Our last few recipes from around the world have been for all you carnivores out there. Today, though, we’re featuring a vegetarian dish from Turkey. When most people think of Turkish food, they imagine kebabs, and indeed, skewered meat cooked over an open mangal is a hallmark of Turkish cuisine. But Turkey’s not all meat and potatoes, particularly in the summer when Turkish cooks favor lighter fare.
Today’s recipe is called imam bayildi—literally “the imam fainted.” There are several stories about how the dish got its name: one says that an unnamed imam was so taken aback by the delicious meal his wife set before him that he fainted; an alternate version of the story has the imam enjoying his meal, then realizing how much expensive olive oil had been used in its preparation, and then fainting. Another explanation ties the name of the dish to a Turkish proverb that states “No food will come out of the imam’s house, nor tears from a corpse.” Whatever the etymology, the finished result of this slow-roasted stuffed eggplant recipe is delicious, and Go Ahead Tours takes no responsibility for travelers who swoon on the first bite. In Turkey, imam bayildi is often eaten as meze, but you can easily pair it with other entrees or feature it as the centerpiece of a meal. This recipe calls for cooking the stuffed eggplant in an oven, but traditionalists can simply cover a saute pan.
- Using a vegetable peeler, remove one-inch strips of eggplant skin, leaving you with a striped pattern on the outside of the eggplant. Then, slice each eggplant down the middle; do not cut all the way through the eggplant. Scoop out some of the eggplant, leaving a firm shell—you want to form a pocket for the other vegetables (the scooped-out eggplant can be chopped and cooked with the other vegetables or discarded according to your tastes). Cut three diagonal slashes into the flesh of each eggplant half, taking care not to puncture the skin. Sprinkle salt on each eggplant half, making sure to work the salt into the diagonal slashes. Place the butterflied eggplant shells flesh-side down on paper towels for 30 minutes. This will help to leach some of the excess water out of the eggplant. If you’d like, you can make a small, flat cut on the skin side of each eggplant to help the stuffed eggplant lie flat in a pan.
- Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Cook onions until just translucent, then add garlic and cook until onions are fully wilted. Stir in tomatoes and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, remove from heat, and set aside.
- In a baking dish, arrange the eggplant halves flesh-side up. Fill the cavities with the onion-garlic-tomato mixture. Any additional onion-garlic-tomato mixture can be spooned on top of the eggplants or straight into the baking dish. Pour the water into the dish and drizzle the remaining olive oil over the stuffed eggplants.
- Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 40-50 minutes or until eggplant is tender. Remove from the oven, cool to room temperature and serve.
- The onion-garlic-tomato mixture is just the start—feel free to add your own ingredients. Turkish chefs favor chopped dill, currants, cooked rice, toasted pine nuts or a pinch of allspice. Some chefs insist that fresh chopped parsley is an essential garnish for the finished product.
- Sear the eggplant before stuffing for a crispier texture.
- As noted above, imam bayildi can be a one-pan recipe if you cook the stuffed eggplants in your saute pan. If you use this method, be sure to employ very low heat and plan for a slightly longer cooking time.