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Imam Bayildi means “the Imam fainted, or swooned”. It’s a classic Turkish zeytinyağlı (olive oil) dish of soft eggplants, filled with a delicious dry, slow cooked stew of onions and capsicums (bell peppers).
Zeytinyağlı dishes or “olive oil foods”, are vegetables slow simmered in a whole lot of olive oil (don’t worry, not here!), resulting in deliciously soft and full flavoured vegetables. They can be eaten warm but are also very popularly served at room temperature as part of a mezze (appetisers, canapés, etc).
The origins of Imam Bayildi are shrouded in legend. Did the imam faint from sheer bliss upon being served this dish by his wife? Or did he pass out in horror when his olive oil heiress confessed to the copious amount of oil that went into the making of this dish?
I like to think that the reason was one of utter joy! And I think you’ll agree with me as you bite into the soft, baked aubergines overflowing with the delicious filling of fried onions and capsicums (bell peppers).
As with all traditional and much loved dishes, there are many ways to cook this recipe. And, there are also variations of Imam Bayildi in certain parts of the Mediterranean and Balkan area, as well as the Middle East. In fact, the Greeks consider this dish theirs.
Traditionally, the aubergines are stuffed with onions, peppers and garlic, and then simmered on the stove in a combination of olive oil and water, until the aubergines are cooked and soft.
However, these days, it is also not uncommon to bake the stuffed aubergines, cutting down drastically on the amount of olive oil used. And that’s what we are doing today.
What I am also doing, is giving you a different way of serving them, canapé style, see above. Imam Bayildi is meant to be a starter or part of a mezze (appetiser spread), so some years ago, I converted the look and made the servings much smaller, with the filling on individual discs of eggplants.
I was in Istanbul again recently, and despite the trip only being a long weekend for a wedding, found the time to enjoy some locally made Imam Bayildi, as well as my other Turkish favourite, Hünkar Beğendi (The Sultan’s Delight), a dish of lamb stew on a bed of swoon worthy, eggplant-cheese sauce:
Making Imam Bayildi at Home
Imam Bayildi does take a little bit of effort in cooking, and there are a few steps to the recipe. However, it can be made the day before, and served as is, no heating required, the next day. So I love making it for parties. To give you an idea, this is what we’ll be doing:
- Peeling and salting the eggplants
- Cooking the onion and capsicum filling
- Browning the eggplants
- Cooking the eggplants in the filling on the stove
- Filling, then baking the stuffed eggplants
Step 1 – Peeling and Salting the Eggplants for Imam Bayildi
These days, eggplants don’t really need to be salted anymore but I find that soaking them in salted water with lemon juice, helps to season them, So I never skip this part.
Medium sized eggplants are perfect for this recipe, by the way.
Step 3 – Browning the Eggplants for Imam Bayildi
Traditionally, the eggplants would have been fried with olive oil, and also, then simmered in a mix of water and oil. But you know eggplants are sponges, don’t you? Can you imagine how much oil you would need?
So all I do, lightly brown them with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, in a non stick frying pan. Non stick allows you to cook with little oil. An optional step, is also charring the aubergines very quickly on the flame, as we would when making Baba Ganoush. This extra step lends a lovely smoky flavour to the dish.
Step 4 – Cooking the eggplants with the filling
Step 4 is something I do to ensure that the eggplants are fully cooked, and more importantly, almost meltingly tender. I am not a fan of “sturdy” eggplants that have to be bitten. I’m sure you know what I mean.
Many of the recipes I see on Imam Bayildi don’t give the eggplants enough time to cook. Perhaps these people are happy with meaty and tough textured eggplants, and maybe even prefer them that way. I love being able to just bite through my aubergines.
So to that end, I add the eggplants to the onion and capsicum stew, giving them an additional 20 minutes of cooking time. Skip this step, and you will end up with semi dry, baked eggplants at the end of the recipe.
In my opinion, this is best when left overnight, for the flavours to develop, and for the eggplants and filling to become a complete dish.
Just cover with clingfilm and leave on your kitchen counter overnight. No need to reheat before serving.
How to Serve Imam Bayildi?
You can serve it:
- as part of an appetiser spread,
- as part of a buffet, a summer party table or a barbecue always works
- take it on picnics,
- and most definitely, serve it as a starter, on a small bed of greens.
Ready to see what caused the Imam to faint?
Imam Bayildi is a classic Turkish zeytinyağlı (olive oil) dish of soft eggplants, filled with a delicious dry, slow cooked stew of onions and capsicums (bell peppers). A lot of the total time is hands off time, so it isn't as much work as you might think!
Iman Bayildi (Turkish Stuffed Aubergines) | Vegan Turkish Recipe
Imam Bayildi is a classic Turkish zeytinyağlı (olive oil) dish of soft eggplants, filled with a delicious dry, slow cooked stew of onions and capsicums (bell peppers).
A lot of the total time is hands off time, so it isn't as much work as you might think!