Split Belly (Karniyarik) — or — The Imam Fainted a Second Time When He Had a Mouthful of Meat

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No, it’s NOT just stuffed eggplant! Well, maybe.

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.

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The semi-peeling keeps them from bursting, and gives you a flat surface they can sit on.

INGREDIENTS
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

 

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Stuff for the stuffing.

 

DIRECTIONS
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.

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Fit to be stuffed.

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.

 

 

 

Shepherdless Pie — or — Don’t Kvetch About Guvech

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Gyuvech: It's not only the container... it's what's inside.

Gyuvech: It’s not only the container… it’s what’s inside.


One-paragraph history and etymology lesson rolled into one: In Bulgaria (and throughout the Balkans), meat and vegetable casseroles are often made in beautifully decorated earthenware pots known by a staggering variety of names, including guvech, gyuvech, đuveč, ѓувеч, гювеч, ђувеч, and others. The word has become not only synonymous, but indeed coterminous, with the meal prepared within it. [In that sense, it’s kind of the opposite of the word restaurant, which, back in the mid-18th century, was the name of a bouillon, later morphing into its modern definition of where that bouillon is served (when bouillon is served there at all, rarely the case these days).] By the time the word reached Turkey, it had become güveç, which more or less transliterates into guvech or guvetch, which is how we know it in North America.

Just like my great-grandma didn't used to make. But someone else's did.

Just like my great-grandma didn’t used to make. But someone else’s did.

As with any casserole/stew/hotchpotch, there are something approaching an infinite number of recipes for guvetch, but I’m quite fond of this meatless commercial variety, produced in Bulgaria by Konex Foods and marketed In America by Indo-European Foods under the label ZerGüt. It may be my favourite guvetch because it’s the only kind I’ve ever had (which is true), but it’s quite delicious on its own terms. According to a spokesperson for Konex, the commercial recipe is derived from one handed down by one of the company founder’s ancestors. The vegetarian guvetch they market (pictured above) is a simple mélange of aubergines, peppers, potatoes, carrots, water, sunflower oil, green beans, tomato paste, peas, salt, okra, onion, sugar, and parsley, with no preservatives, artificial flavours, or colours. At 250 calories per 19 oz. bottle, it’s easy on the diet, too.

A potful of potatoes.

A potful of potatoes.

Flash forward to earlier this evening. I’d had a hankering for shepherd’s pie, but there wasn’t any ground lamb to hand, and I decided to take a whack at a vegan version.

SHEPHERDLESS PIE

Ingredients
2 large Russet potatoes
4 smallish yams (about a pound or so)
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 tsp salt
1 jar ZerGüt guvetch

Directions
Set a pot of salted water on to boil. Peel potatoes and yams; cook in boiling water for about 20 minutes, or until soft. Drain. Return to pot and mash with almond milk and salt; set aside to cool slightly.

Mashed potatoes, yeah.

Mashed potatoes, yeah.

Divide guvetch evenly into six ramekins. Microwave on high for about 2 minutes to warm.

Microwave me, baby!

Microwave me, baby!

Here’s where I got silly. The simple thing to do would have been to spoon the mashed yam-and-potato mixture on top, fluffing it with a fork to create those peaks that would brown underneath the broiler (about 8 minutes, and rotate the tray at 4 minutes). Instead, I pulled out a pastry bag and a star tip, and piped the potatoes in over the guvetch. Totally unnecessary, totally fun.

Sack o' spuds.

Sack o’ spuds.

If you decide to do it that way, work in a circular motion from the edge toward the center, finishing with a little peak on top.

Piped, but not yet piping hot.

Piped, but not yet piping hot.

Place the ramekins on a foil-lined baking sheet. Eight minutes under the broiler (or you can use a kitchen torch, if you wanna get fancy about it). Rotate the pan at four minutes, and have a care, because some broilers are more efficient than the one in my sixty-year-old O’Keefe & Merritt.

Good to go, after they've cooled a tad.

Good to go, after they’ve cooled a tad.

