Ali Nazik is one of the most popular "kebab" dishes across Turkey, and one of the easiest to re-create at home. A bed of smokey eggplant puree mixed with yogurt until creamy is topped with succulent lamb cubes stewed with onions, spices and tomato paste. This dish is often served with bread or a side of rice, and it will transport you to busy Istanbul restaurants. Follow my easy steps to make it in under an hour.
What is Ali Nazik?
Turkish cuisine is rife with grilled meats and cherishes the smoky flavour profile. Eggplant is also a very common ingredient, and one of my personal favourites. You may have heard of mutabbal or baba ghanoush, which are common middle eastern eggplant dips. This dish uses an eggplant puree as the base, but its topped with a succulent lamb stewed with spices.
This dish is known to have originated from the city of Antep in Turkey, and the name of the dish has a fun story behind it! It's said that a Sultan was once served this dish and loved it, so he went on to ask "who's delicate hand made this dish?" In Turkish, "eli nazik" means delicate hands. Since then, the dish was called Ali Nazik!
I found it interesting because as an Arabic speaking Iraqi, we share a lot of words with the Turkish language. And in Iraq, we actually use the word "nazik" when referring to something delicate or beautiful. These discoveries excite me.
Back to this dish - if you love eggplant recipes, you'll absolutely love the combination of eggplant and lamb. I love this dish on its own, with a fork. But it's traditionally served with a side of rice or bread.
Ingredient and Substitutions
Here are my notes on the ingredients you need to make Ali Nazik and the substitutions you can make:
Eggplant; you can use large globe (or American) eggplant or Italian eggplant. I wouldn't recommend Chinese, Japanese or Indian eggplant as they won't have as much flesh.
Lamb shoulder cut into small pieces. The smaller pieces will cook faster. You can also feel free to substitute veal, but I would not recommend beef as it won't be as tender.
Yogurt - either regular whole yogurt which would need to be strained in a cheese cloth to thicken it, or you can use thick greek yogurt or even labneh without straining.
Spices I use include salt, pepper, Aleppo pepper and paprika - common spices used in Turkish cuisine and that bring depth and a subtle spice to this dish.
Red pepper, tomato paste and red pepper paste add flavour and colour to the lamb. If you don't have red pepper paste, you can skip it.
WHAT IS TURKISH RED PEPPER PASTE? This is called "Biber Salcasi" and it's very common in Turkish cuisine. It's a paste made from sweet red peppers, but there are also spicy varieties. It's used similarly to tomato paste and adds a delicious depth of flavour to dishes like Turkish bulgur.
How To Make This Recipe Step-By-Step
Here's an overview of the order of steps you should take to make this in the quickest way:
- Start with roasting the eggplant;
- While the eggplant roasts, strain the yogurt;
- While the yogurt strains, cook the lamb.
Let's go over each step.
Roast the Eggplant
There are a few different ways you can do this, depending on what kind of stove you have and the flavour profile you're looking for.
If you have a gas stove: you can roast the eggplant over an open flame, using tongs to hold it and rotate it all around. This method will result in the most smokey flavour, and it will take about 15 minutes for the eggplant flesh to soften. Allow it to cool then peel the skin off.
If you don't have a gas stove: You can either use a cast iron pan to char the eggplant first to get a slightly smokey flavour, then finish roasting it in the oven. Or you can skip this step and continue to oven roast.
If you don't care for smokey flavour and want a hands off method: Just prick the eggplant all over with a fork, then roast in the oven at 450F for 35-45 minutes until the flesh is very soft.
I usually char it on my cast iron skillet without any oil, then roast in the oven. You'll know its ready when its very soft when tested with a fork. Leave the eggplant to cool, then open up each eggplant and scoop out the flesh.
The eggplant flesh will have some liquid. Place the flesh in sieve and press down over a bowl to release as much of that liquid as possible.
Next, place the eggplant flesh on a cutting board and using a knife to chop it until a paste forms. You can also use a fork to mash it while it's still in the bowl. The knife gives you a less chunky consistency.
Strain the Yogurt
The easiest thing to do if you want to skip straining is to use thick greek style yogurt or labneh. Those are thick and don't need to be strained.
