Musa Dagdeviren’s eggplant and lentil stew with pomegranate molasses

by Forager on February 23, 2011

Once upon a time I had a love affair with far away Turkey. I was intrigued by the exotic silhouettes of domed mosques with proud minarets; cafes alive with chatter, the smell of coffee and the curling wisps from bubbling hookahs. I had long romanticised the idea of exploring the cave dwellings in Cappadocia with their aptly and ethereally termed fairy spires with barren landscape backdrops so unfamiliar they appear transported from a desert mirage.

Onto the scene slinks a proud Turk, dripping unshakable self-assured sex appeal and sporting the slicked hair, open white shirt and black skinny pants that would become his signature style. He was well schooled in the art of seduction, but alas he seemed to have mistakenly enrolled in the school of feminine seduction and on the frequent occasions that he would drape himself over my desk like a languid cat and toy with his hair with come hither eyes, I found myself far from seduced, but close to channeling a Zinedine Zidane headbutt. With an unrivalled degree of patriotic love for Turkey that fuelled remarks that were at best inflammatory, I found my professional resolve and my love affair with Turkey slowly slinking out the door. The tension-laden feud between us ended spectacularly with the proverbial carpark bout. Jousting and jostling of egos and some childish verbal mud slinging later, an uneasy truce was formed. Over time and with the benefit of physical distance and sheepish remorse, an unlikely if awkward friendship was fostered and with it the love affair with Turkey was slowly allowed to spark and smoulder again.

Upon hearing that Musa Dagdeviren was one of the star international chefs to feature in last year’s Sydney International Food Festival, I even told the Turk to see if he was familiar with the chef or his popular restaurant Çiya in Istanbul. Neither his non-chalant remark nor the generic blurb offered by the SIFF site satisfied my curiosity, so I decided to do my own research on the chef. Amongst the praise was one intriguing recipe for eggplant and lentil stew with pomegranate molasses which, given my affection for eggplant, I felt compelled to try. It was utterly delicious! The eggplant was reduced to a slippery, molten gooey consistency that married perfectly with the tangy, spicy tomatoey salsa and the bright lifting notes of the treacly tart pomegranate molasses.

So impressed were we with the recipe that we immediately booked ourselves in for Musa Dagdeviren’s SIFF offering at Efendy in Balmain. A five course Turkish tasting menu awaited us for a mere $95 per person and if the eggplant recipe was any yardstick, we expected a wonderful feast that toured exotic and unconventional flavours from different regions in Turkey. Perhaps it was a mistake to have tried the eggplant recipe beforehand and formed high expectations of authentic and surprising dishes and flavours as we were sorely disappointed with our meal. Of the five courses, two consisted of a very small plates of dip shared between four people but most disturbingly, despite having checked twice before the meal and once when we arrived that the vegetarian amongst us would be catered for, she wasn’t. The main was Visneli Kofte, a village style stewed lamb with sour cherry dish with Muceddere, a side salad of lentil and crushed wheat pilav. When it was pointed out that the vegetarian offering was absent, our vegetarian friend was instructed to enjoy the side of salad. Pragmatic yes, but not quite acceptable. On further complaint she was offered a fish dish and when we clarified that she was a true vegetarian, and the last we heard, fish hadn’t gained honorary vegetable classification, no matter what some “vegetarians” may claim, she was finally offered a vegetarian dish of grilled vegetables. Apart from one interesting mung bean salad dish, we left the dinner feeling largely underwhelmed with the experience. The dishes had not been particularly inspiring and so small we all left hungry and wanting. We speculated why the specific dishes had been chosen for that menu, since any one of Musa Dagdeviren’s recipes we’d stumbled upon sounded much tastier, more adventurous and perhaps a better mascot for their Turkish regions. Perhaps the Chef had been briefed on a very timid Sydney-sider palette, uneducated even of stereotypes of Central Asian cuisine? Because “safe” would be one description of the dishes served during that meal.

