Sunday, October 2, 2011

Turkish stuffed eggplant (Imam Bayildi)

Summer has definitely come to an end in New York, as evidenced by apples at the farmers' markets, rainy runs among the changing leaves in Prospect Park, and my cat jumping into bed in the middle of the night.  Fortunately, some remnants of summer are still around, like small eggplants and field-grown tomatoes, and I intend to enjoy them for as long as I can before it is all brassicas and squash (oh, and those wonderful New York apples).  

Imam Bayildi is a Turkish dish that combines the lovely small eggplants with tomatoes, caramelized onions, and plenty of rich olive oil.  It is usually served at room temperature as a meze (an appetizer), but I think it also tastes great hot as a side to some fish or lamb or just on top of bulgur wheat with yogurt.  As much as I love olive oil, Imam Bayildi can be a little heavy, so the recipe here cuts down on the oil and lets the natural flavors of eggplant and tomato show.  Stewy and soft, I think this dish makes the perfect bridge between shorts and corduroys, light cardigans and cashmere sweaters.  
Imam Bayildi 
Adapted from Clifford A Wright

2 small eggplants
1 medium onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced across 
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 - 3 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 cup of chopped parsley, divided
3 - 4 sprigs of thyme, leaves pulled off
1/4 teaspoon dried mint
4 tablespoons of good olive oil, divided
Juice of 1/4 lemon
1/4 cup of water
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut off the stem portion of each eggplant, cut it in half lengthwise, slice off a little bit of skin from the side of the eggplant to make sure it sits well in the skillet, and cut a deep slit down the flesh, without cutting all the way through.  Generously salt the eggplant and let it sit on a paper towel, flesh side up, for 15 minutes, then flesh side down for another 15 minutes.  
Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet. When the oil is almost smoking, pat the eggplant dry and sear, flesh side down, in the skillet.  Once the eggplant is well-browned, sear the other side, and remove to a plate.

Warm another tablespoon of olive oil in the same skillet and saute the onion and the garlic over medium heat for 10 - 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to help onions turn golden and make sure you don't burn the garlic.  Combine the caramelized onions, the diced tomatoes, most of the parsley (reserve the rest for garnish), the thyme leaves, the dried mint in a small bowl and season well with salt and pepper.  Pour the last tablespoon of olive oil into the skillet, put in the eggplant, flesh side up, and sprinkle the eggplant with the lemon juice.  Fill with the eggplant with the onion and tomato mixture and pour the remaining filling into the skillet. Add the water, bring the boil and simmer on low heat for 45 - 50 minutes until the eggplant is soft.  Check the skillet occasionally and add more water if it seems dry.  Serve hot or let cool. As with most stewy dishes, this one also tastes great in a day or so.  

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