How to Grill Eggplants and Red Peppers

Eggplant From Our Garden in Atsiki, Limnos

Eggplant From Our Garden in Atsiki, Limnos

Two simple and delicious ways to use eggplant are Eggplant-Red Pepper Dip (Melitzanosalata) and Hünkar Beğendi, a smoky eggplant purée that pairs perfectly with Tomato-Lamb Stew.

Even though we recently returned from Greece, I’m still craving Greek food. Luckily, when I went to Costco to restock our supplies, they had fresh eggplant and figs. Combined with the lamb, crusty bread, and cheese Costco always has on hand (and a quick trip to the farmers’ market for a pile of vegetables), we had everything necessary for a Greek feast. Or two. Or ten.

I was particularly happy about the eggplant. They were in perfect condition: firm flesh and shiny, unmarred skin. Unlike many eggplant sold in Anchorage, these were picked small, and hadn’t developed a large mass of seeds inside.

The Costco eggplant came 4 to the 1.75-pound bag. For efficiency and energy savings, I oven-roasted them all at one time. (If you want to store eggplant raw, here’s how.) Half the roasted eggplant went immediately into Melitzanosalata; the other two I refrigerated to save for Hünkar Beğendi.

Fire-grilled eggplant tastes better in recipes than oven-roasted but, the day I cooked eggplant, we were too damn tired from the trip home to start a fire. To add smokiness to my Melitzanosalata, I added a grilled-over-a-gas-burner red pepper. It’s lucky there were only two of us; the pepper-laden Melitzanosalata disappeared quickly.

I used a different technique to add smokiness to Hünkar Beğendi. I’d roasted 2 eggplants whole, and stored them without breaking the skins (if you break the skins, the eggplant juices leak out and make a mess when you grill them). I took the eggplant directly out of the refrigerator and charred their skins over a gas burner. Because the eggplants were cold when I started charring them (and their skins were unbroken), they didn’t leak juices over the stove. This “smoking” technique was quick, easy, worked well, and added lots of flavor. I’ll do it again.

Hünkar Beğendi is a famous Turkish eggplant dish that’s also made in Greece, particularly in areas where many people have roots in Constantinople (Istanbul), Smyrna (Izmir), or other parts of Anatolia (Asia Minor). Translations for “Hünkar Beğendi” abound: Sultan’s Delight, Sultan’s Pleasure, The Sultan Liked It, Her Majesty’s Delight, Her Majesty’s Favorite, and The Sultan Approved.

The origins of Hünkar Beğendi are murky. Some say the dish was created in the early-17th century for Sultan Murad IV (who was half-Greek). Others say it was created for a French empress in the late 19th century. My favorite version of this story is in The Art of Turkish Cooking by Neset Eren (New York 1969):

When the Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III, was in Istanbul as the guest of Sultan Abdulaziz, the Ottoman emperor, she fell in love with eggplant purée, at that time a specialty of the Topkapi Palace. She asked her host if he would allow his chef to teach her cook how to prepare it. The sultan obliged. The next day the French chef requested an audience with the empress and begged to be excused from this impossible task. “I took my book and my scales to the Turkish chef,” he said, “and he threw them out. ‘An imperial chef,’ he told me, ‘cooks with his feelings, his eyes, his nose.’”

The empress returned to France without the recipe for her favorite dish.

In Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire (London 1998), historian Jason Goodwin repeats the Empress Eugénie story. However, in Η Οθωμανική Μαγειρική: 99 Παλατιανές Συνταγές (Ottoman Cooking: 99 Recipes from the Palace) (Athens 2004), an extremely interesting and well-researched book, author Marianna Gerasimos says:

I searched hard to find how and when the famous eggplant puree, called Hünkar Beğendi, entered Ottoman cuisine. … There are many rumors and allegations about [it being made for Empress Eugénie] but, for now, there is no written historical evidence of this.

Although Empress Eugénie may not have feasted on Hünkar Beğendi, I certainly have. In the same way that mashed potatoes are exactly right with turkey and gravy, Hünkar Beğendi and Lamb Stew are wonderful together.

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Bob in a Rabbit Stupor

Bob in a Rabbit Stupor

Be sure to check out the recipes mentioned in this post:

 

16 Responses to How to Grill Eggplants and Red Peppers

  1. I love eggplant any which way but I especially love that smoky eggplant flavour that I've only found at a Persian restaurant here in Toronto. Not having a gas burner (what?!) on my stove top, I'm at a great disadvantage to re-create this recipe. We've also retired the gas barbeque until next summer. Nobody has to twist my arm to go and eat at 'The Pomegranate' Persian restaurant!
    On a side note, your cat is just adorable! That stretch deserves a belly rub 🙂

  2. What?? A good Greek girl without a gazaki?? I'm shocked! 🙂
    Although I haven't done it, I suspect it would work to char the eggplant skins under the broiler, making sure to turn them regularly so only the skin burns and not the flesh. As for "The Pomegranate" – how can you not want to go to a restaurant with that name.
    As for Bob, he does love his belly rubs!

  3. Bellini Valli says:

    I saw some bright shiny eggplants at the farmers market last week. Only a few more weeks and it will all be over for another season.Maybe Bob is dreaming about eggplant leftovers. See that contented, carefree pose.

  4. Now I am officially jealous, because I don't think I've ever seen eggplant at Costco here. Sounds like a couple of wonderful ways to use it!

  5. Mediterranean kiwi says:

    i agree about seedy eggplant – our plants are still producing and will continue to do so until december (they probably won't be with us after that), but they are a little too seedy for my liking at the moment. They are still tasty, but some of their meat is lost when I use them.

    interesting excerpts in today's post too!

  6. I can taste and smell the smoky flavors from here. The lamb dish sounds so flavorful and comforting. Delicious Laurie.

  7. what a bunch of delicious ideas!
    thanks for so many in one posting , Laurie!
    can you tell me if what the Greeks says is true, that adding salt before whatever food is simmering has tenderized, the salt will stop it from tenderizing?
    this rule seems to include vegetables, legumes and meats.
    thanks!
    carole

  8. I LOVE eggplants and my plants are still producing, well sort of. (one here & there)
    I've eaten eggplant salad with pepper before buy have yet to make it myself. I just might have to now.
    Very interesting post…and I love Bob. 🙂

  9. I love the melitzanosalata with the peppers Laurie but that Hunkar begendi with the lamb stew has my name all over it…what a fantastic combo!

  10. Nice to see you posting again Laurie!

  11. FoodJunkie says:

    Laurie your Hünkar Beğendi looks amazing and I bet it tasted amazing too. One can also cheat and use a smoked cheese instead of kaseri to add smokiness, but it is not the same as charring the eggplant over an open fire or grill.

  12. myfrenchkitchen says:

    What a beautiful eggplant! Yummy recipe…
    Ronelle

  13. Sorry I am late but had a very busy week.
    Very interesting recipes, thanks for participating!

  14. The eggplant recipes are wonderful, and so is the story behind the dishes.

  15. CaliforniaKat says:

    Hi L, I was really pleased to find you posting again after an understandable absence. Love your recipes and stories, and will continue to come to see what you (and Bob) are up to.

  16. Mediterranean Turkish Cook says:

    Laurie, what a great recipe choice using eggplant. Hunkar Begendi is very delicious and I am impressed with your knowledge of the story behind it. Actually, I didn't know the part about the Empress Eugénie leaving without the recipe. As you said, there are various rumors about the story. I have never made Hunkar Begendi. Not yet. Its turn will come one day. 🙂 So many dishes to make!

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