Turkey is a beautiful country and I was lucky enough to have travelled to Afyon last year and also lucky enough to have been introduced to Imam Bayildi, a traditional and much-loved dish of stuffed aubergine.
It’s unusual to champion a recipe by plugging an airline but I must doff my cap to Turkish Airlines for their part in my aubergine epiphany. During the flight to Istanbul, I was casually eaves dropping the bleating of a fellow traveller who complained that the in-flight menu was too limited and that they’d been serving the same thing for more than a decade. Now, I’m far from an expert on in-flight dining but, the quality of choice and dishes available on this carrier was exceptionally high and I was left somewhat perplexed by the squawking of the chap down the aisle – was he expecting silver service and a private chef?
Imam Bayildi is a great as a mezze or as an accompaniment to a main meal. It is a sumptuously creamy and light appetiser that encapsulates everything a summer food should; velvety smooth and bathed in rich golden olive oil. This is such a fantastic dish, it doesn’t matter that is October or March, it loses none of its appeal, just sit down and transport yourself back to those balmy summer evenings with a little bit of help from your taste buds.
1 hour 15 minutes
- 4 aubergines
- 1 medium sized onions
- 1 medium red onion
- cup extra virgin olive oil (8 fl oz, 227 ml)
- 10 cloves garlic, 4 chopped, 6 whole
- 3 medium sized tomatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 tsp salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Good old squeeze of lemon juice
- 1 tsp sugar
Mint or parsley to garnish
Wash the aubergines, you can cut off the ends if you like – I leave them intact as it helps to retain the fruit’s natural moisture. With a sharp knife or a potato peeler, cut strips of skin from end to end to until you have a striped pattern of aubergine flesh exposed.
Using the tip of your knife cut a chequer board pattern into the flesh almost end to end. Make the cuts about one inch deep.
Betraying my conservative northern roots, I still soak aubergine in salted water prior to cooking. As a rule of thumb I’ve found the bigger the aubergine the more likely it is to need salting to counter the bitterness. If you allow 30 minutes to an hour, you won’t go far wrong.
While the aubergine is soaking, peel and quarter your onions and then slice. Take your peppers and remove the stalk, core and seeds. I generally cut each into nice chunks of eight – but again it is personal preference – sliced works just as well.
Heat 4 fl oz of the olive oil in a large flat-bottomed saucepan. Sauté the onions until they are softened and translucent. Add the pepper and chopped garlic along with the salt and sugar – taking care not to burn the garlic. Stir together and allow to simmer over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, and then add the tomato and remaining garlic cloves.
In a large frying pan heat the remaining olive oil (4 fl oz ml). Fry the aubergine face down for a few minutes before rolling over on each side – do this until the fruit begins to soften. Remove and drain.
Place the aubergine side by side on a baking tray until cool. Scoop out some of the flesh and stir into the onion mixture. Fill the aubergines with the onion, tomato and pepper mix and bake them at Gas Mark 6 / 200°C (Mark 5/190°C if fan assisted) for 30 to 40 minutes allowing the garlic cloves to release their natural sweetness.
Remove from the oven and rest at room temperature. Drizzle with yet more olive oil and garnish with a little chopped parsley if desired.
There are lots of different versions of this dish and I’ve tried many of them in arriving at a version that I think works well. I go a bit OTT on the olive oil – but if you have good quality oil you can never have too much. Here’s one of the better ones I’ve tried:Last modified: June 10, 2021