Hunkar Begendi is an authentic Turkish recipe dating back a few hundred years. The meaning of Hunkar begendi is "Sultan liked it" and that's precisely what happened when the palace cook created and served this amazing dish to Sultan Murad IV. It's no surprise he did. This dish is the perfect combination of succulent Turkish lamb stew and smokey&cheesy aubergine purée.
Hunkar begendi is a very easy dish to put together yet has a luxurious feeling to it when you put the first bite in your mouth. It is a great dish for dinner parties to impress your guests. I've cooked this recipe many times over the years and it never disappointed me.
Why This Recipe Works?
- It is a very easy recipe to follow with step-by-step instructions and pictures.
- This dish is perfect to impress your dinner guests.
- It's a versatile dish. You can replace the lamb with beef or chicken, and they all work great with the smokey aubergine base.
Ingredients and Substitutes
Ingredients For the Lamb Stew
- Lamb - I use lamb shoulder for this recipe but you can use any other part of the lamb as long as they are marbled with some fat.
- Onions - They are a must when making a stew. I love the umami flavour and sweetness they add to the dish. White, brown or yellow onions work best with this recipe.
- Garlic - Fresh garlic is a great flavouring that adds sweetness and nuttiness to dishes. Adjust the amount to your taste.
- Chicken stock - The best option is to use homemade chicken stock. You can substitute it with vegetable stock or water. You can also use stock cubes if you don't have any stock in hand. Make sure you don't add too much salt as ready-made stocks and stock cubes contain salt already.
- Peppers - You can use Turkish green peppers, Spanish Padron peppers or bell peppers for this recipe.
- Tomatoes - I love using tomatoes in stews. You can omit them and use an extra tablespoon of tomato paste.
- Tomato paste - It is the staple of Turkish cooking. It adds an umami flavour to the dishes as well as a bright red colour. You can find it in Turkish or Middle Eastern shops. You can also buy it online from Amazon.
- Cumin - It complements the lamb dishes perfectly. Adjust the amount to your taste or omit it if you don't like its taste.
- Salt-black pepper - Adjust the seasoning to your taste. Be cautious when adding salt if you are using shop-bought stock or stock cubes.
Ingredients For the Aubergine Purée
- Aubergine - Pick slightly firm but not hard aubergines when buying the aubergines. Discard the seeds after cooking if there are any.
- Butter - Use good quality butter for the béchamel sauce which is the base for aubergine purée.
- Flour - All-purpose (plain flour) works best with sauces.
- Milk - I use semi-skimmed or full-fat milk for the best results.
- Cheese - You can use kashar cheese, cheddar cheese or gruyere for this recipe.
- Nutmeg - It adds a sweet and soft aroma to the sauce. It goes perfect with béchamel or any other dairy-based sauces.
How to Make Hunkar Begendi?
It is very easy to make this traditional Turkish dish and to achieve the best results, you need to follow a few simple steps:
Cook the Lamb Stew
Heat a large heavy-based pan or dutch oven on medium to high heat. When it's hot, add the olive oil and brown the diced lamb. Do it in two batches if your pan is not large enough to ensure nice and even browning. Lower the heat to medium, then add the onions. Sauté until soft and slightly browned, then add the peppers along with the garlic. Cook for a few more minutes without burning the garlic.
Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, pepper paste, cumin, salt, and black pepper. Give it a good stir before adding the Chicken Stock or water. Adding stock to your dishes enhances the flavour. Make sure you reduce the amount of salt when using store-bought stock or stock cubes.
Bring the mixture to a boil, take the lid off and then gently simmer on low heat for 1.5 hours or until the lamb is tender. Check the liquid and add more stock if needed. Stir the lamb every half an hour or so to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom. If there is too much liquid in the pan, cook further without the lid until the sauce thickens.
Prepare the Aubergine Purée
Start cooking the aubergine pure while the lamb stew is cooking. To prevent the aubergines from bursting, prick each one with a toothpick a few times and place them on a gas burner or BBQ. Cook them until soft and the skin is charred while turning them frequently. Place them in a bowl and then let them cool down.
Peel the aubergines and discard the seeds if there are any. Finely chop the aubergines and then place them in a sieve to get rid of their bitter water. Set aside until needed.
