This classic lamb dish is served with smoky tasting eggplant with cheese in a béchamel sauce. When Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, visited Topkapi Palace – Istanbul as a guest of the Sultan, she admired the puree so much that she sent her chef to Topkapi Palace to learn the technique. Once you’ve mastered the eggplant puree, it goes well with any grilled meat and chicken.
This dish is one of the landmarks of our cuisine and very popular at home. It is great for entertaining; looks very inviting and the marriage of the eggplant & béchamel sauce with the lamb ragout is divine. You can also make it with beef or chicken too.
Preparation time: 35 minutes Cooking time: 1 hour
For the lamb ragout
500 gr/ 1 1/4 lb leg of lamb cut in chunky cubes (or chunks of chicken or beef, if you prefer)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
30 ml/2 tablespoons butter / olive oil
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tomatoes, skinned and chopped (or 400 gr/14 oz can chopped tomatoes)
240 ml/ 8 fl oz/ 1 cup hot water
15 ml/ 1 tablespoon tomato paste
15 ml/ 1 tablespoon red pepper paste (optional, Southern Turkish way)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley for garnish
Cibatta bread slices or plain rice to accompany
For the eggplant puree
6 medium / 2 lbs eggplants
1 squeeze of lemon juice
60 ml /4 tablespoons butter
45 ml/ 3 tablespoons plain white flour
480 ml / 16 fl oz/ 2 cups warm milk
45 gr / 1/2 cup mature hard cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sauté the chopped onions gently in the butter or olive oil until soft. Season the meat with the salt and pepper and add to the onions, stirring occasionally until evenly browned. Add the chopped green pepper and garlic, and when these are sizzling, add the chopped tomatoes. Continue cooking until the juice has evaporated. Add the hot water, tomato paste and red pepper paste, cover and simmer for about 1 hour or until the meat is tender. Take care it doesn’t dry out and add a little more water if necessary. Check the seasoning and adjust accordingly.
For the eggplant puree, cook the eggplants on a barbecue grill or over an open gas flame turning occasionally by the stalks until the outer skin is charred and blistered and the inner flesh soft. Alternatively, you can prick and bake the eggplants in a hot oven (200 C/400 F) for about 50 minutes or until they feel very soft when you press them and the skins are wrinkled. When cool enough to handle, peel away the burnt skin and discard the stalks. Put the flesh in a colander to drain away any bitter juices and then mash together with the lemon juice using a fork or a potato masher.
Make the béchamel sauce by melting the butter on a low heat. Add the flour and beat well to make a roux. Slowly add the warm milk whisking thoroughly to get a smooth consistency and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the mashed eggplant, a little salt and freshly ground black pepper and simmer gently for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the cheese, a little freshly grated nutmeg and simmer gently for a further couple of minutes.
Serve hot, the meat sitting on the top of a bed of the eggplant puree and garnish generously with chopped parsley. This dish goes very well with some crusty bread (Cibatta works well) or plain rice aside.
Notes:1) If you reheat the puree, you may need to add a little more milk to ensure you achieve the right consistency.
2) You can marinate the cubed lamb with some olive oil, red pepper flakes and seasoning a couple of hours before cooking, this can make the lamb tenderer. Refrigerate until cooking.
3) You can also prepare the smoked eggplant flesh a day in advance. Mash the flesh with lemon juice and a little (about 1 tablespoon) milk. Cover and keep in the fridge.