The History Of Kavurma: The Eid Al-Adha Dish You Should Know

While Eid al-Fitr may be the better known of Islam's two Eids, this festival marking the end of Ramadan is actually not considered to be quite as important as Eid al-Adha. This feast, which Muslim Aid calls "the great Eid," is known for its religious significance. It commemorates the time when the biblical Abraham, known as the prophet Ibrahim in the Quran, prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac in accordance with the will of Allah. He was permitted to substitute a lamb instead, and in remembrance, today's celebrants double down on the meat consumption. In fact, Eid al-Adha even has the nickname of "salty Eid." This stands in contrast to "sweet Eid," a name that refers to Eid al-Fitr when cakes, candies, and cookies reign supreme.

Traditional Eid al-Adha dishes differ from country to country, with Morocco favoring lamb tagine and Omani households serving up lamb shuwa. In Turkey, however, the one dish that takes pride of place on every table is an ancient one called kavurma.

Kavurma cooking started as a way of preserving meat

So what's the story with kavurma? The historic significance of this dish has less to do with religious symbolism than it does with the logistics of life in ancient Anatolia. While we don't know kavurma's actual date of origin, it's safe to say that this centuries-old method of meat preparation long predates the invention of any form of refrigeration more sophisticated than plunging your food into a handy snowbank. The Turks, originally a nomadic people, not only needed their food to be long-lasting, but it also had to be pretty portable. Luckily for them, they hit upon the delicious and also economical preservation method of cooking meat in its own fat and juices.

The kavurma method is similar to a French preparation called confit. The Spruce Eats explains that fat works to preserve meat because it creates a barrier that deprives any spoilage-causing bacteria of the oxygen they need to survive and do their damage. If kavurma is prepared just right, Daily Sabah says the meat can be stored for several months. The cooking method also makes the meat incredibly melt-in-the-mouth tender. In fact, many Turks compare its consistency to that of a savory lokum, a delicious candy that is better known in the English-speaking world as Turkish Delight.

The more recent version of kavurma isn't quite as fatty

Daily Sabah provides two recipes for kavurma, the more modern of which isn't meant to preserve the meat at all, but is rather intended to be eaten right away. To make this kavurma, they suggest starting with a pound of diced meat. While lamb would be the most appropriate if you're making this dish for Eid al-Adha, beef works great, too. The meat, they say, should be braised in a steel pot. Why steel? Teflon, they caution, can make the meat smell bad, and the meat won't be sticking to a steel pot anyway as long as the heat is high enough.

Once the juice from the meat has all cooked away, you'll need to toss in a chopped onion and a little bit of added fat such as oil, butter, ghee, or meat dripping. Sauté the kavurma for a few more minutes, then add a cup of water. Cover the pan, turn the heat down, and let everything simmer for half an hour or so until the meat is soft. Season the dish with salt, pepper, and thyme, and serve it right away. This dish can also be made with additional vegetables and spices. Turkish Foodie has a kavurma recipe where chopped cayenne peppers are fried along with the onions and the water is replaced with a diced large tomato. Instead of the thyme, crushed red pepper is used to season this spicy dish.

Here's how to cook kavurma the old-fashioned way

The second version of kavurma is prepared in much the same way that people would have done it in the pre-refrigeration era, yet Daily Sabah doesn't advise testing its shelf-stable properties. Just to be on the safe side, the outlet advises freezing it for later use instead. After all, you'd better bet that if any of our ancient ancestors had access to a deep freeze, they'd darn well have used it, and there's no need to court food poisoning in the modern era.

The traditional method of kavurma cooking involves fewer ingredients, but a more complicated process. Braise 2 pounds of meat in its own juices in a heated steel pot, stirring occasionally and removing any foam with a spoon. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pot, then cook the meat for about 45 minutes. If the juices are all cooked away before the meat is done, you can add a little water if necessary. Salt the cooked meat, then cover it with a pound of melted fat from the same type of animal (lamb fat, beef fat, etc.). Cook the meat with the fat for two to three minutes, let it rest for five minutes, then freeze the meat/fat mixture for later use.

How to serve kavurma

When you plan to use the frozen kavurma, Daily Sabah says you'll first need to melt off the fat, which can then be saved for later use. Zero waste, after all, is no modern trend, but something that was a way of life in the ancient world. The meat can then be heated in a frying pan (or a microwave, if you want to be nontraditional) and paired with a simple dish of rice. They also say that potatoes fried in that reserved fat, though not particularly Turkish, are pretty delicious. The fat can also be used to cook up some onions, tomatoes, and peppers.

For a more contemporary Eid treat, although one whose portable properties those nomadic Turks would have been sure to appreciate, try rolling up some chopped kavurma along with some onion and maybe a few other veggies and/or some cheese inside a piece of bread or pizza dough. Bake it, and you've got yourself a pide, which is Turkey's answer to pizza or calzone.