Özlem Warren on her Antakya roots, changing perceptions about Turkish cuisine and new vegetarian cookbook Sebze

From television cooks Nigella Lawson and Sabrina Ghayour-Lynn to food writer Diana Henry and the Stylist Magazine, Turkish culinary expert Özlem Warren has got everyone raving about her brand new cookbook Sebze, which is now available worldwide.

‘Sebze’ translates as vegetables in Turkish and this gorgeous new hardback features a treasure trove of vegetarian recipes, from Turkish classics such as Menemen (scrambled eggs, tomatoes, and green peppers) and Zeytinyağlı Biber Dolması (aromatic rice-stuffed peppers), to lesser-known but equally delicious regional dishes, such as the yummy dessert Portakallı Revani (semolina sponge cake with orange slices).

Özlem’s recipes are so good, Diana Henry describes them as “an absolute feast of Turkish home cooking,” while Nigella Lawson shared Özlem’s Simit recipe from Sebze with her millions of followers.

There are over 80 authentic recipes in Sebze to recreate using Özlem’s easy-to-follow steps, which also give wonderful insights about Turkiye’s bountiful vegetarian produce and rich culinary traditions.

Since becoming a  cookery class instructor and food consultant over 15 years ago, the Ankara-born author has become a fantastic ambassador for authentic Turkish food. Özlem’s articles and recipes have featured in major publications such as Waitrose Food Magazine, The New York Times (Cooking Supplement), Milk Street Magazine, Hurriyet Daily News, and Daily Sabah.

She has also participated in demonstrations, talks and workshops at leading culinary and cultural events such as the Taste of London, The London Book Fair, the International Edinburgh Book Festival, and a multitude of food festivals.

Following the publication of Sebze: Vegetarian Recipes From My Turkish Kitchen (to give the book its full title) on 11 April, Özlem has embarked on a major promotional tour, but T-VINE managed to squeeze in a quick interview to ask her about home and how she got into cooking professionally, as well as changing perceptions on Turkish cuisine, and her favourite recipes from the new book.

Where are you from in Turkiye?

Merhaba. My roots go back to Antakya, ancient Antioch, for five generations. A historic city of tolerance, bounty, and also a city of UNESCO Food Heritage.

Friends and family trying out new recipes by Ozlem Warren. Photo © Sam A. Harris

Where is home now?

I came to the UK about 21 years ago, after getting married to my husband, Angus. I live in Surrey, although I travel frequently to teach Turkish cookery and give talks on Turkish cuisine.

How did you become a Turkish cookery teacher?

We lived in the USA prior to moving back to the UK in 2009. I very much missed home and also realised not many people know about authentic Turkish home cooking. I started teaching Turkish cookery in Central Market Cooking Schools in Texas in 2005 and have been teaching ever since then. Before that I had a corporate career, but I always had the passion for food.

Whose cooking inspired you most growing up?

My dear mum Gülçin and father Orhan; very generous, hospitable folks with a love of Turkish food.

Who gets to sample your new recipes first?

Always family and friends!

Aubergine-pepper pastry, as featured in Sebze cookbook by Ozlem Warren, photo © Sam A. Harris

What ingredient(s) do you most frequently use in your Turkish kitchen?

Always olive oil, fresh produce, pul biber (red pepper flakes) and lemon.

Did anything change for after your award-winning first cookbook, Ozlem’s Turkish Table?

Yes, it enabled me to travel around the world to teach, and hopefully inspire folks worldwide.

Over the past 20 years, what have you observed as the biggest changes in perceptions about Turkish cuisine?

How healthy and delicious Turkish cuisine is, and how easy to make [the dishes]. More and more people are realising that Turkish food is actually very healthy, just like other Mediterranean cuisines.

Garlicky courgettes, as featured in Sebze cookbook by Ozlem Warren, photo © Sam A. Harris

Yes, too many people think Turkish cuisine is just about kebabs, but we have a huge selection of vegetarian dishes too. Are non-Turks sufficiently aware of this part of our culinary heritage?

I agree – it was this reason I started teaching and writing my new book, SEBZE, to showcase our rich vegetarian Turkish cuisine.

How did you go about selecting the 85 recipes featured in Sebze and are they traditional or modern?

It was hard! We wanted to showcase regional specialties and main categories, so I think we have a wonderful coverage [of dishes].

The book features traditional recipes, but I like to give ideas for variations to provide options.

Did you include any recipes that were new to you before starting this cookbook project?

Yes, the Chickpea Mantı (Turkish dumplings) from the Bilecik region, for instance, was new to me and so delicious!

Do you have any favourite recipes in Sebze?

I really do love them all, but I have a soft spot for our böreks and meze, and [the recipes in] the All Day Breakfast chapter.

A family lunch in Turkiye, as featured in Sebze cookbook by Ozlem Warren, photo © Sam A. Harris


You can pick up a copy of SEBZE: Vegetarian recipes from my Turkish kitchen by Özlem Warren (Hardie Grant) from any good bookstore in the UK and abroad, priced £28 (UK). The gorgeous photography in the book (and featured above) is by Sam A. Harris.