This dish is a gastronomic exchange of techniques and flavors between the East and the West. Hunkar begendi is a well-known Turkish dish made with meat, served on top of a layer of an eggplant puree.
I was fascinated by this recipe while watching "A touch of spice", which is a movie about the Greeks of Constantinople (Istanbul). Hunkar begendi became popular in Greece by them, when they were deported in 1964. In Greece, it is mostly made with beef and it is an absolute summer pleasure on your plate.
🤔 What is Hünkar Beğendi?
Hunkar is an Ottoman dish and its name literally means "Sultan's delight" in Turkish. In our case, it is what would have been served if the sultan was following a gluten-free diet 😂. Hunkar is usually made with lamb or beef, and with eggplants that are baked in an open fire (to gain smoky flavor). There are a lot of stories about the origin of the dish.
According to one story, the dish was first served in 1932 at Topkapi, Istanbul, for sultan Murat IV. The sultan was very peaky about food and difficult to please. He was always pushing his kitchen staff to create new recipes. When he tried this dish, he was so pleased that the chefs named the dish after his satisfaction.
Another story says that the dish was first served in 1869 at Beylerbeyi Palace, for Empress Eugenie of France, wife of Napoleon III, during one of her visits. She liked Hunkar so much that asked the recipe from the sultan's (Abdulaziz) chefs, but they were unwilling to do so.
Meat: Use the lower cut of the beef chunk. The dish is also made with lamb leg. Dice the meat into 3 cm (1.18 inches) pieces.
Eggplants: Use small or medium eggplants. Roast, grill or bake them until their flesh is soft. It is preferable to use a type of eggplant with fewer seeds.
Cheese: A mature hard cheese is the best for this recipe. I use kasseri or kefalotyri.
Milk: Any type of milk that you have in your fridge is acceptable. Sheep or goat milk gives a unique flavor and cow milk makes the dish lighter.
Flour: I use gluten-free all-purpose flour to make this recipe. If you consume gluten, use all-purpose flour in the same amount. You will probably need less milk.
Spices: What makes this dish so fragrant and unique is spices because they add an extra layer of flavor to every bite. Cinnamon is added for sweetness, paprika for smokiness, bay leaves for fragrance, and salt and pepper because they add flavor to all the dishes.
👩🏻🍳 Tips & tricks
To make the puree more fragrant bake the eggplants on an open fire. Gas is good but charcoal adds an extra layer of flavor. The eggplants can also be grilled in the oven.
The meat should be at room temperature and needs to be dry. Use paper towels and pat dry the meat.
When sauteing the meat, do it in batches so that it doesn't boil but it creates a caramelized exterior.
Let the wine evaporate at least half before adding the tomatoes and water, so it can add a depth of flavor.
After baking/grilling the eggplants clean the flesh, cut it into pieces and place them in a colander to drain as much liquid as possible. The flesh should be almost dry before we add it to the bechamel sauce.
The meat stew can be prepared ahead of time, usually one day earlier. This enhances the flavors.
Typically, capsicum paste is used in the meat stew. If you cannot find it, use smoked or sweet paprika powder.
The meat can be marinated with spices and the capsicum paste for 6-12 hours before cooking it.
For a silky smooth sauce, blend the eggplant flesh and strain the seeds out.
Usually, Hunkar is served on a large deep serving plate. The cheesy eggplant puree is placed at the bottom, topped with the meat and the sauce, and sprinkled with some fresh parsley.
Serve it in individual plates, placing the smokey puree on the plate, and top it with the meat in the middle of the plate.
I like to sprinkle the dish with fresh basil, it gives extra flavor and a bit more cheese on top.
🥡 How to store
Store the meat in an airtight container, in the fridge, for up to 4 days. Making the meat stew ahead of time is common, and you can reheat it gently before serving.
Store the eggplant puree in an airtight container, placing a cling film in direct contact with the puree, in the fridge, for up to 2 days.
You can also freeze the meat stew. Place it in an airtight container after it cools completely, and store it in the freezer for up to 2 months.
😋 Do you like eggplants?
Try also this recipe
For the meat
- 1 kg/35.3oz beef chuck
- 1 big red onion
- 5 large ripe tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 100 g/3.5 oz red wine
- ¼ cup/60 ml olive oil
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon paprika powder
For the eggplant puree
- 60 g/2.11 oz butter
- 60 g/2.11 oz all-purpose flour gluten-free
- 60 g/2.11 oz grated kefalotyri
- 4-5 medium eggplants
- 450 g/15.87 oz milk lukewarm
- ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Start with the eggplants. Roast, grill or bake them, while preparing the meat stew, until their flesh is soft.
For the meat
- Dice the meat into pieces ~ 3 cm (1.18 inches) and season it with salt and ground black pepper.
- Place a serving pan over high heat, add the olive oil, and when it's hot, saute the meat in batches until golden brown. Do not overcrowd the pan, or the juices will boil the meat. Remove the meat from the pan.
- Lower the heat slightly and add onion and garlic in the pan and saute until soft.
- Place the meat in the pan again, add the remaining spices and pour the wine. Let the wine reduce in half, then add the tomato paste, finely chopped tomatoes, and a little bit of water to cover the meat.
- Reduce heat to medium/low, place a lid on the pan, and let the stew simmer, until the meat is tender and soft.
For the eggplant puree
- Scoop out the flesh of the eggplants, cut them in small pieces, and place them in a colander to drain.
- Place a saucepan over medium heat, add the butter, and melt it. Add the flour and whisk until it is fully incorporated into the butter.
- Pour the milk gradually, stirring constantly with a metal whisk. When all the milk is used and the sauce starts to thicken, add the eggplants, nutmeg, and cheese. Keep stirring until the cheese is melted.
- In a large platter, serve the eggplant puree on the base, top it with the meat and sauce, and sprinkle with herbs of choice and extra cheese (optional).
- Enjoy 🙂
🍋 Nutrition facts
Servings: 1 (777g) | Calories: 593kcal | Carbohydrates: 40g | Protein: 48g | Fat: 29.2g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Trans Fat: 0.8g | Cholesterol: 146mg | Sodium: 757mg | Potassium: 1868mg | Fiber: 12.1g | Sugar: 19,75g | Vitamin A: 2055IU | Vitamin B6: 1.42mg | Calcium: 263mg | Iron: 5.8mg | Zinc: 10.89mg | Selenium: 53.4μg | Phosphorus: 616mg