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Jan 21

Cooking in Istanbul

Posted on Wednesday, January 21, 2009 in Deep Dish

I spent the New Year in Istanbul, Turkey and took a cooking class at Cooking Alaturka in Sultanahmet. The wildest coincidence was 3 people were from my hometown Richmond, VA. Who would have thought Richmond had gone global.  I will share the rest of the menu over the weeks ahead, but here is the main dish and it was amazing. 


A friend, honeymooned in St. Lucia and brought back herbs she has enjoyed cooking with since the dream vacation came to an end. I was jealous when I saw all her little herb jars labels St. Lucia Oregano etc. I made it a priority and came home with Cumin, Hot Pepper Flakes, Tomato Paste, Hazelnuts, Roasted Pistacios, Cinnamon, Olive Oil, lentils and whole pepercorns. This cooking class gave me an idea of what spices and ingredients to buy at the Spice Market.  I have since bought my own air-tight Crate & Barrel glass jars to store all my goodies.


Hünkar beğendili kuzu

Lamb stew in tomato sauce on smoky eggplant puree


A classic Ottomman dish, “Hünkar beğendi” is the eggplant part of the dish, and translates into “Sultan’s Delight”. It’s an interesting combination of Middle Eastern and European flavors:  smoky eggplant puree mixed with a little bechamel sauce and grated cheese. The lamb stew can be prepared in advance, but the eggplant puree is best served fresh. Also great with meatballs, chicken, or, for vegetarians a mushroom ragout.


Serves 6:

For the meat:

1 kg / 2 lbs cubed leg of lamb (kuzu butu)

2 tbsp (corn) oil (mısır yağı)

2 bay leaves (defne yaprağı)

2 onions (soğan), chopped medium-size

1 carrots (havuç), cut diagonally in slices

1 red bellpepper (dolma biber), cut in diagonal slices

1 green bellpepper (or charleston), cut in diagonal slices

2 cloves garlic (sarımsak)

1 tbsp tomato paste (domates salçası)

½ tbsp bellpepper paste (biber salçası)

1 tsp red pepper flakes (pul biber)

1 tsp whole peppercorns (tane kara biber), cracked coarsely, salt to taste

3 tomatoes, skinned and cut in medium-size pieces with seeds and all


For the puree:

1 ½  kilos/ 4 lbs / 6 aubergines/eggplants (patlıcan)

1 tbsp butter (tereyağı) and a little oil for the butter not to burn

1 tbsp plain flour (un)

250-300 ml / ½ pint milk (süt)

50g / ½ cup “kaşar” cheese (replacable by a mild Cheddar, Gouda or Gruyere), grated


To prepare the meat: Heat the oil in a pan with a thick bottom till very hot. Add the meat and brown all around. If any liquid comes out, let this evaporate before adding the vegetables. Add bay leaves. Once all liquid is gone, add the onions, then the garlic, carrots and bellpeppers, and cook the vegetables a little before adding the tomato and bellpepper paste, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Cook the pastes a little, till they start sticking to the bottom of the pan. Push meat and vegetables to the side and add tomatoes to the middle. Cover the pan and leave to simmer for another 10 minutes or so (cooking time depends on the type of meat you are using). Add salt towards the end.

To prepare the puree: Remove the biggest parts of the leaves and pierce eggplants if wanted. Cook them over a gas flame or charcoal until completely soft inside and charred outside. Remove the skin with a little knife, holding the egpplant vertically by its stem, scraping the skin off in a downwarts motion. Once cooled off a little, chop the flesh into 1 inch cubes. Melt the butter with a little oil in a saucepan, and stir in the flour to make a roux. Then pour in the milk, stirring all the time and, once thickened, add the cheese, allow to melt, then add the eggplants. Season with salt to taste. Divide the eggplant puree over the plates, make a hollow in the center and arrange the meat in it with a little of its own liquid. If desired the plate can be decorated with a grilled tomato and a grilled hot green pepper to add some color.