Since that meal we’ve made the eggplant and lentil stew many more times, at home and for family and friends, and it’s secured a permanent place in our recipe repertoire. This recipe, published in Food and Wine, represents Antakya, a Turkish coastal town. Though I have no preconception of what Antakya is like – the rich, slow cooked silken flavours of this recipe whisper of home cooking comforts and paints me vivid pictures of simple abodes, friendly Turkish hospitality and sparkling azure waters. My imagined idyllic vision may be far from the mark, but it has me wondering whether other Antakyan dishes are just as delicious and makes me pine for travel. If only the dishes served at that SIFF dinner were as satisfying and wanderlust inspiring.

Eggplant and lentil stew with pomegranate molasses

(Marginally adapted from Musa Dagdeviren’s recipe published in Food and Wine)

Ingredients (serves 6):

  • 2 medium eggplants
  • 1/2 cup of lentils (we used canned lentils)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 long green chillies, stemmed, de-seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses (available at Middle Eastern supermarkets)
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • water


  1. Partially peel the eggplant so it has lengthways stripes then cut each eggplant lengthwise into 4 even slices. Score each slice with a crosshatch pattern and sprinkle with salt. Let stand for one hour on a baking sheet.
  2. Meanwhile in a small saucepan, cover the dried lentils with 5cm/2 inches of water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to moderate and simmer for about 15 minutes until tender then drain. Skip this step if using canned lentils.
  3. In a bowl combine the tomato, onion, garlic, chillies, mint, tomato paste, red pepper and 2 teaspoons of salt.
  4. Rinse the eggplant slices and pat dry.
  5. Coat a large heavy enameled cast-iron casserole pot with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then 1/2 cup of the vegetable mixture, layer on half of the eggplant pieces and top with half of the lentils. Repeat layering process with the remaining ingredients. Pour remaining olive oil around the sides of the pot and over the vegetables and then drizzle with the pomegranate molasses.
  6. Bring the pot to the boil then cover and cook on low heat for about 90 minutes until the eggplant is very tender. It is worthwhile checking halfway through the cooking process and pushing the ingredients down gently into the stewing liquid to aid complete stewing.
  7. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. The stew can be made ahead of time and tastes best when allowed to mellow for a few hours.
Scored sweating eggplants Musa Dagdeviren

Scoring and salting the eggplant slices

Eggplant salsa ingredients Musa Dagdeviren

Combining the vegetable salsa ingredients

Tasty savoury vegetable salsa Musa Dagdeviren recipe

This vegetable salsa alone is ridiculously tasty!

Layering the eggplant lentil pomegranate stew Musa Dagdeviren recipe

Layering the eggplant and lentil stew and finishing with generous lashings of pomegranate molasses

Eggplant lentil pomegranate molasses stew Musa Dagdeviren recipe

Colourful layers ready for long, slow stewing

Eggplant lentil pomegranate molasses stew Musa Dagdeviren recipe

Checking in at the halfway mark - compress and push down ingredients to ensure complete stewing

Musa Dagdeviren's eggplant and lentil stew with pomegranate molasses

The finished product - Musa Dagdeviren's eggplant and lentil stew with pomegranate molasses


This recipe is sure to satisfy eggplant lovers and perhaps even pique your curiosity about Turkish food as it did mine. The only better way to sate my interest is to one day visit Turkey and Çiya and discover for myself whether Musa Dagdeviren’s dishes served at Efendy were really the best representations possible of those Turkish regions and his mastery of Turkish cuisine. A wonderful and most convenient excuse to travel!


Dedicated to the Turk, an unlikely counterpart in a friendship.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peter G @ Souvlaki For The Soul February 23, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Sorry to hear about your experience at that restaurant Trina…very unacceptable. Although, just think that you got this delicious recipe out fo the experience. I’m bookmarking this to serve at a future dinner party.
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2 Trissa February 23, 2011 at 9:15 pm

I agree with Peter – unacceptable restaurant behaviour… The dish sounds amazing though – glad you found it – when and I going to try it from you firsthand?
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3 angie February 24, 2011 at 9:35 am

Shame about your dinner at Efendy! And the way your vegetarian friend was treated too, I didn’t think that Efendy was a place to treat people like that.
This stew looks and sounds amazing! Glad you found yourself a little bit of Turkey =)
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4 Reemski February 24, 2011 at 10:08 am

