Hünkar Beğendi, in English Sultan’s Delight, is one of the signature dishes of Ottoman cuisine. It is a classic lamb dish that is served with roasted eggplant with cheese in a béchamel sauce. It has been in our cuisine for about 150 years. For a dish, this time frame may sound relatively new to Ottoman cuisine; however, it is succeeded to become one of the most beloved dishes of Ottoman cuisine.
The story of Hünkar Beğendi (Sultan’s Delight)
While the calendars were showing the summer months of 1867, one of the most precious dishes on our tables, Hunkar Begendi (Sultan’s Delight), came out with a story that could not match the movies. This sad story begins with Sultan Abdulaziz’s departure to Paris as the first and last Sultan to go abroad outside of the campaign. Sultan Abdulaziz visits Napoleon III in Paris, where he goes for an international exhibition, and unexpected things happen.
Napoleon III and his wife, Empress Eugenie, carefully host Sultan Abdulaziz in their palaces, but Sultan Abdulaziz and Empress Eugenie have already fallen into the wind of love at first sight. When the exhibition was over, Sultan Abdulaziz had only one thing in mind as he was returning to Istanbul from Paris; impossible love Empress Eugenie. However, the situation was not different for Eugenie too. It was not possible for Eugenie to forget Sultan Abdulaziz, who was recorded in the historical records as a famous Sultan for his majesty.
However, fate had not yet prepared its final surprise for Sultan Abdulaziz and Empress Eugenie. Years later, Napoleon III and his wife Eugenie were invited to the opening of the Suez Canal. Since Napoleon could not accept this invitation, he sent Empress Eugenie to Egypt to represent them.
While traveling by ship to Egypt, Empress Eugenie stopped by the port of Istanbul and visited Sultan Abdulaziz in his palace. Bringing her cook accompanying her to the palace on her way to Egypt, Empress Eugenie asks her cook to make a béchamel sauce for Sultan Abdulaziz and herself during this visit. Eugenie’s cook prepares the béchamel sauce, and at that time, the head chef of the palace cuisine adds roasted eggplant to the béchamel sauce, and puts Sultan’s favorite meat dish on top of this mix, and presents it to Sultan Abdulaziz and his guest Empress Eugenie. Sultan Abdulaziz liked this dish so much that after that day, this dish became famous all over the country and the world as Hünkar Beğendi (Sultan’s Delight).
Where to eat Hünkar Beğendi (Sultan’s Delight)?
When it comes to Ottoman cuisine, Istanbul restaurants are at the top of the list. There are countless restaurants in the city that are extremely good at cooking original Ottoman cuisine dishes. Such as Konyalı Topkapi Restaurant and Hünkar Restaurant.
When it comes to Hünkar Beğendi (Sultan’s Delight) dish Hacı Abdullah Restaurant is one of the best in the city. The restaurant’s humble atmosphere shouldn’t deceive you. The taste of the food at this restaurant is not like any other. So, if you ask my opinion, this restaurant would be my best pick for the Hunkar Begendi (Sultan’s Delight) dish.
However; to eat Hünkar Beğendi, you don’t need to come to Istanbul. By following the below recipe, you can easily reach the same taste from your own very kitchen.
For the Stew
- 500 gram Leg of lamb with moderate fat cube cut
- 3 Mid-sized tomatoes peeled and diced
- 2 Mid-sized onions finely chopped
- 4 Cloves of garlic sliced
- 4 tbsp Olive oil
- 1 tbsp Tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon Salt
- 2 cups Hot water
For the Eggplant Puree
- 4 Mid-sized Eggplants
- 50 gram Cheddar cheese grated
- 2 tbsp French butter
- 300 ml Whole Milk
- 2 tbsp Ground flour
- 1/2 teaspoon Salt
- 1/2 teaspoon Ground black pepper
Take 4 medium-sized eggplants and make a few holes in each of them with a knife and place them on the baking tray. Bring the oven’s heat to 200C (390F) and bake them for about 20 minutes.
After eggplants are baked and softened peel them and then mash them and set them aside.
Bring the heat to medium level. Then; place the olive oil in a frying pan and add the leg of lamb meat cubes and sauté until tender (about 10 minutes).
Add the finely chopped onions and sliced garlic cloves and continue to sauté for about 2 minutes.
Add the peeled and diced tomatoes, ground black pepper, salt, and tomato paste and continue to sauté for about 3 minutes.
Add the 2 cups of boiled water and mix them well and close the frying pan lid.
Bring the heat to a low level and cook for about 20 minutes to let the meat soften.
While the meat is cooking, it is time to prepare the ‘beğendi‘ (eggplant puree) part of the dish.
Bring the heat to a medium level. Then; melt french butter in a frying pan and add ground flour and stir for about 3 minutes until the roux has thickened and gives a cooked aroma.
Add the baked and mashed eggplants to the frying pan and stir the mix for about 2 minutes.
Slowly, add the whole milk to the mix and stir continuously for about 3 minutes.
Add salt and ground black pepper and cheese to the bechamel sauce and stir until cheese melts. Usually, melting cheese shouldn’t take more than a minute.
For serving; you can either place the entire eggplant puree mix onto a big serving plate and place the top with the lamb stew or you can make the same with individual plates. In both cases, the eggplant puree mix will be at the bottom and the lamb stew will be at the top.
Note: Garnish it with washed and drained parsley leaves.