Smoky Eggplant Purée with Tomato-Lamb Stew (Hünkar Beğendi) (Χιουνκιάρ Μπεγiεντί με Αρνί Κατσαρόλας)
Beef can be substituted for lamb in the stew; meatballs and grilled meats also go well with Hünkar Beğendi. In Anchorage, the best price for lamb is often on boneless leg roasts at Costco. I cut out and grill a couple “steaks” from the center of the roast, and then make stew out of each end. If you use lamb with bones, cook them in the stew for extra flavor. Unlike Melitzanosalata (Eggplant-Red Pepper Dip), smokiness is an essential flavor in Hünkar Beğendi. If you don’t have access to a grill, oven-roast eggplant as described in the Melitzanosalata recipe, refrigerate them without puncturing the skin, and then thoroughly char the skins directly over a gas burner.
1 1/2 – 1 3/4 lb. boneless lamb, excess fat removed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups diced yellow onion, 1/4” dice
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 14.5 ounce can (or 2 cups fresh) diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp. dried oregano, crushed
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups water
Smoky Eggplant Purée:
1 1-pound eggplant, or 2 1/2-pound eggplants
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup whole milk
2 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup grated kasseri or Romano cheese
Pinch of nutmeg
Make Tomato-Lamb Stew: Wash and dry meat, cut it into 1” cubes, and season on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. In large pot, cook lamb in olive oil until it’s browned all over. Stir in onions, lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté until onions begin to turn golden. Stir in garlic and Aleppo pepper and cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, oregano, tomato paste, and water, bring to a boil, cover, turn down heat as low as possible, and simmer for 1 hour. Remove cover and simmer for 30-60 minutes, or until lamb is very tender and sauce is the thickness you prefer. Stir sauce from time to time while it cooks and, if it starts sticking, add a little bit more water. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed. (The stew can be made ahead, refrigerated, and reheated just before serving.)
Make the Smoky Eggplant Purée: Grill eggplant whole until it softens, collapses, and is slightly charred on all sides (or oven-roast and char as described in note above). Peel eggplant, cut into large chunks, and place chunks in colander for 15 minutes to drain off the juices. When eggplant is cool enough to handle, use your hands to squeeze out as much liquid from the chunks as you can. Place eggplant flesh on cutting board, finely chop, and sprinkle with lemon juice.
Warm milk over low heat or in microwave. Melt butter in saucepan, mix in flour and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly; be careful not to brown this mixture. Slowly stir in warm milk and cook, stirring, until sauce is thick and smooth. Add eggplant, cheese, and nutmeg and cook, stirring constantly, until ingredients are thoroughly combined. Taste and add salt, as needed.
To serve, spoon some Smoky Eggplant Purée onto plate and top with Tomato-Lamb Stew.