I'd never had Imam Bayildi (or Baildi) before until a recent trip to Budapest took us to one of their best restaurants which happened to be Greek. It's a vegetarian stuffed aubergine recipe originating in Turkey. I had a good geeky laugh over this Turkish dish being made in a Greek gaff - do those guys still hate each other?
Anyway, this is one of those dishes with a story behind it, but no-one really knows the true story - a bit like Eton Mess. Imam Bayildi means 'The Priest Fainted', one theory is that he fainted with sheer delight when he tasted the dish, the other theory is that he fainted due to the amount of olive oil used in the recipe! I'd like to think it was probably both as it's ridiculously tasty and there is a fair bit of oil in it - though I have cut it down.
This is rather substantial so it makes for a good meal between 2 if you have pilaf/any rice or potato side too. It is usually served a room temperature as part of a meal or on a mezze plate; and it stores well in the fridge for a few days thanks to all the oil!
1 medium/large aubergine (eggplant)
1 large onion
2 large cloves or garlic
1 medium chilli
A squeeze of tomato puree (approx 1 tbs)
1 bell pepper. Red, yellow or green - it's up to you.
Olive oil, extra virgin if you've got it.
Paprika - 3 tsp
Cumin - 1 flat tsp
Basil - half tsp
Oregano - half tsp both the basil and oregano are dried you can use fresh too.
Sugar - 1 flat tsp
Oven temp - 175C
First up you need to cut off the stalk and end of the aubergine then slice it down the middle to give you two halves. Next you'll need to scoop out some of the flesh to give you a well along the length of the aubergine or . Don't throw out the flesh though as you can dice it up and add it to the stuffing.
I'm a fan of salting the aubergine, it draws out the bitterness you can find if it's gone a bit old and it will draw out excess moisture which is good for this recipe. For this you'll just need to sprinkle salt along the aubergine flesh and turn them upside down on a chopping board/plate/towel for about 15mins. In the meantime you can get on with making the stuffing.
Dice the onion and tomatoes, crush or finely chop the garlic and very finely chop the chilli - seeds in or out at your peril.
Pour enough oil to cover the base of the pan and add the herbs and spices, warm them through until the oil starts to bubble on a medium-high heat. Then throw in the herbs and let them infuse into the oil. Don't let the spices burn though, so chuck in the onions and garlic and turn down the heat to medium stirring to coat with spicy oil. Next you can add the diced aubergine flesh you scooped out earlier.
Next you can tip in the pepper, tomatoes and chilli. You can put the sugar and tomato puree in too. If it's all a bit thick and unpleasant, a little bit of water will help loosen it up and lift up the remaining spices off the bottom of the pan. Season well with salt and pepper.
Leave this to simmer and soften for about 5-8mins.
You might want to start warming up your oven now to 175C
Wash the aubergines of their salty covering (you should see some beads of water on the flesh too) and pat dry. Sit them skin side down in a pyrex dish or at least a roasting tin with sides.
Have a taste of the stuffing mix, give it a bit more of whatever you fancy. I like a dash or two of Worcester sauce in mine but it's each to their own. I even know someone who puts ketchup in.
When your stuffing is tasting good just pile it into the aubergine. Drizzle with a little more olive oil on top.
Now you need to pour water into the dish/tray until the floor of it is covered; this is going to generate the steam to cook the aubergine flesh and skin but without losing all the tasty juices. Cover the dish/tray in foil or a lid if you're not a student and can afford such luxuries!
Place this in the middle of the oven for about 50 mins. Then uncover and cook for 10-15mins.
Since this is veggie we had it for our Meat-Free Monday meal, but you could add lamb mince for an authentic taste, or beef mince would be nice too.
Top with breadcrumbs when you uncover for a nice crunch.
Serve with some feta cheese and a lovely light salad in the summer. Scrumptious!