It’s a pity that I can’t photograph cooked eggplant and make it look pretty, because this is one gorgeous tasting dish. I’ve always wanted to try imam bayildi – that description of the imam fainting when he ate it made it sound pretty fabulous. And so it is, probably because of all the oil – there’s a lot of oil in this dish, but it results in a meltingly delicious eggplant.
I used a Rick Stein recipe I found in the September 2007 issue of delicious magazine.
6 small to medium eggplants (I used two large eggplants, and didn’t change any of the other ingredients, so I ended up with rather a lot of sauce.)
200ml extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped (optional) (I skipped it)
1/2 tsp mild chilli powder
4 very ripe tomatoes, skin removed, chopped
1 heaped tsp harissa (Again, skipped it)
2-3 tbs chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup tomato juice
1 tsp caster sugar
Juice of one lemon
Use a potato peeler to peel away roughly 1cm wide strips lengthways along each of the eggplants. I couldn’t find the nice peeler my brother gave me and so was stuck using my crappy $2 peeler, which did an awful job – you can’t see the stripes in the photo because they were so ridiculously large and uneven. Not that it matters, really – the stripes are for presentation purposes, I think.
Cut a long, not too narrow wedge out of each eggplant, making a fairly deep pocket, taking care not to cut through to the bottom. Sprinkle a little salt into the pockets, and leave the eggplants to drain upside down on a plate for 30 minutes.
While they’re draining away, heat 1/3 of a cup of the olive oil in a frying pan over a low heat. Add the onions, and fry gently for 10 minutes until they’re soft, but not too browned – you want them to absorb lots of the oil. Add the garlic, chilli (if you’re using one) and chilli powder, and fry for a further 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the chopped tomatoes (I didn’t bother to peel them – what a bothersome task, and I think a little unnecessary), harissa, parsley and seasonings.
Spoon the filling into the pockets in the eggplants – as I only used two eggplants, I had plenty of the filling left over. Put the eggplants side by side and pocket up in a wide saucepan (I ended up using a big soup pan). Mix the tomato juice, sugar, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and pour it over the eggplants, followed by the remaining oil. Given my two lonely eggplants, I shied away from using much more oil, and only used a splash more. I also surrounded my eggplants with the leftover filling.
Cover the saucepan and simmer gently for about 40 minutes, or until the eggplants are tender. Let cool, and serve at room temperature, with some couscous perhaps, or rice.