Imam Bayıldı is often translated (from Turkish into English) as the imam fainted. This is literally what the verb bayılmak means, but – and this is an important, albeit pedantic ‘but’ – it also means ‘to be thrilled with’ or ‘enraptured by’ something – ‘to like something greatly’. For no real reason it always annoys me when recipe writers translate it as the imam fainted and then speculate about an imam being so overcome (with pleasure) that he swooned. It is much more appropriate to just translate it as the imam was thrilled or enraptured.
Now I have got that out of my system, you might ask why am I suddenly giving Turkish lessons? Well Imam Bayıldı is the name of one of my most favourite Turkish meze dishes ever. I haven’t eaten it for many years because of my failure at growing aubergines, but this weekend, carrying my bounty of aubergines back to the kitchen, I knew exactly what I would make with them.
This version of the recipe is from Ottolenghi and is tweaked only ever-so slightly – instead of paprika I used Turkish acı biber (which is some kind of chilli and translates as hot pepper even though acı can also mean acrid, painful or brackish), I didn’t use any red pepper as none of mine have gone red yet and I also used fresh tomatoes instead of canned as I have the former, not the latter.
Imam Bayıldı: 4 aubergines; large handful (or two) of tomatoes -peeled and chopped; two or three medium onions – sliced; salt; lemon; olive oil; 2 cloves garlic – crushed; pinch of chilli; tsp of cumin, tsp of fresh chopped oregano.
First peel stripes from the aubergine so it looks (a bit) like a zebra.
Cut a slit into one side of the aubergines. Don’t cut them all the way through – the idea is to create a future pocket for sauce. Soak in a large bowl of water to which you have added the juice of a lemon and the squeezed lemon halves and 2 tsp salt. Pop a plate on top to keep the aubergines submerged.
Fry the aubergines in some olive oil until golden all over. Remove from the pan.
In the same pan gently fry the onion and garlic until softened. Add the chopped tomatoes and a splash of water and the spices. Stir and cook gently for about 5 minutes or so. Season to taste.
Put the aubergines on top, cover the pan with foil and then cook gently for about 45 minutes letting the aubergines steam. Check that the sauce doesn’t dry up too much – add a splash of water if it does.
Remove the aubergines and place in a suitably sized, greased oven-proof dish – cut side uppermost. Open the slit a little – this should be easier now they have been steamed and spoon the tomato-onion sauce into the aubergines.
Cook for another hour maybe, then let the dish go cold. it would be nice with some parsley sprinkled on top or maybe mint, but I was too tired.
We ate it with home-made pita bread and the dolma I wrote about here. It was sublime. I did not faint, but I was certainly enchanted.
N.B. It is dishes like this and a good daal that make me think I could be vegan …. and then I remember cheese and bacon sandwiches.
N.B. still eating a ridiculous number of cucumbers every day.