Several years ago, a fellow cookbook collector gifted me a copy of Ana Sortun’s excellent Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, and I fell instantly and madly in love. Sortun is the executive chef behind Oleana and Sofra. Classically trained at La Varenne, she decided to incorporate Mediterranean spices and the mezze mentality after studying in Turkey. Sofra Cafe and Bakery opened in 2008 and serves meze and baked goods from Turkey, Lebanon, and Greece, all of which are amply represented in “Soframiz.”
I’ve long admired Turkish cuisine and have collected numerous books on the subject (including recent releases Istanbul Cult Recipes, Eat Istanbul: A Journey to the Heart of Turkish Cuisine, and Anatolia: Adventures in Turkish Cooking), so when I heard that Ana and executive pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick were coming out with a Sofra cookbook, I was ecstatic. I’ve had the galley for several months, and have made numerous recipes from the book, including the spicy tomato bulgur salad, stuffed simit, Persian carrot and black eyed pea salad, and tahini shortbread cookies.
The recipes include breakfast, meze, flatbreads, savory pies, cookies and confections, specialty pastries, cakes and desserts, and beverages. If you’ve never experienced a Turkish (or Israeli) breakfast, you’re in for a treat; traditional breakfast spreads include many small bowls and plates of olives, tahini, stuffed flatbreads, egg dishes, vegetables and cheeses taking up the entire table. Breakfast at Sofra includes such staples as Shakshuka (baked eggs with spicy tomato sauce), rolled omelet with za’atar and labne, flower pogaca rolls, date orange brioche tart, pistachio toaster pastries with rosewater glaze, and morning buns iwth orange blossom glaze. Many of these dishes are star players on Sofra’s menu, and you’ll find these recipes and more in the Soframiz cookbook.
The meze really shine and make for inspired snacking or afternoon pick-me-ups, from the whipped cheese spreads and hummus to hearty and healthy bean-based salads (Persian carrot and black-eyed peas, Egyptian-style pea salad with walnuts, barley and chickpea salad, yellow split peas with za’atar spiced almonds). I made several for this review and all were definite repeats. Although I regularly cook with beans, this was my first experience with black-eyed peas, and the contrast between the sauteed veggies, spices, and textures made this delicious warm or at room temperature.
My true passion is baking, so the breads and baked goods were the real test. My first disappointment was that measurements are only given in volume, not weight; as a serious home baker, I much prefer the precision of weighing my flours, particularly as I live in an extremely humid climate (which affects the weight of flour). I had small issues with several of the bread recipes I tried; the stuffed simit featured on the cover calls for 1 cup water to 2 1/4 cups of flour, and what initially greeted me was almost like pancake batter. I continued to add flour by the tablespoon, as well as a little olive oil, and eventually had a very soft (but workable) dough that was wonderfully moist. The Turkish method of brushing with pekmez (grape molasses) lends a sweet finish to the savory filling of feta and za’atar spiced almonds and the toasted sesame seed topping. The bread is delicious on its own or as an accompaniment to the salads in the book.
Fans of Middle Eastern pastries will be in heaven; from pistachio bird’s nests (a recipe I have not encountered in my many other Turkish books) to Persian love cake, kunefe, umm Ali with caramelized apples, chocolate hazelnut baklava, brown butter pecan pie with espresso dates, date espresso ma’amoul, and milky walnut-fig baklava, this is a baker’s paradise.
I encountered an issue with the tahini shortbread cookies, which calls for 2 tsp salt; I cross-checked the recipe on the internet, and the online version I found also called for 2 tsp. coarse salt. My baker’s instinct told me to start with much less; I went with 1/2 tsp salt, which is what most of the other cookie and shortbread recipes in “Soframiz” called for, and I’m certainly glad I didn’t use the full amount as they would have been too salty for my taste. Also, I followed the recipe to the letter, and ended up with more like 3 or 4 dozen cookies. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds but you are only instructed to use 1/4 cup. However, the resulting cookies were absolutely delicious and would be fantastic as part of a cheese tray as the sesame lends a savory edge.
Gorgeous matte photography and clear, large font make this a pleasure to read and cook from (I prefer matte pages as it means no glare in my cookbook holder). I loved the recipes I tried, but found in several instances that there are small errors, so be sure to read through the entire recipe in advance and make note if an ingredient is mentioned that is not in the list, or an amount seems off.
Overall “Soframiz” is one of my top cookbook picks for 2016 (I’ll be releasing my 2016 cookbook roundup in the next month or two), and one that fans of Turkish, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine will certainly want to add to their collections.