Sunday, 6 January 2013

Tepsi Baytinjan

Happy belated 2013!! I know, I know, what I've posted today has nothing to do with your new years resolutions of being healthier! Eating more salads! Losing that extra weight you've gained over the holidays! Boooooooring. Trust me, this is way better. Since I've started this blog, the main question I get from friends and family friends are "Do you post any Arab dishes?" or more specifically "Do you post any Iraqi dishes?".

So, I decided to start the new year correcting the mistake that I haven't got a single Iraqi dish on this site and starting with my favourite Iraqi dish: Tepsi Baytinjan. It took me a while to figure out how to spell this, as I've only ever said/spelled it in Arabic, but after an hour's Google search and 12 tabs later - I found this to be the most popular way of spelling it, and a little bit of history along the way.

Tepsi baytinjan, a very popular and well known Iraqi dish, is a casserole, usually served with rice. The main ingredient of the dish is aubergine (baytinjan translated means aubergine), which is somewhat a favourite vegetable amongst Iraqis. Similar to moussaka, the dish consists of layers of vegetables and meat, covered in a sauce and baked. According to my research, different ingredients that the dish consists of demonstrate Iraqi history to some extent. The addition of pomegranate syrup, was inspired by the Persians, during the ruling of the Abbasid Caliphate, which ruled Iraq from 786-809 AD. After the 15th century, tomatoes and peppers were introduced by the Americans (although my dad disagrees with this point and says that Iraqis were using tomatoes long before then), and curry powder brought back by the British from India, who ruled Iraq as recently as the early 20th century. 

So, apart from finding out about the history of this dish, I also found that many different people make it in different ways. Some people add only aubergines and onions as the vegetables, others add more; peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. Some people use beef, others use lamb. Some people use ground meat, others use cubed meat. Some people just add a layer of cooked ground meat, others make meatballs, fry them and drop them on top of the dish, or like my grandma does and others I've seen do - fry up finger-shaped meatballs and wrap them up in fried long slices of aubergine. The spices used and the sauces made also vary from recipe to recipe. Basically - you probably wont get two people that make this dish exactly the same way.

My mum and my grandmother both have their own ways of making this dish, and I love both ways. My mum makes hers more mousaka like with a layer of cooked ground meat with spices, then layers of sliced potatoes, peppers, onions, aubergines and tomatoes, topped off with a sauce made from tomato paste, stock, lemon juice and pomegranate syrup, baked in the oven until all the vegetables are cooked and the tomatoes start to brown, and garnished with chopped parsley. My grandmother on the other hand, puts more effort into hers. She adds a chilli to the meat and makes meatballs out of them, and slices her aubergine lengthways so that she can cocoon the meatballs in them with a little bit of parsley and wraps it up like a parcel with a parsley stem. She assembles hers by layering sliced onions, the aubergine parcels and then thinly sliced tomatoes, topping hers off with a sauce made of pureed chopped tomatoes with spices, lemon juice and pomegranate syrup.

Being a lover of both versions, I made my own version, without adding anything that hasn't been added before. I kept the layering of my mums vegetables, adding the parcels from my grandma and making the sauce with both their ingredients. And to be honest... Everyone loved this version too.

I've halved the ingredients that I used, so that you wont need to make it for 10-12 people. But leftovers are always appreciated. Just ask my friend Emily I made this for when she stayed round once and insisted that she wanted some again for breakfast the next day.

Tepsi Baytinjan

(Adapted from my mum and grandmother)
(serves 4-6)

500 grams ground beef or lamb
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus extra
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons flour
2 onions, 1 diced, 1 sliced in rounds
1 green chilli
1 pepper (colour of your choice), cored and sliced in rounds
3 medium sized potatoes (or 2 large ones), peeled and thinly sliced
3 medium sized aubergines, sliced lengthways
1/2 bunch parsley
Vegetable or sunflower oil

The Sauce
3 tablespoons tomato paste
juice of 1 lemon
2 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat the to 180°C (350°F). Grease a deep baking dish and set aside. 

Lay the aubergine slices on a flat surface and sprinkle with salt, then either make a few piles of aubergine and balance a heavy plate on top and leave for a while to squeeze out the moisture, or leave them and then press the aubergine slices between two kitchen towels to squeeze out the moisture.

In a food processor, mix together the curry powder, cumin, turmeric, coriander, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, pepper, the diced onion and chilli, until well combined. In a medium bowl, mix together your choice of ground meat with the mixture. Add the flour to make the mixture less wet and more manageable (you may need to add more flour). Using your hands, make finger shaped meatballs and set aside.

In a frying pan, on medium-high, heat about two tablespoons of oil and place 2-3 aubergine slices, and flip over after a few seconds - aubergines soak up a lot of oil, so I flip it over so both sides have a chance to absorb some oil rather than one side absorbing the oil and adding more oil when I flip them over. Fry the aubergines until both sides are golden brown, transfer to a plate covered with kitchen towel. Add more oil and repeat until you have fried all the slices.

In the same frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and fry the meatballs until a they are a nice golden brown colour on all sides. They won't be cooked through, but that's ok because they continue to cook in the oven. Transfer to a plate covered with kitchen towel. 

Making the parcels: Lay a aubergine slice and place a meatball in it with a few parsley leaves. Roll the the aubergine until the meatball is covered and tie it up with a parsley stalk (you don't need to tie it up with a parsley stalk, but it looks prettier). 

Making the sauce: Put all the ingredients in a measuring jug. Add 300ml of boiling water and mix until well combined

Assembling the dish: layer the potato slices in the baking dish, then layer the peppers, then the onions. Tightly pack the parcels, and try not to leave any gaps between them. If you have any extra meatballs, place them under the parcels. Decorate the dish with tomato slices, then pour the sauce evenly all over the dish. 

Cover the dish tightly with foil, and put in the oven to cook for 35-40 minutes. Remove the foil and let it brown a bit more, about 10 minutes longer. Serve immediately with rice.


  1. I thought i'd start 2013 by finally commenting on your blog on the first Iraqi Dish, and may i say it was absolutely delicious!!!

    You know that i will forever hold the pronunciation of this dish against you. Search up Aubergine in arabic fis7a and you will see that phonetically pronounced straight from Arabic: it is Bethinjan!!!
    (But you already know this don't you? ;) xxx

  2. I can vouch for this was indeed so good that i had it cold for breakfast the next morning....make it!!

  3. Super exited about this blog entry :) cant wait to try and make it. K xx