Maybe the best thing about running a wood-fired bakery is that there’s always room in the stone oven for your pot. That’s where our friend Ferhat Duman, the proprietor of Van’s beloved Little Star bread bakery, cooks his fabulous lamb curry. It’s as simple as can be: Toss chunks of lamb with chopped onions and spices and arrange in a pot, smother the meat under a mound of diced tomatoes, and place the pot in a hot oven. As the lamb becomes tender, the tomatoes combine with the spices and meat juices and reduce to a wonderfully flavorful sauce. In Van, some spice dealers add prepared curry powder to their seven-spice mixes—not so surprising when you consider the province’s border with Iran, where cooks also flavor some dishes with curry powder. For this recipe, I replicate a curried seven-spice mix I bought in one of Van’s many spice stores. After making the lamb curry, you’ll have leftover spice mix. Store it away from light in a well-sealed container and use it to make Curried Bulgur Pilaf (page 181), toss with cauliflower or potatoes and olive oil for roasting, or add a pinch to melted butter for scrambled eggs. Plum tomatoes, which have less juice, work best here. You can also use canned tomatoes. Though cooking time is long, assembly is quick; once the curry is in the oven, you’ll have time to make bulgur or Smoky Freekah Pilaf (page 280) to serve alongside.—Robyn Eckhardt, author of Istanbul & Beyond
Combine all the ground spices, red pepper flakes, and black pepper in a small bowl and stir to mix well.
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F.
Place the lamb and onion in a 5-quart heavy lidded pot or Dutch oven. Sprinkle over 3 tablespoons of the spice mix and the salt and toss to coat the meat. Mound the tomatoes over the lamb, covering it completely. Place the pot over medium heat and cook until you begin to smell the spices, about 4 minutes. Do not stir. If using canned tomatoes, pour 1/2 cup hot water over the lamb.
Put the lid on the pot and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 1 1/2 hours. Do not stir.
Remove the pot from the oven and check the curry. The meat should be tender and the tomatoes collapsed. There should be about 1 inch of liquid in the bottom of the pot; if there is too much liquid, return the pot, uncovered, to the oven to reduce the liquid, 10 to 30 more minutes, depending on the amount of liquid. Stir the tomatoes into the curry and serve hot.
Recipe excerpted with permission from Istanbul & Beyond by Robyn Eckhardt (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017)