Monday, October 11, 2010

Since I've lived in Istanbul the past 2 months, I’ve eaten more lamb than I ever have in my entire life.

I’ve had grilled lamb chops, traditional lamb kebaps on skewers, doner kebap – thin slices of spit-roasted lamb on various types of bread (basically a type of sandwich), minced lamb, tomatoes and onion on lamacun – a flat, thin crusted-like pizza and on pide – a Turkish flatbread.

I never ate lamb until after college sometime. I grew up in the heart of the Midwest so we ate a lot of beef, pork and chicken. I’d rather eat a juicy, perfectly cooked steak any day of the week. Lamb just doesn't cut it for me.
Taken near Lincoln, Nebraska, where I went to university. This photo just needs the cows.
Every time, I went to the grocery store here I would buy chicken. It doesn’t matter if I can’t read the label because chicken looks the same in any language. However, I was getting tired of cooking and eating chicken at home.

Last week, I asked one of my friends here to write down different cuts of lamb and beef for me in Turkish. Armed with my cheat sheet, I went to the butcher’s counter at the grocery store and ordered lamb shank in Turkish or kuzu incik.

For my first foray into cooking lamb, I turned to a new cookbook I received as a wedding gift called “Turquoise: A chef’s travels in Turkey” by Greg and Lucy Malouf. The book is filled with gorgeous photos, detailed stories and the couple’s adaptations of Turkish recipes.

I decided to make Sultan’s Delight (Hünkar Beğendi) – lamb ragout with cheesy eggplant puree. The Maloufs write: “Legend has it that this dish was served to the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, on a visit to Istanbul in the 1860s. Keen to impress, the Sultan had many of his favorite dishes prepared for her, including this one.”
My updated version of Hünkar Beğendi utilizes tender lamb chunks bought from the butcher. This speeds up the cooking process to about an hour and the meat is already pre-diced. 
I made a few adaptations to the recipe such as using lamb shank instead of cut lamb leg or shoulder and adding potatoes, red pepper flakes and dried oregano. The lamb needs to cook about 1 ½ hours so plan ahead. The creamy eggplant could be replaced with mashed potatoes, but it was fun to try something different.

The long cooking time is worth it because you achieve a lamb shank that is meltingly tender and falling off the bone. I don’t think lamb will ever hold the same place in my heart as steak, but this was pretty damned good!

While the lamb cooked on the stovetop, I also made a quick yogurt dip made with garlic, parsley, mint and dill and served it with fresh bread. The dip satisfied our hunger pangs until the lamb was done.

Afiyet olsun!
A complete Turkish meal at home...with raki, of course.
Turkish Lamb Ragout...AKA: Sultan’s Delight (Hünkar Beğendi)
1 ½      #          lamb shank
2          T.         oil
2          ea.        red onions, (12 oz. weighed), 1” diced
4          ea.        garlic cloves, chopped
8          oz.       potatoes, 1”diced
1          tsp.      dried oregano
1          tsp.      honey
2          lg.        tomatoes, skinned, seeded and diced
1          T.         hot Turkish red pepper paste
1          tsp.      salt
1 ½      tsp.      freshly ground black pepper
Pinch               crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
8 to 10 oz.       chicken stock
As needed       Italian parsley, chopped for garnish

Hot Turkish red pepper paste
1. Using a 6-8 qt. stock pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Then, add and brown the lamb shank pieces, turning as needed. Remove the lamb and set aside.
2. Add a little more oil to the pan. Then, add and sauté’ the onion, garlic and potatoes until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Next, add the oregano, honey and tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes.
4. Stir in the red pepper paste, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and stock. Bring to a boil. Stir mixture well and return the lamb shank to the pot.
5. Cover the pot, lower the heat allowing the lamb to simmer gently for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the lamb is tender and the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce.

Cheesy Eggplant Puree
12        oz.       Japanese eggplant or small eggplants
1/3       c.         heavy cream
3          oz.       Turkish Kasar cheese or Gruyere, grated
Pinch               nutmeg, freshly ground
TT                    salt and pepper
½         ea.        lemon, freshly squeezed

1. Turn on the oven’s broiler to high. Prick the eggplants all over with a fork and set them on an aluminum-foil lined baking tray in the oven.
2. Rotate the eggplants regularly so that all sides get charred. (Alternatively, set the eggplants over a low-medium flame, if you have a gas stovetop, until charred all over and soft.
3. Place the eggplants in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for at least 10 minutes. This will allow the eggplants to sweat so the skin is easier to remove.
4. When the eggplants are cool enough to touch, gently peel away the skin from the flesh.
5. Put the eggplants into a bowl with a little lemon juice and leave for 5 minutes. (This step helps soak away bits of burnt skin and turns the flesh pale and creamy.)
6. Drain the eggplants in a colander. Gently squeeze them to remove any extra moisture. Then, chop into small pieces.
7. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Stir in the cheese and nutmeg. Season with salt, pepper and the lemon juice.
8. Add the eggplant to the cream, beating lightly to combine, and cook for a few minutes. (I used my handy immersion blender here to help break up the pieces. The mixture will look kind of like lumpy mashed potatoes.)

To serve: spoon some of the eggplant puree into the center of the serving bowl. Make a well in the center of the puree and place the lamb shank on top. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley.

My original version of Hünkar Beğendi used chunks of potatoes in the recipe too. It just depends on how hearty of a dish you would like.
Herbed Yogurt Dip
Suzme Turkish yogurt or thick-style Greek yogurt
Parsley, fresh, chopped
Mint, fresh, chopped
Dill, fresh, chopped
Garlic, fresh, chopped
Olive oil
Lemon juice
TT        salt and pepper

1. Place approximately ½ cup of yogurt in a small mixing bowl.
2. Add the chopped herbs and garlic. Stir to combine. Add a little olive oil to thin out the yogurt and lemon juice to provide a little acid.
3. Season the yogurt with salt and pepper. Taste and see if the ingredients need to be adjusted to your liking.
4. Transfer the yogurt to a ramekin or small bowl. Serve with a crusty loaf of bread.

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Sippy Cup Central said...

Wow, that looks amazing! Karen
Sippy Cup Central Mom