We didn't know that hare would be on the menu when we arrived in Tokat last Friday, but we shouldn't have been surprised. H is a hunter who travels with his gun, as far afield as Artvin, in northeastern Turkey, and neighboring Georgia. He's also an avid cook and eater. When we met a couple of winters ago H lit up when I asked about Tokat's regional dishes. For several months after that we Skype-chatted pretty regularly -- about about what he was eating, what Dave and I were eating, and what we all might eat the next time we got together.
"I'm making lunch! Come in, come in!" H said when we popped our heads into his shop on Saturday around noon. A friend from another shop across the street was there, and he smiled and pointed into the back, where H stood briskly moving chunks of meat back and forth in a sac balanced atop a mini gas canister. The smoky room smelled like caramelizing protein. I was immediately hungry.
"Hare! My friend went hunting," H said, heading into the front room to grab the rest of the ingredients for his tavşan sac kavurması (sauteed hare or jackrabbit): garlic, peeled tomatoes and fresh green peppers.
The hare had been sizzling away on the sac for about 40 minutes by that point. Now H held the tomatoes over the pan and cut them into rough cubes, letting them fall onto the coffee colored meat, then sliced in the peppers and added the chopped garlic. He stirred and let the mixture cook for another 5 or so minutes.
While the dish was finishing H and his friend laid newspaper on a work surface. Out came the requisite giant loaf of bread, and then H pulled a plastic litre bottle from a fridge somewhere in his shop's recesses. It was Georgian red wine, another gift from another (Georgian) hunter friend.
"Isn't it done yet?" H's friend asked, somewhat plaintively. Finally the dish was, and H placed it at the center of the table and passed around forks. Then he dug in with his hands, explaining that fish and hare should be eaten with the fingers.
I, like many Americans, have described the flavor of unfamiliar meat as "like chicken". Well, H's kavurma hare tasted nothing likethe common bird. It was strong like red meat but lean, a bit minerally, and pleasantly chewy. Though H regretted the absence of salca (tomato or red pepper paste), I didn't miss it. Tokat's tomatoes are among the best I've ever eaten, and right now is prime tomato season. The tomatoes H had added to the kavurma cooked down beautifully, combining with the meat juices and the garlic to create a thick, slightly tart bread-loving sauce. The fresh green peppers added a spicy bite. The kavurma was rich, but we finished every bit.
Our forks lay mostly unused as we ate with our fingers and sopped sauce with our bread. "My hunter friend gave me this rabbit last Saturday, and it sat in my fridge all week. I decided to cook it today, and then you showed up," smiled H.
We toasted his fine meal -- and our good luck -- with his (really rather quaffable) cheap red wine.