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, add the flour and then cook for 2 minutes stirring continuously. Whisk in a little of the warm milk at a time, stirring continuously, until you have a smooth and velvety sauce. Cook for a few minutes until thickened, stirring continuously. Mix in the aubergine, and the grated cheese, and then season it with salt and nutmeg. Keep warm until you serve it.
When the lamb is tender and the sauce is rich and thick, remove it from the heat. Spoon the aubergine purée on a plate and then top it up with some lamb stew. Garnish with chopped parsley.
For more delicious aubergine recipes why not try:
Hunkar Begendi is an Ottoman dish dating back to several centuries, created in Topkapi Palace (Istanbul) for the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV.
Aubergines are very tricky to cook and if you don't get them right, they taste quite unpleasant with a rubbery texture. My favourite ways of cooking the aubergines are grilling them on a BBQ or gas stove on high heat, shallow frying them with a generous amount of oil, or roasting them in the oven covered with a generous amount of oil.
The most popular way to serve Hunkar Begendi is with Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf (Mercimekli Bulgur Pilavi), Bulgur Pilaf or Turkish Rice Pilaf. For a lighter meal option, serve it with a bowl of salad such as Tomato and Walnut Salad (Gavurdagi Salatasi), Tabbouleh or Summer Chickpea Salad and a slice of Homemade Toast Bread.
Top Tip From the Chef
You can roast the aubergines in the oven if you don't have a BBQ or a gas stove. Preheat the oven to 200°C and then bake them for about 45 minutes or until the flesh is soft. Although they won't have the smokey taste we are after, they will still taste great!
I hope you enjoy the process of making this authentic Turkish recipe as much as you enjoy eating it! 🙂
Bon appétit! / Afiyet Olsun!
Did you make this recipe?
Hunkar Begendi (Sultan's Delight)
- 800 g diced lamb
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion (diced)
- 3 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 Turkish green peppers or 1 bell pepper or 1 red Romano pepper (diced)
- 2 large tomatoes (diced)
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon red pepper paste (optional, can be replaced with tomato paste)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 1 cup chicken stock or water (240 ml)
Smokey Aubergine Pure
- 750 g aubergine
- 40 g butter
- 40 g all purpose flour
- 400 ml full fat milk (warm)
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 100 g cheddar or kasar cheese (or both) (grated)
- chopped parsley (to garnish)
Cooking the Lamb Stew
- Heat a large heavy-based pan or dutch oven on medium to high heat.
- Add olive oil and brown the lamb, do it in 2 batches for a nice and even browning.
- Lower the heat and add the onions. Saute until soft and slightly browned.
- Add the peppers and garlic and cook for a few more minutes without burning the garlic.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, pepper paste, cumin, salt and black pepper, give a good stir before adding the chicken stock or water.
- Bring it to a boil, take the lid off and gently simmer on low heat for 1.5 hours or until the lamb is tender.
- Check the liquid and add more if needed. Stir the lamb every half an hour or so to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom. If there is too much liquid in the pan, cook further without the lid until the sauce thickens.
- Start preparing the smoky aubergine pure while the lamb is cooking.
Smokey Aubergine Pure
- Prick the aubergines with a toothpick a few times and place them on a gas burner or BBQ.
- Cook them until the aubergines are softened and the skin is charred turning frequently.
- Alternatively, bake them in a 200°C preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until the flesh is soft, but they won't have the smokey taste we are after.
- Place the aubergines in a bowl and let them cool down.
- Peel the aubergines and discard the seeds if there are any. Finely chop and place in a sieve to get rid of its bitter water. Set aside until needed.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, add the flour and cook for 2 minutes stirring continuously.
- Whisk in a little of the warm milk at a time, stirring continuously until you have a smooth and velvety sauce. Cook for a few minutes until thickened, stirring continuously.
- Mix in the aubergine, the grated cheese and season with salt and nutmeg. Keep warm.
- When the lamb is tender and the sauce is rich and thick, remove from the heat.
- Spoon the aubergine purée on a plate and top it up with some of the lamb stew.
- Garnish with some chopped parsley.
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 165 °F (74 °C)
- Don’t leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Use oils with a high smoking points to avoid harmful compounds
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove
See more guidelines at USDA.gov.
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