Food & Drink

Reviewer: ‘Tree of Life’ will get plenty of use from those who buy it

By Joan Leotta

For The Sun News

Tree of Life is a trip to Turkey, complete with photos, great little travelogues and faithfully provides home cooks here in the us with the key to recreating samples of the vast and delicious

Turkish table. Joy E. Stocke and her co author, Angie Brenner recreate not only authentic taste, but with the pictures and stories, they recreate the joy of eating in Turkey, an emotion very similar to the joy of eating in Italy where food is a social occasion, not simply a tasty means to keeping the body active.

Stocke met Brenner when both were in Cannakale, Turkey and discovered a mutual love of literature, history and local food traditions. They spent ten years in a Turkish cultural adventure. Designed as an introduction to Turkish cooking, this book is their way of sharing that past culinary adventure. Stocke is an accomplished writer now based in New Jersey. She is the editor of the Wild River Review, a magazine that specializes in bringing lyrical work to the public view, often work that highlights adventures in other cultures. Brenner, based in California is former bookseller who often writers travel for Wild River Review. Through a mutual friend I was introduced to and "friended" Stocke and over the past year was privileged to watch the pair try out the recipes in this book, sharing what worked and what didn’t as they crafted the book.

The organization of the book is traditional, what makes this book exceptional is its grasp of how to translate a recipe from one culture to another. Tasting the food made form this book is like being back in Turkey matching quite accurately the flavors I found so exhilarating when my daughter and I traveled to Turkey in 2014.

Through Stocke's prose and Jason Varney's wonderful photographs of the food and of sights in Turkey the sights of I loved are recreated as well. Reading their book, I could see again in my mind's eye the fruit shop where I found the biggest mulberries I have ever seen, the simit seller on the streets of Istanbul and the acres of hazelnut and apricot trees along the road to Cannakale. Dish after dish made with eggplant—I could almost savor the aromas as I turned the pages of the book! The subtitle says this is home cooking, but these recipes, although simple enough to be prepared by the average home cook, exemplify blends of flavor that are worthy of any great restaurant. (Note: Simit is a bialy type, round rope of a roll sold on the street)seller on the streets of Istanbul)

I love that Stocke and Brenner bring recommendations for local alternatives to ingredients, not readily available here, for example, certain types of olives. When I returned from Turkey, I despaired of finding olives like the ones my daughter and I tried in various parts of Turkey. This book offers a solution that is a mix of olives readily available here.

Turkey is a large country with food heritage and crops that include apricots, cherries, pistachios, honey and more. Tree of Life book ventures outside of the Istanbul into the lesser known and appreciated regions of Turkey as well as presenting Istanbul staples as well as bringing in traditions from Greece and Armenia, countries that have been attached to and at odds with present-day Turkey at various times in history.

The book is wonderful if you like the food of this area, want to learn more about the cuisine or are seeking an introduction to the food of the area--dill, yogurt, lamb , eggplant, olives, lentils chickpeas all play starring roles on the stage of this cookbook.

Buying the book for yourself or as a gift will do good for others as well. Burgess Lea Press, the publisher will donate 100 percent of its after-tax profits on this book to food-related causes. Although my copy of The Tree of Life cookbook will receive a place of honor on my bookshelf, I expect that soon its pages will be stained from frequent use.

At A Glance

Title | Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking

Author | Joy E. Stocke and Angie Brenner

Publisher | Burgess Lea Press

Cost | $30

Velvety Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

Recipe reprinted with permission of Joy. E. Stocke and Angie Brenner from the Tree of Life Turkish Home Cooking


1 ½ cups dried red lentils

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin1/2 cup roughly chopped sweet onion such as Vidalia

½ cup roughly chopped carrots

½ cup roughly chopped celery, stings removed

1 ½ teaspoons salt (divided)

6 cups vegetable, chicken, or beef stock or water

Plain yogurt for garnish

Aleppo pepper or hot or sweet paprika for garnish

Dried mint or chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Lemon wedges for serving


Put the lentils in a colander, rinse well and set aside. Set a large pot over medium-low heat and add the butter. Swirl in the cumin and stir for 30 seconds until the cumin releases its perfume.

Add the onions, carrots, celery, and one teaspoon of the salt. Sauté the vegetables for 10 minutes over low heat until the carrots and celery are soft and the onions, translucent but not brown. Slowly add the stock, increase the heat and bring to a boil.

Stir in the lentils and bring back to a boil. Give the mixture a stir and reduced the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for about fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally until the lentils are completely tender.

Turn off the heat and let the soup cook for a few minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is creamy. (It can also be pureed in batches in a blender.) Add the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt.

Ladle into serving bowls. Top with yogurt, Aleppo pepper, and the other herbs and squeeze a lemon wedge on top.