Tuesday, January 2

Belly-up Aubergine

When I visited Istanbul in March 2006 I knew right away I had to stick with this guy. The food there is amazing and My Man's family are the kindest and most hospitable people I think I've ever met – I ate from morning until night, and managed to gain 2 kilos in less than ten days.

One of my absolute favourite dishes was Karnıyarık (or split belly aubergines stuffed with ground meat, onions and tomatoes), and for months following our return I’ve been dreaming about it, but worried that I was going to be disappointed if it didn't turn out as delicious as I remember. But then My Man volunteered to do the cooking, which took the pressure off me, so off we went to buy the ingredients. We encountered a main obstacle right away when we couldn’t find long, thin aubergines and instead found ourselves facing a mountain of enormous beasts. But I have long since adopted the motto of my fellow country woman Kajsa Warg, a legendary cook and cookbook writer who apparently said “you take what you’ve got”, and so we grabbed two of said beasts and went home.

My Man has been getting more and more into cooking and is naturally keen to try and reproduce some of his mother’s and aunt’s recipes. So I found myself demoted to sous chef and he got to boss me around. Everything was going swimmingly (apart for the occasional tiff relating to me not following orders) until we tried to get the aforementioned aubergines into a suitable cooking dish. Nothing was big enough to fit them, and so the decision was taken to cut them in half. Now the executive chef was not happy and initially forbade me to blog it. But even though perhaps it wasn't visually as pleasing as it could have been, it tasted so delicious it seemed a shame not to share it. So we compromised. I was allowed to blog it on the one condition that its name was changed from Split belly to Belly-up Aubergine or Karnıdeşik (literally meaning a gutted-out belly).

The recipe is based on a book called Secrets of the Turkish Kitchen by Angie Mitchell, but again My Man's mother has been consulted and a few necessary adjustments has been made.

Belly-up Aubergine or Karnıdeşik
Serves 2 hungry people

2 large aubergines
250 grams ground lean beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
½ cup olive oil
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
½ cup parsley, finely chopped
6 slices of tomatoes
½ sweet green pepper, sliced

Preheat the oven to 175c

Using a sharp peeler, partially peel the aubergines in alternate vertical stripes from stem to base, leaving the stalk intact. Place the peeled aubergines in a bowl of salted water, placing a plate on top to hold them beneath the surface.

Sautee the onions until soft using a little bit of the olive oil. Add the minced meat and cook until any moisture is absorbed. Add garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste and sugar. Season with salt and pepper and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add most of the chopped parsley, keeping some for garnish.

Drain the aubergines and squeeze out any excess water and dry thoroughly. Cut a deep slit lengthways without cutting through the skin on the opposite side. In a little bit of the remaining olive oil lightly brown them evenly on all sides. This should be done quickly at quite a high temperature to prevent the aubergines from soaking up too much oil. Keep a lid on the pan.

With the split sides facing up place the aubergines into a well-oiled ovenproof dish with a lid. Fill the aubergines with the meat filling and top with sliced tomatoes and green pepper slices. Because we didn’t have a suitable dish we actually cut the aubergines in half and then spooned the meat filling into the splits. It didn’t look as pretty this way, but it worked perfectly well.

Before putting it into the oven pour remaining olive oil over and add ½ cup of hot water. Bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 50 minutes. Remove the lid and continue baking for a further 10 minutes until the aubergines are nicely browned on top. Garnish with remaining parsley and serve hot, either with rice or white crusty bread.

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