Ayvalı Kavurma: The quintessential quince meat mix

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

Turks love their meat and it is no surprise that kavurma takes on many different forms in their cuisine but the combination with fruit has been lost to history - for the most part as least.

What is Ayvalı Kavurma?

The dish is essentially meat braised in its own juices and fat with quince. The simplicity is stunning yet so delicious.

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The origins

The Turkic people were nomads for most of their history and to this very day many a Turkic person still lives that life with their cattle being their main source of income and source of food. Over a period of 2,000 years, we can trace their influence from northwestern China to eastern Europe by simply looking at the loanwords for certain foods, with “kavurma” being one of them. This way of cooking meat entered Hindi as “korma” and Persian and “qâvormeh”, to name a few examples. (1)

A Chinese encyclopedia from the 14th century included Turkish-origin recipes including kavurma. (1) But why was this dish – even back then – so essential? As with the invention of yogurt, the concern was preservation when kurut, tarhana and others alike came into being. An animal that was slaughtered meant that each piece of the animal needed to be used for simple survival. Braising the excess meat in its own fat would make it more preservable as the water content would be removed through the cooking process. Meat that was cooked in this way would be safe to consume in winter. (2)

As much as eating meat itself is enjoyable, without a doubt spicing it up is only natural to embellish the flavours. The Seljuks in the 11th and 12th century would cultivate quinces and would use them as preserves as well. (2) The addition of fruit to several non-dessert dishes were common in the time when Turks were introduced to Islam. Records from Baghdad around that time tell of meat sauces with cherries, apricots and quinces. While quinces are quite bitter in taste, it is reminiscent of vinegar and they are usually balanced with something sweeter like honey and raisins. (3)

This trend of meat and fruit in stews and braised meat dishes in this manner made it into the Ottoman kitchens as recorded by Şirvani in the 15th and 16th century. This dish with the addition of the sweeter elements was even served at a feast in 1539. (4) But sadly, with passing years, the consumption of meat with fruit of any kind, especially in the 19th century onward was lost to history (4)(5) – for the most part.

As if frozen in time the southeastern regions keep the old recipes alive, often with different varieties. Some have the sweeter elements still in their recipes while others keep it simpler. The only change from centuries before to today is that kavurma is nowadays considered a food for the upper classes due to the price tag for cut meat, compared to say minced meat or innards in general. (6)

Etymology

As mentioned above kavurma is a Turkic word describing a manner of cooking, as in braising meat in its own juices and fat. The word was adopted to Hindi, Persian, Arabic and Urdu. While the name might be the same in these different languages, the dish itself in those countries might be different, as in the case with Kadayıf and Köfte.

The origins for the word ayva can be traced back to the 11th century Turkic dictionary “Diwan Lughat al-Turk” and has its roots in Persian from the word “abiya”.

Ayvalı Kavurma: The quintessential quince meat mix

One version that survived for centuries is the Diyarbakır version, which couldn’t be simpler and would probably make the list of “two-ingredient recipes” somewhere on the internet if it was more widely known.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg lamb
  • 2 medium sized quinces
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • salt

Instructions

  • Have the lamb meat cut into small cubes or directly obtain the lamb in that manner from your butcher, called “kuşbaşı” in Turkish.
  • Cook the meat in a wide pan until the juices have been reduced.
  • Chop the quinces roughly without peeling them but by removing the inner core and, with the addition of butter, roast the meat and the fruit together.
  • Salt to your taste and constantly stir the dish.
  • Cook for several minutes and serve hot with preferably some bread.

Notes

Bibliography
(1) Priscilla Mary Işın, Bountiful Empire - A history of ottoman cuisine, 2018
(2) Furkan Demirgül, Çadırdan Saraya Türk Mutfağı in “Uluslararası Türk Dünyası Turizm Araştırmaları Dergisi Cilt:3 No:1”, 2018
(3) Lilia Zaouali, Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World, 2007
(4) Marianna Yerasimos, 500 yıllık Osmanlı mutfağı, 2019
(5) Arif Bilgin, Osmanli Istanbul’unda Yemek Kültürü in “Büyük Istanbul Tarihi”
(6) Nazife Gürhan, A sociological overview of Mardin from the perspective of food in “The Journal of International Social Research - Volume: 10 Issue: 54”, 2017
 
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