In Turkish, this dish is called "the Sultan liked it," or "Hunkar Beğendi" (hoon-KYAR' BAY'-en-DEE'), and for good reason. Can you imagine anything more delicious than a succulent, melt-in-your-mouth beef stew served over a warm, creamy mash of eggplant and aged cheese?
This classic Turkish main course is one of the highlights of Turkish cuisine and a great example of the kinds of food served in the Ottoman palace kitchens.
You'll be surprised at how easy it is to prepare this dish, especially if you already have roasted eggplant on hand. Hunkar Beğendi is another great example of how Turkish cooks use very simple ingredients to create delicious dishes.
In addition, you don't have to stick to a totally Turkish menu to serve this dish. It also goes very well with more familiar side dishes like steamed asparagus and fancy, new potatoes.
- 1 pound top round beef (750 grams), or another cut suitable for stewing (cut into cubes)
- 4 cups fire-roasted eggplant or canned, roasted eggplant
- 1 onion (grated)
- 1 tomato (grated)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 3 rounded tablespoons butter
- 2 heaping tablespoons flour
- 3 to 4 cups milk
- 1/3 cup grated, aged Turkish kaşar (kah-SHAR') cheese, or grated Italian Romano cheese
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground white pepper (to taste)
Squeeze the extra liquid out of the grated onion and place it in a covered saucepan along with the meat and the grated tomatoes. Add the salt, pepper, and sugar. Stir the ingredients until combined.
Start the mixture on high heat, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Let the meat simmer very slowly, stirring occasionally until it's very tender and the tomato and onion are reduced to a thick sauce, about 1 hour.
While the meat is cooking, prepare the eggplant mash. If you are using fresh eggplant, roast them and extract the flesh.
If you are using jarred eggplant, drain the contents in a fine wire strainer and rinse with a little water. Press the eggplant flesh in the strainer to remove the extra liquid.
Melt the butter in a large shallow saucepan or skillet. Add the flour and stir for a minute or two without allowing the flour to burn. Add the milk and stir with a wire whisk to form a smooth bechamel.
Add the salt, pepper, and optional garlic and continue stirring with the whisk over low heat. Don't allow the mixture to boil. Add your eggplant and cheese and continue stirring until you have a smooth mixture with no large pieces of eggplant.
Turn the heat to the lowest possible setting, cover the pan and let it gently bubble for about 5 minutes. When your eggplant mash is ready, give it a final stir. Then cover the bottom of your serving platter generously with the hot mash.
Arrange the hot beef stew on top of the mash at the center of the platter, leaving a ring of mash all around the meat. Garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs just before serving.