Sultan’s Delight

Hünkar Beğendı

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One origin story of this dish, as Esin explains, goes back to 1867. The sultan Abdulaziz visited France and invited the emperor, Napoleon III, and his wife, Eugenie, to visit him in Istanbul. Unable to get away from his work, Napoleon III sent Eugenie in his place. She brought her chef along, who, one day, prepared béchamel sauce, to much interest from the palace kitchen chef, who happened to be making roasted eggplants at that very moment. The palace chef combined the two, making a new dish which he served with lamb — much to the delight of the sultan.

Ingredients

Topping

  • ¼ cup butter (or 100 milliliters/ tablespoons olive oil)
  • 2 medium onions, diced (500 grams total)
  • 1 kilogram boneless lamb chop, cut into 2- or 3 cm (¾- or 1-inch) cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 green bell pepper (85 grams), diced
  • 2 medium tomatoes (330 grams total), peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups (750 milliliters) water

For the eggplant base

  • kilograms globe eggplants
  • ½ cup (100 grams) butter
  • 2 tablespoons (25 grams) flour
  • cups (625 milliliters) warm milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (100 grams) grated kaşar (kasseri) cheese (may substitute mild cheddar or mozzarella)
  • ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

First make the topping: Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onions are slightly golden on the edges. Stir in the cubed lamb and cook on low until the liquids that released have evaporated. Add the garlic, bell pepper, and tomatoes, stirring to combine. Add the tomato paste, salt, pepper, and water, give it a stir, then simmer for about 1 hour, or until the meat is tender and almost all of the liquid has evaporated.

While the meat is cooking, make the base: Prick the eggplants with a fork; place them on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake in the oven for 40 minutes, turning occasionally, until charred on all sides and collapsed. Wrap with the foil and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes. (To add a smoky flavor, char the eggplants over the flame of a gas stove, turning occasionally until collapsed.)

Carefully remove the charred skin, placing the flesh in a large bowl, then finely chop the eggplant flesh and mash with a fork or a wooden spoon.

Melt the butter in a large skillet set over medium heat, then add the flour and cook until it’s almost golden and smells toasty. Add the mashed eggplant, warm milk, and salt; cook, stirring frequently, over low heat until the mixture is very creamy, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat; add the grated cheese and nutmeg. Put the eggplant puree on a serving dish and scatter the meat mixture over it.

Hünkar Beğendi can also be garnished with finely chopped parsley.

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