Imam Bayildi literally means ‘The imam fainted’, (the Imam is a Muslim priest). I have heard a few versions of why the Iman fainted, one was when he learned that his new bride had used all his very expensive olive oil in the dish for a feast, another was that he swooned with pleasure on tasting the dish and yet another is that his new bride was such a fab cook, he ate so much much of the dish that he fainted from gluttony 😀
Well all those stories set a high bar for this dish .. done right (taste as you go), it is amazing.
The dish is super simple to make, but it does take a little while to cook (about 1¼ hours) and cool I think all the flavours are at their best when it is eaten at room temperature.
I suggest you gather a few friends in the kitchen to all help, chop, taste, chat and drink tea, it will be all the better for this 😀
serves 4 as a main -8 as a starter or side dish
3 medium sized white or red onions medium chopped
1 stalk of celery medium chopped ½ cup (4 fl oz, 125 ml) extra virgin olive oil 4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 oz Sultanas 10g chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
10g chopped fresh coriander
1/2 tsp dried Savoury
1 tsp dried Oregano
1 tsp dried Basil
1 tsp ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground Nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice Salt to taste Freshly ground black pepper Grated zest and a good squeeze of lemon juice 1 dssp muscavado sugar 125ml water
1 tbsp Tomato puree
500 ml tomato passata
2 oz Sunflower seeds or Pinenuts toasted
Pre heat the oven to 400˚F/ 200˚C/ Gas 6
Wash the aubergines well and cut off the stems.
Cut in half and use a small sharp knife to make a few criss cross cuts into the flesh.
Sprinkle with a little salt and drizzle with a little olive oil
Place cut side down onto a baking sheet.
Roast for about 20 minutes so that the aubergine starts to look collapsed.
Take them from the oven and allow them to cool for 10 minutes, until you can handle them without any danger of being burned (we all have our tolerances, I will leave them a minute then get at them but you need to judge for yourself, no need to be too bold and hurt yourself).
Use a spoon or a small knife to cut out the flesh so as to leave an intact shell into which to pile the delicious mix in a few minutes
Roughly chop the aubergines innards.
Now get a nice capacious frying pan and pour in that beautiful olive oil, start to heat it over a high heat. Give it a minute of two then add the onions, celery and aubergine innards, turn the heat down to medium and cook whilst you stir until they are starting to look translucent.
Now add the garlic, Sultanas, flat leaf Parsley, Coriander. Give it a stir.
Now add the Oregano, Basil, Savoury, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, mixed spice, Salt and Pepper, the zest and lemon juice, and the muscavado sugar (I really recommend you add this as the tomatoes, onions etc we have here are not really as sweet and ripe as they are in the countries nearer to the equator and the extra sugar really helps bring that necessary aspect to this dish) Give it a good stir, you should have an amazing smell in the kitchen now, so add the Tomato puree, passata and the water.
Just let that come back up to a boil.
I suggest you taste it now and adjust it how you like it.
Spoon the filling evenly between the shells (they will be piled up)
Cover with a sheet of foil and pop back onto the oven for another 40 minutes.
Now I say take them from the oven and let them cool down, almost to room temperature, this way all the flavours will be noticeable.
And now sprinkle with the Sunflower seeds or Pinenuts if you are using them.
I love these served with a pile of plain boiled brown rice and a spoon of natural yogurt but traditionally they can be served as an appetizer or meze, as a light meal with fresh bread or as an accompaniment with a main dish.
To salt or not to salt: Years ago aubergine were very bitter (like Cucumbers used to be) and it was necessary to salt them in order to drain out any bitterness. Modern varieties are much less bitter and I think that really it is just unnecessary salt them. If you are really into salting them, then do so just after cutting them open, cover the aubergines with salt and allow them to rest on kitchen towel for about half an hour. Afterwards simply wipe away the salt and carry on with the oiling etc 🙂
Come and see me on Saturdays’ at Bermondsey Square Farmers Market in Southwark. It’s just off Tower Bridge Road, a short walk from The White Cube, Southbank and Borough Market.
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