotta dumplings with yogurt sauce, vegetable dolmas, spiced chickpeas with poached duck egg and tulum cheese, fried red mullet with pickled apricots and caper leaves—these are all ingredients I’ve come across, either eaten or cooked. There are names I’ve never read and/or heard of before—menemen, baharat, seftali, pilavuna, böreks—but seeing recognisable items like medjool dates, sumac, pomegranate, kadayif and muhallebi makes the cuisine feel less like an unchartered territory. Though not all recipes come with a visual, the full-page photos, which cover more than half of the dishes, make the adventure in cooking a new cuisine a lot less complicated. At least, I’m not grasping in the dark.
Of the interesting repertoire, I settled on making the fried beef köfte (page 89) based on Kiazim’s mother’s recipe. Aside from the ingredients being readily available in many supermarkets, it’s a dish I’ve had before and thoroughly enjoyed. It’s like meatballs, really, Cypriot-style. It required minimal elbow grease (the most demanding was grating the potatoes) and can be paired with rice, fried potatoes or salad, as the author recommends.
Her köfte recipe resulted to an estimated 27 pieces, which is more than enough to feed a family of four. The book suggested that I first fry one, taste and adjust seasoning, which I did thankfully as it needed more salt that I initially put in. What I really love about it is that my ill-shaped meatballs remained moist after deep frying. And I believe it’s due to the addition of fresh breadcrumbs and grated potatoes. My kitchen experiment landed on the dining table, as a hefty lunch for one dipped in fig and melon jam.
More than anything, Oklava taught me not to be intimidated with the unfamiliar. As the final product would prove, I should be more excited with what I can do and enjoy after—and that refers to the delicious dishes and the sense of accomplishment you can get by just trying.
Cover photo courtesy of oklava.co.uk
About Angelo Comsti
Ever since his foray into food nine years ago, Angelo Comsti has had his finger in too many pies. Still, he manages to do all of them pretty well. He has produced numerous commendable works as a food writer, a food and prop stylist, and a food consultant. And he has authored four bestselling cookbooks: Home-made for the Holidays, From Our Table to Yours, The Filipino Family Cookbook, and Fuss-Free Filipino Food. Angelo is also the editor-in-chief of F&B Report, a food industry magazine in the Philippines. He finished professional culinary studies at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney, Australia.