First and foremost, this is a recipe — well, actually a roadmap — for stuffed aubergine (a/k/a eggplant), loosely adapted from a Turkish recipe for karniyarik, which I have read translates literally to “split bellies.” I don’t speak Turkish, and I’m guessing you don’t either, so we’ll just have to rely on the experts.
Karniyarik is a meat-enhanced dish, apparently loosely based on a vegetarian version of stuffed aubergine known as Imam Bayildi (literally, “the imam fainted”). Some stories would have it that he fainted because it was so delicious, and I will take that at face value, because stuffed aubergine is indeed swoonworthy.
Those of you who follow the blog will know it’s not uncommon for me to plunge headlong down the rabbit hole of a recipe’s provenance and expression; this one was no different. I viewed no fewer than a dozen recipes, and found no definitive formula, nor did I discover its origin. I don’t consider the investigatory time wasted, though, because I discovered several variants on the recipe that may find their way into my oven sometime in the future. I have to hand big props to Chef John at foodwishes.blogspot.com, whose video popped up in my YouTube feed and started me down this road to begin with.
Typically, the meat in this recipe is ground, generally beef or lamb. As it happened, I had excess smoked pork shoulder hanging about in the fridge, so that was my meat of choice. The balance of my ingredients hew fairly closely to the harmonized medium of the canon: tomato paste, onion, garlic, cumin, peppers, etc. Some versions include cheese in the filling, but I wasn’t feeling it (although I might in future). Many would have you serve this over (or with) rice or orzo. Fine, but not strictly necessary.
2 similarly-sized aubergines (a/k/a eggplant)
.75 lb / .33 kg roasted pork shoulder, shredded
6 mini red bell peppers, diced
1/2 large or 1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (7 oz. / 198 g) diced roasted green chilies (with juice)
1 tbsp / 7 g cumin powder
1 tsp / 2.5 g ground cinnamon
2 tbsp / 15 g tomato paste
2 tbsp / 15 g Darrell & Nil’s Turkish Spice Blend*
salt and black pepper to taste
2 tbsp / 30 ml olive oil
1 cup / 250 ml chicken stock
*This is a custom spice blend made by some friends. It’s made from paprika, black pepper, cumin, coriander, allspice, cassia, sumac, oregano, Maras chile, clove, cardamom, and nutmeg. Maybe I can get them to cough up the actual recipe, but if not, make sure you include the sumac and Maras chile, which really push the blend toward Istanbul.
Wash the aubergines, peel four equally spaced strips and set aside. The peel allows them to sit flat in the casserole dish or roasting tin.
Preheat oven to 400°F / 205°C.
Drizzle a little olive oil into a casserole dish or small roasting pan sufficient to hold the two aubergines, then pop the veggies into the dish and pop the dish into the oven.
You’ll want to roast the aubergines for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on their size. You don’t want them cooked all the way, because you will be stuffing them. When you take them out of the oven, they should still be fairly firm and holding their shape.
During that time, you can prepare your filling.
Warm a frying pan over a medium heat, and put in the cumin, cinnamon, spice blend, and black pepper; toast the spices for 1-2 minutes, just to bring out a little more flavour. The add the salt, onion, green chilies, and bell peppers; cook for 5-8 minutes, or until the bell peppers are softened and the onions are translucent. You don’t need to brown them, but don’t freak out if they take on a little colour or if they’re still slightly firm. Remember, they have more time to cook when you stuff the aubergine.
Add the garlic and tomato paste, and cook for a couple of minutes more, just to take the rough edges off the garlic. Then remove the pan from the heat and set aside until it’s time to stuff the aubergines.
When the aubergines are partially cooked, but still firm(-ish), take them out of the oven and allow them to cool sufficiently that you can stuff them without burning your fingers. Take a knife and “split their bellies” (vertically of course), then spoon in a generous amount of filling. Don’t pack it in too much, though, or the aubergines will split during their second oven sojourn. Pour the chicken stock into the pan (but not over the aubergines), so they don’t burn. You can also use the resulting sauce to spoon over the finished dish, although in my case most of the liquid had evaporated.
Return the stuffed aubergines to the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a knife can pierce their flesh without resistance. Allow them to cool for about 10 minutes, because they are molten lava hot straight from the furnace. Plate, spoon over some of the drippings, and serve. [Although inauthentic, cheese, sour cream, or crème fraîche could be used as toppings. You could also sprinkle some fresh chopped parsley on top for colour. ]
This is scalable, depending on the number of diners, and is quite mutable while still staying within the parameters of karniyarik. Find the ingredients that exist in your pantry and/or suit your palate, pour yourself a glass of raki for a job well done, and offer a hearty şerefe to your dining companions.