Imam Baildi is a rich and heavy vegetarian dish that came about from Old Istanbul (Constantinople) and Asia Minor (the coast of modern-day Turkey). Its name means ‘The stuffed Imam who collapsed/fainted’ because he was so full after eating too much. George’s grandmother and her family were from Asia Minor – their family had to move away during the population exchanges of 1922 between Greece and Turkey. She thought me how to make this (over the phone!) and I have to say that it is a great combination of filling, simple, extremely tasty and if you discount the extreme oil use, also quite healthy.
I find it best to use small to medium-sized aubergines. They cook faster, and they tend to taste sweeter than the really big ones. I cut them in half, and then make slight scores lengthwise in the middle part there and salt them. This will help to draw out the bitter liquid and season the aubergine at the same time. Leave it in the colander while you are chopping the other ingredients.
I tend to use whole round fresh tomatoes here – not chopped tomatoes in a can. I use white onions, but you can use red onions, or a mixture of both!
I cook the tomato sauce first before I assemble the aubergines in the baking tray. And while I am cooking the tomato sauce, I rinse and pat dry the aubergines and lightly fry them with a little oil, skin side down.
Note: Imam Baildi is also a band. Try out this song (loosely translated as: I don’t want you to return, ever again) – one of my favourites from their first album.
Ingredients: (makes enough for 4 people, to bursting point)
- 5 aubergines, sliced into 2, lengthwise.
- 5 large onions, sliced thinly.
- 5 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
- 5 large tomatoes, ripe, and diced
- 1 large handful of parsley, chopped – and save a small amount for garnish
- a pinch of oregano
- a pinch of sugar
- olive oil, according to taste – I usually use 1/2 cup to 1 cup.
- salt and pepper, according to taste
- Clean the aubergines. Slice them lengthwise into 2, keeping the stems. Score the flesh, and season generously with salt. Rub the salt onto the flesh. Leave them in a colander for about 30-40 minutes, to draw out the bitter liquid.
- In a pan, heat 2-3 tbsps of olive oil, and sauté the onions with a pinch of salt, until translucent.
- Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Add the diced tomatoes, sugar and oregano, and cook until soft.
- Season with salt and pepper, and add the parsley. Stir and cook for a few more minutes, then take off the heat. Leave aside to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
- You will notice beads of ‘sweat’ on the surface of the aubergine flesh. Try to squeeze out as much liquid as you can, and rinse off the salt. Pat dry.
- Heat up a frying pan. Add enough olive oil to create a thin layer of oil. Once hot, fry the aubergines, skin side down (this would prevent the aubergines from soaking up too much oil). Fry lightly for 5 minutes on each side, and arrange the aubergines in a baking tray.
- Cover the aubergines with a thick layer of the onion and tomato mix. There should be enough liquid to cook the aubergines, but if your mixture is rather dry, add about half a cup of water at the bottom of the tray.
- Drizzle the food with olive oil. Cover with foil, and bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, and remove the foil at the end, when there is about 5-10 minutes left of cooking time.
- Serve hot or cold, garnished with a little parsley, and with a slice of feta cheese by the side.