Friday 30 March 2018

Who would you consider your food hero? This is a question I've been asked many times, particularly when it comes to the food world. Who do you admire? Who do you want to be like? Who is your inspiration?

Most of the time, I never really have an answer to this question, because, simply put, I like to follow my own path. But if I had to pick a food hero? My usual answer would be, I don't know – because I like different people at different points in my life. My grandfather, the wedding chef, for example, is one of my enduring food heroes. My mom... well, sometimes, when she's not wildly experimenting, as is her new hobby, with recipes off the internet! Yotam Ottolenghi, and Richard Bertinet, at other times.

But for the past few years, if anyone has asked me who my food heroes (and inspirations for life, in general) are, I would, without hesitation, say Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman. Several of you have probably heard of them. Robyn writes the popular blog, Eating Asia and has featured publications in some of the best newspapers and magazines in the world, as has her photographer husband, David Hagerman. David's photos of India were the inspiration behind my own pictures when I went home. I look forward to Robyn's articles and pieces, and devour them when they are published.

If you ask me to put my feelings towards these two remarkable people in a sentence, I'd say that Robyn and Dave are who I want to be when I grow up.

I became acquainted with Robyn via Twitter, of all things. I followed her, and to m absolute surprise and delight, she followed me back, and we had a few conversations about her trips to India and the street food scene in Asia. Robyn and Dave left behind jobs in the United States to move to Malaysia where they lived a life travelling, food-ing and writing. For most people this is a dream life, but it wasn't without its drawbacks, but it can also be incredibly fulfilling. It was Robyn's definition of success though, that rang true for me, and became the cornerstone philosophy of my own career. As she puts it,

“I define success as being able to support yourself living a life that makes you happy.” (Source: Barbara at The Dropout Diaries

I followed Robyn and Dave's journey across the world on social media, from Georgetown in Malaysia, to their Turkish adventures, to their new adventures in Italy.

Gradually our relationship progressed to Facebook, and when she announced her first cookbook, I was so excited. I quickly volunteered myself as a recipe tester and spent about a year happily testing recipes as she sent them out. I recipe test for many cookbooks and authors, and to be completely honest, I have never found another recipe and food writer who's been as committed to the testing process and writing the perfect recipes as Robyn is. Pretty much every one of her recipes worked, and it was amazing for me to be able to share feedback to an author I admired immensely. I learned a great deal about the writing process and improved my own recipe writing in the process.

I'll place a disclaimer here – this post is not a cookbook review. Let me just call it what it is, a cookbook love-in.

What makes a truly great cookbook?

For me, the number one thing is warmth and an approachable writing style, a style Robyn offers in spades in 'Istanbul and Beyond'. There are lives and stories in this book, there are insights into a world that was originally unfamiliar to me, but gradually worked its way into my heart, as I read the book. This book, for me, is not just a cookbook, it is a book I read when I am feeling uninspired and down. I look to the lives of the people and their relationship to their culture and food. Robyn takes us on a journey to places familiar and unfamiliar, into the households and streets of Turkey, into the lives of the people that work at their food and make it their livelihood. Dave's evocative photography adds to the charm and magic of the book. It draws us, not just into the lives of Robyn and Dave, but also into all the people and their food that makes up this book. I keep it on my cookbook shelf, but more often than not, it also makes its way to my bedroom table.

To me, this book represents hope that one day I'll be able to work on my own. Right now, things aren't the greatest when it comes to my writing, but I haven't given up on the cooking. I cook, read, and am constantly inspired by this book and others, and reclaiming that sheer joy and love of cooking and sharing stories is what will eventually bring me back to this life.

Not only was I lucky enough to be a recipe tester for Istanbul and Beyond, I was also lucky enough to be offered a chance to host a recipe and a giveaway of a signed copy of Istanbul and Beyond on here.