Oh no! That’s terrible! And terribly rude.
I missed his session at the World Chef showcase but was lucky enough to try one of the dishes, as they had overcatered, and it was stunning! So I can understand the disappointment
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5 mademoiselle délicieuse February 24, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Always a shame when a vegetarian is left out. Not only do they feel excluded from the dining experience but the company also feels bad for not being able to share their food and dining experience with the vegetarian. And that’s one of points of dining out – the shared experience.
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6 Somer Sivrioglu February 24, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Dear Trina,

Thank you for allowing me to post here, for your visit and the article on your experience at our
restaurant. I sincerely appreciate your article and your style of writing.

I believe, we need more food writers / food bloggers like yourselves that tell it as it is, good or bad, instead of wishy washy reviews. It is our duty as restaurants to take the bad with the good and learn from it. So, normally I would not comment on any reviews apart from a token
thank you, for one who am I to challenge any ones taste buds, dining experience and expectations, it is a personal opinion that you share with others.

But there are two things I simply can not go on without commenting;

on Musa being briefed on timid taste palates and playing safe

Since you researched him before, you would know that he does not do anything ‘safe’ as suggested and he can not be briefed. That’s what stands him from the crowd.

He simply researches the best produce and cooks in his authentic, different way. Just as an example, on October 6th 7am he arrived in Sydney from Istanbul after a 24 hour + flight. At 8 am we were at Paddy’s market checking Asian herbs that are similar to the herbs he use, then off to Fish Market. Just as a note, he simply raved about the quality of produce that he
found in Sydney.

We both worked very hard on that menu, so naturally I am dissapointed that Musa Dagdeviren’s dishes did not meet your expectations. That aside as said before I respect your honest comments on the taste and authenticity of the food and take it as is.

On the way your vegetarian guest being treated;

I am simply dissapointed with myself and my team, shocked and embarrassed.

I foster an environment in our restaurant that we gladly serve and change every dish for every guest according to their dietary requirements. You can see that statement on all our
menus if you click on the website.

For Musa’s dinner we had a separate vegetarian and vegan menu. How your friend is treated at my restaurant make me frustrated. I appreciate a chance to call or e-mail her personally, apologise and invite her at my cost for a vegetarian feast that we and Turkish cuisine is famous for. Please accept my profound apology, it simply is not acceptable for us or any restaurant
to treat a guest like that.

Once again, thank you for giving me a chance to reply.

PS. If I could humbly suggest one thing on your wonderful recipe, since pomegranates are in season, and relatively cheaper, simply make your own molasses with 2 cups of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice( can use a manual citrus press, you know the ones with a single pulling
arm or simply squeeze the juice out of the seeds by crushing them gently) ¼ cup of sugar,
squeeze of half a lemon, simmer till reduced. Makes a huge difference since the quality of most pomegranate molasses in the market are pretty artificial.

7 Jenny @ Musings and Morsels February 24, 2011 at 11:23 pm

I’ve never understood why there remains people out there who associate vegetarians with fish?! I believe the correct term is pescatarian. I, for one, do love my meat (the bloodier, the better for steak) but I could definitely eat this when I’m feeling overfed with the animal stuff. Looks glorious and hearty enough for the average omnivore too so perhaps I could persuade my beef-clutching dad to try something different for a change.
Usually, when it comes to vegetarian food, I warm up more towards Middle Eastern or Asian flavours than I do with Western. I think it has much to do with more intense flavours, which vegetables tend to benefit from.

8 Forager February 27, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Hi Somer – Having read your explanation and now knowing there was even a separate vegetarian and vegan menu, it does appear like an unfortunate miscommunication with the staff and not an extension of the views of the restaurant as a whole. I will happily pass on your words to my friend – thank you for taking the time to address this, and thanks for the recipe for the pomegranate molasses. Sounds easy and delicious!

