The Ottomans ruled from modern day Istanbul from 1453 until 1922. With an empire stretching across Eastern and Central Europe, the Balkans, Anatolia, the Middle East, and Northern Africa, Ottoman palace cuisine grew alongside the empire. Cuisines of conquered people were incorporated into palace cuisine, which reached its height in the 1700-1800s.
The kitchen was an extremely important place in Topkapı Palace. There were hundreds of cooks, separated into distinct classes, with specific duties. For example, the tatlıcıs prepared sweets, while the balıkçıs were responsible for fish. Some other jobs included managers, bread bakers, purchasers, tray carriers, and yogurt makers.
Sultan Abdülaziz, who reigned from 1861-1876, was very passionate about food. He often had his wives prepare special dishes for him. One of his concubines from Africa is said to have been a great chef, and prepared a dish of meat stew and eggplant puree. The Sultan liked it so much that its name became “Hünkârbeğendi” from then onward, which translates literally into “the Sultan liked it" [1,2].
For beef stew
1 1/2 pounds beef or lamb, cubed (3/4 kilograms)
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste (24 grams)
1 1/2 tablespoons red pepper paste* (24 grams)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 onions, diced
4 tomatoes, diced
2 green peppers, diced
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil (15 grams)
1 tablespoon butter (14 grams)
1 cup beef or chicken stock (240 ml)
Salt & pepper to taste
Garnish: freshly chopped parsley
*Note, you can make red pepper paste by putting roasted red peppers in a food processor
For eggplant puree
4 eggplants, medium size
1 cup milk (240 ml)
2 Tbsp butter (28 grams)
2 Tbsp flour (18 grams)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup grated kaşar cheese (or hard mozzarella)
Salt to taste
For the meat stew:
- Combine the meat in a bowl with the tomato paste, red pepper paste, garlic, one onion, and bay leaves. Cover and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. If you want the dish to be even more flavorful, marinate for up to 12 hours.
- In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the other onion and cook it until it becomes translucent.
- Add the meat mixture, butter, stock, tomatoes, and green peppers to the pot. Bring to a boil and then immediately lower the flame so it is just barely simmering. It is very important that you keep the heat low, because high heat will cause the meat to become tough.
- Cover the pot and allow to gently simmer for 2 hours, or longer if the meat has not tenderized. It should fall apart in your mouth.
- Once the liquid has reduced and your meat is tender, taste and adjust the flavor by adding salt and pepper.
For the eggplant puree:
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius).
- Wash the eggplants and then poke holes in them with a toothpick or fork.
- Over the flame of a grill or gas stove, grill the eggplants until they become charred and slightly soft on all sides. Place the partially cooked eggplants onto a tray and continue to cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, until completely soft. The skin will fall off easily when prodded with a fork. *Note: You may opt to roast the eggplants in the oven ONLY; however, they will not have the distinctly smoky flavor that comes from charring them over an open flame.
- Once the eggplants are cool enough to handle, completely remove the skins. Do not remove the stem because it helps to hold the eggplant together.
- Put the eggplant into a bowl with cold water and the lemon juice. Allow to sit for 15 minutes. This helps to remove the bitterness.
- Remove eggplant from water and drain the water out of them in a strainer for about 5 minutes. Next, remove the stems and mash the eggplant with a fork.
- Melt butter in a skillet over moderate heat, then whisk in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until roux just begins to brown, 2-3 minutes. Add milk in a stream, whisking, and bring to a boil, whisking. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thick (this will take up to 3 minutes).
- Add the eggplant and potato, then stir until incorporated.
- Remove from heat and stir in the cheese and taste. Season with salt if needed.
Tips & Additional Information:
- If you do not have time to make the eggplant puree, the stew is delicious served over pilav or bulgur.
- Eggplant puree is also sold pre-made in cans/jars. If you do not have time to roast your own eggplants, simply replace the eggplant in this recipe with about 1 1/2 cups of the jarred puree and follow the recipe in the same way.
 Turkish Cultural Foundation: Turkish Cuisine http://www.turkish-cuisine.org/
 Imperial Taste: 700 Years of Culinary Culture by the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism