September 19, 2011

Nişantaşi, Istanbul. June, 2007

Hunkar Beğendi. “The Sultan’s Delight” was on my list of must-eats long before we got to Istanbul. (Like many of the backstories that surround Turkish dishes, this one has a somewhat cloudy provenance. Was it a creation of the 17th-century royal kitchens intended to delight Sultan Murad IV? Or did Sultan Abdulaziz ask his chef to devise this special dish to honor the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, upon her royal visit to Topkapi Palace in the 19th century? Whatever.) Featured on menus all over the city (and in Turkish restaurants all over the world), it seemed only fitting to try it at a restaurant called Hunkar in the lovely Nişantaşi neighborhood. A warm night, dinner outside on the terrace, meze to start, then the waiter brought us inside and downstairs to meet the chef, stationed behind a steam table displaying the evening’s choices. I had already decided upon mine. The dish combines a creamy roasted eggplant puree with a traditional topping of lamb stew (in USA Turkish restaurants I’ve often seen chicken as an option.) The cubed meat is slowly cooked with onions, tomatoes, sometimes garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper. The eggplants are charred, the pulp removed and mashed with a fork, then added to a butter-flour-milk roux and simmered before grated kashar cheese is stirred in. The classic presentation is the one seen above: a bed of puree, a ladling of stew. One taste and we agreed with the sultan.

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