Imam Bayildi
Stuffed Eggplants (in olive oil)

This eggplant dish is one of the most famous dishes of Turkish cuisine. Imam Bayildi means "the imam fainted." Legends abound as to how it got this name. Some say he fainted at the extravagant use of olive oil. Others say he swooned at its delightful flavor. Both will seem just as likely when you try this excellent recipe.

4-6 servings


* Eggplant -- 3
* Salt -- 3-4 tablespoons
* Olive oil -- 1/2 cup
* Onions, sliced thinly --3
* Garlic, minced -- 6 cloves
* Tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped -- 2-3
* Sugar (optional) -- a big pinch
* Lemon juice (optional) -- 1 big squeeze
* Salt and pepper -- to taste
* Water -- 1 cup


1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove strips of skin about 1 inch apart from the eggplant to form a striped pattern. Halve each eggplant lengthwise. Cut 3 diagonal slashes into the cut side of the eggplant halves. Sprinkle salt on the eggplant, working it into the slashes. Set the eggplant, cut side down, on paper towels and set aside for about 30 minutes to drain excess liquid.
2. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium flame. Add the onions and sauté until just translucent. Add garlic and continue sautéing until onions are fully wilted but not browned.
3. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for 5-7 minutes until they are somewhat cooked down. Add optional sugar and lemon juice and the salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. Pat the eggplant halves dry and place them, cut-side up, in a baking dish or casserole large enough to hold them in one layer. Top each half with some of the onion-tomato mixture, working some of the mixture into the slashes. Pour the water into the bottom of the baking dish. The drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over the eggplant.
5. Cover the dish with a lid or aluminum foil and place in the oven. Cook 40-50 minutes, or until the eggplant is fully tender. Remove from the oven, cool to room temperature and serve.


* Other possible additions to the stuffing: chopped parsley, chopped dill, currants, cooked rice, toasted pine nuts, a pinch of allspice.
* Sometimes the cut surface of the eggplant is seared in hot oil until browned before stuffing.
* The dish can be finished on the stovetop over very low heat instead of baking in the oven if you like.


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