Selin Rozanes’s family, like most Sephardim in Turkey, likely came to the country in the late 15th century, when Jews were expelled from Spain. Sultan Bayezid II welcomed these exiled Jews into the Ottoman Empire at the time, where they would end up living, and cooking, alongside native Turks.
Today, Rozanes helps to preserve the unique Sephardic Turkish culinary heritage through her company, Turkish Flavours. The company offers cooking classes, market tours in Istanbul, and weeklong culinary tours and sailing trips around the country.
A former travel agent, Rozanes decided to start teaching cooking classes in 2006, after she lost her job. (While cooking classes and culinary tours are commonplace in Istanbul today, six years ago there were few of either.) The idea sprouted when a friend asked Rozanes to teach her how to cook. Soon after, she opened Turkish Flavours.
“I have loved cooking since my youth,” Rozanes said. “My mother was also a good cook.”
For her Turkish cooking classes, Rozanes — a born-and-bred Istanbulite — welcomes guests into her own home in the Nisantasi neighborhood of Istanbul. Made famous by author Orhan Pamuk as the setting of many of his novels, today the area is an affluent residential quarter that is home to the city’s most chichi shopping street. Her house was built by her grandfather in 1933, and it once was inhabited by her entire extended family. Today she is the only one who remains.
In order to teach at home, Rozanes built a spacious and well-appointed cooking nook, outfitted with a large gas range and Turkish tile backsplash, and a kitchen island topped with weighty wooden cutting boards at which participants work. While cooking, Rozanes pulls out various kitchen gadgets and ingredients that she has acquired locally or through her travels — like homemade pomegranate molasses made by a friend, and an egg separator she picked up in France.
During the hands-on class that I visited this past April, Rozanes put guests to work chopping onions, whipping up salad dressings and checking on the pumpkin dessert in the oven. Though she does not exclusively teach the preparation of Sephardic dishes, she happened to have a few on the menu the day I attended, and she is always happy to include them upon request. We learned how to prepare köftes de prasa, which are beef and leek patties, one of the most quintessentially Sephardic Turkish dishes. To make them, boiled, finely chopped leek is thoroughly mixed with ground beef, eggs, salt and pepper to create a loose mixture that is formed into patties and fried in oil. It’s a simple yet intensely flavorful dish that highlights the tendency of Sephardic Turks to add vegetables to their meatballs.