There is a story the goes back to the days of the Ottoman Empire, that an Imam ( a kind of Muslim priest ) ate a wonderful dish of baked aubergines prepared for him by his wife, and immediately fainted – blown away by the amazing flavours. Another, slightly more cynical, ending to the story is that he passed out, shocked at the amount of expensive olive oil she had used in her new creation!
The one certain fact is that the dish ‘Imam Bayaldi’ or literally, ‘The Imam Fainted’ is a stunning combination of simple ingredients, aubergines, onions, garlic and tomatoes and, of course, olive oil – though the quantity will not bankrupt you in this version!
The best aubergines for this are the elongated, stripy ones – the more common bulbous ones are fine too- but they need to be halved lengthwise to achieve the right shape.
It makes for an impressive vegetarian main course, served alone with good bread and a little salty feta on the side. It’s a personal favourite in a mezé selection with maybe tzatziki, cheese pies and a little bean salad.
6 long aubergines or 3 normal ones
4 – 5 onions, sliced thinly
3 – 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
500ml tomato juice or ‘V8’ juice
1 tsp tomato purée
Salt and Pepper
A few chilli flakes ( optional)
First of all, if using bulb shaped aubergines, slice in half from top to bottom. Then, place flat on its cut side and using a sharp, small knife, put fairly deep slits in the skin side. Depending on the size of the aubergine, you need to put about 4 to 6 long slits from top to bottom but leaving the aubergine intact.
Then turn the aubergine over, and score the fleshy side with a ‘criss-cross’ pattern.
If you use the long stripy aubergines, all you need to do is take the stalk off and put in maybe 5-6 slits lengthwise.
The aubergines need to be intact.
Now put about 150ml of sunflower oil in a good sized frying pan and fry the aubergines on all sides. You may need to add a little more sunflower oil, as the aubergines tend to absorb the oil. Put aside into a roasting dish.
Now in another frying pan, put 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil. Went it is fairly hot add the onions and fry them gently until they start to caramelise a little. Add the garlic and allow to soften but make sure it doesn’t burn.
Now add the tomato juice and tomato purée and the seasoning – I find a few chilli flakes gives the dish a nice little kick !
Allow the mixture to simmer until it had a jam-like consistency.
Now take your tray of fried aubergines and gently prise open the slits and out a teaspoonful of the onion mixture into each of the slits. If you have any of the mixture left after this, dot it on the top of the aubergines.
Sprinkle with a little water, and bake in the oven at 185 degrees for about 35 minutes until nicely golden.