Allow the ramekins to cool sufficiently that you can handle them — albeit gingerly — with your bare hands. Serve while warm. Makes six.

[NOTE: Bottled guvetch is available at markets that cater to an Eastern European clientele, but it can also be purchased online. The big issue here is the shipping cost, which makes it kinda prohibitive to buy a single jar. If you are willing to purchase a six-pack, you can bring your cost down to about $6.50-$8 per jar (depending on where you live), which is about twice what you’ll pay for it in an ethnic market. It can be ordered online from Salonika Imports in Pittsburgh, so the closer you are to them, the less you’ll pay to have it shipped. Alternatively, you could chop and heat your own vegetable mélange; Google “guvech recipe” for ideas, or just go for it as the vegetable bin provides and the spirit moves.]

Balkanizing My Kitchen, Part two — Ajvar and Pinjur

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Oops. That's not Ajvar and Pinjur, it's Akbar and Jeff from Life in Hell, with apologies to creator Matt Groening.

Oops. That’s not Ajvar and Pinjur, it’s Akbar and Jeff from Life in Hell, with apologies to creator Matt Groening.

If you happened to see my earlier post on lutenitza, you’ll recall that I promised to return with a further exam of its kissing cousins, ajvar and pinjur. First, let’s have a look at the real deal.

The REAL Ajvar and Pinjur.

The REAL Ajvar and Pinjur.

Although thought to be Serbian in origin, ajvar (pronounced “EYE-var”) is said to have derived its name from the Turkish word havyar, which shares an etymology with “caviar.” [In Russian as well, the word ikra (or икра), can mean both traditional caviar and also a vegetable purée or paté.] It’s made from red peppers, aubergines, garlic, oil, and spices. Both lutenitza and pinjur, which share many ingredients with ajvar, generally include tomatoes, while ajvar does not. Perhaps the most striking difference between ajvar and the other two, though, is its consistency; you can turn a room temperature jar of ajvar upside down without spilling its contents. Pinjur and lutenitza, not so much. Depending on the recipe, ajvar may be made with smoked or roasted peppers or not; in this bottled version, the peppers are not roasted, giving it a lighter, brighter flavour than either the pinjur or the lutenitza.

The FatFree Vegan Kitchen blog has an excellent (and quite healthy) recipe for homemade ajvar, as does the Kitchen Window blog at NPR (where they dub the dish “Serbian Salsa“). In both cases, these recipes opt for roasting the red peppers.

Pinjur (also known as pindur, pindjur, pindzur, and pinđur) is widely available throughout Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. Just in case you’re unclear on just where all these places are, here’s a map.

For the geographically challenged, this is where ajvar and pinjur come from. Photo courtesy Univ. of Texas Library.

For the geographically challenged, this is where ajvar and pinjur come from. Photo courtesy Univ. of Texas Library.

Unlike ajvar, which is more of a spread, pinjur (pronounced “PEEN-jur”) resembles a salsa or sauce. And, like salsas and sauces, it comes in a fairly wide variety of styles. It’s generally characterized as being an aubergine (eggplant)-based sauce/relish, rather than a roasted pepper sauce/relish, even though lutenitza generally contains aubergines, and pinjur generally contains roasted peppers. Confusing, ain’t it? In my limited experience so far, lutenitza is a little spicier than pinjur, but there are so many variants on the recipes, it would be impossible to make a generalization that really sticks. Dealer’s choice here.

Both pinjur and lutenitza are terrific mixed in with rice, ladled over vegetables or meat, or as a dip for chips; they can be served either warm or at room temperature. Both are gluten-free and vegan (as is ajvar), and they’re all a great way of dealing with the overabundance of vegetables from the summer garden, offering a tasty treat for home canning enthusiasts well into the winter months… provided you can wait that long to break into those jars.

The Food Network’s UK website has a tomato and pepper-free recipe for pinjur that relies heavily on aubergine for its base, but if you want something closer to the commercially available versions, you can opt for this recipe from the Healthy Food Base blog.

