Karniyarik – Stuffed eggplant with centuries of history

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

Turks love their eggplant dishes. It is said that during the Ottoman period, as many 51 different eggplant dishes were commonly prepared. Let’s see just how far back this dish dates.

What is Karniyarik?

Karnıyarık is an eggplant dish that is fried in oil and stuffed with a meat and vegetable filling. Drizzled in a bit of sauce, it is then baked and then eaten with a side of usually rice and almost always some yogurt.

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The origins

During the Seljuk period, the Turks were introduced to rice and eggplant through Arabian merchants. Thus it was only natural that Ottoman cuisine became heavily influenced by Abbasid foods. There are several cook books of the era that describe the dish extensively.
Ibn Razin al-Tuyibi (1227-1293) lists a total of 17 different ways to prepare stuffed eggplants, one being almost completely the same as the contemporary method. The eggplant is hollowed though with the skin intact. Meat is then mashed in a mortar along with a bit of sheep tail fat and a variety of seasonings including cilantro and parsley, and the whole mixture is then stuffed into the eggplant and cooked. Another recipe from the same time is from an anonymous cookbook, in which there are several stuffed eggplant dishes. Its “tharfda” recipe is the closest to the Turkish classic, the only difference being that it is served on a bed of soaked breadcrumbs.
The eggplant was the most consumed vegetable in Ottoman kitchens, closely followed by zucchini. What was popular in the palace kitchens ultimately made its way to the general public, with dishes like işkembe çorbası (tripe soup), yahni (a kind of ragout), and the stuffed eggplant, then called “medfune,” being sold in specialty shops in the 17th century.
Over the years, the recipes changed and expanded. In the 15th century, it was prepared with some rose water, and an 18th century recipe saw it transformed into a sour tasting stuffed eggplant topped with cinnamon.
The Greek version, “Papoutsakia,” is likely based on Turkish varieties of stuffed eggplants.

Etymology

Karnıyarık was actually a name used for a kind of baklava in Ottoman times, while “medfune” was used for the dish itself. Karnıyarık literally means “riven belly,” referring to the opening needed for the filling. The Greek papoutsakia stems from the Persian word “papush” and is used in Turkish as “papuç” meaning “slipper.” The Greek version of the dish involves cutting the eggplant lengthwise, filling it with a variety of ingredients and topping it off with cheese.

Karnıyarık - stuffed eggplant with centuries of history

Before preparing this dish, you’ll want to find straight eggplants. The size does not matter much, but smaller ones will make for a good-sized portion.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg eggplant
  • 300 gr minced beef
  • 2-3 onions
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1-2 tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 bundle of parsley
  • salt, black pepper to taste
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • Green peppers, tomatoes, to garnish (optional)

Instructions

  • Peel the eggplant in a striped manner lengthwise and let them rest in salty water for at least half an hour to draw out the bitter taste. This step can be skipped if you know that the eggplants are not overly bitter. Dry the eggplants thoroughly, and fry them in oil until the flesh becomes a golden brown color. Place the eggplants into a baking dish. Do not let the excess oil drip off.
  • Prepare the filling by chopping the onions and garlic and sautéing in a pan until they are aromatic and have softened. Add the minced meat and sauté together until the meat has darkened. Peel and chop the tomatoes before adding them into the mix, and season to your liking. Let it cook together for several minutes and turn off the heat. Chop parsley and mix it into the filling.
  • Using a fork, carefully open the midsection of the eggplants and start stuffing them with the filling. The amount of filling will depend on the size of the eggplant. Make sure not to fill it too much to prevent it from overflowing.
  • Dissolve tomato paste in about 150-200 ml of water, and pour it over the eggplants. The eggplants can then can be garnished with a few slices of tomato and green peppers. Bake at 170 degrees Celsius for about half an hour.
  • Serve with yogurt and rice on the side.

Notes

Bibliography

(1) Paulina B. Lewicka, “Food and Foodways of Medieval Cairenes: Aspects of Life in an Islamic Metropolis of the Eastern Mediterranean”, 2011
(2) Priscilla Mary Işın, “Bountiful Empire: A History of Ottoman Cuisine”, 2018
(3) Lilia Zaouali, “Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World”, 2009
(4) “Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook-The Book of Cooking in Maghreb and Andalus in the era of Almohads”, contributed by Charles Perry, Candida Martinelli and David Friedman
(5) Marianna Yerasimos, “500 Yıllık Osmanlı Mutfağı”, 2002
(6) Priscilla Mary Işın, “Bountiful Empire: A History of Ottoman Cuisine”, 2018
Course: Main Course
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