Imam Bayildi – The Imam fainted.
This Turkish stuffed eggplant dish has two stories as to how it got its name. The first is that the Imam fainted because it was so delicious, the second is that when he realised that the olive oil that was his wife’s dowry was all gone, he fainted because of the expense. Either could easily be true. The dish is delicious, and it does use a lot of oil.
I’m not even going to pretend that this dish is healthy. It is absolutely laden with oil, which in my view is the ONLY WAY cook eggplant properly. Skimp on the oil when cooking any eggplant dish and it is just NASTY. But then I have a complete horror of undercooked eggplant.
Anyway, tirade off. This dish is yummy, if not particularly pretty. The taste is the real highlight, unctuous, garlicky and sweet. It gets my seal of approval for meltingly soft, properly cooked eggplant. I can’t remember where I got the recipe originally, just that I started making it after a fabulous trip to Turkey eight years ago, where I first ate it. It is delicious at room temperature with some crusty bread and salad and, while it does have a few steps, it is still pretty easy to make.
My way of making it is not traditional. The usual recipe uses skinny eggplants stuffed whole, I have used larger ones and scooped out the centres and cooked the pulp. (See? I told you I have a horror of undercooked eggplant). You’ll also notice I don’t salt and drain the eggplant. I honestly cannot tell the difference between salted, drained and unsalted if the eggplant is fresh, so I never bother.
Imam Bayildi makes a great dish to take as part of a shared meal and nobody will EVER complain that it is vegan. It just happens to be vegan with no changes at all, like so much great Middle Eastern food.
I made this for a big Middle Eastern themed lunch my family had to celebrate the three generations of mothers in the family on Mothers Day.
This is my mothers day lunch plate. Clockwise from the top: Couscous with vegetables made by my mum, chickpea, tomato and cucumber salad made by my niece, quinoa with almonds, pumpkin seeds, currants, lentils, pomegranate seeds and rocket made by another niece, my imam bayildi, and a baked sweet potato with chickpea stew made by my son and daughter in law. Everyone made lots of vegan food, even though I am the only vegan and one of my nieces is vegetarian. My sister even made me a special vegan dessert. 🙂
- 4 long, purple eggplants (not the really fat ones and not the completely skinny ones)
- ¾ cup olive oil (quite probably more)
- 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 2 large onions halved and sliced thinly
- 2 red peppers, sliced thinly
- 1 can of diced tomato or equivalent fresh.
- a big handful of chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 cup tomato puree
- Halve the eggplants lengthwise and peel some strips of peel off so they are striped.
- Score the flesh in a crossed pattern, make sure not to cut through the skin.
- Put the eggplants into a steamer cross hatch side down cook for a few minutes to soften the pulp a bit This also works in a microwave. This step makes the pulp easier to remove and lessens the amount of oil the eggplants will absorb.
- Remove the pulp with a spoon leaving a ½ cm thick skin.
- Heat ½ cup of oil in a large frying pan and fry the eggplants both side until golden and soft.
- Remove the eggplants from the pan and place in a single layer in a baking pan.
- Sprinkle with a small amount of salt.
- Fry the eggplant pulp until soft and golden brown. Remove from the pan.
- Add the remaining oil to the pan and fry the onions, garlic and peppers until soft and translucent. Add the tomatoes, parsley, and cooked eggplant pulp and salt to taste.
- Spoon the filling into the eggplant halves, pour the tomato puree into the baking pan and cover with foil and bake in a 200 degree C oven for 1 hour,
- Remove the foil. If the tomato puree has dried out add some water.
- Baste with the tomato liquid if the eggplant or filling looks like it is drying out and bake uncovered for another 30 minutes or until the liquid reduces to a syrup and they are utterly soft. If in any doubt, cook for longer.