As the Macedonians would say, “Cреќен јадење!” [transliteration: “Sreḱen Jadenje!”] [translation: “Happy eating!”]

Balkanizing My Kitchen, Part one — Lutenitza

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Three tasty pepper-derived foodstuffs.

Three tasty pepper-derived foodstuffs.

Not to worry: my kitchen has not split into warring factions. I just happened to be at Big Lots! [or, as some stores’ signage reads, Big! Lots (formerly Pic ‘N’ Save)] earlier today, poking around to see if they had any more jars of Macedonian Lutenitza, as one often does on a Tuesday. And that’s when it happened.

Let me back up a minute. Back in the ’50s, in Culver City, California (not far from where I live), a guy named William Zimmerman put together a chain of stores that specialized in overruns and closeouts, and called it Pic ‘N’ Save. Later, as the chain expanded — overexpanded, as it turns out — they redubbed themselves MacFrugal’s, and were purchased in 2002 by Consolidated Stores Corp., who converted the locations they kept open to their pre-existing brand, Big Lots! (and ultimately renamed the entire business Big Lots, Inc., which currently trades on the NYSE with the symbol BIG). While most of the merchandise in these stores is off-brand or otherwise out of favour (see picture below), they occasionally bring in weird little items that magically appear — and then just as magically disappear. So it was with my introduction to Macedonian Lutenitza.

Get 'em while they're not hot.

Get ’em while they’re not hot.

Lutenitza (also known variously as ljutenica, lyutenitsa, or lutenica, plus a dazzling variety of Cyrillic-alphabet spellings) is a type of salsa/sauce/relish widely made throughout Bulgaria, Serbia, and Macedonia. Its basic ingredients are tomatoes, red peppers, aubergines (eggplant), vegetable oil, sugar, and salt, though variants also contain onions, carrots, garlic, and black pepper, among other things. Like salsa, everybody’s grandmother makes “the best,” and family recipes are handed down as prized possessions. I’m sure my Bulgarian friends — if I had any — would blanch at the idea of buying commercial lutenitza, but heck, I didn’t even know about it until a week ago. [Note to self: Make some Bulgarian friends.]

For the geographically challenged, this is where lutenitza comes from. Photo courtesy Univ. of Texas Library.

For the geographically challenged, this is where lutenitza comes from. Photo courtesy Univ. of Texas Library.

While lutenitza itself is entirely vegan, it’s served on meats, fish, breads, roasted vegetables, French fries, and pretty much anything that doesn’t move. Some versions are apparently hotter than others, but if you make your own — which I’m guessing you’ll probably have to do, unless you have a Balkan grocery (or Big Lots!) in your area — you can adjust spices to taste. This recipe, courtesy of rhubarbfool.co.uk, looks like it would match up pretty closely to the one in the bottle I have, except it would seem that this commercial version has upped the pepper and carrot content in favour of using aubergine, and he uses olive oil rather than a more neutral one such as canola.

Lutenitza Serving Suggestion, courtesy http://www.mucizelezzetler.com

Lutenitza Serving Suggestion, courtesy http://www.mucizelezzetler.com

Lutenitza –- Bulgarian Vegetable Relish

Ingredients

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
1 medium aubergine, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large roasted red peppers, skin and seeds removed and then diced
1 400g (14 oz.) can chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or summer savory if you have it)
2 tablespoons sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Take a medium sized saucepan and fry the onions, carrots and aubergines in the olive oil until soft. Add the red peppers and fry for a further 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and seasoning, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add a little water if the mixture seems too dry. Mash some of the mixture using a potato masher. You are aiming for a thick ratatouille type texture. Spoon into a clean preserving jar, cool, seal and refrigerate. Makes about 1 kg/2 lb.

If, however, you plan on making it the old fashioned way — which is to say in bulk to put up for winter — this video, which calls for an astonishing 8kg (nearly 18 lbs.) of tomatoes, might serve you better, as might this video, featuring the “Sexy Chef,” Liz Todorova.

More on lutenitza’s cousins, ajvar and pinjur, in a later post. Do come back.