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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Sultan's Delight

I recently finished a course of classes in Turkish cookery taught by a couple of lovely young Turkish women at The Raindrop Foundation, a Turkish cultural center in Albuquerque. The first class featured this dish which, according to legend, was the favorite of a sultan in the Ottoman Empire.

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Sultan's Delight (Hunkar Begendi)


Serves 5-6

The teachers of my class presented this as a casserole with the eggplant mixture spread out in a baking dish, topped by a layer of the meat, but I like serving it individually with the eggplant layer used much like polenta--a layer on a plate, with a ladle full of the meat on top. The type of cheese Turks would use isn't available in United States so the recipe calls for Mozzarella since it can easily be found certified halal (permissible according to Muslim law) . I added some Asiago cheese for flavor but Parmesan could be added instead.

Meat Layer:

1 pd beef chuck or lamb stew (I used leg of lamb off the bone) cut into 1/2-3/4 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1 15-oz can tomatoes (or 2-3 tomatoes, peeled and diced)
1/2 teas thyme
1/2 teas oregano
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of cayenne, if you like

Eggplant Bechamel:

2 pounds eggplants
4 T butter
3 T flour
2 c milk

salt and pepper to taste
1 teas fresh lemon juice
1/4 teas grated nutmeg
1/2 c shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 c shredded Asiago cheese

parsley, chopped for garnish

You may wish to cook your eggplants as you begin cooking the meat.

For the meat layer: 

Place the meat in a lightly oiled pan and cook over medium heat until browned. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and stir for 30-60 seconds Stir in tomatoes (if using whole, smash them up) and herbs, and season with salt and pepper and add cayenne, if using. Reduce heat to low and cook until the meat is tender (about 30 minutes) adding a little water if necessary (1-2 T). Fresh tomatoes may not cook down completely. If you are doing the casserole, the mixture shouldn't be as saucy. Remove the bay leaf.


For the eggplant bechamel:

Pierce the eggplants with a fork in several places and broil, turning occasionally, until they are softened. Last time I made this, my oven was already hot so I roasted the eggplants which worked fine, too. My teachers let them char, a technique I haven't quite mastered. (This makes for smoky flavored eggplant.) Let them cool, peel and mash them with a fork or finely chop them. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add flour; stir and cook until it has darkened slightly, at least a minute. Slowly whisk in the milk, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens and becomes creamy. Season with salt. Add mashed eggplant to the sauce, blend and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the cheese. Mix well and remove from heat. Pour the bechamel into a casserole dish and cover with the meat. Place in 350F oven for 15-20 minutes until warmed through. Conversely, you can use the bechamel as a bottom layer on a dinner plate, topping with the meat and sauce.

Which ever way you do it, top with chopped parsley just before serving.

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