Imam Bayildi translates “the priest fainted”. Was it because the dish was so delicious or was it a reaction of this frugal priest to the copious amount of expensive olive oil his bride used to make this dish? This is my second interpretation of this popular Turkish dish, one of a group of vegetarian recipes referred to as zeytinyagli or olive oil foods, served cold. This recipe cuts down considerably in the amount of olive oil traditionally used in the original dish but definitely not on the flavor.
This is another recipe from Ana Sortum, chef at Oleana restaurant in Cambridge Massachusetts. This recipe is similar to the first one I made in some of the steps.The eggplants are sprinkled with salt and brushed with olive oil and baked until the flesh is soft. In the first recipe the flesh is scooped out and mixed in with the other ingredients, in the second the other ingredients are combined and pressed into the cooked eggplant, I liked that method. Onions, garlic, tomatoes, oregano and parsley are found in both recipes. Finely diced cauliflower, star ingredient of the moment, is a unique component for Imam Bayildi and adds a different texture and flavor to this dish that I liked. The second recipe also uses green bell pepper, an ingredient that I am not a big fan of. Green peppers are less expensive but not quite as nutritious as their red, yellow and orange counterparts. As a gardener, I have just considered them to be peppers that someone wasn’t patient enough to let ripen. I am now coming around to seeing green bell peppers as a unique ingredient. In this dish they add an interesting slightly bitter edge to the sweetness of the onion and the creaminess of the eggplant.
This is the first time I have ever grated tomatoes for a recipe. Choose ripe firm tomatoes and grate them over a shallow bowl with the largest holes of your box grater. Keep your hand flat and grate until the tomato flesh is scraped away from the skin. Discard the skin and you are left with tomato pulp that can be used in a variety of dishes. I am sure this is a technique I will use again.
Aleppo pepper is one of my favorite ingredient discoveries of the last several years. It is dark red, flaky and somewhat oily in texture. It takes it name from the ancient city of Aleppo in northern Syria, just east of the Turkish/Syrian border. The flavor profile is rich, sweet and fruity with hints of cumin. The heat profile is moderate, just a bit hotter than paprika. As a result of the conflict in Syria, what now is sold as Aleppo is actually an identical pepper plant, Maras, that is grown in Turkey.
Serves 8 as a side dish or 4 as an entrée
- 4 small eggplants, about 1/2lb each
- 10Tolive oil divided, 4T for brushing eggplants, 3T for sautéing, 3T for drizzling over finished dish.
- Kosher salt
- 2 1/2lb tomatoes, halved
- 2c diced sweet onion
- 1c diced green bell pepper
- 1/2c finely diced cauliflower
- 1T finely chopped garlic
- 1/2c chopped Italian parsley, more for garnishing the finished dish.
- 1t finely chopped fresh oregano or 1/2t dried
- Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
- 3/4c crumbled feta, more for garnish
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F.
- Halve the eggplants lengthwise and place cut side up on a large rimmed baking sheet. Season the cut sides generously with kosher salt and brush with the first 4T of olive oil. Flip the halves over and bake cut side down until soft, about 30-35 minutes. Set aside until cooled.
- While the eggplant bakes, grate the cut sides of the tomato on the large holes of a box grater. It is easiest to put the grater in a bowl. Discard the skins. Drain the pulp in a fine meshed sieve until most of the liquid has drained through, about 20 minutes.
- Heat 3T of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the pepper, cauliflower and garlic, cook, stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables have softened somewhat, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and stir in the tomato pulp, parsley and oregano. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the feta.
- Use a spatula to flip over the eggplant halves. With a slotted spoon, divide the filling among the eggplant, using the spoon to gently push the filling into the flesh.
- Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and bake until hot, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with more crumbled feta and parsley and serve.