Co-author of Turkish cookbook says cuisine similar to Sephardic cooking

The Turkish Cookbook: Regional Recipes and Stories


Sheilah Kaufman credits her interest in cooking and cookbooks with being born into the wrong family.

“I am a chocoholic and sugar addict, while my mother’s idea of sweets was a vanilla wafer and un-iced sponge cake,” the Potomac, Md. resident explains. “When I was about 9, she taught me to bake so I could make brownies, chocolate chip cookies.”

Her latest cookbook is “The Turkish Cookbook: Regional Recipes and Stories” (Interlink Publishing Group, Inc.) – co-authored by Nur Ilkin.

In general, Turkish cuisine is “healthful and easy to prepare using readily accessible ingredients found in most American supermarkets or ethnic markets,” the author says.

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“And it is economical. For example, they will never put a roast on the table. Instead, Turkish cooks will take a pound of meat and mix it with vegetables, grain, rice or lentils, and it will feed six to eight people.”

Kaufman, who wrote Sephardic Israeli Cuisine: A Mediterranean Mosaic (2002), finds Sephardic and Turkish cooking styles similar. Both feature dishes like leek patties, desserts like nut cakes and the liberal mixing of meat with vegetables or fruit.

Born in Washington, D.C., where she graduated from Coolidge High School and received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from American University in the late 1960s, Kaufman has since taught in various venues. Among them are elementary schools; Montgomery County’s Home and Hospital Teaching Program for children unable to attend school; and the Chabad’s Project Pride anti-drug program.

But cooking has always been her delight. After taking courses in French, Italian and Moroccan cuisines, she began teaching evening adult education cooking courses for Montgomery County and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville.

Around 1970, she began selling spiral cookbooks of mimeographed recipes. So far, she has written 26 cookbooks – some published, others mimeographed. A Washington Jewish Week recipe columnist in the 1990s, she has been a food lecturer, editor and freelance writer for the past 40 years.

Kaufman’s passion for Turkish food has been strengthened by five trips to Turkey with her mother and a visit to a food and wine festival four years ago where she “fell in love with Black Sea regional cooking.” Two years ago, she received a grant from the Turkish Cultural Foundation to learn about that country’s regional cuisine.

She has known co-author Ilkin for the past 12 years, beginning when the latter’s husband was Turkish ambassador to the U.S. from 1998 to 2001 and later Turkish envoy to the United Nations. They had collaborated on a previous book (“A Taste of Turkish Cuisine,” 2002). The Washington Post named The Turkish Cookbook one of the top cookbooks of the year in the ethnic/regional category.

Ilkin contributed most of the recipes while Kaufman did most of the writing. They tested all 200 recipes in the book, either in the Turkish woman’s New York kitchen or in Kaufman’s home. Friends also tested some of the recipes.

The appeal of Turkish cooking goes back at least to the days of the Ottomon Empire. The Ottomon Turks were “culinary plunderers” who took the best foods from the peoples they conquered and sent them back to the sultan’s palace from where they eventually “trickled down” to the average housewife, the author notes.

The book is based on recipes from the seven regions of Turkey broken down into mezze and salads; soups; pilafs, boereks (borekas in Israel) and bread; meat and chicken; vegetables; and desserts and sweets.

“Each region is different, and even within the region, recipes can vary from village to village,” according to Kaufman.

The recipes in the book are not kosher, but the author doesn’t consider that an insurmountable barrier for readers who adhere to Jewish dietary laws. First, she notes, Turkish Muslims share Jews’ prohibition about eating pork products and although some shellfish are used in the recipes, most of the fish are kosher. Kosher cooks would have to substitute margarine for butter and leave out other dairy products where appropriate, she says.