Scoop Review of Books

Rare Ingredients

Book Review
Oklava: Recipes from a Turkish-Cypriot Kitchen, by Selin Kiazim (Hachette/Octopus, $39.99)
Reviewed by Alex Beattie

oklava_cover_hiresGlobalisation is a funny thing when it comes to food. These days you can get a decent ramen in Auckland, a passable flat white in London, and a tasty curry just about anywhere. This was on my mind when I chose to review Oklava, a modern Turkish-Cypriot cookbook, in my hometown of Wellington, New Zealand.

Oklava is Turkish for rolling pin — and is also the name of Selin Kiazim’s popular restaurant in Shoreditch, London. The restaurant opened in 2015, and not long after, I was lucky to be taken there for my 30th birthday. My partner and I were both wowed and came back a second time for brunch. This time it was even better: between the kofta pastries and Kiazim’s signature medjool date butter, we were hypnotized.

So when I heard Kiazim was publishing a cookbook, I jumped at the opportunity to get a closer look at her recipes. I was back in New Zealand, but how hard could it be to create Turkish-Cypriot cuisine on the opposite side of the world?

Well, it turns out — pretty damn hard. Unfortunately this is not a cookbook ideal for the typical Kiwi kitchen. Foodies may be intrigued to learn Oklava has a Kiwi connection — Kiazim cut her teeth cooking at Peter Gordon restaurants Providores and Kopapa — but Selin Kiazim ain’t no Nadia Lim. Oklava is chock full of rare ingredients and over-generalised instructions that can whip an amateur cook into a frenzy. If you don’t have a Turkish or Lebanese supermarket in the neighbourhood, this is a cookbook underlined by compromise and cost.

Most recipes require biber salcasi, a Turkish pepper paste, apparently common everywhere in the world, except New Zealand. No one stocked it in Wellington, so we replaced it with harissa paste. Other essential ingredients: orange blossom water, dried sour cherries or mastic (Arabic gum) — are as expensive as they sound, and unlikely to appear on the shelves of your local New World.

However, if you’re willing to take the time, many recipes are very tasty, and ideal for a special occasion. My partner and I agreed the slow-cooked bean, tomato and lemon stew was a winner, while the pistachio-crusted cod with preserved lemon butter sauce divided us (it’s very rich). The pilavuna — (Cypriot pastries) and pides (Turkish pizza) — were also delicious and are great party food.

But where Oklava really shines is brunch. A significant portion of the cookbook is dedicated to this fine Kiwi pastime, and will teach you a thing or two beyond poached eggs and smashed avocado. True to Turkish tradition, we invited family around one Sunday morning and went to town.

The Oklava-Beattie brunch spread.

The Oklava-Beattie brunch spread.

Included on our menu was pistachio-crusted banana & tahini French toast, with orange blossom syrup (divine), a Turkish style scrambled eggs called menemen (excellent), marinated olives, and baharat spiced bread with swathes of medjool date butter (utter heaven). Kiazim recommends serving all this with fresh fruit, cheeses, tahini, honey and jam, which all add to making the experience feel indulgent and relaxing. To cap it off, we sipped on Turkish apple tea — just go easy on the recommended amount of sugar. The Turks like it sweet.

In the end, our Oklava inspired brunch bonanza was a winner. There’s also many recipes I’ve yet to try. I’m a sucker for condiments and there are plenty of intriguing ones here: sumac dressing, urfa chilli mayonnaise and preserved lemons.

But like a decent coffee in London, some things take a while to appear on the other side of the world. Oklava is a cookbook bursting with modern meals, but unfortunately inaccessible to many Kiwis. For now, Oklava — like its ingredients — remains in the exotic section.