Imam bayildi translates roughly,”the priest fainted”. But why, was it because the eggplant dish was so delicious, did he eat too much at one sitting or was he just in shock at the amount of expensive olive oil used to make it?
One account in Turkish lore tells the story of an imam or priest, well known for his love of good food. One day the Imam announced his engagement to the daughter of a wealthy olive oil merchant. Part of her dowry included huge casks of olive oil, the size of a man, twelve in all. After the couple were married, the new bride proved to be an amazing cook. One dish in particular, eggplant cooked in olive oil, proved to be the imam’s favorite. In fact he requested the exact same dish twelve nights in a row. But the thirteenth night his favorite dish was missing from his evening meal. When asked why she didn’t make it, she told him the enormous supply from her dowry was used up. The news so shocked him that…..the priest fainted.
No matter what the story, Imam bayildi is a very well known Turkish meze, not really an appetizer but comparable to the small plate tapas dishes of Spain. Traditionally the dish is an eggplant cut down the middle, stuffed with garlic, onion, tomatoes and aromatic spices and simmered in olive oil to cover.
My goal in making this recipe was to cut back on the copious amount of olive oil but still make a flavorful dish. Rather than cook the eggplant whole in olive oil, I cut the eggplants in half, brushed the cut side with olive oil and baked it until the flesh was easy to scoop out. I combined the chopped eggplant with sauteed onion, garlic and tomato and currants. The addition of the aromatic spices, cinnamon and allspice will make your kitchen smell heavenly. I could also see the addition of feta cheese, pine nuts, even ground beef or the more traditional lamb. Serve warm or at room temperature along with a green salad for a delicious luncheon entree.
Imam Bayildi or Baked Stuffed Eggplant to Make a Priest Faint
- 4 medium eggplants
- 6 T extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium onion, very thinly sliced (I used a mandoline)
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 1/4c chopped tomatoes
- 5T chopped flat leafed parsley
- 1/2t dried oregano
- 1/4c currants
- 1/4t ground allspice
- 1/4t ground cinnamon
- 2T fresh lemon juice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Preheat oven to 375F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Cut several lengthwise slits in the eggplant halves. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake, cut side down for about 1/2hr, until the flesh is soft and easy to scoop out. Keep oven on at same temperature.
- While eggplant is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Cook the onions over low heat, stirring occasionally, until very soft, 20 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, 4 tablespoons of the parsley and the oregano and simmer until almost dry, about another 5 minutes. Add the currants, allspice and cinnamon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set this mixture aside.
- Scoop out the eggplant flesh with a spoon, leaving the skin and 1/4 inch of the lining intact. Finely chop the pulp and add it to the onion and tomato mixture. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.
- Place the eggplant shells in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Fill them with the tomato onion mixture. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice. Cover and bake the eggplants for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes.
- Serve warm or cool at room temperature.