The subtitle of the book is "Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey," which they did by getting off the beaten track, dropping into villages to see what might be cooking, winding up with recipes and often invitations to eat, because Turkish people take pride in their hospitality.
Eckhardt, shown here with Hagerman, describes their book as "a little bit of a love letter to Turkey." Apart from Istanbul, the book concentrates on eastern Turkey, which offers a rich variety of cuisines and is visited by few tourists.
This area is in the limelight now, because Hatay province in southeastern Turkey has just been honored for its cuisine by UNESCO. The Hatay Metropolitan Municipality (Antakya) is now a Creative City for gastronomy along with Gaziantep, also in southeastern Turkey, which was honored in 2015.
Hatay has a pronounced meze culture and a penchant for chile-laden foods, Eckhardt said at a book-signing and cooking demo at Melissa's Produce. An example of both is this zesty olive salad with tomatoes.
The salad in the photo is my homemade version. It was easy and required only inexpensive, readily available ingredients, which is true of many recipes in the book.
This spicy egg salad, also from Hatay, is even easier, composed of just five ingredients, two of which are olive oil and salt. The others are hard-boiled eggs, crushed red pepper flakes and flat-leaf parsley.
Melissa's chefs prepared the salad in the photo. It was so good I couldn't stop eating it.
This version is from Hatay, where it is seasoned generously with a leading product of the area, pomegranate molasses. There, it is often served with an omelet, Eckhardt says in the book, or with preserved grape leaves for wrapping. I substituted crunchy romaine leaves (above), and that was good too.
Turkey is a land of regional cuisines with immense variations, Eckhardt pointed out. One area might focus on lamb, another on beef and dairy products. On the Black Sea Coast, anchovies are revered.
"We were eating foods on the Black Sea that we had never eaten in other parts of Turkey," Eckhardt said. Corn is fundamental there, especially dried corn. This Black Sea salad combines fresh corn with eggplant, bell peppers, parsley and dill.
Eckhardt and Hagerman have been fascinated by Turkey for 20 years. Eckhardt has studied Turkish, and Hagerman said he speaks a little. They researched through repeated road trips, coming up with recipes never before published in English. "I want people to come away with the idea of what Turkish food really is," Eckhardt said.
BULGUR & HERB SALAD
From "Istanbul and Beyond"
1 cup fine bulgur
2 teaspoons sweet or hot Turkish red pepper paste
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1 packed cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 packed cup finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses, or to taste
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Turkish or other crushed red pepper flakes, optional
For serving: crisp lettuce leaves, preserved grape leaves (rinsed, soaked at least 2 hours in several changes of cold water, rinsed again and patted dry) and/or lavash or other flatbread
Place the bulgur in a medium bowl, add cool water to cover, and swish the grains with your fingers. Tilt the bowl to drain off the water, and repeat until the water remains clear. Drain thoroughly and set aside for 30 minutes.
Add the pepper and tomato pastes to the bulgur and work into the grains using a spoon or fingers (wearing latex gloves). Pick up a handful of bulgur and rub the grains between your palms, letting them fall into the bowl. Repeat. After 2 or 3 minutes, the bulgur should be crimson.
Continue to massage the bulgur, now adding cold water 1 teaspoon at a time. Test for doneness by squeezing a clump of bulgur between your palm and fingers; it should hold its shape when released. The grains should be al dente, soft on the outside with some resistance within.
Add the scallions, parsley and mint. Mix with a fork or with your hands, lightly crushing the grains and herbs together. Add the pomegranate molasses and olive oil and mix gently.
Taste the salad, add salt and more pomegranate molasses by the 1/2 teaspoon if needed. If the salad isn't spicy enough for your taste, add red pepper flakes 1 teaspoon at a time.
Set the salad aside at room temperature for 1 to 4 hours before serving, or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Serve at room temperature, with the accompaniments suggested.
Makes 8 servings as a meze or 4 as a side dish.