Nothing compares to traditional home cooking. Recipes passed over generations with so many women standing behind the mysterious vail of time, who have sprinkled ingredients in the same try-and-tested fashion, forming world heritage delicious cuisines. Home recipes that whisper of comfort and home coming no matter the distance in space and time. A spoonful of flavour that tastes only of memories. Recipes that we all cherish and love!
With the changing season, our family menu starts to be dominated by warmer dishes, like soups and meat & veg casseroles. This Turkish Imam Bayildi recipe may smile like the summer with sweet tomatoes and eggplant, yet it engulfs the soul in a winter warming embrace with its deep nourishing flavours. It may sound simple, pan-fried thin-slice eggplant layered with tomato paste. But there is much more to it than that. It has a magic combination of flavours that revive the body and the soul – fried onion sprinkled with cinnamon, flakes of chili, fresh parsley and the best of the middle-east Orient comes to live.
If the story might be true centuries ago when the Imam would visit his harem, he would be served a delicious meal of eggplant in tomato sauce acting as an aphrodisiac. The Imam would be so delight in all his senses that he would almost fain in pleasure. This is where the name of this dish is coming from “Imam – Bayildi” meaning “Imam – fainting”. If you may wish to give the recipe a go and prove that it works please let me know.
I am serving the dish at home with Moroccan couscous, but it may be equally delicious served with bread or rice. Delicious in winter and any other season and simple, quick and easy to make. This recipe makes for a light meal, perfectly suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
- 2 medium eggplant (or 4 small Italian eggplant), thinly sliced lengthwise
- Sea salt
- Olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
- Dash of cinnamon
- One 400g can diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, divided
1. Preheat the oven to 175C degrees.
2. Lightly salt the eggplant slices and allow to stand for 20 minutes. Pat the slices dry and set aside.
3. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a large oven proof (preferably cast iron) skillet. Pan fry the eggplant in batches over medium-high heat until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Add more oil as necessary between batches so the eggplant doesn’t burn, but try not to have too heavy a hand – the pan just needs to be greased. Remove the eggplant to a plate.
4. Add the onion to the skillet and saute over medium heat until soft, 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chili flakes, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and cinnamon. Cook for one minute more, until fragrant. Carefully pour in the tomatoes and simmer until thickened slightly, 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in half the parsley.
5. If using an ovenproof skillet, remove 3/4 of the sauce to a bowl, leaving a thin layer behind. Otherwise, add 1/4 cup of sauce to the bottom of a 8×8 or comparable casserole dish. Arrange one layer of eggplant evenly in the bottom of the skillet or dish. Slather with a layer of sauce, and repeat with the remaining eggplant and sauce – like you would a lasagna.
6. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes, until the eggplant is very soft and the sauce has reduced. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before cutting into it. Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve warm with Moroccan couscous.