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Eggplants Stuffed with Lamb (Karniyarik)

Cookbook author Rebecca Seal first tried this dish in an esnaf lokanta, one of Istanbul’s ubiquitous cafés for local workers serving home-style hot dishes, in the Fatih district. She didn’t know enough Turkish to order, so ended up pointing and smiling at a few of the dishes bubbling away on the counter. This was one of them and it made a very satisfying lunch.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggplants or 6 to 8 baby eggplants (depending on how small
      they are)
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/2 onion, grated
  • 1 garlic clove, finely sliced
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2 large tomatoes, peeled (blanch in boiling water to make this
      easier), seeded and chopped
  • 1 Tbs. Turkish tomato paste or tomato puree
  • 1 Tbs. Turkish red pepper paste (optional) 
  • 9 oz. (250 g) ground lamb
  • 1 tsp. pul biber or mild chili flakes
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 Tbs. roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh dill (optional)
  • 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./50 ml) stock or water
  • Splash of vegetable oil
  • 1 small, long green pepper, seeded and sliced diagonally, or
      1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and finely sliced
  • Salad and bread for serving

Directions:

Cut the eggplants in half lengthways, keeping the skin on. Run a knife down the middle of the flesh from end to end, but don’t cut all the way through to the skin (this helps the eggplant halves open out as they cook). Salt them lightly and drain in a colander for 15 minutes. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels.

In a large fry pan, sauté the onion and garlic gently in the butter for about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and pepper paste and cook gently for 5 minutes.

Push the tomatoes to the side of the pan and brown the lamb with the pul biber or mild chili flakes and cumin for about 5 minutes (use a separate pan if yours isn’t big enough for this—if you overcrowd the pan, the lamb will stew rather than brown).

Mix the contents of the pan together and season with pepper, but wait until everything has cooked through to taste and add salt, as some brands of tomato and pepper paste can be salty already. Add the parsley, dill and stock or water and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat an oven to 325°F (165°C).

In a separate fry pan over high heat, brown the eggplants on all sides in the vegetable oil. Do this in batches if necessary and be careful as they may spit. The eggplant halves will begin to open up.

Once lightly browned, lay the eggplant halves, cut side up, in a buttered casserole. Top each half with filling—a spoonful or two if they are baby eggplants, more if they are larger. Pull the eggplants apart gently and push the stuffing down to help it sink into the flesh. Toss the green pepper slices in a little oil and place one on the top of each eggplant half.

Transfer to the oven and cook until the eggplants are soft and collapsing and the topping is lightly browned, 20 to 30 minutes. If you’re using baby eggplants, check them after 15 minutes, as they may cook much faster. Serve with salad and a little bread to mop up the sauce. Serves 2 to 4.

Adapted from Istanbul, by Rebecca Seal (Hardie Grant Books, 2013).