The Sultan’s Delight (Hünkar Beğendi)

Finally, a recipe to share after a year! Life gets in the way and it becomes difficult to spend time on blogging. My hünkar beğendi recipe has been waiting for almost a year to be published. Now that it’s eggplant season again, I thought it’s a good time to share it.

You may be curious about the name of this recipe. It translates to “The Sultan Liked It”. One of the stories behind this recipe is that during the early 17th century, Sultan Murad IV loved this recipe so much that it was named “Hünkar Beğendi” which means “The Sultan Liked It”. The other story says that the wife of Napoleon III, Empress Eugénie of France visited Istanbul as a guest of Sultan Abdulaziz in 1869 and this dish was on the menu as the Sultan was trying to impress Empress Eugénie. She loved the dish so much that she asked if her chef could go to Palace kitchen and learn to prepare this dish. The Empress’ chef couldn’t replicate the recipe as he said the Palace chef threw out his books, scales and etc. and said, “an imperial chef cooks with his feelings, his eyes and his nose.” The Empress had to return to France without this recipe, but the name was after her liking the dish.

The lightness of this recipe is how it won me over. I wasn't impressed when I tried it at a restaurant the first time I had it. Even after having it again and again, I just wasn’t in love with it. It was just okay. I decided to make it anyway. The first time, it didn’t win me over. But I wanted to love it, so I worked on the recipe several times until I loved it! Even my four year olds liked the eggplant pure. It’s silky smooth and felt very light in my mouth. The summer season is upon us and it means lots of eggplants. I have been getting beautiful eggplants for the past couple of weeks from the farmer’s market here in Houston and experimenting with different recipes. I think this recipe is best with seasonal eggplants, but you can make it any time of the year if you wish. Enjoy with rice or a nice slice of bread.

For Marinating the Meat:

½ cup white vinegar or any type of vinegar
1 tsp salt

For the Stew:

1 lb diced lamb
½ cup diced onions
3 medium garlic cloves
2 large tomatoes (peeled and diced)
1 tsp dried mint
1 tbsp parsley
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 ½ tbsp butter
1 tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp cumin
2 tsp salt
1 cup water

For the Puree:

2 large eggplants
1 ¼ cup milk
½ cup shredded kashkaval cheese (or any type of hard cheese)
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp black pepper
1 ¼ tsp salt
1 clove garlic (grated)

For the Stew:

Marinate the meat over night or for a few hours in salt and vinegar. Heat a pot or large pan without oil and cook the meat until no longer pink. When all the juices from the meat comes out, discard it. Put the meat aside.

Heat the butter in a pot. Saute the onions until transparent. Add the meat and stir until the meat is brownish on the outside. Add the garlic and tomatoes. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients including water in the meat pot and cover. When it starts boiling, turn it down to medium low heat. Cook covered for about 2 hours until the meat is tender.

For the Puree:

Cook the eggplants on open fire. To attain the smoky flavor, it needs to be cooked directly over fire such as on gas stove or in an outdoor fire. If not, broiling or baking will work too without the smoky flavor.

Let the eggplants cool and peel them. 

Puree the eggplants with a potato masher and mix the lemon juice. Set aside.

Heat the butter. Add the flour and stir continuously. Add the milk and continue stirring. Add the grated garlic and the eggplant puree-lemon juice mixture. Add the rest of the ingredients for the puree and simmer for about 20 minutes.

In a large plate, place a couple spoons of the eggplant puree and make an opening in the middle. Add the lamb stew inside the opening and enjoy with rice or bread.