But if you have whole yogurt, you can place that in a cheesecloth and strain it for 15-20 minutes. It'll result in a thicker consistency which is needed for this dish.
If you don't have a cheesecloth: simply line a sieve with paper towels and place the yogurt on top. This will work very well to strain most of the liquid out.
Once the yogurt is strained, mix it with the chopped eggplant flesh, along with salt, pepper and crushed garlic. Taste and adjust to your liking.
Cook the Lamb
In a skillet, add the oil and heat it. Once hot, add the lamb pieces, without overcrowding the pan. This will result in a nice sear on the lamb and you'll notice it will brown. You can work in batches.
If you overcrowd your pan, the meant won't have as much flavour as a lot of the juices will release and it will "steam" the lamb.
Once the lamb is browned, add the red pepper, the seasoning, and the red pepper paste. Continue to cook for a few minutes. Add a few tablespoons of water, cover the skillet and cook for a further 10 minutes until the lamb is tender. Taste and adjust.
To assemble the Ali Nazik, place a layer of the eggplant puree on a platter, then top with the cooked lamb. Scoop any juices over the dish. Serve with a side of bread or rice.
Serving and Storage Suggestions
This dish is served when the lamb is freshly cooked, so the eggplant is cold but the lamb on top is hot.
Only serve the amount that you'll know you will eat. Make sure to store the eggplant and the lamb separately in airtight containers and in the fridge. You can then re-heat the lamb the next day and serve over the eggplant.
Other Turkish Recipes You Will Love:
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Turkish Ali Nazik (Smoked Eggplant & Lamb)
For the Eggplant
- 3 eggplants medium
- 1 cup strained yogurt or greek yogurt/labneh
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 large clove garlic crushed (more per preference)
For the Lamb:
- 450 grams boneless lamb or veal cut into ½ inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon aleppo pepper
- ½ large red bell pepper diced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon red pepper paste
- A few tablespoons of water
For the Eggplant
- Preheat oven to 450F.
- Wash the eggplant and dry it. Then, use a knife to pierce it 4-5 times all around.
- If you are using a gas stove to roast the eggplant, use tongs to hold each eggplant and place it on the open flame, rotating continuously on all sides until you achieve a dark char on the outside of the skin. Repeat with all the eggplant, then set aside to cool before you peel.
- If you are using the oven to roast the eggplant, start by placing a large cast iron skillet over medium heat on your stove. Using a cast iron skillet to char the eggplant first gives a deeper, and slightly smokey flavour. However, you can skip this step and roast right away.
- Place all the eggplants on the skillet and char each side for 5-7 minutes, rotating.
- Once each side has been charred, place on a foil lined sheet pan and bake for 35-40 minutes until it is soft and easily pricked with a fork. Set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, strain the yogurt using a cheese cloth set over a mesh sieve and bowl. Strain for about 20 minutes to achieve a thicker consistency. You can also use labneh or thick greek yogurt instead, without straining.
- Tip: While the yogurt is straining and the eggplant is roasting, work on the lamb.
- Split open the cooled eggplant and scoop out the flesh into a mesh sieve set over a bowl to drain out the extra moisture. Press the eggplant flesh down and the juices will release. Discard the juices.
- Place the drained eggplant onto a cutting board and chop finely using a knife.
- Place the eggplant into a bowl with the strained yogurt, salt, pepper, and crushed garlic. Mix well and set aside.
For the Lamb
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the lamb pieces along with the salt, paprika and Aleppo pepper. Brown the meat on each side for 5-7 minutes.
- Add the diced red bell pepper, the tomato paste and the red pepper paste. Continue to cook for a few minutes.
- Add a few tablespoons of water to the skillet, then cover, lower the heat and continue to cook for 5-7 minutes until the lamb is very tender. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- To assemble, spread the eggplant mixture on a platter, top with the lamb mixture and garnish with parsley. Serve with your favourite bread or flatbread.
- Instead of straining regular whole yogurt, you can use thick greek yogurt or labneh.
- Instead of charring the eggplant on a cast iron skillet, you can skip to roasting it right away. The cast iron skillet will add a deeper flavour and slight smokiness but it does take longer.
- Using a burner on a gas stove to char the eggplant and cook it will result in the most smokey flavour.
- You can use veal instead of lamb; both will yield tender and delicious results.