The Delightful History of the Turkish Guvec
By PAULA WOLFERT
This sidebar is a supplement to The Clay Mystique
Just as “tagine” may refer to both a specific Moroccan cooking vessel and the type of food prepared in it, so the Turkish word “guvec” describes a pot and also a dish. The famous guvec pot of Turkey has dozens of different names in Balkan countries, but whatever they call it, they are talking about the same basic cooking vessel: a wide medium-tall, glazed or unglazed earthenware pot in which food is cooked slowly with little or no additional liquid.
My friend, Turkish food writer Ayfer Ünsal, brought me to Beypazari, a town about half an hour out of Ankara, which is famous for its guvec preparation. The mayor himself greeted us. He proudly told me that his recipe was so good he’d patented it! Later I heard that the townspeople joked that those who followed their own recipes felt they had to close their kitchen curtains lest the mayor find out.
One of the most popular guvecs is a thick summer dish of lamb cooked slowly with a variety of late summer vegetables: eggplant, tomatoes, beans, okra, and peppers. An important rule of the dish is that no water or stock be added; the meat and vegetables are sufficient to contribute just the right amount of moisture.
Traditionally, a guvec was prepared at home and then sent out to a commercial bakery for cooking in a wood-burning oven. The finished dish was returned to the household on the cushioned head of a delivery boy. Today most guvecs are both assembled and cooked at specialty bakeries with wood-fired ovens and then delivered in panel trucks.
The top such establishment in Beypazari is run by third-generation guvec baker Adil Değirmencioğlu. He told me that his customers order their guvec a day in advance. Unless an order includes rice, no water is added to the pot. If a customer does not return the empty pot promptly, further orders from that house are ignored.
excerpted from Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking, by Paula Wolfert, copyrighted and used by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.