As you can imagine, we are willing down the days to both our trip to Greece next month, and our upcoming move to the warmer Australian state of Queensland later this year.
In the meantime, we get through the days by enjoying soul-warming soups and comforting stews.
In my last post I talked about the many recipes that are shared amongst Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. Imam Bayildi is a delicious stuffed eggplant dish that is found all over Turkey and Greece. The people of these two countries lived together for 400 years during the reign of the Ottoman Empire so naturally there are many similarities between their styles of music, food and other cultural aspects.
The phrase imam bayildi is Turkish for "the priest fainted". It is believed the aroma and appearance of this dish when first served to the priest was so overwhelming, it caused him to faint! Some say the priest fainted from eating too much. Others believe he was frightened by the abundance of oil in the dish!
Some recipes for Imam Bayildi do call for a slathering of olive oil, but many recipes don't. My recipe here leans toward the lesser oil variety and also takes on another characteristic that doesn't normally appear in traditional recipes for Imam Bayildi.
When you order Imam Bayildi at a Greek restaurant, you will be served a plate of two or more eggplant halves stuffed with a herbed tomato/onion mixture.
On the island of Limnos where my dad's family is from, tavernas serve Imam Bayildi as a stew. Many people with Turkish origins live in Limnos given its close proximity to the Turkish coast, and if the people of Limnos have accepted Imam Bayildi served up as a stew at their tavernas, then I think it's safe to say this may be the traditional Limnian way to cook Imam Bayildi.
This dish is very simple to make and only takes a few ingredients. I also added some zucchini to mine because, well, eggplant and zucchini are made for each other.
So while this version of Imam Bayildi treats the eggplant in a slightly different way, the ingredients and cooking methods are basically the same, and I think it's still good enough to make a priest faint.
Imam Bayildi (Eggplant Stew)
Adapted from a recipe from the book From a Traditional Greek Kitchen – Vegetarian Cuisine by Aphrodite Polemis
Serves 3 as a main meal or 6 as a side
- Olive oil for frying
- 2 eggplants
- 2 zucchinis
- 1 large onion, finely sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 400g can chopped tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
- Slice the eggplants and zucchinis length wise, around 1cm thick.
- Sprinkle eggplant slices generously with salt* on both sides and layer onto a large plate. Allow to stand for 20 minutes then rinse and pat dry with paper towels.
- Meanwhile, fry the onions in oil over low heat until soft. Add garlic, tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper and allow to simmer for around 20 minutes.
- Lightly fry the eggplant and zucchini slices in oil until they start to change colour and arrange in layers in a medium baking dish, around 20cm x 30cm, spreading some of the tomato sauce between layers, and topping with remaining tomato sauce.
- Cover with foil and bake for around 40 minutes.
- Imam Bayildi is traditionally served at room temperature, but can be eaten warm topped with crumbled feta or dollops of Greek yoghurt.
* It is said that salting the eggplant is necessary to draw out the bitter juices before cooking but I don't always do this. If eggplants are slow cooked as they are in this dish, this gives the juices time to break down and caramelise without the need to salt them beforehand. Salting still helps to sweeten them a little, but if you're strapped for time you can skip this step.