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Turkish Karniyarik: a Stuffed Eggplant Treat

Filled with seasoned lamb or beef, the stuffed eggplant dish Karniyarik bursts with dark and rich flavors.

Karniyarik demonstrates the Turkish love of stuffed eggplant with a deliciously-baked filling.

The origins of the Turkish stuffed eggplant delight known as ‘karniyarik’ go back over 4,000 years ago when the eggplant was first domesticated in a region that now includes parts of Pakistan and India. The proper species name for eggplant which is ‘melongena’, was referred to in ancient Sanskrit, the liturgical language used by religious persons of South Asia, so it was already pleasing the palates of these ancient diners when written references to it first appeared.

The Spread of the Eggplant

From its place of origin, the eggplant made its way westward into the Middle East, penetrating up into Egypt, and northward into present-day Turkey. There are written records of the eggplant in Turkey from the ninth century on, so it’s no exaggeration to say that the eggplant has played an important role in Turkish cuisine.

However, Turkey was not the only place which enjoyed partaking of this delicious and beautiful-looking vegetable. Between the fourth and seventh centuries, eggplants were introduced throughout Europe, starting in Spain and traveling eastward. Writings from the 16th century indicate that Spaniards held the eggplant in great reverence, and believed that it contained a powerful aphrodisiac, prompting them to nickname the eggplant ‘berengenas’, or apples of love. Italian people also came to acquire a great appreciation for the eggplant, and dubbed it the ‘melanzana’.

A colorful flowering eggplant ripening on the vine.

The eggplant was introduced to the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages and has made its way across the globe as a food staple.

Modern Karniyarik – Turkish-Style Stuffed Eggplant

The eggplant dish known as karniyarik is humorously named so by the Turkish since its literal translation is ‘a split tummy’. When served for dinner, karniyarik is generally considered to be the main course and is often served with rice accompaniment. Most people believe that the dish tastes better if the eggplants are fried in hot oil, and then baked in the oven for tenderizing.

This tasty dish is to be found almost anywhere you travel in Turkey these days, a tribute to its enduring appeal, and to the centuries-old love affair that Turkish people have with the eggplant. When preparing karniyarik, you can make it a day ahead of time and freeze it at your option, since it freezes very well, and still tastes delicious after thawing and reheating. You can also prepare it hours ahead of its actual serving time and simply reheat before enchanting your dinner guests with it.

Ingredients Necessary for Preparation of Karniyarik

Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make this tasty treat:

  • freshly ground black pepper
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 1/2 cup of finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 6 slices of tomato
  • 6 bell peppers
  • 1 cup of water
  • 14 ounces of chopped tomatoes
  • four cloves of garlic, chopped up finely
  • one medium-sized onion, chopped up finely
  • 12 ounces of ground lamb or ground beef
  • 3 medium-sized dark purple eggplants.

Cooking Steps for Karniyarik

First, you have to cut each of the eggplants in half, making the cuts vertically and leaving the stalk untouched. In each of the 6 half-eggplants, make a deep cut lengthwise without quite cutting all the way through the skin on the opposite side. Leave about 1/2 inch untouched at both ends.

Next, you need to sprinkle a touch of salt on the fleshy side of each half-eggplant and then set them aside, for the time being, to allow the salt time to bring moisture out of the eggplants. Sauté the chopped onions in a little bit of the olive oil, until they soften up. Then you can add whichever choice of meat you have, lamb or beef, and cook that until all moisture has been absorbed.

Add the red pepper flakes, tomato paste, garlic, and chopped tomatoes, then season all with salt and the freshly ground black pepper. After cooking this mixture for a few minutes, remove it from the stove and mix in all but a little of the chopped parsley. At this point, you should taste test the mixture, to determine if the seasoning is the way you like it, and if not, you can add additional salt or pepper.

Before doing anything further with the eggplants, dry them off with a paper towel or with a kitchen towel. Then you can brown them on both sides, using the rest of the canola oil. With the fleshy sides facing toward you, put them in an oven-proof dish which has been well oiled, and spoon in the filling to each one individually. Preheat your oven and bake the dish for 20-30 minutes until the eggplant becomes completely soft, and serve. Enjoy this stuffed eggplant entrée with a full-bodied red wine to compliment the richness of the eggplant.