First, I must apologize for the pictures. I had very high hopes about the pictures that I would present this dish to you with. After all, the name of the dish, which translates as “sultan approved” puts very big expectations on the presentation as well as the taste.
Volatility and temper were major personality traits (disadvantages??) for some Ottoman Sultans. “Rubbing him the wrong way” could be enough reason to send someone to jail or even to execute. I guess when they were ruling continents from East to West, there were not many people who had the guts to question the big guy.
In that kind of environment, pleasing the Sultan would become the ultimate goal for many palace service men. And cooks were among the top people of those service man. Those would be the ones who could influence, define, showcase or ruin the taste of Sultan. The palace kitchens were famous with the creativity and the talent of the cooks all throughout the Empire and the neighboring countries. As many as 1000 kitchen staff worked in those kitchens, cooking for thousands of people everyday.
This dish was created by one of those cooks: Roasted eggplants, cooked in a cheesy,creamy sauce, served to compliment some delicious braised meat.
Once the sultan loved the creation and approved the dish as a menu item, I can only imagine the relief of the cook, rubbing his neck, knowing that he is safe for now as long as he can whip up something delicious as this dish.
I am sorry for the lack of Hünkar worthy pictures. I was braising the meat in a dish similar to this, the one with a skillet lid, no knob to lift:
I did not realize how much steam gathered under that lid. Since there was no knob to pull the lid away from the pot, I had my right hand on the bottom handle and the left hand on the skillet handle, pulling the skillet away….and some enormous amount of steam escaped as soon as cracked the lid open. Of course, the index finger of my right hand was the first one to welcome the steam.
My God, it DID hurt!
I soldiered on and tried to take pictures with my shaky hands while rotating in between the ice pack and Neosprine. I did not realize many came out of focus. I really thought it was my tears ruining my focus and the photos were fine. And it was already dinner time.
Enough excuses for you? Is my neck spared this time? Promise, next time I make it, I will replace these pictures with some Sultan approved ones.
Hünkar Beğendi (Creamy Roasted Eggplant with Braised Meat)
Serves 4 with generous portions of eggplant. Click here for printable recipe of Hünkar Beğendi
- 2.5 lbs of eggplants (I had about 2 lbs after roasted and peeled)
- 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons of unbleached all purpose flour
- 250 ml (~1 cup) of heavy cream (You can increase the amount if you like creamier)
- 3/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese( I prefer parmesan because it is not sticky and stringy like mozzeralla, and eggplant still holds its texture without getting lost in cheese)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Braised meat (I leave this up to you, you can use any type of meat dish as long as it is not soupy (like stew or chili) or you drain it before placing it on the eggplant dish)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pierce eggplants in several places, place them on a oiled baking sheet.
2. Roast the eggplants until they collapse and are done.Let them cool.
3. Scrape the insides of cooled eggplants in a bowl. Mesh with a fork or cut in very small pieces with two knives. (At this point, I squeezed some lemon (2-3 tablespoons) covered the bowl and put it in the fridge overnight to cook it the next day)
4. In a heavy bottom saucepan, melt the butter. Bring the heat to medium high. Add flour and stir quickly and continuously until the flour is golden brown (~5 min).
5. Add roasted eggplant and start whisking. Incorporate all buttered flour into the eggplant and break any big clumps of eggplants. Eggplant mixture should look like puree. Whisk or stir continuously for about 8-10 minutes.
6. Add the cream gradually, incorporating it well after each addition. After all the cream is added, let it cook for another 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring often.
7. Add the grated cheese, mix it well. Add salt and pepper. Turn the heat off. Cover and let it sit for 5 minutes before you serve.
8. Place several big spoonfuls on a plate, top with braised meat.