DAVID GREENE, HOST:
When Jason Goodwin set out to write a mystery set in the Ottoman Empire, he named his sleuth protagonist Yashim. Yashim is the sultan's confidential agent, prowling Istanbul's dark alleys as well as the palace kitchens and the harem. And he puzzles over clues - as he puzzles over clues, he cooks - garlic sizzles, lamb browns. And by the time Yashim solves the crime, he's also put dinner together. Readers wrote to Goodwin begging for the recipes, so many readers that he has now collected them in a book. And NPR's Mary Louise Kelly asked him to cook a dish or two.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: I was boarding a plane to Istanbul when a friend recommended the Yashim mysteries. Great reads, he said, about this Turkish detective who whips up marvelous feasts in his spare time. Sounded promising, so I downloaded the first. And I was hooked from the moment we meet Yashim, tired after a long day fighting crime, trudging home to his apartment in the Balat district of Istanbul.
JASON GOODWIN: You know, he's come back from some stressful investigation. The first thing he does is reach into the basket, pull out an onion and start chopping. Because chopping an onion is the foundation of all good cooking.
KELLY: Author Jason Goodwin. In his book, "Yashim Cooks Istanbul," you'll find recipes from Assassin's Steak Tartare to Sultan's Ramadan Eggs, to the simple pumpkin soup he made while we talked. The pumpkin gets chopped into one-inch cubes.
GOODWIN: You salt it and oil it and then pop it in the oven and let it brown a little bit and soften.
KELLY: Goodwin says he didn't start out planning to make Yashim a chef, but it proved useful for plot development.
GOODWIN: So he's chopping his onion and he's thinking over that Russian woman he's just interviewed. Was she telling the truth? And then he reaches for the sweet pepper paste. That starts to sizzle in the pan. He's wondering whether - and so on. So as a writer, it's really useful to have something like that. It's a sort of shtick for Yashim to have something to do.
KELLY: You'll have guessed from the accent that Jason Goodwin is English, not Turkish. He borrowed his sister's kitchen in London for our cooking lesson. Goodwin told me he will never forget his first taste of real Ottoman food. He'd taken a hiking holiday and walked to Istanbul from the Baltic coast. It took him months. He could tell he was heading the right direction because the coffee kept getting stronger.
GOODWIN: And there was this atmosphere as we approached the city on foot. And flavor burst in on our lives. It was so extraordinary. And we went into the Grand Bazaar. And there was a little cafe. And we sat down and we had chicken with eggplant and mint. Wow, even though I'm making this pumpkin soup, I can smell that mint now.
KELLY: So can I. But meanwhile, back to that soup.
GOODWIN: OK. So the pumpkin's coming out. And they're in little chunks. And they're looking pretty golden and slightly browned on the top. So that's just right.
(SOUNDBITE OF FIRE ALARM)
GOODWIN: In fact, they're looking so good we've set the fire alarm off (laughter).
KELLY: I'll spare you the full six minutes it took to turn the darn thing off and for Goodwin to compose himself.
GOODWIN: (Laughter) Oh, my goodness. Well...
KELLY: Once our ears stopped ringing, I pointed out - how lucky is Yashim? In 19th century Istanbul, a fire alarm was not a challenge a detective would have had to grapple with.
GOODWIN: (Laughter) No, no. But of course, you see, the trouble with poor Yashim is that quite often he's cooking his dishes and everything is going quite swimmingly. And then there's a knock on the door. And it's kind of an assassin from the palace who's come to strangle him. And so then he gets involved in a battle with him. And then the cooking goes out the window, sometimes literally.
KELLY: That is exactly what happens in a scene from the first Yashim novel, "The Janissary Tree." Yashim is cooking - you guessed it - pumpkin soup. Stock is bubbling on the stove when there's a knock. Yashim flings open the door and finds a man kicking off his shoes. In his hand, a silken bowstring looped around his fist.
GOODWIN: He hasn't come for dinner. He has come there to make sure that Yashim's investigation goes no further.
KELLY: In the novel, mayhem ensues. In real life, our cooking lesson has a happier ending. Goodwin is pleased at how the soup has turned out - dark orange and rich.
GOODWIN: And then I'd serve it with just a spoonful of Greek yogurt which has been slightly diluted, and a little squeeze of lemon juice, and a sprinkling of parsley.
KELLY: Yashim would be highly satisfied, says Goodwin, whereas I am already thinking ahead to dessert. Maybe the recipe on page 151 - Palace Fig Pudding. Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News.
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