This classic Turkish dish is unusual and served cold. Stuffed with a tasty combination of tomatoes, raisins and onions, its name literally means “the cleric has fainted.”
The cleric has fainted is probably one of the strangest names for a dish you’ve ever heard. The legend behind its name goes like this: a certain Imam (Muslim religious leader) had just finished a long, spiritual fast. When this dish was set before him by devout students he was overcome with the delectable aromas and fainted.
What the dish was called before that incident occurred is anyone’s guess. After his fainting spell the meal was renamed in his honor.
This dish also has a Greek counterpart. Although Greece and Turkey are far from friendly, they have traded their recipes over the centuries. Therefore the curious situation exists that many of their dishes overlap … even their coffee. The Turks claim their “Turkish coffee” and the Greeks claimed the Turkish copied their “Greek coffee.” Many of their dishes have a claim and counterclaim.
If you add two tablespoons of breadcrumbs and a pinch of nutmeg before cooking Imam Bayildi, you’ll have the Greek version of this dish. Both are equally good.
4 – 6 servings
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1/4 cup of butter
4 thinly sliced onions
2 crushed garlic cloves
6 large tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup raisins
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
1 1/4 cups of extra virgin olive oil
Cut the eggplants in half and hollow out four deep slits 1/4-inch wide crosswise in each half. Reserve the scooped out flesh. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and degorge for 30 minutes. Then drain the eggplants and set aside.
While the eggplants are degorging, melt the butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. After the foam subsides add the onions and garlic and cook while stirring occasionally for about 5 – 7 minutes until they are soft and translucent (but not brown).
Next add the tomatoes, raisins and reserved eggplant flesh, the remaining salt, pepper, thyme and parsley. reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 – 12 minutes, stirring periodically. It is ready when the mixture has pulped. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F. When the mixture has cooled, spoon it into the slits you cut in the eggplant. Spread the rest of the mixture over the top of each half.
Place the eggplants in an ovenproof dish (such as Pyrex), large enough to hold all the halves in one layer. Spoon 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of each half and then pour the remaining oil around them. The oil should be about one-quarter of the way up the sides of the eggplants.
Now bake for 1 3/4 hours. When they are done the eggplants should be very soft and a slightly sticky residue will have gathered on the bottom of the dish.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Then chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour until they’re very cold.
Remove from the refrigerator, transfer each half to a serving platter and serve as an appetizer with with fresh bread and chilled yogurt.
To serve as a main course add rice pilaf or couscous lightly toasted with fried, minced lamb and allspice.