The Turkish cuisine is world famous, and rightly so as you will experience during your stay. Turkish food is diverse and savory, spicy without being (too) hot, vegetable rich, and healthy thanks to the generous use of olive oil. Once back home, visitors often crave for these delicious dishes but fail to replicate them. This is why Selin Rozanes started Turkish Flavours back in 2007. She offers a full immersion into Turkish gastronomic culture with her hands-on cooking classes. This month I participated, and discovered Turkish Flavours is actually much more than just a cooking class. Here’s my experience.
Welcome and Introduction
I was expected at Selin’s house at 10:30 on a Saturday morning. It’s located in Nişantası, and I received detailed directions by mail in both English and Turkish (for the cab driver). The house dates back to the 1930′s, and has been family property ever since. Selin welcomed me, and introduced me to the rest of the cooking class participants — two girls from the US and a man from Belgium.
Over a cold glass of cherry juice, Selin told us she was born and raised in Istanbul, worked all her life as a culinary travel specialist and individual travel consultant. After she retired back in 2004, she started Turkish Flavours, where she offers Turkish cooking classes, Istanbul food tours, and cultural culinary tours in Turkey. A local experienced chef was about to teach us local cuisine — as good as it gets.
After we got to know each other a bit, we moved to the kitchen. There was a big kitchen counter that can host up to 10 participants, with the stove and oven at the far end. Everything was already set up and waiting for us: cutlery, cutting boards, cookware, spices, herbs, and a stylish apron. We also got a Turkish Flavours recipe book and a spice chart to make notes. All these we could keep at the end of the cooking class.
Selin handed out today’s menu, which contained no less than 8 (!) different dishes the four of us were going to prepare. Needless to say you shouldn’t eat too much for breakfast. Although the menu changes according to the season (only fresh produce is used), to give you an idea, here’s what our course menu looked like: flaky pastry with feta and herbs (peynirli börek), green beans in olive oil (zeytinyağlı taze fasulye), zucchini in olive oil (zeytinyağlı kabak), split belly eggplant (karnıyarık), spicy bulgur (baharatlı bulgur pilavı), purslane salad with pomegranate molasses dressing, carrots infused in garlicky yoghurt with tahini and walnuts, and apricots stuffed with clotted cream (kaymaklı kuru kayısı).
To win time, Selin and her assistant already washed and sorted all the vegetables. Time to get started.
Cooking Turkish Dishes
We pretty much went over the dishes one by one, and prepared them all together. Selin only gave step by step instructions and taught us basic techniques needed for Turkish cooking. That’s right, we did 99% of the actual cooking. She also let us taste the different spices, oils and ingredients before we added them. And for every item, she explained what region they came from, and where you can buy them to take back home. Maybe a word of advice here, don’t wait for the very last day of your journey to join a class. You’ll probably want to go shopping and stack up on herbs and spices before you head back home.
While we were chopping, cutting, mixing, stirring, frying, and eventually assembling the dishes, Selin talked about the origin of the dishes, and Turkish culture in general. She also took great pleasure in listening to our Istanbul experiences and happily answered any questions we had, being it Turkish food, travel advice, politics, you name it. We learned and laughed quite a bit while cooking — the cooking class actually turned out to be group of friends gathering for some kitchen fun.
Gourmet Lunch with Turkish Wine
About 2,5 hours later, all the dishes were ready to be served. We sat down at a nice, large table in her living room and enjoyed the food we just prepared accompanied by a glass of Turkey’s finest wine. During the lunch, we kept on sharing Istanbul experiences and tips, as well as future travel and sightseeing plans. The food was delicious, and I’m not saying this because I helped preparing it.
At about 3 p.m., after an excellent Turkish coffee to top it all off, it was time to say goodbye and thank Selin for a truly great Turkish cooking class filled with excellent tips and tricks. It was a magnificent experience.
On My Own
A week later, I decided to prepare one of the dishes at home, on my own, based on what I learned and the recipe booklet I received. I decided to make karnıyarık, the split belly eggplant. I chose this one, because I know Turkish people just love it when made correctly. So, I put on the Turkish Flavours apron for the occasion, followed the instructions and used the techniques I recently acquired. It was smooth sailing, no surprises or split decisions. I deliberately made too many, so I could share them with my Turkish neighbors. And the local critics were unanimous: a job well done, one even said he wished his wife could make it that nice.
For more information or reservations, please visit the Turkish Flavours website.