Not your average version of The Sultan's Delight. Omitting the standard use of tomatoes and cheese this slow-cooked dish of tender meat and peppers sits on a bed of nutmeg infused bechamel sauce blended with chargrilled aubergines. Reimagining a simply pepper and sweet baby onion meaty ragu much liked the sultan may have tasted himself for the first time.
Original recipe & blog post from July 2018 updated with new pictures & details July 2020.
Preparing the ingredients for making Turkish casserole with aubergine sauce. The sultan's delight.
There are a few tales of how this recipe of braised meat and aubergine sauce came about but my favourite is that of Sultan Murad IV who is returning from a hunting trip and stops at a peasants house where he is served this dish.
More often quoted however is the story of the visit of Empress Eugénie de Montijo during the reign of Sultan Abdulaziz who became lovers.
Whilst she was a guest of the palace the two head chefs came together to create this dish touring both's cuisines.
So either a 17th or 19th Century dish, but either one resulting in a Sultan favouring it which results in the name Hünkar beğendi, The imperial court liked it or 'The Sultan's delight' as it's often translated into English.
Aubergines roasted using a Turkish chargrill plate ready to make a beğendi sauce.
Modern version of this dish often features both tomatoes in the meat stew and cheese in the aubergine sauce, tomatoes as we know them today are unlikely to have had widespread use before the late 19th century and there we can presume that the dish has taken quite some changes over the years.
As part of my research into the dish, I looked for different recipes to create my perfect recipe for Hunkar beğendi, there are many out there but after I had my first bites of the recipe from ‘Mükemmel Yemek Kitabı’ (The perfect food cookbook 1926) I stopped looking anywhere else.
Slow-Cooked, tender meat and the juiciest sweet onion and peppers with aubergine and bechamel sauce, no cheese, no tomatoes but full of flavour.
I've played with that recipe lots since that first try, mostly I use the slow cooker, just shoving in the ingredients and letting it cook over several hours - I mean it is the middle of summer, originally and if I have other things that need the oven on four I'll cook it at 150 degrees celsius for 2.5 hours and others I'll stovetop it which seems to be the most popular choice with friends and therefore the one I've detailed in this recipe.
I kept away from the tomatoes, there are enough Turkish dishes out there that use it and the pepper paste compliments the aubergine so well and I never bother with the cheese. It just not necessary, but if you're looking to recreate a dish you've had whilst on holiday or especially like cheese with aubergine please feel free to add that in whilst bringing the sauce together. It needs no more than a half cup of grated cheese such as mature kashar (Eşki kaşarı) or mild cheddar.
Roasting the aubergines is so easy if you have a Turkish fan tray, you simply pop it on top of the hob, give a couple of pierces of a fork to the aubergines and them roast each side for a few minutes. They blacken up which leaves a wonderful chargrilled taste. If you don't have one I think the bbq is the next best option and if your having one soon why not put some on and the end in preparation for this dish they'll keep well for a few days in the refrigerator.
Alternatively, grill or oven bake them whilst the stew is cooking away.
I recommend good quality, fatty meat cubes for this dish, the leg is especially good it lends for a tastier treat and I'd like to think in keeping with whichever Sultan may have tasted it for the first time.
Meat Stew On a Bed of Aubergine Sauce The Sultan's Delight
For the casserole
|4 To 8 Baby / Pearl onions|
|1 Large Red pepper|
|1 Large Green pepper|
|Olive oil for frying|
|350 Grams Diced lamb or beef, fatty|
|1 Tablespoon Flour|
|2 Teaspoons Sundried pepper paste 'Biber Salçası'|
|1 Teaspoon Sweet paprika|
|1/2 Teaspoon Salt|
|1/4 Teaspoon Black pepper|
|2 Garlic cloves, minced|
|4 Medium Aubergines|
For the sauce
|2 Tablespoons (Level) Butter|
|2 Tablespoons (Level) Flour|
|200 Mililitres Milk|
|5 Grates Nutmeg|
Meat Stew On a Bed of Aubergine Sauce The Sultan's Delight Directions
- Place the baby/pearl onions into a small bowl and cover with hot water. Leave for a few minutes. When taken from the hot water the skin should peel away without damaging the onion.
- Cut the peppers into large chunks and put aside with the whole but peeled onions.
- Dust the meat pieces in the flour.
- Using a medium burner on high, heat the oil in a medium to large casserole dish and brown the meat.
- Turn the flame to low and add in the sundried pepper paste (Biber salçası) and the water (100mls).
- Toss the meat pieces into the salça making sure they are all well covered.
- Stir through seasonings, garlic and peppers ensuring they are well distributed through the pan.
- Create a well in the centre of the pan and add in the baby onions.
- Place the lid on the dish and place on the simmer, cook for around an hour.
- The dish should cook very slowly and there should be minimum bubbling.
- The vegetables should keep the dish wet but if at any time the dish looks like it's drying out a further 50mls of hot water can be added, but do not stir the dish.
- Continue to simmer whilst preparing the aubergines, the stew is ready the meat should slightly break apart once pressed with a spoon.
- When this is achieved the heat can be turned off and the stew left to rest in the covered pan.
- Chargrill the aubergine over a flame using a Turkish chargrill roasting tray 'Közmatik' or BBQ.
- Alternatively, you can use the flame of a hob directly or broiler/grill of the oven.
- The aubergines are ready when blackened all over and soft enough to collapse in on themselves.
- Allow to cool.
- Once cool enough to handle, cut open the skin, remove the flesh and mash/ purée using a wooden spoon/fork.
- Squeezing on a few drops of lemon juice on to each one will help keep their colour and lift the dish.
- In a small to medium saucepan add the butter and flour and heat gently whilst stirring.
- The butter should begin to give a slightly nutty smell and appear to toast by browsing.
- Add the aubergine and allow this to blend into the flour mixture.
- Slowly stir in the milk and grate in the nutmeg.
- Continue to stir the sauce as it heats, it will begin to thicken and resemble a béchamel sauce.
- If you wish to use the grated cheese stir this into the sauce now and continue to stir whilst it melts.
- To serve, place the aubergine sauce onto your serving bowls and gently spread it across the base to create a bed.
- Spoon the meat stew onto the aubergine bed and top each dish with the baby onions.
- Garnish with fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon.