Recipe: Imam Bayildi
One of the most delicious — and simple — recipes to emerge from the Ottoman's love affair with the eggplant is this one, known as imam bayildi — "the imam swoons." The trick is to peel each eggplant lengthwise, in alternating strips, to keep its shape as it subsides into the rich tomato sauce.
To make a pocket in each eggplant you make an incision in them from top to tail, not cutting the whole way through. Rub them inside and out with salt and set aside for half an hour. This sweats out the bitterness. Rinse the eggplants in cold water, and squeeze the flesh with your thumbs to make the pocket bigger.
Meanwhile, make a fresh tomato sauce using onion, lots of garlic, a spoonful of sugar, a twist of black pepper, a generous glug of olive oil, and three or four chopped tomatoes. Put them all into a pan together and let them simmer for ten minutes or so, until the onions are tender.
Back to the eggplants: squeeze them out and fry them gently on all sides until they go brown. Set them in a baking dish, stuff the pockets with a generous heap of tomato sauce, add about 1/2 a cup of water and a big splosh of olive oil, and bake them, covered, in a hot oven for about three quarters of an hour.
You can serve them hot; but better still give them time to cool and serve at room temperature. You know how good it is to pick at a cold stew? Same thing.
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