Friday, May 1, 2009

Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople

The printing house where I worked in Frankfurt, Germany, in the mid-90s had a cafeteria run by an older Turkish woman (I cannot for the life of me remember her name, but I remember her food). She was an amazing cook and introduced me to all sorts of food a naïve girl from the Southern Arizona desert otherwise may never have encountered.

Wednesdays were my favorite lunch days. Our cafeteria chef made what she simply called "Aubergine," which means "eggplant" in German. It was a magical stuffed-eggplant dish.

At that time in my life, I was just on the brink of my adventurous culinary journey, so I didn't have the experience to figure out exactly how she made it (and she would never tell). Hence, I've never quite been able to re-create it. Until page 7 of the May issue of Saveur. Right there on the contents page was a photo of that very dish — Karniyarik, as it turns out, which literally translates from Turkish to English as "split belly" (perhaps why she called it "eggplant").

Of course, I leapt into action and made the dish immediately. The recipe was perfect — it even used enough garlic; that never happens. The only thing I would suggest perhaps is adding another fresh tomato or two into the stuffing mixture. Also, I couldn't find Japanese eggplants, and the Chinese eggplants were too skinny for stuffing. I used small, plump baby eggplants, and it worked perfectly.

This recipe is quick (you could make it on a week night if you didn't go to the gym after work) and fabulously delicious. Even if you're not a huge fan of lamb, give this one a try. It's very accessible.

Their dish (May 2009, Saveur, photo by Andre Baranowski):

My dish:

Equipment needed:
  • large skillet
  • chopping tools of your choice
  • large chef knife to halve the eggplants
  • 9" x 13" glass baking dish

  • Canola oil, for frying (because it can get really, really hot without smoking)
  • 6 plump Japanese eggplants, ends trimmed
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1⁄2 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, cored and finely chopped
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1⁄4 cup chopped mint leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

What to do:
  • Add about 1/2-inch canola oil to a large skillet. Heat until shiny and very hot. Add three eggplants (whole with ends trimmed, don't halve them yet), turning every few moments and cook until just soft (about 8 minutes - be very careful not to over cook). Transfer eggplants to paper towel to drain and cool; repeat with the remaining three eggplants. Discard this oil and wipe out skillet.
  • Melt the butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground lamb and break into small pieces and brown. Add the tomato paste, cinnamon, garlic, onions and peppers. Stir and cook until onions are soft. Stir in the parsely and mint until wilted and season with salt and pepper.
  • Eggplants should be cool enough to handle by now.
  • Heat oven to 475°. Cut eggplants in half to make 12 pieces. Cut a small incision down the middle of each piece to make a pocket (use fingers to gently pull apart), being very careful not to cut through to the skin or rip the eggplant. Season each with salt and pepper and spoon lamb mixture into pockets, pressing lightly.
  • Place stuffed eggplants in the 9" x 13" baking dish and bake until hot (5 to 15 minutes, depending on how long the eggplants cooled).
And, violà! Turkish heaven.

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