Guvec – Delectable stew in earthen pots

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

Stews have been around for centuries but what makes this one so special and why does it share the name with the Greek “giovetsi”?

What is Guvec (Güveç)?

When speaking of this in Turkish it can refer both to the earthen pot in which the güveç, or the meat stew, is cooked. Usually in güveç, vegetables are cooked with some meat or fish. It is special in the way that it is prepared slowly, giving especially the meat a soft, lokum-like texture.

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The origins

Clay pots are nearly as old as civilization, but the type this Turkish cuisine utilizes dates back to before the Ottoman Empire. During their nomadic times the Turkic people were exposed to different cuisines and ways of preparing their dishes.
In the pre-Ottoman era between the 8th and 13th centuries, people in the Middle East would bring their pots filled with food and sealed off to bakeries in the morning, where bakers would place them in the warm coals of their ovens. When they returned home in the evening, they’d get their stew from the bakers. Main ingredients at the time included lamb, onions and chickpeas. This way of cooking was rather popular, especially in urban areas.
While not explicitly mentioning the palace kitchens, the usage of clay pots for this kind of stew was rather popular during the Ottoman era as well. But as recipes mention lamb as the main ingredient for the dish, it can be presumed that it was indeed served in the palace kitchens as well – just not named in that manner.
As it is with popular things they spread through the region and got their foothold in Greece as well. Their version is rather spicy and is served with pasta.

Etymology

The word güveç was first mentioned in the 11th century dictionary “Diwan Lughat al-Turk” as “küveç,” meaning clay pitcher. This transformed over the years as to “küdeç” meaning a clay utensil to cook in. Another theory by Kaşgari mentions that the verb “güy-” meaning waiting, which was actively used until the 15th century, hinting at the patience needed to cook this dish. The Greek “giovetsi” or “youvetsi” derives from the Turkish.

Güveç - delectable stew in earthen pots

While any kind of meat can be used for this dish, it would be most traditional to make it with lamb!

Ingredients

  • 600 gr lamb
  • 100 gr tail fat
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 5-6 small potatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp pepper paste
  • 200 ml water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper

Instructions

  • Cut the tail fat into small pieces and quarter the onions, while leaving the garlic whole after peeling them. Peel the potatoes and carrots, and cut the potatoes into equal-sized cubes, and cut the carrots into slices.
  • Warm your güveç pot on the stove and start by melting the tail fat. Add the olive oil once the fat has started to melt. Add the lamb, which has been cut into cubes, and start sauteing them together with the onions and the garlic.
  • When the meat starts to change color, add the carrots, tomato and pepper paste. Add the salt and pepper. After sauteing for several minutes, add the potatoes and do not stir anymore. Cover with water and close the pot with baking or parchment paper underneath the lid. Bring the güveç to a boil on low heat. Once it has started to boil, transfer the pot into the oven at 200 degrees Celsius and let it cook for about 80-90 minutes.
  • After removing it from the oven, open the lid and let cool a bit before serving.

Notes

Bibliography

(1) Deniz Gürsoy, “Tarihin süzgecinde mutfak kültürümüz”, 2013
(2) Paulina B. Lewicka, “Food and Foodways of Medieval Cairenes: Aspects of Life in an Islamic Metropolis of the Eastern Mediterranean”, 2011
(3) Peter Heine, Peter Lewis, “The Culinary Crescent-A history of Middle Eastern Cuisine”, 2018
 
Course: Main Course
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