This is just the right time of year to make this dish and it’s one that immediately comes to my mind when I see the leaves outside turning that vivid shade of green.
My feet have barely touched the ground over the last few weeks and I actually made this before we went to London. But even there, it was still in my mind as springtime was at exactly the same stage as here.
This is a dish that has many variations but essentially the meat is important: it should be tender young spring lamb, and then there are the greens. A cousin here only uses lettuces, as many as three medium-sized ones, while others yet use a combination of lettuce and Swiss chard or just chard. Plus you add spring onions as well as one regular one, sliced. I remember my mother-in-law using a lot of fresh parsley and dill too, so I did this time, plus a little fresh thyme. So you see, it’s so seasonal, you can use whatever takes your fancy (but not spinach as that’s a winter vegetable).
I went to my favourite butcher here in Feneryolu, Met Et, and simply asked for lamb suitable for this dish and here’s what he gave me:
You can also get leg of lamb cut into 5 cm/2 in chunks, or lamb shins/incik in Turkish.
Kuzu kapama literally means ‘covered lamb’ so some recipes advocate placing the meat at the bottom of the pan and all the greenery on top. Others do it the other way round, with the meat on top. I placed the chard on the bottom, then the meat, and then the other ingredients on top of that. Remember that all the greenery will wilt as the dish cooks so what seems like a huge amount at the beginning, will actually be much less.
As I was preparing to make this dish, I suddenly remembered my MIL rubbing tomato paste into each of her pieces of lamb and then seasoning with salt and pepper, so I religiously did the same. The cousin also rang me specially to tell me not to forget to add a little sugar to the pot as she remembered HER mother doing that! I checked other recipes online and sure enough, some of them do indeed also include sugar.
After washing, tearing or coarsely chopping all your leaves, you start layering! The dish takes about an hour to cook on top of the stove and produces the most mouthwatering aroma as it cooks! Mmm. Your kitchen will be filled with it.
- Place the lettuce leaves and Swiss chard at the bottom of a large heavy pan.
- Place the meat which you have spread with the tomato paste and seasoned with the salt and pepper, on top. NB if using chunks of lamb, mix the tomato paste with the *water and pour over.
- Sprinkle with the sugar, add the sliced onion, spring onions, more salt and pepper, parsley and dill, thyme if using, and dot with the butter.
- Add the *water and cover.
- Cook over a very low heat until the meat is tender, about 1 hour. The meat should be falling away from the bones.
- Sprinkle with a little more freshly chopped dill and serve hot with pilaf.