9 Vivienne February 28, 2011 at 5:48 pm

haha i was just about to comment that i need to find a middle eastern shop to get the pomegranate molasses when i saw the recipe provided above in the comments 😉
def a dish i’m going to try out soon…im not a huge fan of lentil but maybe this recipe will change my tastebuds! haha

turkey is def a place i wanna visit too one day…and drink some tea there! 😉
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10 foodie and the chef March 1, 2011 at 2:07 am

Oh dear sounds like a bit of a stressful night…. this stew looks absolutely divine though, at least some good came from it all ! Love the sounds of that pomegranate molasses too.
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11 Conor @ Hold the Beef March 2, 2011 at 2:46 am

How disappointing, after getting your hopes up so high! I feel pretty sorry for your friend too.. I’m currently on a restrictive diet and am getting a good feel for how it is like to have to ask for special exceptions being made to meals.. I think being vegetarian is so well known these days though that it should be catered for quite easily, and with minimum of fuss. A shame that this didn’t happen, and it seems strange that they were treated in this manner if indeed there were vegetarian and vegan options ready to go? Anyway, looks like you got a killer recipe out of the entire experience. Bookmarking :)
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12 the ninja March 3, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Efendy fighting! Great to hear both sides of the story (especially told in such a concise and level-headed manner). And yes, I know I’m chiming but that’s what ninjas do

I like how your posts are massively text-filled but informative and enlightening enough to keep me reading till the end. The Turk sounds like he could add a few recipes to his arsenal for better success, though
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13 The Food Sage March 3, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Thanks for your honest reflection of your experience at Efendy … and ditto your love of Turkish food.
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14 Adrian @ Food Rehab March 9, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Never had pomegranate combined with eggplant- thanks for the recipe. I could taste the tangy/sweet/spicy flavours. Sorry to hear of your experience though. Great and informative post!
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15 Oggie March 11, 2011 at 11:31 am

Sounds delicious! I wonder if this is dedicated to the Turk we both know? :)

16 Forager March 21, 2011 at 11:42 am

Hey Peter – Definitely not a memorable experience for the right reasons – but you’re absolutely right about the recipe – it’s a keeper!

Hey Trissa – Perhaps a sharing session is in order! BYO dish :)

Hey Angie – We weren’t quite prepared for the experience either and had high hopes and expectations. But, at least the recipe was delicious. And from Somer’s response, it sounds like an unfortunate & hopefully once-off off night.

Hey Reemski – Worse for my poor friend than me. I think she gets the raw end of the deal at most places though so she was so good natured about it and is against “fuss”. I would have erupted so loudly people in other states might have heard me.

Hey Mademoiselle delicieuse – Couldn’t agree more with you! It doesn’t work when someone at the table doesn’t get to share in the experience, that changes the mood of the entire table/meal.

Hey Jenny – I know! I’ve heard pescatarian and vegequarian as correct terms for fish eating omnivores. And I’m 100% with you on the rare steak. Right up my alley!

Hey Vivienne – Like you, I’m not a fan of lentils at all. In fact, I’m not keen on any of the pulses. But, you don’t notice the lentils in this at all – totally swamped in delicious eggplant!

Hey foodieandthechef – The night wasn’t great no for all the reasons detailed above, but I still haven’t lost my pining to travel in Turkey. And pomegranate molasses is my new favourite ingredient – so sweet and tart!

Hey Conor – Actually, the fact that there were vegan and vegetarian options ready to go makes it obvious that there was a terrible miscommunication with staff that translated to the dining room floor but also in hindsight makes it almost worse because it was such an avoidable disappointment. Oh well – I’m sure the staff are well briefed now on vegetarian needs!

Hey Ninja – Indeed and I welcome the response too. Worth hearing the other side of the story. It certainly did a lot of fizzle my disappointment. And “massively text filled” sums up my posts perfectly! :)

Hey FoodSage – Normally wouldn’t bother writing up mediocre experiences but this one stung and deserved to be written for my friend’s sake.

Hey Adrian – The recipe is lucious and gorgeous – a definite one to try for the flavour combo!

Hey Oggie – Of course, and one for you too as many moons ago you wanted an eggplant recipe. See – I’m late, but I deliver in the end :)

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