BAKE!, Cooking

Robyn Eckhardt Came to BAKE! and Made Us Meatballs and Cake

“A labor of love.” That’s how Robyn Eckhardt, describes the process of producing her new cookbook Istanbul and Beyond. A journalist by trade, Robyn and her husband, photographer David Hagerman (who took the gorgeous photos for the book), traveled throughout Turkey for 16 months in search of the country’s best food—along the way they met plenty of generous locals who invited them into their kitchens to share meals and recipes.

Istanbul and Beyond, as the name suggests, covers more than just the food found in Instanbul, Turkey’s cultural capital. At her recent demo classes at BAKE! (the hands-on teaching bakery at Zingerman’s Bakehouse), Robyn explained that she and David wanted to go “beyond” Istanbul in very specific ways. For one, they wanted to challenge preconceived notions that Turkish food is just one thing, instead linking the country’s diverse cuisines to their respective regions. It was also their desire to take their readers beyond the parts of Turkey that are most commonly visited by foreign tourists and Turks, alike.

The book, and Robyn’s demo, spanned from the Black Sea to the Syria-adjacent Hatay region to Hakkari, which borders Iran and Iran. Each area has it’s own culinary traditions, reliant on topography and what is able to be grown and produced locally. Near the Black Sea, for instance, the climate is similar to that of the American Pacific Northwest with its cool, damp climate and lush greenery. Fish is the main protein here, but cows also flourish thanks to large grazing pastures, making dairy a big part of the diet. Corn is also a popular staple, and dishes like Cheese Fondue with Corn Flour are popular in the eastern Black Sea Region.

Hazelnut Kadayif Cake

Fields of hazelnuts grow in the Giresun, a Black Sea city known as Turkey’s “hazelnut capital”, and Kadayif Cake is a result of the abundance. “Almost every pastry chef in Giresun has a version of this cake, and they serve it with dense Turkish ice cream,” says Robyn.  The dessert is a mixture fine pastry threads called kadayif, skinned hazelnuts, milk,  butter. It’s drenched in a simple syrup while still hot, resulting in a moist, not-too-sweet treat.

Meatballs with Pumpkin & Spice Butter

While cows are plentiful in the north, the southeastern Hakkari has jagged hills and mountainsides perfect for goats and sheep. There’s also not a lot of farming land available, so foraging for greens and the plethora of herbs that pop up in spring is necessary. Robyn represented the cuisine of this region with Meatballs with Pumpkin & Spice Butter—the meatballs, which are lighter than you might expect, are made with ground lamb, rice, minced onion, and a bit of ground dried chiles and dried purple basil. Tomato paste gives the broth depth, and the sweet mildness of the pumpkin cools down the slight spiciness of from chile. This dish was a favorite.

Fingerprint Flatbread

The most common bread in the east and southeast is pide, a thick, chewy bread that’s shaped into circles and ovals or longer, thinner shapes. Bakers add their own flourishes to the bread, decorating it by pressing on it with their fingertips and topping it with sesame or poppy seeds. It’s used for dipping and served with meze.

Perhaps the most surprising of the dishes was the delicious Sun-Dried Tomato and Pomegranate Salad from the Hatay province. Visually stunning, the salad starts with a layer of sun-dried tomatoes, which are topped with pomegranate, red bell pepper, fresh mint and salty white cheese, like Bulgarian feta or ricotta salata. The dressing is a pomegranate molasses that’s poured on right before serving. Robyn says she got the recipe from a friend, who serves it as a Hatay-style breakfast, but she thinks the vibrant red and green might make a nice Christmas dish.

Want to add more great recipes like this to your repertoire? Take a BAKE! class! Check out the full schedule here. And don’t miss another great guest chef—sign up for the BAKE! email class announcements.