اگر فردوس بر روی زمین است همین است و همین است و همین است
Ab’ul Hasan Yamin ud-Din Khusrow may have uttered the above couplet for Kashmir in the late 13th century, but I use his poetic words to describe Ali Nazik, a simple dish made of brinjals, yoghurt, and lamb, accepted to be from the town of Gaziantep (informally called Antep) in southeastern Turkey. Some of you may know the ancient city for its pistachios, but apparently, it is also famous for its kebapçı.
Ali Nazik is similar to another Turkish dish, Hünkar Beğendi, though the latter should probably be called Ottoman for it is rumoured to have been first made for Murad IV in the early 17th century. There is a clear difference, albeit minor, between how I prepare the two recipes, but if you factor in customisation for taste across chefs, that difference diminishes rapidly. Because of its simplicity and few flavours, Ali Nazik lends itself to all sorts of adjustments even by amateur chefs. What is presented here is a basic recipe that can be built on to suit tastes.
- Lamb – 500g, thinly sliced
- Brinjal – 4, medium
- Yoghurt – 1½ cup, thick
- Butter – 2 tablespoons
- Garlic – 3 cloves, minced
- Paprika – 1 teaspoon
- [Optional] Green peppers – 3 (sivri biber or çarliston biber)
- [Optional] Onion – 1, medium
- [Optional] Tomatoes – 2, small
- [Optional] Cumin – ½ teaspoon
- Black pepper to taste
- Salt to taste
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
- Slit the brinjals slightly or poke a few holes in them and broil the brinjals in the oven until they are completely black on the outside and soft on the inside. Remember to turn them over after about ten minutes. If you are willing to be a bit more vigilant, you can roast them directly on the gas flame until the same result is achieved. Ideally, this should be done on a charcoal grill as the smoke would impart its own flavour to the dish.
- [Optional] Some people also roast green peppers along with the brinjals and add them to the puree. The type and amount depend on your taste, but those who like the dish spicy use sivri biber while those who prefer a mild tang generally use çarliston biber. However, some slice the peppers, de-seed them, and sauté them with the meat. I do not do either.
- The brinjals should take around 20 minutes to be ready. Once done, peel them and discard the seeds.
- Mash the brinjals into a pulp. Add the salt and black pepper at this stage. Some people also add finely chopped coriander leaves, but I would leave it out for the first time.
- While the brinjals are roasting, sauté the thinly sliced lamb pieces in butter, along with salt, pepper, and paprika. If you wish, you can add a pinch of cumin too. Many people cube or ground the lamb or beef instead of using sliced lamb, but I personally prefer thinly sliced lamb.
- [Optional] If you are using onions and tomatoes, dice the tomatoes and slice the onions thinly. Add the onions to the meat once the fat starts running. Once the onions are a golden brown, add the tomatoes too (and the green pepper if you are using them and not roasting them with the brinjals).
- Mince the garlic as well as you can and mix it into the yoghurt. We use süzme yoğurt but it just needs to be thick.
- Spread a layer of the brinjal puree on a plate, spread the yoghurt over it, and top with a layer of lamb.
- Garnish with tomato slices and serve with flatbread or a simple rice pulav.
I always recommend trying the basic recipe first and then adding ingredients to suit your taste the next time. I have even seen this dish made with pistachios in it!