Turkey: Eggplant Stuffed with Lamb (Karniyarik)

Eggplant Stuffed with Lamb (Karniyarik)

In past years, I’ve mollified Michigan winters with trips to flavorful destinations, a country’s cuisine inspiring my travels. One birthday, for instance, a friend gave me a collection of Turkish spices — four months later I was waking at dawn to the “call to prayer” in Istanbul.

Turkey is a swirling dervish of a landscape, redolent of ancient spice markets, vendors grilling fish and kebabs in alley ways and dessert carts shuffled along the streets. When traveling through Turkish towns and cities, you are aware you are in a population of people passionate about their food; in short, Turkey is a food-lover’s paradise.

The food reflects cuisine dating back to the period of growth of the Ottoman Empire, which was markedly influenced by Arabic cooking and New World crops such as tomatoes and peppers. Stuffed fruits and vegetables, in particular, are hallmarks of this savory fare.

Stuffed vegetables, known as dolmas, are commonly made with grape leaves, zucchini, onions, peppers, tomatoes, leeks and eggplant. They may be stuffed with ground beef, rice, vegetables and spices and are often simmered in tomato sauce or juice.

Many Eastern Mediterranean countries lay stakes on recipes such as the one below; I recently found similar recipes on the Internet from Iraq, Iran and Azerbanijan. I adapted the recipe below from a favorite cookbook, “Arabesque” by Claudia Roden, who says the name Karniyarik, means “slashed belly.”

I improvised on her recipe by substituting fresh mint for parsley and lamb for ground beef, and I added toasted pine nuts for a nutty, textural crunch. Her recipe also calls for using fresh tomatoes, but at this time of the year, I prefer using diced canned tomatoes, strained.

I’ve found the Near East rice pilafs to be quick and easy accompaniments to dolmas — wonderful for soaking up the flavorful juices of the dish.

This recipe is easily adapted to another vegetarian Turkish classic, Eggplants stuffed with Onions and Tomatoes (Iman Bayildy); simply omit the lamb, add chopped garlic and increase the amount of tomatoes and onion; then, proceed with the recipe. I chose to fry the eggplant before stuffing, but I’ve seen recipes that call for simmering the eggplant in water, instead, after soaking in the sodium bath; that would be a good way to cut fat — eggplants are sponges for oil.

Colorful, sun-drenched Turkish cuisine reflects the way I love to cook and eat, the perfect antidote to (expletives deleted) March in Michigan.

Recipe: Eggplant Stuffed with Lamb (Karniyarik)


  • 6 thin and long medium-sized eggplant
  • 3 tablespoons grapeseed or sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 14 ounces ground lamb or beef
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes*
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/3 cup chopped mint or parsley, plus extra sprigs for garnish if desired
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted, optional


  1. Trim the green leaf caps but leave the stem ends on the eggplants. Peel 1/2-inch wide strips off the skins lengthwise, leaving alternate 1/2-inch strips of peel. Fill a bowl large enough to accommodate eggplants 1/2 full with water; stir in 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Submerge eggplants, weighted down, in water to cover. Let soak 30 minutes, drain then dry with paper towels.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. While eggplant are soaking, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large sauté pan. Cook onion until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add lamb and cook until just browned, stirring and breaking up with a fork. Stir in tomato paste, tomatoes, cinnamon and allspice and simmer 10 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in mint; season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
  4. In another large sauté pan, heat remaining oil to medium high heat. In batches, fry eggplant until browned on peeled sides. Drain on paper towels.
  5. Place eggplants side by side in a single layer in a baking dish. With a sharp pointed knife, make a slit in each one (taking care not to slice through the eggplant), lengthwise, along one of the peeled strips until 1 inch from the stem end. Open the slits and,with a spoon, press against the flesh on the insides to make a hollow pocket.
  6. Divide filling into each eggplant. Pour tomato juice into the dish, cover with foil, and bake on middle rack of oven 25-40 minutes or until the eggplant are tender. Serve with tomato pan juices and garnish with pine nuts and mint sprigs, if using.

*I use fresh tomatoes only when they are in season; otherwise I use best quality canned.

Active Time: 45 minutes

Eggplant soak time: 30 minutes

Bake time: 25-40 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 6 stuffed eggplant

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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