There has to be a gazillion recipes for Imam Bayildi (ιμάμ μπαϊλντί). It is one of those shared dishes amongst Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries and it is very popular in Greece – available on most tavern menus in summer.
The phrase imam bayildi is Turkish for "the priest fainted". It is believed the amount of olive oil used in the dish when first served to the priest was so abundant, it caused him to faint – olive oil being incredibly expensive at that point in time.
Some recipes for Imam Bayildi do call for a very generous quantity of olive oil – but it is really up to you as to how much you want to add.
When reading all of the various recipes for imam bayildi, the one common feature was the method for cooking the eggplant. All the recipes I read ensured the eggplant flesh was left intact. The eggplant was either slit to form a pocket to stuff it with the sauce or it was cut in half and the sauce was poured over the eggplant before it was baked.
This dish is very simple to make and only takes a few ingredients. It is perfect to make on a summer evening and I actually prefer it served at room temperature rather than pipping hot.
I served the Imam Bayildi alongside the obligatory Greek accompaniments - cheese and olives, and plenty of crusty ‘horitatiko’ bread to mop up the lovely sauce.
I like to use long thin eggplants to make this dish. They are naturally sweeter than the larger eggplants, so they don’t require any salting to remove the bitterness.
Imam Bayildi (ιμάμ μπαϊλντί)
8 long thin medium-sized eggplants
3 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
2 cups of olive oil (you can use less)
4 cloves garlic
3 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup chopped mint
Salt & freshly ground pepper
pinch of sugar
2 cup water
1. Clean the eggplants and cut a deep slit on the side of each eggplant, lengthwise , stopping short of the top and base. Put aside.
2. In a heavy pan, heat half the oil and fry onion gently until transparent. Add garlic, cook 1 minute, then combine in a bowl with chopped tomatoes, mint, and salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar to taste.
3. Place remaining oil in pan and fry eggplant(s) over high heat until lightly browned but still firm. Remove pan from heat and place eggplants in an oiled ovenproof baking dish.
4. Spoon vegetable mixture into slits, forcing in as much filling as possible. Spread remaining filling on top and add water. Cover the dish tightly with foil and cook over gentle heat for 45 minutes until tender.
5. Leave to cool to room temperature and serve.