This is a rich and satisfying Ottoman dish of lamb stew on a bed of aubergine and cheese, and it smells progressively more delicious as it slowly cooks, making it harder and harder to resist dipping a corner of bread into the pot! The name means the Sultan’s Delight (or the Sultan liked it), and there are two stories about its origins: one is that it was created for a sultan in the 1600s who did indeed like it; the other is that it was served in the 19th century Sultan’s court to Napoleon’s wife, who liked it so much she requested the recipe (the chef refused to give it to her). A salad of bitter leaves with a sharp dressing goes nicely here, or some winter greens.
For the lamb stew
- 850 g (1 lb 14 oz) boneless stewing lamb (shoulder, shank or leg), cut into 2.5 cm (1 in) dice, excess fat removed
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- pinch of salt
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ¾ tbsp Turkish tomato paste or concentrated tomato puree (paste)
- 2–3 fresh tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and roughly chopped
- ¼ tsp dried thyme
- ¼ tsp dried oregano
- 200 ml (7 fl oz/generous ¾ cup) hot water
- 1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
For the aubergine puree
- 4 large aubergines (eggplants), trimmed
- ¾ tbsp lemon juice
- 30 g (1 oz/1½ tbsp) butter
- 30 g (1 oz/¼ cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 350 ml (12 fl oz/1⅓ cups) milk
- 60 g (2 oz/½ cup) grated kasseri, parmesan, comté or other hard cheese
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Prepare the lamb. Brown the meat in a deep saucepan with a lid, or a deep flameproof casserole, over a high heat and in batches (if the pan is too crowded the meat will stew rather than caramelise and be less tasty).
Turn the heat down to low, return all the meat to the pan and add the onion and salt. Allow the onion to soften and become translucent for 10 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking, then add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring again, for a further 2 minutes.
Finally add the fresh tomatoes, dried herbs and hot water (the meat should be just covered, so add a little more water if it is not). Stir thoroughly and cover. Simmer for about 2 hours, checking frequently that the sauce is not sticking or reducing too fast – add splashes of hot water whenever necessary to prevent this. The stew is ready when the tomatoes and liquid have reduced and thickened and the meat is just beginning to fall apart.
About 40 minutes before the stew is fully cooked, start the aubergine purée (don’t worry if timings over-run – the stew will keep happily with a lid on. You could even make it the day before). Either thoroughly char and blacken their skins for 10 minutes directly over a gas ring or place under a grill (broiler) set to its highest temperature, and allow the skins to blacken and wrinkle, turning them regularly. (If you prefer a less smoky flavour, grill or broil them more slowly, further from the heat.) When the skins are charred, set them aside in a bowl and splash over the lemon juice. Allow them to cool and then scoop out the flesh by splitting each one down the middle with a spoon and using it to gently scrape out the insides. Pull out any large strands of seeds and discard, roughly chop the flesh and place in a colander to drain.
Meanwhile melt the butter in a saucepan big enough to take all the milk and the cooked aubergines, over a low heat. Warm the milk in a separate pan. When the butter is foaming but not brown, add the flour. Mix well and cook over a very low heat for 2 minutes. Slowly add the hot milk, a quarter at a time, stirring to incorporate each time. (Don’t add it all at once as the sauce will become lumpy.) When all the milk has been added the sauce should be thick enough to just coat the back of a spoon. If it is too thick, add a little more milk and whisk it in. Add the cheese and the chopped aubergine and cook for 2–3 minutes over the lowest possible heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Just before serving, stir the parsley into the lamb stew and taste to check the seasoning. Spoon the hot aubergine purée in a thick layer onto a warm serving dish and top with the lamb stew, or serve as individual portions in bowls.
Istanbul: Recipes From the Heart of Turkey, Rebecca Seal (Hardie Grant, $45, hbk)