This recipe for the spicy okra sauté is one of my absolute favourite from the book. When I was first testing recipes for Robyn, she asked me if I liked okra. Now, I am Indian. Of course, I love okra. So she sent me the recipe for this spicy okra and lamb saute and I fell in love with the incredible flavours of this dish almost right away. The original recipe has lamb in it, but since the first time I tested it, I have made it numerous times, and most of the time I keep it vegetarian as my family loves it. Not only does it have simple, easily accessible ingredients, it is also incredibly fast to make. So fast, that it has now become one of my go-to dishes for those days when I am feeling lazy. This saute, a bowlful of herbed bulgur and a swish of garlicky yogurt, and our dinner is on the table in less than half an hour.

The picture above is high resolution and is the original recipe (with lamb)  shared with permission from Robyn. The recipe below is my adaptation for my vegetarian family. The giveaway rules are below the recipe.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as my family and I do. Please check out the notes for my ingredient sourcing.

Recipe: Spicy Turkish Okra Sauté 

Adapted from Istanbul and Beyond by Robyn Eckhardt

1 pound small whole okra, stalks trimmed a little
2 tablespoons olive oil 
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 mild green chilis, sliced 
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon hot pepper paste 
1 cup water 
Urfa peppers, to serve 


Wash the okra and dry thoroughly. 

Place the olive oil in a heavy based pot or skillet, and heat gently. Add the garlic and chilies, along with the salt, and saute for a minute until the garlic is fragrant. 

Add the tomato and hot pepper paste and saute for another minute. Add the okra to the pot, along with the water, stir everything together and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes, or until the okra are tender and the sauce is rich and flavorful. 

Taste and adjust seasoning. 

Place a bowl of either Urfa biber or any other Turkish chili flakes on the table, for people to sprinkle over. Serve with herbed bulgur wheat and garlicky yogurt.  

Notes -  

I find all my ingredients in either Al Salam Pita, here in Edmonton, or the Anatolia Food Market. 

I found beautiful small fresh okra in T and T supermarket, but you should be able to find them in any Asian grocery.  Robyn gives directions in her original recipe, if you can't find smaller okra.

Silk Road Spices, both online and here in Edmonton, stock Urfa biber, as well as other Turkish chili flakes.

GIVEAWAY! (Closed)

Congratulations, Phil. You've won yourself another cookbook for your collection. I'll be in touch to arrange delivery.

I have a original signed copy of Istanbul and Beyond by Robyn Eckhardt to give away. 

To  enter the giveaway, please answer the question below, as a comment on this post. 
"What would your dream life include, in three words?" Please leave an email address so that I can contact you if you are the winner.

The giveaway is international, and I will ship the book to you via Signed For Canada Post. Customs and any fees in your country are your responsibility.  

The giveaway ends on Sunday, April 8, 2018 at 5 PM Mountain Time. 

I will also include Twitter entries as separate entries. Please follow me, @michpetersjones and @EatingAsia plus please tweet the following, or something similar, to be entered into the draw.

I'd love to win the cookbook 'Istanbul and Beyond' shortlisted for a 2018 Art of Eating  Prize and an NPR 'Best Reads of 2017' by @EatingAsia. For a special recipe from the book, check out this post by @michpetersjones. http://www.thetiffinbox.ca/2018/03/spicy-okra-saute-istandbul-and-beyond-robyn-eckhardt.html #giveaway #istanbulandbeyond

I will pick a winner once the giveaway end and contact the winner directly to arrange shipping/ delivery of the book. Don't forget to include your email (it will only be used to contact you, if you win).


  1. Peace, simplicity and love.

  2. adventure family fun
    Laurel aka @habanerogal

  3. Family, love, travels

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  5. Flavours, colours, warmth

  6. Movement, change, adventure

  7. Travel..Food..Health

  8. Love, peace and laughter..

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Health, wealth, happiness.

  11. Having chanced upon one or two very fine Turkish cooks in recent years I must admit that it's a type of cooking that I've come to love and dabble in quite frequently but very inexpertly. I know you've extolled the virtues of okra before and I've tried, I promise, but I still struggle with the texture. Maybe this simple dish would be the answer. Afiyet olsun as my Turkish friends would say.


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