There are those moments in life where you peruse the menu in a restaurant, plump for a dish, stick your fork into the food…and then you get that life-changing taste sensation. And that’s not so much of an exaggeration; life changing in the sense that you know you’ve landed yourself a perfect meal and discovered a whole new foodie combination.
That’s what happened when Barry first ordered Hünkar Beğendi in a restaurant many moons ago. He was loving it, I tasted it, and I coveted it, wishing I’d ordered the same thing! “Oh my life, that’s good.” And then I went back to whatever I was eating. Well, if either of us sees Hünkar Beğendi on the menu anywhere these days, it’s rare we don’t order it.
Hünkar Beğendi literally translates as ‘the sultan enjoyed it’ but the more common translation for the Hünkar Beğendi recipe is Sultan’s Delight. Well, if it’s good enough for a sultan, it’s good enough for us – and who can blame him for being delighted when this creation first passed his lips, eh?
Although we’ve tried this dish many times, in different restaurants around Fethiye and further afield, we’d never attempted to make Hünkar Beğendi in our own kitchen until relatively recently. We were brave and invited friends over to share it with us, so the pressure was on to make it work…
(This recipe is taken from page 87 of Turkish cookery book, The Sultan’s Kitchen, and is republished with permission of publishers, Tuttle Publishing. All photos are our own and the recipe is written in our own words.)
A Hünkar Beğendi Recipe – Sultan’s Delight
Hünkar Beğendi is basically a lamb stew served on a bed of aubergine (eggplant) purée – and the lamb and the aubergine are a perfect match for each other. The rich flavours are testament to the fact that this is a dish from the Ottoman kitchen. Ottoman cooks were very competitive with each other, eager to come up with the best creations – and whoever created the Hünkar Beğendi recipe must have been mightily pleased with themselves!
The first stage is to make a tomato based lamb stew and you can do this either the day before you want to make Hünkar Beğendi or on the actual day. Making your stew first just means you can concentrate on your aubergine puree before you serve up your masterpiece to your friends and family.
If you can, use meat from the leg of the lamb. For us in Turkey, meat is expensive but this is a dish that was fit for a sultan, remember, so we need to give it the respect it deserves by using good quality lamb…and, after all, it’s not every day we make Hünkar Beğendi.
The ‘beğendi’ part of the hünkar beğendi recipe is auberigne (eggplant) puree that is made rich and creamy by being added to a bechamel sauce. We roast our aubergines in the oven to make them soft, but, if you prefer, you can also char them over a naked flame for a more intense, smoked flavour.
Lots of people are put off from attempting a Hünkar Beğendi recipe because of the bechamel sauce. Bechamel sauce is often thought of as being difficult to make, but it’s not difficult, at all – well, if we can make it… It just requires your attention for a few minutes; that’s all.
Let’s Make Hünkar Beğendi (Sultan’s Delight)
- 500g lamb from the leg - chopped into cubes
- 3 medium-large tomatoes roughly chopped
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves crushed garlic
- 1 dessert spoonful salça (tomato paste)
- 1 dessert spoonful kekik (thyme & oregano, mixed)
- Knob of butter for cooking (around 20g)
- Salt and pepper for seasoning
- 3 medium sized aubergines (eggplants)
- Handful grated parmesan (or a strong tulum cheese if you are in Turkey)
- 50g butter
- 50g plain flour
- ½ litre milk
- Handful of fresh, chopped parsley to garnish
- Melt your butter over a medium heat in large saucepan.
- Now add your lamb and stir it round until it starts to brown.
- Once your lamb is browned all over, add your onion and garlic and stir.
- Cook for 5 minutes or so, until your onion starts to sweat.
- Now add your chopped tomatoes, salça and one cup of hot water.
- Stir everything together.
- Add your thyme and oregano (kekik), salt and pepper and stir.
- Once your stew is simmering, put a lid on the pan and turn the heat to low.
- Simmer your stew for around 1 hour, until the lamb has softened and your sauce has thickened.
- Remove from the heat and make your 'beğendi' puree...
- Preheat your oven to 240 degrees.
- Prick your aubergines with a sharp knife and place on a baking tray in the centre of the oven.
- Bake the aubergines until they are soft to touch (around 15-20 minutes).
- Remove from the oven and leave them to cool.
- Once cooled, make a slit along the length of each aubergine.
- Scrape out the pulp with a teaspoon.
- Discard the skins and as many of the seeds as possible.
- Chop up the pulp.
- Now melt your butter in a saucepan over a medium heat.
- Once melted, gradually add your flour, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon.
- After you've added all your flour, your mixture will be relatively solid and now you can start to add your milk.
- Add your milk a little at a time, again, stirring continuously so that the mixture remains smooth.
- Keep going until you have used up all of your milk and you have a smooth, milky mixture.
- Keep stirring and after a couple of minutes, you will notice the sauce start to thicken.
- Once the sauce has started to thicken, add your aubergine. Keep stirring, gently.
- Now add your grated cheese and keep stirring until your 'beğendi' sauce has thickened enough to make a suitable nest for your lamb.
- To serve, share the beğendi sauce between your plates, making a little nest in the centre of each.
- Now spoon the lamb stew into the nest and allow the sauces to run over the aubergine puree.
- Sprinkle the parsley over the lamb and serve up your Sultan's Delight.
When you make the beğendi sauce, aubergines can discolour quickly. If you want to roast them in advance, you can prevent discolouration by placing the pulp in a bowl of water with a light sprinkling of salt and the juice of one lemon. When you are ready to make your sauce, press the aubergine puree in a sieve to drain the water.
And that’s how we make Hünkar Beğendi – a dish that was the Sultan’s Delight! If you are serving this dish to friends who like lamb, it is sure to be a winner and it’s guaranteed to impress.
You’ll notice that throughout this Hünkar Beğendi recipe, we have called the aubergine puree, ‘beğendi.’ Although this literally translates as ‘he enjoyed it,’ it has also come to be the name of the aubergine puree. These days, in restaurants around Turkey, you can get other beğendili dishes – meats served with the puree.
We love to order this Beğendili Köfte which is on the menu at Denizatı Restaurant along Fethiye harbour, for example. These guys are responsible for giving us our first ever Hünkar Beğendi experience all those years ago in one of their Ölüdeniz restaurant ventures – so we knew, the first time we ordered it, it was gonna be good!
Hünkar Beğendi has jumped way up the rankings in the fame stakes because it was noticed by famous TV chef, Rick Stein, as he toured Aegean Turkey in his TV series, Venice To Istanbul. After seeing the dish, he decided to make Hünkar Beğendi and, as well as being the Sultan’s Delight, it’s now also a favourite for Rick Stein, too.
- This Hünkar Beğendi recipe features in the Meat & Seafood section of our dedicated page of recipes from around Turkey.