The Ottomans are known to have an almost proverbial 51 ways to prepare eggplants - Meftune is one of them and could be considered the cousin or maybe even forefather of Musakka. Each region in the Middle East has its own take on it and in Turkey, each province even has a different way of preparing it.
What is Meftune?
It is a dish prepared mainly with eggplants when they are in season but other meftunes are made with zucchini, cucumber and gundelia. Some rarer versions can be even made with apples. (1) Also added to the dish is mutton and most importantly sumac.
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When the Arabs brought the eggplant to Anatolia, the southeastern regions were naturally the first in what is now Turkey to get their hands on the vegetable. With the combination of sumac, which had been around for centuries, it made only sense to combine them. The common herding of lamb in the region to this day and the feature of sumac to “make all meat sweeter” whet the appetite of many. (2) The dish became so beloved in Diyarbakır that it was called “Meftune”, which means “heart” as written by Da’i Mehmed Efendi in his book “Nevhatü’l-Uşşak” in the 17th century.
The more confusing part of this dish is that it was referred to by very similar names – that are listed in the etymology part – causing for different descriptions, such as “stuffed aubergines”. The main reason is probably the shared lingual and culinary influences, such as the Abbasid foodways that influenced Ottoman cuisine especially. (3) Leading to different meanings despite being the same word, one such example is Künefe and Kadayıf.
The dish while nowadays more confined to the southeastern regions made it into the first printed Turkish cookbook called “Melceü’t-Tabbahin”, or “Cooks’ Refuge” by Ahmet Kamil in 1844. This book was later translated by Turabi Efendi as the “Turkish Cookery Book” in 1862 but slid more into the musakka version of the dish. (4)
When looking at the more regional differences, we can see that the Mardin way of preparing this dish involves dried vegetables while the people in Diyarbakır prefer to make it with fresh produce. The most essential other difference is the use of sumac. Both these versions prompted applications to the Turkish Patent and Trademark Office. (5)
Meftune is seen as more of a seasonal dish in Diyarbakır due to the plentiful eggplant harvest in summer. That is the reason why they prefer to make the gundelia version in spring and with the late harvest of zucchinis in winter. Thanks to the availability of these vegetables, it has grown in popularity over the centuries in the region.
The earliest mention of Meftune was written by Aşık Paşa in his poetry book “Garibname” in 1330 as “meftun” describing someone “who has lost their mind due to love”. The other versions stem from the same word root making up the many different names this dish has – such as Medfune, Medkune, Medhuniye, Medfune.
Meftune - the messier and more aromatic cousin of Musakka
- 4-5 eggplants
- 500 gr mutton
- 2 to matoes
- 2-3 green pepper preferably hot
- 2 tbsp clarified butter
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 110 gr sumac
- 4-5 cloves garlic
- salt red pepper flakes
- Let the sumac rest in about half a liter of water so that the water absorbs the flavor of it as much as possible.
- Do this step at first, giving plenty of time.
- Cut the eggplants in equal sized cubes and let them rest in salted water to draw out the bitterness.
- Chop the lamb meat into small pieces and roast them lightly with the butter.
- When it takes on color, add the tomato paste and cook them together for 1-2 minutes.
- Chop the tomatoes and peppers roughly and add them to the meat.
- Remove the eggplants from their salt water and add them into the pot as well.
- Finally pour the sumac infused water to the dish with a sieve, removing the sumac pieces.
- Simmer this dish until the eggplants and meat are cooked through.
- Keep an eye on it and occasionally add more water if needed.
- Serve hot.