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A Taste of Turkey

Written by Sheilah Kaufman on Sunday, 06 November 2011. Posted in Food Mood

Since childhood my two passions have been ancient history and cooking. I pursued my dream of becoming a teacher, little realizing that it would lead to another career in teaching cooking, writing cookbooks and becoming a culinary lecturer. 
I've traveled the world and I love creating cookbooks of richly flavored, easy, elegant international recipes with thousands of home chefs across the nation. My books span global cuisine from Mediterranean to Middle Eastern, to French, Chinese, Mexican, Kosher, and more.
For many years I've been a volunteer member of two diplomatic groups in the Washing, DC area: The Hospitality and Information Service (THIS), and Welcome to Washington. At some of the meetings I met Nur Ilkin and since we're both members of the Gourmet Group, we found we had a lot in common: a love of food and cooking. At that time I was just finishing Sephardic Israeli Cuisine (Hippocrene) and I realized we could do a Turkish book. 'A taste of Turkish Cuisine' (Hippocrene) was  the result. Nur wanted to do more, a book on all seven regions of Turkey, and so began a collaboration of The Turkish Cookbook Regional Recipes and Stories (Interlink).
I like to take the intimidation out of cooking, while teaching how to entertain without stress, or being a kitchen slave, sharing techniques, tips, and hints.


Turkey is a land with a timeless history (over 10,000 years) best described as a mosaic.
Turkey is the only country that is located on two continents, Europe and Asia, and Istanbul.
The only city in the world located on two continents, Istanbul has been the capital of three great empires, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman for more than 2000 years.
 Part of Turkey was a wedding gift from Mark Anthony to Cleopatra.
The cultural gifts that have flowed out of this colorful land are plentiful.
One of Turkey’s greatest gifts to the world was yogurt, the queen of dairy products, now found everywhere in abundance.
Turkey provides 70% of the world's hazelnuts; the nut in your chocolate bar was most probably grown in Turkey. 
Turkey introduced coffee to Europe (we would not be drinking lattes if they hadn’t).
The Turks gave the Dutch their famous tulips that are now forever associated with the Netherlands.


From Biblical times, the Jews lived and flourished in Turkey. Under Turkish rule, the Jews flourished and functioned. Modern Turkey is filled with Old Testament history. Mount Ararat, where Noah and his family ran aground after the deluge. According to Genesis (10), the  sons of Noah and their descendants covered most of Anatolia, leaving descendants between Persia, Syria and most of Eastern Anatolia, and along the coasts of North Africa and into the region between the Tigris and the Euphrates. Abraham, the earliest of the Hebrew patriarchs, is believed by Muslims to have been born in a cave in today's Urfa and almost certainly lived in Harran in the 18th century BC. Later it was a refuge for Jacob when he was escaping from Esau; Jacob's well is still there today.  There are ruins from synagogues dating back  to about 2500 BCE.
In 1324 after the Ottomans captured Bursa from the Byzantines they found an oppressed Jewish community under Byzantine rule.  The Jews welcomed the Ottomans as saviors. Sultan Orhan gave them permission to build the Etz-ha-Hayyim (Tree of Life) synagogue which was in use until recent times. Over the centuries an increasing number of European Jews, escaping persecution in their native countries settled in the Ottoman Empire.
During the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries, Turkey absorbed streams of Jews from France (under Charles VI in 1394), Italy (Sicily - early 15th), Hungary (1376), Saolnika (then under Venetian control), Bavaria (1470 under Ludwig X), and Poland as each of these countries in turn or simultaneously expelled its Jews. The Ottoman regime recognized the value of the Jews to Turkey’s economic development.  The Jews were allowed to live anywhere in the sultanate.
From the second half of the 14th on, Adrianople was the center the center of Jewish life in Turkey. Thousands of students from neighboring countries came to study at the yeshiva there.  In the early 15th century Rabbi Yitzhak Sarfati of Edirne sent a letter to Jewish communities in Europe entreating them to leave behind the torments they had endured under Christianity "and seek safety and prosperity in Turkey" as part of their path back to the Holy Land.
In the summer of 1492, under the reign of the enlightened Sultan Beyazid II, 150,000 Sephardim escaped death or conversion under the Edict of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. They were officially welcomed into the Ottoman  Empire and settled in Istanbul, Edirne, Bursa, and many other cities, receiving land, tax exemptions, encouragement, and assistance from the government. "The Catholic monarch Ferdinand was wrongly considered as wise" Bayazid II reportedly said, "since he impoverished his country with the expulsion of the Jews, and enriched ours."  For about the next  500 years the Jews enjoyed a “Golden Age” under Ottoman Rule.

Walnut and Red Pepper Spread

Course: Appetizer, Condiment, Side Dish  Features: Make-Ahead Recipes
When cookbook author Nur Ilkin was little, fresh red bell peppers were available only during the summer. In the winter, her family made this dip with dried Aleppo peppers. It can be served with toasted bread, as part of a mezze or as an accompaniment to raw or cooked vegetables.
MAKE AHEAD: The spread can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.  
Makes 1 3/4 to 2 cups (4 to 6 mezze servings)


1 cup walnut halves, toasted (see NOTE)
4 to 5 slices stale (2-day-old) white bread, crusts removed, processed into crumbs
4 fire-roasted  fresh red bell peppers, coarsely chopped (may substitute 4 jarred fire-roasted red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped)
3 to 4 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
Sea salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 teaspoons light brown sugar
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


1. Place the toasted walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to the consistency of bread crumbs. Add the toasted bread crumbs and pulse to incorporate, then add the red bell peppers, garlic, salt to taste, pomegranate syrup, brown sugar and oil. Puree to form a coarse paste.
2. Transfer to a bowl or container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate until ready to serve.
NOTE: Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the skillet to keep the nuts from burning. Let cool completely.
Recipe Source: Adapted from "The Turkish Cookbook," by Ilkin and Sheilah Kaufman (Interlink, 2010).

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About the Author

Sheilah Kaufman

Sheilah Kaufman is a Cookbook Author, Culinary Instructor, Food Editor and Writer, Culinary Lecturer, partner in The Cookbook Construction Crew (to help authors and would-be authors get ready to publish their books by assisting with editing, proofreading, copyediting, indexing, organizing, mentoring). Bringing the flavors of the world into homes and kitchens is Sheilah Kaufman's greatest gift. She is the author of 26 delectable cookbooks, she is also an expert on culinary traditions/history and Jewish international cooking. Visit her at


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