During my latest vacation in Anatolia, the importance of the succa in our
region’s culture was evident everywhere. So were reminders that Succot was
coming soon. Many houses had a permanent “succa” with a leafy roof and
clusters of grapes hanging from it. These grape arbors were used just like a
succa, where people sat to relax and to eat. When we were invited to festive
meals, this succa-like structure was often the setting of
Garlands of colorful eggplants, squashes and even okra were hung
to dry and made colorful displays at the marketplace and the spice shops. Most
prominent were the peppers, green and red, mild and hot, hanging from many
balconies. They played a primary role at the table too. Every grilled or roasted
main course, whether meat, chicken or fish, came garnished with grilled green
peppers, either mild or semi-hot, and many dishes were flavored with red pepper
Peppers as well as tomatoes were the main partners for meat in a
typical entree called a tava that was served in the shade of the grape arbors.
This main-course casserole of lamb and Mediterranean vegetables is the type of
dish that’s perfect for Succot. With richly browned meat and vegetables
charred at their edges like grilled ones, the savory tava was between a roast
and a stew.
We enjoyed this tasty specialty in Besni, a town near
Adiyaman in south-central Turkey, known to many tourists as a place to visit on
the way to the spectacular Mount Nemrut. In a friendly debate reminding me of
the controversy in southern France regarding the origin of cassoulet, my friends
Murat Erkan Yapici of Adiyaman and Emin Soydan Dogru of Besni each insisted that
his city originated their region’s tava. Together they explained to me
how it was made.
A layer of eggplant cubes was arranged in the heavy
shallow pan, also called a tava, which resembled a gratin dish or a paella pan.
The eggplant was topped with semi-hot green pepper dice, whole peeled garlic
cloves and plenty of ripe tomato wedges. Cubes of lamb were added and seasoned
with salt, and the casserole was baked uncovered in a moderate oven.
technique is especially suited to lamb, which is both tender and rich. Yet a
special ingredient was added for extra flavor and to prevent dryness – diced
lamb tail fat, which melted away and enriched the dish.
We ate the
traditional way, with no plates and no silverware. The tava was set in the
center of the table and served with hot fresh-baked flatbread, which somewhat
resembled laffa and was used to scoop up bits of the entree. Only one
accompaniment was on the table – fresh green peppers, from which people broke
off pieces to eat with the entree.
Like this casual way of eating,
preparing the dish was typical of the lifestyle in this Eastern Mediterranean
region. The dish was assembled by the butcher and baked in the community oven by
Later in the autumn, people make their tava with red and green
peppers, sweet red pepper paste and peeled small onions instead of
Other cities have their own tavas. In Nigde in central Anatolia
we were served Nigde tava. Zeynep Mat told me that her city’s specialty is made
of lamb, tomatoes and green peppers, which can be semi-hot, and is seasoned with
garlic and salt, and in some households, red and black pepper too. We sampled
Nigde tava at a dinner that included a variety of dishes, and my favorite
accompaniment for the entree was a pilaf of bulgur wheat, currants, carrots and
When preparing such dishes at home, many people use olive oil
instead of adding lamb fat, and cover the dish for part of the time so it will
not be dry.
Istanbul-born Esther Benbassa, author of Cuisine
Judeo-Espagnole, wrote that Turkish Jews have developed casseroles using a
similar selection of ingredients. For festive occasions she bakes lamb
cubes with tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and onions as well as green beans and
okra, noting that an earthenware baking dish is the key to the entree’s
Lamb baked with Mediterranean vegetables is popular throughout
the region. A Lebanese version calls for combining the meat with tomatoes,
eggplant, onions, zucchini and potatoes. In Egypt, wrote Levana Zamir in Cooking
from the Nile’s Land
(in Hebrew), people bake lamb or veal with tomatoes, onions
and potatoes and flavored the meat with tomato paste, garlic and pepper. With
the casserole, she recommends serving bulgur pilaf or rice pilaf with fine
Because lamb is so rich and flavorful, a little goes a long way.
In these traditional entrees there is a high proportion of vegetables to meat.
The Lebanese dish above, for example, calls for only 400 grams of lamb combined
with more than two kilos of vegetables.Faye Levy is the author of
Jewish Recipes and
Feast from the Mideast.BAKED LAMB WITH MEDITERRANEAN VEGETABLES
This entree is easy to
assemble as all the ingredients are combined in a baking dish and do not require
separate sauteing. Many cooks do not peel the tomatoes. Use either boneless lamb
shoulder or buy shoulder chops and cut off the bones and fat.
lamb with fresh flatbread, such as laffa or pita, or with Festive Bulgur Wheat
Pilaf with Carrots, Currants and Pine Nuts (see next recipe).
450 g. to
700 g. boneless lamb shoulder meat or about 900 g. shoulder chops
eggplant, peeled if desired, cut in 2.5-cm.dice
225 g. to 450 g. green
peppers, mild or semi-hot, cut in large cubes
900 g. ripe tomatoes, peeled if
desired, cut in wedges
2 large onions, halved and sliced (optional)
garlic cloves, peeled, left whole salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1⁄2 tsp. ground hot or semi-hot red pepper, or to taste
1 to 2 Tbsp. olive oil
Preheat oven to 175º. Trim excess fat from lamb and remove bones if using chops.
Cut meat in 2-cm. cubes. Lightly oil a large gratin dish or shallow heavy
baking dish. Combine eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic in the dish.
Sprinkle with salt. Top with lamb cubes. Sprinkle salt and red and black
pepper evenly over lamb.
Add 1⁄3 cup water to casserole, pouring it along
side of dish to avoid washing spices off lamb. Cover and bake for 40
Drizzle with the oil. Bake uncovered, stirring from time to
time, for 11⁄2 hours, or until lamb and vegetables are very tender; occasionally
add a few tablespoons hot water to dish if necessary to prevent burning. When
casserole is done, there should be just a little liquid left.
Makes 4 to
6 servings.FESTIVE BULGUR WHEAT PILAF WITH CARROTS,
CURRANTS AND PINE
Bulgur is wheat that has been steamed, dried and cracked in small pieces.
At the shouk you can find it in several sizes. It cooks quickly and is a popular
accompaniment for lamb.
2 Tbsp. olive or vegetable oil
1 small onion,
11⁄2 cups medium bulgur wheat
3 cups chicken, meat or vegetable broth or
2 carrots, sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1⁄3 cup currants, rinsed
1⁄3 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds, lightly toasted
(see Note below)
in a heavy saucepan. Add onion and saute over medium-low heat, stirring often,
for 5 minutes or until softened. Add bulgur wheat and saute over medium heat,
stirring, for 1 minute or until bulgur grains are coated with oil. Add broth,
carrot slices, salt and pepper and bring to boil. Cover and cook over low heat
for 10 minutes. Add currants and cook for 5 minutes or until water is absorbed
and bulgur is tender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot, garnished with pine
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Note: Toast pine nuts or slivered
almonds in a 175º oven, shaking baking sheet once or twice, about 3 minutes or
until lightly browned, or in a dry skillet over medium-low heat, shaking it
often. Transfer them to a plate.