‘The sovereign loved it.’ This is the translation of ‘hünkar begendi’, referring to its origin – at least according to the story that attests the dish was invented in the 17th century for Sultan Murad IV. Two hundred years later, the Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoléon III, was also supposed to have especially enjoyed this dish. So, sovereigns do love it, then. And not only sovereigns – me, too. It can be made with either cubes of meat or as meatballs.
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 onion, very finely chopped
- 400 g (14 oz) boned lamb (such as boned short loin saddle), cut into cubes
- 40 g (1½ oz) butter
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 6 eggplants (aubergines) (choose ones that are not too large)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour
- 200 ml (7 fl oz) milk
- 60 g (2¼ oz) kaşar, cantal or emmental cheese, grated
- 1 small handful flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, chopped
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.
Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes until soft. Now add the meat, season with freshly ground black pepper and brown for a few minutes over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for about 30 minutes until the lamb is tender. Just before serving, season with salt.
Melt the butter with the paprika in a small frying pan over medium heat; set aside to keep warm. Meanwhile, make the purée. Prick the eggplants and cook directly over a gas flame or under a preheated hot grill (broiler), turning regularly, until the flesh is meltingly soft. Open up each eggplant (use tongs if they are too hot to handle) and scrape out the flesh with a spoon (discard the skin). Mash the flesh to a purée with a fork; set aside. Stir the olive oil and flour in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the mixture turns a caramel colour. Gradually add the milk, then the eggplant purée and cheese, stirring continuously. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve the purée hot, topped with the meat, drizzled with the paprika butter and with the parsley scattered over the top.
• Kaşar (known as kasseri in Greece) is an unpasteurised medium-hard cheese made from sheep’s milk with a small amount of goat’s milk mixed in. You can find it at Turkish, other Middle Eastern or Mediterranean food shops.