Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One phrase I’ve heard recently here in Turkey is: “Go for the history, but stay for the food.”

This statement couldn’t be more accurate.

I’ve had a blast exploring the lively streets of Istanbul searching for new food to try. Yesterday, for a mid-afternoon snack I tried a different type of borek. This one was more like a flaky flatbread pastry filled with the typical Turkish feta-like cheese.

Warm bread filled with cheese – what’s not to enjoy?

As I’ve told some close friends back home, I want to eat my way across Turkey. I also want to learn how to cook traditional foods.

I recently found some Turkish recipes for güveç which is a casserole cooked in an earthenware dish. My recipe searches yielded several results for ones made with chicken, beef, lamb, seafood and/or vegetables.

A little history excerpted from “The Oxford Companion to Food” by Alan Davidson:

“Gyuvech is the Bulgarian name for a kind of earthenware casserole or the dish cooked in it. The name comes from the Turkish word güveç, which has the same meaning. The casserole is fairly shallow with a large surface area allowing for maximum evaporation. It comes round or oval and lidless…These vessels are found all over the Balkans are used for cooking almost anything of a savoury nature, including fish as well as meat, poultry, and game dishes.”

I have seen small, round clay güveç dishes sold in some shops, but I haven’t actually seen this dish on any restaurant menus yet. I decided to use my large Le Creuset pot we received as a wedding gift to make my own version of a güveç made with chicken and sucuk.

I’d compare the güveç to the American crock pot dish. It’s an opportunity to throw together some vegetables, meat, spices and perhaps a starch like potatoes or rice. Let the pot slowly simmer to allow the meat to get tender and the juices to mingle. A little while later you have a pot of aromatic goodness!

My first-time güveç tasted full of spices and spiciness from the sucuk. Leftovers had even more of a kick. The bulgur (which could be substituted with long-grain rice) soaked up the meat juices. The dates added a hint of sweetness. 

All in all – it was a good combination.

Making a güveç is a great way to use up some of this season’s hearty vegetables. Try experimenting with different combinations and let me know how it turns out.

Afiyet Olsun!

Chicken Güveç with Dates and Sucuk
(Adapted from “Turquoise: A chef’s travels in Turkey” by Greg and Lucy Malouf)
Serves: 6

2          oz.       unsalted butter
1          T.         olive oil
2          ea.        red onions, cut into thick slices
4          ea.        garlic cloves, sliced
4          ea.        long, green chilies, seeded and diced
1          tsp.      ground cumin
1          tsp.      ground cinnamon

2          ea.        tomatoes, seeded and diced
2          ea.        carrots, peeled and sliced
2          oz.       coarse bulgur, washed
12-16   oz.       chicken stock
1          ea.        cinnamon stick
3          ea.        star anise
Several sprigs  fresh thyme

TT                    salt and black pepper
1          T.         olive oil
2.5       lbs.       chicken legs and thighs, with bones and skin
2          oz.       sucuk, sliced (could try substituting Spanish chorizo)
6          ea.        dates, seeded and cut into quarters

1.         Preheat the oven to 400 F/205 C.
2.         In a large, heavy casserole dish, heat the butter and oil. Add the onions, garlic, chilies, cumin and cinnamon. Sweat the vegetables until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
3.         Next, add the tomatoes, carrots, bulgur, chicken stock (adding more later if needed), cinnamon stick, star anise and thyme. Bring to a boil. Then, lower the heat, cover, and gently simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat for a few minutes.

4.         Meanwhile, pat the chicken dry and season lightly with salt and pepper.
5.         In a second pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and brown the chicken lightly on all sides. Add the sucuk and fry until golden brown. Remove the meat from the pan. Discard the oil.
6.         Transfer the chicken and sucuk to the casserole dish and tuck in the dates. Cover the dish with a lid or aluminum foil and cook for about 20 minutes.
7.         Remove the dish from the oven. Taste the bulgur and stock and adjust seasonings as needed.
8.         Portion the güveç into individual bowls and serve immediately.

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