Here comes one of the most famous olive oil dishes in Turkish cuisine: Imam Bayildi, literally means “the Muslim cleric fainted”. There is a dozen of stories surrounding the name of this meze, some claim that the imam in the tale fainted because he was so overcome with the flavor of this dish, some other accounts focus on the cost of the ingredients. Imam bayildi has also been an inspiration to the confit byaldi dish in modern French cuisine.
Nowadays people have no time to cook such classic dishes and follow the original recipes religiously. Imam bayildi would still taste good even if you skip adding pine nuts or nutmeg, but IMHO we should pay our respects to the cooks of the Ottoman palace by sticking to the original recipe as much as we could, trust me, there is a reason for every ingredient to be there in the recipe. I think, cooking is about great attention to detail, picking the finest ingredients and treating them the way they deserve to be treated.
But then again, I am always up for some improvement. For instance, the original recipe of the “imam bayildi” calls for deep frying the aubergines in olive oil prior to stuffing. As much as I love fried imam bayildi, some people find it a bit too rich and avoid the dish completely. Again, I think the main mistake is using sunflower oil or any other oil for that matter to fry the eggplant. Olive oil is a must and so is high heat. Apart from that, you can still skip the frying and make imam bayildi by pre-cooking the aubergines in the oven sprayed on with some olive oil.
7-8 small eggplants, try to pick the freshest ones without any seeds.
1 cup of virgin olive oil.
3 medium size onions chopped finely
A handful of pine nuts
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 medium size tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoon of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest
2-3 teaspoons of sugar
1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup of water
1 teaspoon of salt (reduce or increase to your taste)
A pinch of black pepper
A pinch of grated nutmeg
Peel the aubergines, remove the green bits around the stems but leave the hard stalk on top, just like you see in the picture, this helps hold them intact through the whole process. Make a deep lengthwise slit along each eggplant, 1 inch apart from both the top and the bottom. Make the slit on the inside of the curve if the eggplants are curved. Soak them into salted water for about 15 minutes and then rinse, drain and squeeze to remove any excess water. Dry with paper towels. Heat some olive oil on high heat in a wide skillet and fry the aubergines on both sides until soft. Remove from the skillet and place them into a baking tray, slit sides on top. Sprinkle with grated nutmeg, making sure that the flesh of the eggplants comes into contact with the glorious flavor of nutmeg.
Put onions and pine nuts into a deep pan and sauté with about a tablespoon of olive oil at medium low heat until they become really soft and pinkish yellow in color. Add tomatoes, water and garlic, increase the heat and let the tomatoes cook off until you can see the oil separating, that is when it loses all its water and starts to caramelize. Now season to taste with salt, black pepper and lemon zest. Remove from the heat, add in the parsley and the lemon juice. Fill up the aubergines with this sauce.
Finally place it in the 180ºC oven for about 40 minutes. Check at 30 minutes to make sure the tops are not too brown. And that’s it! Remove from the oven, cover and let it rest on the kitchen counter overnight. Serve the next day, garnished with some parsley leaves.